Advocacy at Public Utility Commissions Advances Clean Energy

John Nielsen“We’re proud of our role in advancing clean energy working with public utility commissions in the West. This has required a large investment of time and expertise to participate, but the advancement of clean power is a great return.”

– John Nielsen, Clean Energy Program Director

Western Resource Advocates works to ensure there is clean power in our future. One effective avenue to help shepherd in this new clean power future is to advocate before public utility commissions.

Typically, state legislatures set broad policy goals and minimum requirements through laws, but utility commissions can go beyond minimum requirements in advancing clean energy – if clean energy proponents like Western Resource Advocates are present when decisions are made. Laws are often imprecise and leave room for interpretation, so it is decisions at these utility commissions that ultimately determine whether a wind farm or a fossil-fueled plant is built.

Because investor-owned power companies are monopolies for their service areas, public utility commissions in Western states must approve their investments and rates. These commissions serve the public interest to protect consumers and ensure safe, reliable utility service and infrastructure at reasonable rates. The commissions also can work to advance environmental benefits by approving clean energy investments and creating incentives for utilities to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.

Promoting Smart Energy Decisions

Western Resource Advocates works in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona to ensure good policy decisions such as:

    • building new solar and wind facilities,
    • increasing energy efficiency,
    • facilitating electric plug-in vehicles, and
    • encouraging clean, distributed energy generation like rooftop solar.

Western Resource Advocates Makes a Difference in Complex Processes

For each change a power company wants to make, they go before their public utility commission in a formal, legal hearing process. These processes are technical, complex, and important. Western Resource Advocates has attorneys, engineers, economists, and policy experts who pour through the hundreds of pages of documents submitted in the process, participate in hours of hearings and workshops, extract data and confidential documents from utilities through “discovery requests,” offer expert testimony, file legal comments, and advocate for clean energy. Part of the challenge is persistence, as each case can continue for a year or more.

The process involves lawyers for the power company that may oppose clean energy. Our experts submit testimony and “take the stand” for rooftop solar, net metering, wind power, modernizing the electric distribution grid, community solar gardens, and more.

Success Through the Years

Our advocacy before public utility commissions has resulted in some impressive changes. Here are three examples:

    • Won Commission approval for large wind and solar acquisitions exceeding annual minimum state requirements, producing nearly double the required renewable energy generation by Xcel Energy in Colorado in 2010, 2013, and 2014.
    • Closed three coal-fired units at the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico, reducing nitrogen oxide pollution by 14,000 metric tons per year, sulfur dioxide pollution by 2,500 metric tons per year, and carbon dioxide by potentially 5 million metric tons per year.
    • Secured $16.8 million per year in additional energy efficiency funding in Nevada by influencing Nevada utility resource planning.

For more successes, visit our Clean Energy Program page and click on the Clean Energy Accomplishments Page.

Clean Energy Program

Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency


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Project Staff

Gwen Farnsworth

Gwen Farnsworth

Senior Energy Policy Advisor

Robert Johnston

Senior Staff Attorney

Steve Michel

Steve Michel

Chief of Policy Development

John Nielsen

Clean Energy Program Director

Erin Overtuf

Erin Overturf

Chief Energy Counsel