Colorado Public Works Journal, Summer 2022

Summer 2022 | 53 DOUG DEAN Director of Colorado Public Utilities Commission Doug Dean has been the Director of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) since 2005. Dean came to Colorado on a visit in 1982. He fell in love with state’s scenic beauty and decided he wanted to make the state his home. His prior public service includes two years as the Colorado Insurance Commissioner and eight years in the Colorado House of Representatives where he served as both the House Majority Leader in 1999 and 2000, and as Speaker of the House in 2001 and 2002. In this edition of Industry Insights, Colorado Public Works Journal is pleased to shine a light on the Colorado Utilities Commission and the work they do for Coloradans. “I love that our work at the PUC touches the lives of everyone in Colorado and everyone who passes through as well,” says Dean. The PUC has assembled a great team of people who really care about public safety, equitable, affordable utilities, and assuring Colorado transitions to green energy resources reasonably.” Dean explains that the PUC’s primary work falls into a series of discernable efforts. “The PUC has its roots in the Colorado Railroad Commission, which was created in 1881, and its purpose was to regulate the rates charged by railroads. In 1913, that mission was changed to add all public utilities to its oversight. Today, the PUC not only regulates gas and electric utilities, but is also responsible for safety and oversight of every public highway and railroad crossing in the state. The PUC also regulates transportation carriers such as taxis, tow trucks, charter buses, RTD light rail, and even Uber and Lyft,” Dean shares. “As far as the environment, Governor Polis wants the state responsibly moving toward clean energy. The PUC regulates utilities to ensure people receive safe, reliable, and reasonably-priced services consistent with the economic, environmental, and social values of our state.” When a utility provider, like Xcel or Black Hills, presents an electric utility resource plan detailing how they will provide services to customers in the state, the PUC is the body responsible for assessing and adjudicating the matter. When a utility application is filed, PUC staff reviews the details, and the Commission hears from potentially several interventions by others. These may include interventions by other state offices such as the office of the Utility Consumer Advocate which has intervention by-right, or permissive intervention granted to either a business or a rate-payer coalition. When all considerations are submitted, a three-person, Governor-appointed commission decides the matter of establishing what goes into effect. “Procedurally, this is very much a legal matter,” says Dean. “Frequently the parties settle before the Commission’s decision. However, the Commission typically still holds a hearing to either adopt the settlement, modify it, or even possibly reject it. The Commission is very careful not to have any contact with the parties before their decision is issued, but comments filed in the record of the proceeding from the public are always welcomed and encouraged.” Dean shares that though Commissioners can’t have contact with parties during a matter, they are very keen on studying emerging issues and new technologies they might hear about in future cases. The PUC has a staff of four researchers who work on uncovering the details of issues the Commissioners are interested in before matters come in for formal consideration. “A key concern on the horizon is how the transition away from natural gas is going to be accomplished appropriately,” says Dean of a likely challenge ahead. To this point, the state has had to consider several cases where there was a need to retire coal-fired power plants sooner than previously planned for environmental reasons. He encourages utility providers to think ahead as well. “The PUC staff welcomes the chance to conduct pre-filing meetings with utility providers, kind of like a technical conference,” says Dean when asked what he wants the industry to know. “A filing may be hundreds of pages of material to consider. If our staff understands the filing’s major points before it's submitted, we can investigate those issues in advance.” In the realm of successes for the PUC during more than 15 years at the helm, Dean is proud to point to several noteworthy Commission accomplishments. “Significant among regional impacts, the expansion of the RTD light rail and dozens of crossings along so many different lines was quite a task,” say Dean. “Another highimpact cultural shift has been the emergence of Lyft and Uber. This compelled us to come up with alternatives forms of regulation on taxis that are less restrictive and allow them to compete fairly.” For the man-on-the-street, the ratepayer, Dean’s message is straightforward. “The PUC is very mindful of the impact the decisions we make have on people’s lives,” he finishes. “Heat, electricity, water, and transportation are areas where rate increases impact certain people disproportionately. What may be a minor increase on the energy bill for a two-income, middleclass family could, at the same time, be a choice between heat and food for a single mother of four in poverty. Our staff cares about serving the public. Coloradans can trust we are looking out for their best interests.” INDUSTRY INSIGHTS “The PUC is very mindful of the impact the decisions we make have on people’s lives.” feature by Sean O’Keefe