Biennial Report of the Office of Consumer Advocate
THE OCA REPRESENTS RESIDENTIAL UTILITY CUSTOMERS
The Office of the Consumer Advocate (OCA) is a state agency representing the interests of residential utility customers. The OCA is administratively attached to the Commission, with the Commission providing business services for the office. The OCA is funded through an assessment on New Hampshire’s regulated utilities and non-utility energy suppliers.
The OCA represents the interests of residential customers as a group. Most often the OCA’s advocacy takes place before the Commission and the New Hampshire state legislature. Increasingly, the OCA participates in regional and national matters as larger geographic markets influence New Hampshire’s residential rates. At all times, the OCA works to educate consumers about utility rates and related concerns.
The Consumer Advocate is an unclassified state employee appointed for a four year term by the Governor and approved by the Executive Council. The Consumer Advocate leads a staff of four full-time classified state employees: an attorney who serves as the Assistant Consumer Advocate, two utility analysts, and a legal assistant. The OCA also has a part-time administrative assistant position.
The OCA actively participated in over 100 matters during the last biennium, including cases and rulemakings at the Commission and legislative hearings.
ADVOCACY AND OUTREACH
By statute, the Consumer Advocate is responsible for furthering consumer knowledge and education. See RSA 363:28 (IV). Currently the OCA accomplishes this goal through: a web page www.oca.nh.gov; press releases; media interviews; one on one conversations with residential consumers and participation in public forums on residential rate related concerns. The OCA Advisory Board meetings are open to the public and include speakers on utility issues.
The OCA’s website contains retail energy supplier data; summaries of OCA cases; OCA press releases, newsletters, useful links, and information on the Residential Ratepayers Advisory Board. It also includes instructions on how to read utility bills; how and where to file a complaint about a public utility; how to become involved in a Commission docket; information on energy efficiency resources; and financial assistance programs for utility customers.
The OCA at the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission
In all cases, the OCA scrutinizes each component of a requested rate increase to ensure that rates remain as low as possible while providing for the cost of service. For example, the OCA participated in DE 14-120, Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) Annual Reconciliation of Energy Service & Stranded Costs for 2013. The petition covered (1) the reconciliation between revenues and expenses included in the Stranded Cost Recovery Charge (SCRC) and energy service charges, (2) the performance of PSNH’s fossil and hydro generation facilities, and (3) how PSNH met its energy and capacity requirements during calendar year 2013. Regarding a disputed $5.7 million remaining in the overcollateralization account, the parties entered into a settlement agreement to split the amount between ratepayers and the Company.
In an electric utility case, the Commission opened an investigation concerning Eversource’s ownership of generation assets DE 14-238. The OCA has actively worked on the rate impact on residential consumers of pollution control investments by Public Service Company of New Hampshire (now Eversource) as part of the so-called scrubber docket and the related question of Eversource’s ownership of generation in the divestiture docket. These cases affect 70% of New Hampshire’s electric rate service territory. Following up on the work initiated by the prior Consumer Advocate, the OCA litigated the reasonableness of the Eversource investment in the scrubber. This took place in October 2014 during a seven-day adjudicative hearing with over 130 individual exhibits.
Before the Commission issued a decision, Eversource, joined by a leading senator and supported by the governor’s office, requested parties enter into settlement discussions. A large multiparty negotiation took place over several months among the OCA, Commission Staff, the Office of Energy and Planning, Eversource and two New Hampshire state senators. Following potentially contentious settlement discussions, the parties reached an agreement that would resolve both the scrubber and the divestiture dockets. The proposed settlement is pending before the Commission.
In efforts to reduce consumer bills, the OCA advocated for full-scale, fuel-neutral residential home energy efficiency programs. This program, called the Home Performance with Energy Star (HPwES) includes insulation, air sealing, ENERGY STAR rated space heating and water heating upgrades, and inefficient appliance and lighting upgrades. The Commission’s authorization of HPwES addressed the need for insulation and weatherization services for residential customers who do not heat their homes with electricity. allowing residential customers with high home heating costs – regardless of fuel type – to receive whole-house audits. This is consistent with New Hampshire’s energy efficiency policies and improves the customer service experience for a residential customer. Now a homeowner can identify all energy savings opportunities in one audit, eliminating the need for multiple audits for each fuel type used in the home.
In addition to adjudicative proceedings, the OCA represents residential customers’ interests in rulemaking and investigation dockets at the Commission. The OCA is currently participating in the Commission Investigation into an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, Grid Modernization investigation and the Investigation into Potential Approaches to Ameliorate Adverse Wholesale Electricity Market Conditions in New Hampshire.
