Consumer Advocate Offices

Background

Most states and the District of Columbia have established utility consumer advocate offices. These offices represent the interests of residential consumers before federal and state utility regulatory commissions, other agencies, and the courts. Utilities have lawyers and experts to argue before regulatory agencies and courts. Consumer advocate offices seek to level the playing field. They give residential customers a voice in matters that affect rates and consumer protections.

Ten states and the Virgin Islands do not allocate funding for a utility consumer advocate office. These states are Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Both Oregon and Wisconsin have state-authorized citizen utility boards, and Idaho and Nebraska fund limited intervention by ratepayer representatives. See the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates at www.nasuca.org

Most state utility consumer advocate offices are state agencies typically organized around one of the following models:

  • a stand-alone state agency;
  • a function of a consumer protection office; or
  • a specific duty of the state’s office of Attorney General. 

Governors and attorneys general usually appoint the leader of state consumer advocate offices. In some states, a governing board, another agency, or a legislative committee does so. Political accountability for the operation of the office thus rests either with an elected individual or with a multi-member board or committee.

In addition to these government entities, some states—including Illinois, Oregon, and Wisconsin—have created nonprofits to represent the interests of residential utility customers. Funding sources include state appropriations, fees or assessments on utilities, and membership dues.

CONSUMER ADVOCATE OFFICES: Policy

Creation and funding

In this policy: FederalState

Policymakers should establish independent utility consumer advocate offices on the federal and state level. Their funding should be sufficient to adequately represent the interests of residential utility consumers before regulatory agencies and in the courts.

A utility consumer advocate office is independent if it meets each of the following criteria:

  • It operates independently of other government entities with respect to the determination of policy, filing and management of cases, hiring and firing of personnel, and fiscal control. This includes operating independently of Congress, state legislatures, state or federal utility regulatory commission(s), and any other government agency.
  • The head of the office has a term and can only be removed for cause.
  • Congress or the state legislature has designated the office to represent utility consumer interests before state and federal regulatory agencies and Regional Transmission Organizations.
  • The office has the right to appeal regulatory decisions to state or federal courts.