July 18, 20190

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is made up of two different bodies that work together to meet the directives contained in its enabling legislation. The PUC serves as a quasi-judicial tribunal with jurisdiction, powers, and duties to implement and enforce statutory standards of conduct. Under RIGL §39-1-1, the Public Utilities Commission is mandated to:

“supervise, regulate, and make orders governing the conduct of companies offering to the public in intrastate commerce energy, communication, and transportation services and water supplies for the purpose of increasing and maintaining the efficiency of the companies, according desirable safeguards and convenience to their employees and to the public, and protecting them and the public against improper and unreasonable rates, tolls and charges…”

This state entity includes a three-member Commission and the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (the “Division”). The Division “exercises the jurisdiction, supervision, powers and duties not specifically assigned” to the Public Utilities Commission, “including the execution of all laws relating to public utilities and carriers and all regulations and orders of the Commission governing the conduct and charges of public utilities. The Division has exclusive jurisdiction over the rates, tariffs, tolls and charges and the sufficiency, and reasonableness of facilities and accommodations of common carriers of property and passengers over the State’s public roadways,” among other statutory obligations. State of Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission and Division of Public Utilities and Carriers

The mandate of RIGL §39-1-1 also gives the Commission exclusive power and authority to carry out its purposes. In order to achieve the requirements of the statute, the Public Utilities Commission conducts hearings, meetings, and open meetings. Its procedures are meant to provide “full, fair, and adequate administrative procedures and remedies, and by securing a judicial review to any party aggrieved by such an administrative proceeding or ruling.” RIGL §39-1-1

Anyone appearing before the Public Utilities Commission should make themselves familiar with its regulations, which were promulgated in accordance with state law, and with its practices. These include the fact that the commission is not bound by the customary rules of evidence in Rhode Island. Proceedings before the PUC are held with its three members commission sitting “as an impartial, independent body” with “the duty of rendering independent decisions affecting the public interest and private rights based upon the law and upon the evidence presented before it by the division and by the parties in interest.” RIGL §39-1-11.

In all proceedings held by the PUC, the Division is an indispensable party. Also, the Division is obligated, under state law, to enforce the directives of the PUC. Overall, it is clear from state law that both bodies were given similar powers: to conduct inquiries, investigations and hearings, and to issue orders that have the force and effect of law.

In Rhode Island, the Public Utilities Commission oversees the changes in the electric distribution system. Since the landscape in this state is rapidly changing to include more reliance on renewable energy resources, the importance of the tribunal has never been more apparent. With the demand for electricity reaching a plateau, customers are no looking to generate their own power. New technologies are advancing quickly, and climate change is a reality that may be irreversible. As a result of these factors, reliance on the old regulatory framework is no longer viable.

The lawyers at Desautel Browning Law practice before the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission successfully and often. To learn more about how we can help you, call Desautel Browning Law at 401.477.0023 today.

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