Two bills heard in the Senate Energy and Utilities Committee this week strengthens state law for the customers of public utilities in Minnesota. These bills mark the first time this session that DFL bills have been given a hearing in the Energy and Utilities committee.
The first bill establishes a formal procedure for resolving disputes between public utilities and their customers. Under current statute, a dissatisfied residential customer that has exhausted informal resolution channels – such as working with their utility or with the PUC’s Consumer Affairs Office – faces a legal dead-end for continuing their complaint. If this bill is enacted, Minnesota would join every other state in the country, including the District of Columbia, in allowing residential customers to appeal an unsatisfactory resolution directly to the PUC, after which it can be resolved by the Commission or through a contested case proceeding with an administrative law judge.
The second bill expands the eligibility for compensation for individuals, nonprofits, or tribal nations who choose to formally intervene in a rate case before the PUC. The PUC relies on parties to bring evidence to rate case proceedings that reflect the needs and opinions of impacted parties, allowing the commission to make informed decisions about the very complex questions they are considering. Larger entities are often able to hire outside experts to intervene on their behalf, but smaller non-governmental entities who represent public interests often face financial barriers to participating in lengthy proceedings. By compensating these individuals and groups, we can ensure their ongoing participation, which in the past has resulted in lower utility costs, funding and programs for low-income consumers, shutoff protections, and affordable payment plans.
Both bills reflect the Senate DFL’s commitment to serving the best interests of Minnesota consumers, especially as we face increasing energy costs both locally and nationwide. The bills were laid over and will be considered for inclusion in the committee’s omnibus bill later this session. (SF 2947, SF 1621)