Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission
The purpose of the Regulatory Services Division is to conduct economic regulation of investor-owned utilities, solid waste collection companies, household goods movers, private passenger ferries, excursion boats, and bus companies. Activities include: reviewing company filings; petitions and applications; inspecting plant and equipment; auditing budgets and reports; making recommendations to the commission on specific filings; and presenting testimony and exhibits in formal hearings. This Division includes the Energy Section, Telecommunications Section, Division Support, Solid Waste, Water, Transportation Section, Records Management, Tariffs, and Licensing Services.
The Energy Section regulates investor-owned energy utilities, which includes electric companies and natural gas distribution companies. The distribution of electricity is at its core a natural monopoly. It makes little sense to string multiple sets of wires down a street to deliver electricity to homes or businesses. An investor-owned distributor of electricity has economic incentives to charge excessive rates in order to maximize profits.
Regulation of electric providers came about to curb those market abuses and to act as a substitute for competition. The commission has broad powers over the investor-owned segment of the electric industry to ensure that public interests are maintained.
Energy Section Staff review rates, revenues, expenses and programs of investor-owned electric companies. In a rate-setting process, Staff may act as a litigant in the proceedings, seeking the fair balance between corporate needs, ratepayer needs, and the public interest. Staff also participate in advisory groups, such as resource planning, and demand-side management program development.
The commission regulates three electric utilities: Puget Sound Energy, Inc., PacifiCorp; and Avista Corporation. These three investor-owned utilities provide power to approximately one half of Washington State residents; the remainder of Washington State residents are supplied by public power, such as Seattle City Light and Chelan PUD. The commission does not regulate public power. Seattle City Light, for example, is regulated locally by the city of Seattle rather than by the commission.
Additionally, the Energy section regulates natural gas. The commission has substantial authority over natural gas distribution companies, including the issuance of certificates, which allow companies to serve specific geographic territories, the oversight of safety, and the determination that natural gas distribution companies provide service without discrimination at fair, just, reasonable, and sufficient rates. Safety regulation is performed by the Pipeline Safety Section of the commission, while the Energy section is generally responsible for the economic and service quality aspects of natural gas regulation.
Energy Section Staff review rates, revenues, expenses, and programs of investor-owned natural gas distribution companies. In a rate-setting process, Staff may act as a litigant in the proceedings, seeking the fair balance between corporate needs, ratepayer needs, and the public interest. Staff also participate in advisory groups, such as resource planning, and demand-side management program development. The commission regulates four natural gas distribution companies: Puget Sound Energy, Avista Corporation, Cascade Natural Gas and Northwest Natural Gas. These companies provide nearly all of the natural gas distribution services within Washington State. Three towns - Buckley, Ellensburg and Enumclaw - regulate the rates and service quality of their own publicly held natural gas distribution systems.
The area of telecommunications regulation saw a dramatic change with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Act as passed by Congress opened the industry to competition and revised the regulatory format on the national and state level. The commission has broad authority over the telecommunications industry in Washington State and consistently works with other policymakers at the state and federal level to assess the appropriate level of regulation. Most legislative sessions involve proposals to make substantial changes in regulatory authority or approach. The rapid change in both technology and institutions in this industry has necessitated such revisions.
Traditional regulation has focused on price regulation. This has changed to include service quality, infrastructure and consumer education. Commission staff review rates, revenues, expenses and programs of regulated telecommunications companies, but the role has expanded to include company-to-company contractual negotiations and compliance of federal and state rules regarding fair market practices. The staff is expected to seek the balance between company needs and public interest.
Fundamental changes in regulated industries will shift risk to consumers. This prompted a need to broaden our focus beyond price regulation to service quality, infrastructure, and consumer education. A key assumption underlying both state legislative mandates and the federal Telecommunications Act is that the industry is not competitive, that essential elements of the telecommunications infrastructure are in the control of a single firm, with no economic alternative.
Our job as regulators should be to promote competition within each of these network segments and to guard against any tendency for firms to use their market power in less competitive segments to advantage themselves in more competitive parts of the network. To the extent we are successful in this effort, our role as a regulator of retail prices can diminish.
Solid Waste, Water, Transportation Section
The commission's jurisdiction covers the regulation of statewide residential and commercial solid waste, recycling (residential only), and yard waste. This jurisdiction does not cover those cities that decide to provide or contract for solid waste services.
This section also regulates private, investor-owned water companies that:
serve 100 or more customers; and/or
receive more than $557average annual revenue per customer ($35.75 per month).
This revenue threshold looks at "normal" monthly rates. It does not consider monies received from connection charges, stand by fees, etc., which are classified as customer contribution in aid of construction (CIAC). The commission does not regulate municipals, public utility districts, water districts, homeowner associations, cooperatives, or mutual corporations.
Unlike other regulated industries, water is an increasing costly industry driven by: increased testing, monitoring, treatment and operating costs required by the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Department of Health; failing infrastructure; and the need to replace and upgrade present facilities and growth.
