Regulatory Software is a Hit for PSCs

May 06, 2021 by Lisa Sigler

The Plot Twists of Regulating Public Service Commissions (PSCs)

Regulatory Software is a Hit for PSCs

Summer is a time for blockbusters, pool parties, and beach vacations — or, more recently, for watching blockbusters from our living rooms and having beaches as backgrounds in our virtual meetings. Imagine this upcoming release in a theater (or streaming service) near you: an essential utility company tries to manipulate energy markets by simultaneously creating phony power shortages in densely populated states. Across the country, the dirt hits the fan: fracking-induced earthquakes, blackouts, contaminated water supplies, nuclear reactor meltdowns. It’s a thriller that might be fun on the small screen. However, if we don’t employ the right solutions to effectively regulate public utilities, we are setting ourselves up for a catastrophic event of blockbuster proportions.

Guaranteeing Fair, Reliable Service

When they emerged in the late 1800s, public service and public utilities commissions, or PSCs and PUCs, had a clear mission: to ensure citizens received consistent, affordable electrical service. Today, there’s more to public utilities than just coal, oil, and natural gas. Jurisdictions may now include solar, wind, nuclear, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass energy, as well as water, telecommunications, and transportation.

Balancing the interests of stakeholders and protecting against any kind of compromise requires a quasi-judicial, quasi-legislative framework. PSCs dockets are fuller and their authority more complex than ever. It’s not uncommon to need a team of lawyers, scientists, engineers, and financial analysts to unpack each issue.

Across the board, regulated companies must obtain approval for every major operating decision they make. In addition to reviewing rate cases, PSCs must conduct proceedings and investigations related to grid modernization, renewable energy, and incentive structures. With distributed energy resources and technology readily available, officials are shifting from standard approaches to regulating so-called natural monopolies toward the best way to integrate decentralized producers into the grid. They must still publish impact analyses as directed by state and federal legislation.

Order and Transparency

PSCs perform a wide range of activities to regulate a wide range of entities, each with its own autonomous division. Oftentimes, these divisions have “similar but different” information systems customized for their specific needs. This can lead to redundancies, reporting challenges, and process control issues. Introducing operational consistency to dysfunctional agencies can be a challenge — one that an enterprise case management system can easily address.

Most PSC activity begins with an online user filing an electronic document through a secure public portal. Once uploaded successfully, the file triggers a workflow based on the filing type selected (case, complaint, application, etc.) and the division responsible for initiating the process. This is important — although each division may appear to operate autonomously, most filings touch multiple divisions. Without an enterprise tracking system that shares data and communicates across divisions, inefficiencies and delays are inevitable.

Each type of filing has a predefined lifecycle determining how it is processed. The system also creates cases, associates relevant information with these cases, and helps generate required correspondence and forms for them.

Based on increased public interest in issues within their jurisdiction, PSCs must meet an especially high standard of transparency. Each party in a matter must be notified promptly of events, deadlines, and decisions. Interested parties should be able to view schedules of meetings and hearings online, as well as search dockets, submit public comments, and file complaints.

It's Not Over Until the Hero Wins

All this order and automation helps states avoid unwanted plot twists. In states that have implemented an enterprise case management system, processes are running smoothly, the stakeholders are informed, and the staff is happy about the execution. Regulatory software leads PSCs to a blockbuster-worthy happy ending.

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