Public Service Commissioner Screenings Suspended Indefinitely
Screening process would be “redundant”
By HANNAH HILL and BRYCE FIEDLER
The screening process for the Public Service Commission (PSC), the board that regulates the state’s private utilities, has been suspended “until further notice.”
The PSC is a central player in the recently abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear construction project, and had primary control of the project’s approval at every stage of the process.
The PSC members are screened and nominated by the Public Utilities Review Committee (PURC) before being elected by the General Assembly. The PURC is a ten-member board, half of which is selected by the Senate judiciary chairman and half by the House speaker. The board is comprised mostly of legislators.
This year’s PSC screening process started on June 23 of this year when vacancies for seats 2, 4 and 6 were announced. The candidates were announced on August 11.
Then, on August 25, a one-sentence notice was published on the State House website announcing that the statutory screening process had been suspended. There was no other information given.
In response to the Nerve’s inquiries, a staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee said that the process had been suspended “to allow the respective [House and Senate investigatory committees] to do their work” and that conducting the PSC screening process simultaneously would be “redundant.”
The staffer confirmed that the intent is still to hold PSC elections in February, which means the PURC will have to hold public hearings for the PSC candidates at some point per state law.
For the past several weeks, special House and Senate committees have held hearings to investigate the abandoned nuclear construction project and history. Utility executives and representatives from the Office of Regulatory Staff – the agency assigned to represent ratepayers in PSC proceedings – have both appeared before the committees. PSC members have yet to testify.
The members of the PURC have not been called to testify regarding their role, which included overseeing the PSC and ORS as well as screening and nominating the PSC members and ORS executive director. The PURC had statutory authority to conduct any studies or evaluations deemed necessary, and conducted annual performance reviews for both agencies.
But as the six legislative members of PURC are also on the legislative energy committees, it seems unlikely that they will be called to testify.
When asked who authorized the suspension of the statutorily-mandated screening process, the Senate judiciary staffer replied that it was the PURC chairman.