The commission regulates about 60 companies, operating approximately 400 water systems, serving approximately 32,000 households. The numbers change as new systems become jurisdictional and others are removed from regulation. The largest regulated companies are Washington Water Service Company (15,000 customers in Pierce, Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson, Thurston, Mason, Lewis, and King) Rainier View (12,000 customers in Pierce County).
The commission does not regulate municipal, PUDs, water districts, homeowners' associations, and similar entities.
This section also sets rates for household goods movers, private passenger ferries, excursion boats, bus companies, oil pipelines, and low-level radioactive waste disposal sites.
The Records Center is responsible for providing centralized records management support to the agency.
They are also responsible for updating the Agenda and Weekly report on a regular basis. To search for documents on our website, visit our
Online Records Center.
Licensing Services Staff is responsible for registering telecommunications and motor carrier companies and ensuring that they are operating in a safe and financially responsible manner. Staff works in an advisory role in application hearings and other registration functions. Licensing Services Staff is also responsible for public outreach and education by holding meetings on licensing requirements throughout the state. Their Transportation web page provides a variety of information and forms on-line.
Licensing Services staff develop policies and procedures to investigate and monitor companies that are not properly registered. Once illegal carriers are identified, staff assist them to obtain appropriate authority. Staff refer repeat illegal carriers to Business Practices with assistance from Licensing Services for further action. Visit our
Transportation Page for more information on licensing services.
The commission conducts many formal case proceedings each year, including general rate increase cases, complaints, tariff investigations, and other investigations. Attorneys in the Administrative Law Division sit as administrative law judges, presiding over these proceedings with the commissioners or alone when the commissioners are not available to preside. In addition to this role, these attorneys serve the commission staff as legal advisors in rule making proceedings. They also serve in a legal policy role, advising the commissioners on matters of general regulatory policy. Furthermore, staff includes the commissioners' accounting advisor who provides expert advice on accounting, financial, and tax issues in formal case proceedings and policy advice on general utility regulatory matters.
The commission staff is represented in formal case proceedings by a subdivision of the Office of the Attorney General assigned to the commission. The attorneys in this office are Assistant Attorneys General who, in addition to representing staff before the commission, are responsible for representing the commission when its decisions are appealed to the courts.
This division is responsible for the commission's safety and consumer protection activities. It is composed of safety-related and consumer-protection sections – Transportation Safety which includes Motor Safety, Business Practices, and Rail Safety; Pipeline Safety; and Consumer Affairs where the commission's Support Services Center is also located.
The Motor Carrier Safety section conducts safety inspections and consumer protection audits for companies operating in the charter and excursion bus, household goods, solid waste and Airporter industries. Staff also conduct inspections of railroad grade crossings in support of the Rail Safety Section and investigate consumer complaints about payphones in support of the Consumer Affairs Section.
The Consumer Protection section provides a range of services to customers of regulated utility and transportation. These services include: providing information and technical assistance to companies to help them improve service delivery and reduce complaint levels; evaluating company service levels, operating practices and existing rules; making recommendations to the commission on needed compliance actions or improvements; responding to consumers' questions about service delivery, rights and responsibilities and other issues; and mediating disputes between consumers and their company.
The Compliance Investigations Section investigates utility and transportation companies to ensure compliance with commission consumer protection rules. The section also provides investigatory services to other section when technical assistance has not resulted in company compliance.
The Pipeline Safety Section conducts inspections of the 28 operators of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines in Washington to ensure operators are in compliance with state and federal pipeline safety standards. These pipelines own and operate over 21,000 miles of pipe in Washington State. The commission has authority over intrastate pipelines and is one of relatively a few states with authority from the federal Office of Pipeline Safety to inspect interstate pipelines. The section provides technical assistance to local government agencies on pipeline issues. It is also developing a comprehensive pipeline geographic information system in support of the needs of the agency's pipeline inspection program and to assist first-responders in Washington. The commission is the lead state agency for Pipeline Safety.
This mission of this section is to ensure public safety by monitoring operation of the 25 railroad companies offering service in Washington. The section conducts safety inspections of various aspects of railroad operation. Under state authority, staff inspect crossings and walkways and evaluates, investigates and recommends to the commission whether company filed petitions related to crossing changes and close clearances should be approved. Working with the Federal Railroad Administration, commission staff conduct inspections of company operating practices, hazardous materials handling, crossing signals and track. The section also provides education and outreach services as part of the Operation Life Saver program. It also investigates accidents and complaints from the public, and partners with local, state and federal agencies to implements safety awareness and improvement programs.
Policy and Legislation is responsible for maintaining the external relationships of the commission, including relationships with federal regulatory agencies, state and federal legislative bodies, and the public. Policy staff provide substantive advisory support to the commissioners and to Administrative Law Judges in contested cases before the commission. (In contested cases the commissioners may not consult with regulatory staff, which acts as an independent party of the case.) Policy staff also coordinate the commission's state and federal legislative activities; coordinate policy development with the Governor's Office; analyze and prepare responses to policies put forth by federal regulatory agencies (FERC and FCC); and research emerging issues and changes in the regulatory environment caused by new economic, financial, institutional and technological trends.