The OCA at the New Hampshire Legislature
At the beginning of each legislative session, the OCA reviews all bills and determines which, if any, require monitoring or advocacy. In this biennium, the legislature returned to electric utility restructuring, energy efficiency and renewable energy policies. The OCA participates through a range of activities including presenting testimony and information before legislative committees, providing research and analysis to legislators, participating with bill sponsors and other stakeholders in drafting proposed legislation, and serving as a resource to the general public for questions about proposed consumer related legislation.
Due to the complexity of issues related to regulated utilities and our daily immersion in the application of law to utilities and consumers, the OCA is uniquely situated to assist policymakers while advocating for the interests of residential customers. The OCA participates in the Legislative Electric Restructuring Oversight Committee meetings advocating for legislative changes to support residential ratepayers.
Collaborating with other Stakeholders
The OCA participates collaboratively with other interest groups before the Commission and at the legislature. We are a resource to any customer or interested party who seeks information about a utility case, utility rates or practices, or about Commission processes.
We strive in every adjudicative proceeding to find common ground with other parties, including utilities and Commission Staff, to maximize our efficiency through collaborative resolution of issues when appropriate. The OCA resolves cases through settlement when to do so is the better means of protecting residential ratepayers.
The OCA is a member of the Electric Assistance Program (EAP) Advisory Board, and the Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy Board (EESE Board). In these roles, the OCA collaborates with various state agencies, legislators, and other public and private stakeholders. The OCA works with the Commission, the Office of Energy and Planning, and the Department of Environmental Services on a wide range of projects to ensure that the interests of residential utility consumers are represented in environmental and long term state planning initiatives.
The OCA at the Regional and National Levels
The OCA is a founding member of the Consumer Advocates of New England (CANE) which is a group of state agencies from New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut which collaborate on regional issues when to do so is mutually beneficial. To advocate for New Hampshire electric ratepayers at the Independent System Operator (ISO-) New England (NE) regional level, the OCA uses in-house staff and an outside consultant as needed. The OCA is an “end user” member of the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL) Participants Committee, and as a result the OCA has a vote on this important body on behalf of New Hampshire electric customers.
As a result of the restructuring of the electric and natural gas industries, as well as federal authority over the telecommunications industry, the OCA is involved with regional and federal regulatory actions. The OCA is a member of the National Association of State Utility Advocates (NASUCA), an organization of consumer representatives at the federal and state levels. Members of the OCA staff participate in NASUCA committees addressing consumer protections in the electric, natural gas, telecommunications, and water industries. Through NASUCA the OCA keeps abreast of developments throughout the country, and often joins other advocates in filings with agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The OCA also participates in the Consumer Liaison Group, which seeks to increase residential customer representation at the ISO-NE.
The OCA’s Role With Consumers
The OCA is committed to keeping consumers aware of industry trends and current rate related policies, as well as initiatives such as energy efficiency and low-income assistance programs. The OCA regularly assists individual consumers by providing utility contact data, information about Commission procedures and references to relevant legislative proposals. The OCA receives weekly phone calls, letters and emails with consumer questions and concerns. To get a response to the consumer as quickly as possible, the OCA records basic information about the complaint and notifies the Commission’s Consumer Affairs Division and the appropriate utility customer service representative about the problem.
The OCA receives questions about all types of consumer issues, not just those related to public utilities. The OCA endeavors to help all members of the public by identifying the most appropriate resources available to address the consumer’s questions or concerns. To the extent the OCA becomes aware of a pattern of consumer complaints or inquiries about a utility, the OCA can request Commission or legislative action on behalf of all residential customers. The OCA’s advocacy may occur within the context of a pending proceeding or may take the form of an independent request for Commission action.
RESIDENTIAL RATEPAYERS ADVISORY BOARD
In 1999, the legislature established a Residential Ratepayers Advisory Board to advise the OCA. The Board consists of nine members: three appointed by the Speaker of the House; three appointed by the Senate President; and three appointed by the Governor and Executive Council. The Board members represent a broad range of interests including senior citizens, people with disabilities, small business owners, low-income individuals, residents of public housing, and environmental issues. Current Board members are listed at http://www.oca.nh.gov/Advisory%20Board/AdvBrdRoster.pdf.
Board meetings are open to the public and all meeting materials are posted on our website.
CONSUMER ADVOCATE Expenditures