Friday, July 15, 2011

Lawmakers push for audit of Public Utilities Commission

Debi Brazzale / Colorado News Agency

The Public Utilities Commission, charged with regulating the likes of Qwest and Xcel, may be going under scrutiny itself under a proposal that will be considered this July by the state’s Legislative Audit Committee.

The quasi-judicial state agency, whose three commissioners are appointed by the governor, has drawn fire in recent years from Republicans and some industries over a range of issues—from PUC support for renewable-energy mandates to ethics allegations involving some commissioners’ travel reimbursements. The PUC’s duties include regulating and setting rates for the state’s investor-owned public utilities.

A formal request made earlier this year and submitted by Republican Sens. Scott Renfroe, of Greeley, and Steve King, of Grand Junction, asked the state auditor to conduct preliminary research into the activities of the PUC. The findings of the state auditor will be used for the committee to make a determination as to whether a full audit is merited.

The letter outlines areas for evaluation including transparency, accountability to ratepayers, expenditures, the conduct of PUC members, and whether the commission is indeed living up to its role and mission as a watchdog for consumers.

Renfroe says the state auditor is best suited to take an objective look at the PUC.

“Lots of issues and questions have been raised recently in the media and in the legislature about the policies and practices of the PUC,” said Renfroe. “The auditor has the ability to look at these issues within a non-political framework, making it the appropriate place to seek answers.”

According to the PUC’s website, its purpose is to “serve the public interest by effectively regulating utilities and facilities so that the people of Colorado receive safe, reliable, and reasonably-priced services consistent with the economic, environmental and social values of our state.”

If the legislative panel approves the full audit, the state auditor will begin its work and report their findings later this year.