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What is the Public Service Commission??

Dean self picture .jpg

 

Everyone keeps asking me, what does the Public Service Commission (PSC) actually do? I am going to explain the minimum duties of the PSC.

The PSC is an agency that was created by the Montana legislature. However, this is a stand-alone agency. The Legislature does not in any way control or govern the PSC. The PSC was given the means and authority to control themselves through laws. If, in fact, the legislature wants to enact a policy on the PSC, they would have to actually pass a law. There is a Consumer Commission made up of legislators that can investigate issues. 

 

Montana Code Annotated (MCA), Title 69, Public Utilities and Carriers, gives us all the rules for the PSC. The MCA also issues other entities rules, as well as remove some rules from the PSC.

69-1-102:  A public service commission is hereby created, whose duty it is to supervise and regulate the operations of public utilities, common carriers, railroads, and other regulated industries listed in this title.

69-1-101.3: The commission may adopt rules to govern its proceedings and to regulate the mode and manner of all investigations and hearings.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) statement is: The mission is to serve the public interest by improving the quality, safety and effectiveness of public utilities. They have an obligation to ensure the establishment and maintenance of utility services as may be required by law and to ensure that such services are provided at rates and conditions that are fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory for all consumers.

One of the largest functions of the PSC is its’ ability to issue bonds. They can issue state bonds (with the guarantee of repayment from the ratepayers,) to purchase, build, extend or maintain plants. With respect to electricity, this includes generation facilities, transmission lines, stations, and distribution lines. The PSC also limits the rate that utilities may charge the consumer. 69-3-501.

The safety of the plant is a significant role of the PSC. Plant safety is vitally important for both the workers and the public. Any major accident or death that occurs while under the control of the commission must be investigated by the commission. 69-3-107.

The PSC is required to inspect and enforce all construction to be certain that the plant is built to National Electricity Safety Code (NESC) standards. This covers both overhead and underground lines. 69-4-201.

The PSC is further required to make sure meters read correctly and the services are within proper and safe limitations: electricity voltages, water purity and pressures to the meter, natural gas pressures. 69-3-108.

Territories, for power utilities, water, gas, trash, taxis and Uber, are issued by the PSC. 69-5-112.

The PSC regulates all motor carriers for hire. They can control the rates and hire state law enforcement to inspect, fine and even arrest carriers. This includes railroad, buses, cargo transportation, trash trucks, taxi's, Uber's, etc. 69-12-201.

The PSC regulates pipelines that carry coal products, oil products or carbon dioxide. PSC will inspect for safety and control the rates for transportation. 69-13-1.

The PSC is in charge of railroads within the state: safety, construction of tracks, conditions of railway cars, silos next to tracks, drainage, tracks crossing roadways, and even the conduct of engineers while crossing through Montana. 69-14-1.

The state of Montana previously disbanded the Montana Power Authority. And so, currently the control of the disbursement of power and availability is under federal control. The utilities themselves own the power plants. Thus, the transmission lines and plants are outside of Montana’s control.

I personally feel this was a huge mistake. Montana is best served by controlling its own grid. Also, Montana is divided down the middle of the state. The west side is controlled by Northwestern Power Pool (NWPP), and the east is by MAPP [who is MAPP?], and both are controlled by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC), both of which are Federal.

The above is a realistic accounting of what the PSC is mandated to do, listing their main responsibilities. As you can see, they have many responsibilities, both financial and utility based. But most importantly, utilities are life sustaining, and we cannot afford to make mistakes and allow our state utilities to be damaged or become unattainable, meaning no lights, no heat, no water and no distribution of goods. Electricity, water, natural gas, railroad and trucking are absolutely necessary to life in Montana, and the PSC holds an essential and vital role in supporting life Montana.

This is NOT a "walk in position" whereby one continues on with the "routine" of the office. There is no routine, just very serious issues with grave consequences facing our state right now. And, this is NOT an overstatement. Our people, our State and the Public Service Commission should DEMAND that anyone running for this position should have at least 10 years of experience. That is the only way you can feel confident that the quality and quantity of our resources will be available to us in a safe and secure environment for today and for generations to come. That is how important this position is.  

Dean Crabb

Candidate for PSC#5

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