October 7, 2021

Clean, Reliable, & Affordable Energy: At the Oregon Public Utility Commission the Power is in Your Hands (literally) 

Did you know there’s a group of people who decide how much we pay for utility bills in Oregon? It’s not the utility company who decides your rates. It’s the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC), and there’s some form of this in almost every state! The PUC also makes critical decisions about Oregon’s transition to renewable energy, utility safety and reliability, and more. The decisions made here impact our lives, yet most people do not know that the PUC exists.

Energy is a human right and there’s opportunities to advocate for that in Oregon through the PUC. Sometimes advocating at the PUC can feel out of reach, which is why Rogue Climate will break it down for you in this blog post.

So, what is the Public Utility Commission (PUC)?

The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) is in charge of setting the costs people pay for utilities and is intended to prioritize safety, affordability, reliability, and quality of energy services for all Oregonians. The PUC doesn’t oversee all of Oregon’s utility companies, only these:

  • Investor-owned electric utilities: Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, and Idaho Power
  • Natural gas utilities: Avista, Cascade Natural, and NW Natural
  • Landline telephone service providers
  • Select water companies

Even though the PUC doesn’t make the rules for every utility body in Oregon (including Consumer Owned Utilities like the Coos-Curry Electric Coop or the City of Ashland Electric), it sets precedent for the other utilities to follow and impacts the majority of Oregonians (74.1%) who get their electricity from investor-owned utilities. So making changes at the PUC can have an impact on utilities across Oregon. 

The PUC holds other duties too, like working with Oregon’s Emergency Response System to coordinate how people will be alerted about planned power shut offs during days with high fire risk, setting a more affordable utility rate for low-income residents, and creating policy for utilities to improve energy system reliability. In 2019, the PUC was directed to transition Oregon’s utilities off of fossil fuels under Governor Kate Brown’s Executive Order on climate change. 

For the last 3 years, Rogue Climate has been advocating for Southern Oregon communities at the PUC on the topics that impact our communities. This includes extending the COVID-19 utility disconnection pause so people aren’t left without heat and power in hard times (UM2114), transitioning Oregon off of methane gas (UM2178), and requiring community notice for planned power shutoffs that are intended to reduce wildfires caused by power lines (AR638). These proceedings at the PUC are how we can move forward energy justice in Southern Oregon and the South Coast.  

Why does the PUC matter? 

No one should have to choose between putting food on the table or keeping the power on. More than 1 in 4 Coos County residents are “energy burdened.” Energy burden is defined as households paying more than 6% of their income on electric and gas utilities while having the least access to energy efficiency programs. In Oregon, energy burden disproportionately impacts rural, low-income, and communities of color.

Having access to affordable, reliable, and clean power is critical for the wellbeing of families, workers, and vulnerable populations. Now more than ever with climate change fueled heatwaves turning deadly, the PUC needs to prioritize strong protections for communities, not the profit of utility companies.

How can you get involved? 

It’s called the Public Utility Commission because people can get involved! People can submit comments on any open policies and can attend and testify at regularly scheduled public meetings. If you’d like help navigating the PUC, have questions, or would like to share how you are impacted by our current energy systems, contact alessandra@rogueclimate.org. To check out the latest and next PUC meetings, visit bit.ly/pucmeets

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