Regulating the energy industry during COVID-19, PART II

This second article of a four-part series focuses on states in the West

TransmissionHub reached out to the country’s state regulators — as well as to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — about how they are adapting during the new coronavirus disease called COVID-19. TransmissionHub asked four questions, which are listed below, followed by each state commission’s response. The first article of TransmissionHub’s four-part series focused on FERC and NARUC. This second article of the series focuses on states in the West. Due to the large amount of responses received, the third and fourth articles in the series — focusing on the states in the South/Midwest and East/Mid-Atlantic — will be published the week of March 30, 2020.

For information on COVID-19, including the number of cases in the United States, please visit such sites as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

TransmissionHub: What measures has the commission put in place to assist its members and staff in light of COVID-19?

Alaska: M. Grace Salazar, media liaison with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA), on March 25 told TransmissionHub that the RCA is still conducting business and operating as usual. Salazar added, “However, in light of COVID-19, the RCA has closed its doors to walk-in visitors to ensure our customers’ health and safety and of the RCA employees.” Salazar noted that the public may use the RCA’s website to obtain information and services. If someone has a complaint against a public utility, the consumer protection section’s services can be accessed via the RCA’s complaint portal, email (cp.mail@alaska.gov), phone ((907) 276-6222), or fax ((907) 276-0160), Salazar said, adding that for other matters, the public can contact the RCA at rca.mail@alaska.gov or at (907) 276-6222.

Arizona: The Arizona Corporation Commission on March 24 said that it will suspend all in-person services, adding that it is “committed to providing continuity of services and uphold our statutory duties, all while reducing exposure to the coronavirus by taking” such steps as temporarily closing the Docket Control window to the public, effective March 25. Docket will continue to accept e-filings and filings submitted by mail, the commission said.

Hawaii: In responses provided to TransmissionHub on March 27, Hawaii Public Utilities Commission Chair James Griffin, Ph.D., said that the commission has transitioned to all-electronic filing and telework for its staff and commissioners. Griffin said, “These changes allow us to maintain safe social distancing while continuing with our regulatory agenda and workload.”

Idaho: Adam Rush, public information officer with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, on March 26 told TransmissionHub that Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued a 21-day stay-at-home order on March 25. Before that decision, the commission, as a precaution, cancelled in-person public meetings, hearings, deliberations, and other proceedings, Rush said, adding that those will be held via telephonic hearing for the near future. Once the stay-at-home order was issued, commissioners and commission staff transitioned to working remotely from their homes, Rush said. Staff meetings will be held via teleconference during the 21-day period. Rush added that the commission is also continuing to work with utilities, and has directed them to submit filings and other correspondence via e-mail.

New Mexico: Liberty Manabat, public information officer with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC), on March 27 told TransmissionHub that an emergency teleworking plan became effective March 13, and is currently scheduled to stay in place through at least April 17. The PRC is implementing policies and procedures consistent with New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Executive Order and Public Health Orders that are being issued, including the most recent “Stay-at-Home” order, Manabat said. The PRC has also allowed intervenors and utilities to file records using email, and has suspended the need to provide the original and copies in hard copy format, Manabat said.

Oregon: In its COVID-19 response, the Oregon Public Utility Commission said that it has implemented various strategies during this public health crisis, including working in close partnership with its utility service providers statewide, as well as taking swift action in reviewing its processes and making changes for the benefit of its employees, its stakeholders, and the general public.

Utah: Public Service Commission of Utah Chair Thad LeVar on March 26 told TransmissionHub that the commission is following the directives of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert “to implement both teleworking and social distancing. All PSC employees are on a teleworking rotation, keeping only a skeleton crew in the office each day. Our office currently is not open to members of the public, but our PSC transitioned to fully electronic filings several years ago.”

Washington: Emilie Brown, M.A., media and communications manager with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, on March 26 told TransmissionHub that the commission has closed its building to the public and moved to telework-only for staff. Brown said, “We are able to remain operational with a 100% mobile workforce while following social distancing practices and [Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s] ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order.”

TransmissionHub: How is the commission helping to inform the public of energy matters during this time?

Alaska: Salazar noted that the RCA has issued a consumer advisory — which is posted on the RCA’s website and was sent to email subscribers, various consumer advocacy groups, as well as to local, state, and federal outreach partners — that includes information on utility lobby closures, voluntary moratorium on service disconnections, financial resources, and a warning to customers about scammers who are using COVID-19 to their advantage.

Arizona: Nicole Capone, public information officer with the commission, on March 26 told TransmissionHub that the commission continues to disseminate relevant information through press releases and its social media channels on relevant topics and matters. Capone said that the commission is continuing to host monthly open meetings, and that a special open meeting on continuity of service during this pandemic was held last week.

