Ashton Marra Published

Public Service Commissioner Defends State Oversight of Utilities


West Virginia Public Service Commission Chairman Michael Albert appeared before a Joint Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday at the Capitol to respond to a report the committee received last month. That report accused the Public Service Commission of having too much regulatory power.

The West Virginia Rural Water Association, and other groups who represent small public service districts, commissioned the report that was released in October that concluded the over regulation of small public service districts is bad for customers.

Albert, however, disagreed. He told lawmakers the rural water associations’ stance and decreasing the amount of oversight his agency has would lead to higher prices for rate payers.

“Public utilities, whether publicly owned or privately owned, are monopolies,” he said. “The commission fills a special role with respect to public utilities. We are a surrogate for competition that is otherwise lacking in their operations.”

The report also said the PSC does not allow small public service districts to keep a contingency fund to draw from in case of emergency. Albert told lawmakers they are permitted to set aside a small amount, but the size is restricted for a reason.

“That’s the rate payers money,” he said. “That’s the equivalent of asking stressed rate payers to pony up cash out of their pocket to be put in a fund to be reserved for the PSDs.”

Albert’s conclusion was that without the PSC’s oversight, the rate customers are paying will be controlled by public utility boards. Those boards are made up of appointed members the public cannot hold accountable.

He says the system in place is one that succeeds in protecting the consumer.