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How Does the Public Utilities Commission Regulate Your Water?

Nov 01, 2020

Have you ever wondered how Great Basin Water Co. (GBWC) is regulated? Who tells us what is allowed, and what is not?

The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) is a regulatory agency that ensures investor owned utilities like GBWC comply with laws enacted by the Nevada Legislature. When you think of your water rates and how they are determined, a major aspect of the rate you pay is determined by the PUCN’s regulation of Nevada utilities.

“The PUCN utility regulation process for investor-owned utilities in Nevada follows statutory guidelines. The basic purpose of utility rate regulation is to balance the needs of the consumers and the utility, including regulation of rates and service quality,” said PUCN Communications Director Peter Kostes.

Approximately 400 investor owned utilities that includes, water/wastewater, electric, natural gas, telecommunications, and some railroad companies are presided over by the PUCN. It consists of two distinct groups, one side is the decision makers, who function similar to a court. The other side is the regulatory operations staff, who participate in the proceedings by gathering information and providing their input before the decision-making side takes action. Finally, there are three commissioners who are appointed by the Governor and are part of the final decision-makers.

 “An important part of the regulatory process is the general rate case application, or GRC, that is required of investor-owned electric and certain water or wastewater utilities every three years. A utility must seek approval from the PUCN through a GRC application to change rates charged to customers for services. The utility cannot change rates until the PUCN completes a formal evidentiary process of investigating the GRC application and issuing an order authorizing changes in rates,” added Kostes.

Kostes explains how GBWC customers can participate in a GRC. “Consumers can follow the progress of rate cases by reviewing filings made in a GRC application on the PUCN website. Additionally, consumers can provide input about PUCN proceedings through written comments or public comment at consumer session forums and at regular commission agenda meetings. Live links to most PUCN proceedings are also available on the PUCN website and consumers can sign up for service lists to receive information about open proceedings,” Kostes said.  “The PUCN website – www.puc.nv.gov – is a great resource for consumers and others interested in PUCN information.”

Regarding public comment opportunities, Kostes noted the PUCN recently conducted a consumer session on Oct. 27 for the current Great Basin Water Co. Spring Creek division general rate application. The annual Elko County general consumer session was Oct. 26.

“Normally, the consumer sessions would have been conducted locally. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic and in compliance with an emergency directive from the Governor, the PUCN sought public comment via telephone conference and is accepting written comments,” Kostes said.  

Although an annual Elko County general consumer session is not statutorily required, Kostes said the PUCN supports the idea of fostering greater input from Elko County residents and has scheduled annual meetings in Elko County since 2017. General consumer sessions allow the public to provide input about any topic concerning utilities regulated by the PUCN, including GBWC, NV Energy, Southwest Gas, and some telecommunication and railroad companies.

Another agency that participates in the PUCN decision making process is the Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP). Under the direction of the Attorney General, the BCP represents the general public’s interest before the PUCN, federal utility regulatory agencies, courts and all other forums with jurisdiction over Nevada public utilities. The role before these bodies is to advocate for reliable utility service at the lowest reasonable cost-particularly for residential and small business customers of public utilities.

As you can see, there is a lot that goes into regulating a utility company. Receiving customer feedback is one of the most important parts of the regulatory process.

We appreciate the opportunity to hear from our customers. You can reach us through our Customer Contact Center at 844-694-4404, or on the web at https://www.myutility.us/greatbasinwaterco.