TitleTeaching an Old Dog New Tricks: Adapting Public Utility Commissions to Meet Twenty-First Century Climate Challenges
Publication TypeJournal Articles
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsScott, I
JournalHarvard Environmental Law Review
Date Published2014
KeywordsBusiness Law

Climate change and efforts to address it have put the electric utility system under increasing pressure to adapt and evolve. Key to the success of these efforts will be the support of public utility commissions, the state agencies that oversee retail electric utilities. In an effort to determine how these commissions will make decisions, this article explores the history, enabling legislation, and jurisdiction of commissions. It concludes that the authority and purpose of commissions has been narrowly defined to focus almost exclusively on short-term rate impacts to current utility customers, and as a result, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, modernize or transform the electric grid, or expand the path for new technologies such as electric vehicles, will not come from commissions, and in fact may be blocked by the same. Accordingly, the article offers options for modernization, ultimately recommending a melding of economic and environmental goals through a long-term planning process that balances cost and risk, yet remains squarely within the jurisdiction and historical purpose of the regulatory commission.