Friday, March 14, 2008

PUC Overhaul and Reauthorization Heads to Senate

The House cleared a bill that reauthorizes the Public Utilities Commission and makes some important changes in its mission Thursday, but not without a long debate the day before.

HB 1227 has gained attention because it includes provisions aimed at increasing the likelihood that additional taxicab companies will enter the market in the state's cities. However, the bill also broadens the function of the state's Office of Consumer Counsel. It requires the OCC to consider social and environmental factors, as well as the economic interests of consumers and business interests, when formulating and presenting a position on proposed rate increases or decreases to the PUC.

That provision drew controversy, with Republicans arguing that it would inevitably lead to higher utility bills. But Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, pointed out that a failure by the PUC to consider the social and environmental impacts inherent in public utilities' choice of fuels for power generation could actually result in increased costs to consumers.

The bill also authorizes the PUC to impose administrative fines against public utilities, an authority the agency currently has with respect to motor carriers, and subjects investor-owned water and sewer companies to PUC regulation.

The measure is sponsored by majority leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, and Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo.

It cleared the House on a near-party line 41-24 vote, with only Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, voting with the Democrats in support of the measure.