California: The California Public Utilities Commission has published information online, including a list of consumer protection provisions enacted in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the state. Terrie Prosper, director, News and Outreach Office with the commission, on March 25 told TransmissionHub: “We are also posting information to our social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where we are californiaPUC.”

Hawaii: The commission on March 24 said that it issued an order on March 13 initiating emergency procedures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The commission said that it is prioritizing actions and requests in certain areas. For instance, noting that it anticipates that regulated entities may experience new and rapidly evolving challenges to maintaining reliable service, the commission said that it will prioritize urgent requests that threaten provision of essential services and balance the need for flexibility with transparency.

Idaho: Rush said that the commission will update its web pages, send press releases, and hold meetings, hearings, and other proceedings via teleconference. In addition, all commission staff continues to be available during regular business hours via phone and e-mail, he said.

New Mexico: Manabat said that the PRC continues to use local media resources via press releases, as well as email distribution lists created over time.

Oregon: Kandi Young, public information officer with the Oregon Public Utility Commission, on March 27 told TransmissionHub that the commission continues to provide information to the public online, through the distribution of information through statewide media outlets and through its public meeting process. The only change is that public meetings are now only conducted via conference call to help ensure the safety of all parties, Young said.

Washington: Brown said that the commission has created a website that ratepayers and regulated companies can follow for updates. The commission has also sent out text alerts, social media and email messaging, as well as a letter to regulated companies informing them of changes and resources during this time, Brown said, adding that the commission’s consumer help line, 1-888-333-WUTC (9882), remains fully staffed.

TransmissionHub: In light of COVID-19, has there been a change in the amount of filings that are submitted to the commission for transmission/generation/distribution projects?

Alaska: Salazar said, “I do not believe there has been a change in the amount of filings, although there might have been some delays since many employees are teleworking due to the Mayor of Anchorage’s ‘hunker-down’ order.”


Arizona: Capone said that due to the fact that filings can be submitted electronically, the commission has not seen a change in the amount of filings submitted.

Hawaii: Griffin said, “It’s still too early to determine if we see a change in the amount of filings, but we are monitoring the impact of this emergency on utility operations and important projects that have received regulatory approvals.”

Idaho: Rush said: “We have not noticed a significant change in the number of filings received by the commission. Some tariff filings have increased in order to allow utilities to work with customers regarding payment during this COVID-19 crisis and measures have been put in place to allow larger water companies to more easily provide mutual assistance to smaller water companies who might need additional support. The commission is also moving to a more electronic approach with filings.”

New Mexico: Manabat said that there has been no noticeable change because there has not been a stay of, for instance, compliance, deadlines, and cases.

Oregon: Young said: “We have experienced an increase in the number of filings because of requested changes to tariffs, deferrals, and other similar filings related to COVID-19. For example, last week all six regulated electric and natural gas companies filed to modify the language in their tariffs to allow the flexibility to suspend late charges for unpaid accounts with less than statutory notice. These filings were to benefit the customers of these utilities during the COVID-19 situation.”

Utah: LeVar noted that the commission is managing its regular docket caseload, and that it has “had a small number of additional dockets that are COVID-19 related,” including Docket No. 20-057-T03 and Docket No. 20-057-05.

Washington: Brown said that the commission has not seen a change in the amount of filings related to those projects.

TransmissionHub: Has the commission postponed public meetings for transmission/generation/distribution projects during this time or decided to hold any such meeting online?

Alaska: Salazar noted that at this time, all public meetings are canceled until further notice.

Arizona: Capone noted that the commission’s open meeting for March was still held.

Hawaii: Griffin said: “We delayed a public hearing for a rate case and held our first remote working group meeting for our Performance Based Regulation docket (3/25/20). The online meeting went smoothly, so we expect most working group meetings for our priority dockets to proceed as planned.”

Idaho: Rush noted that the commission has not postponed public meetings for transmission/generation/distribution projects, or other types of projects, and that any public meetings or internal meetings that the commission needs to hold can be done via teleconference.

New Mexico: Manabat said that weekly open meetings are continuing — and will continue — to be held via webcasting; all personnel are participating remotely.

Oregon: Young noted, “We are doing what we can to help flatten the curve of infection, but are continuing to operate from remote locations to continue the important work we do on behalf of all Oregonians.” Young said that the commission is holding public meetings by phone to ensure accessibility by any interested individual to participate. The commission is also implementing ways for the public to comment on certain dockets via webinar and conference call options, Young said.

Utah: LeVar noted that all hearings, scheduling conferences, and technical conferences are being held telephonically until further notice; no in-person gatherings are being held.

Washington: Brown noted that the commission has switched its public meetings, hearings, and workshops to either online or telephonic-only formats; instructions on how to participate are available on the event calendar on the commission’s website.