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PSC: not consumer friendly or accessible

By Staff | Jun 10, 2011

Due to many recent high-profile cases, the West Virginia Public Service Commission has become common dinner table talk in the mountain state. Many residential utility customers involved in recent cases have not found their commission to be consumer friendly, nor accessible to the general public. The mission of the WVPSC begins with this statement: “We support and promote a utility regulatory and transportation safety environment that balances the interests of all parties and pursues excellence through quality.”

The WVPSC is composed of three commissioners, serving six-year terms, who are appointed by the governor. If the commissioners are to equitably balance the interests of all parties, they should rightfully begin their terms without bias toward any party. Historically, many commissioners have come from the industries that they are expected to regulate as a commissioner. These Charleston industry “insiders” view things differently than the public due to their inside knowledge of the industry and business relationships formed prior to being appointed. I won’t fault them for it; it’s simply a fact that they lack the ability to think like a consumer. Their solutions and decisions are industry-centric because they have oftentimes spent a long career working for the industry before being appointed.

Our current PSC is made up of the following individuals:

Chairman Michael Albert – From Charleston, Albert comes to the PSC from utility and industry law firm Jackson Kelly. In fact, he had to recuse himself from the TrAIL transmission line case because he had worked on it before being appointed. Commissioner Albert’s term expires in 2013.

Commissioner Jon McKinney – From Charleston, McKinney comes to the PSC from chemical industry companies Flexsys and Monsanto. Commissioner McKinney’s term expires June 30, 2011.

Commissioner Ryan Palmer – From Charleston, Palmer was most recently Deputy General Counsel to Governor Manchin. Prior to that he has a history as attorney/advisor to Commissioner Charlotte R. Lane of the United States International Trade Commission and law clerk to the honorable W. Craig Broadwater of the U.S. District Court, northern district of West Virginia. Commissioner Palmer’s term expires in 2015. It is refreshing to see that his background is free of industry influence.

All our commissioners should have a background like Palmer’s. Ultimately, the Public Service Commission is accountable to the public, and not the utilities they regulate. We need to send a message to Governor Tomblin before he makes his first PSC appointment this July 1. The public wants to be served by a fresh, new, consumer friendly, accessible Commission, and not more of the same, old industry insiders whose prior experience alienates them from the public they are sworn to serve.

A creative solution to our state’s utility and energy future is the first action item of the newly formed Coalition for Reliable Power. Find out more at www.forreliablepower.com.

Keryn Newman