Get to Know Your Public Utility Commission—and Pressure It

These are the gatekeepers to the grid reform we need.

This article is part of a special series from our fall 2019 climate issue on how you can level up your actions against climate change. Visit the full Climate Action Guide here

All 50 states have some sort of entity that regulates utilities. While largely unknown to the average person, these commissions can have significant sway when it comes to the investments utilities make in the electric grid.

As a climate advocate, it's important to understand how your utility works and how you can make your voice heard. First, figure out what type of utility commission you have. Your state's official website should have it listed somewhere, but if you can't find it, a little Googling will do the trick. 

If your utility is an investor-owned, for-profit company, it’s regulated by a public utility commission (PUC) or public service commission (PSC).  The commissioners of these boards are typically appointed in various ways, but anyone can file formal comments with the commission on pending decisions and investments. Some states also have citizen utility boards lobbying for renewable energy; if your state has one, get involved. 

For the biggest impact, though, hook up with a group of knowledgeable activists—a local chapter of the NAACP or Earthjustice, for example—that could use your help in advocating for a cleaner, more equitable system. They'll have a better sense of how to advocate your local commission while also bringing the kind of clout that can influence outcomes. 

Now, if you’re under a municipal utility or an electric co-op, you have a direct voice in its decision making. (Note: In many states, the PUC or PSC also regulates, to at least some degree, rural electric co-ops and, in rarer cases, municipal power companiues).  So become a regular presence at city council or board meetings, and if you can, consider running for a board position yourself.