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2014 PUBLIC ADVOCATES OFFICE ANNUAL REPORT 

 Note Regarding References to ORA: Until September 2018, Public Advocates Office was previously known at ORA - Office of Ratepayer Advocates.  

The Public Advocates Office (the Office) is the independent consumer advocate within the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that advocates solely on behalf of investor owned utility Annual Reportratepayers.  

The Office's statutory mission is to obtain the lowest possible rates for service consistent with reliable and safe service levels. In fulfilling this goal, the Office also advocates for customer and environmental protections. As the only state entity charged with this responsibility, the Office plays a critical role in ensuring that the customers of California’s energy, water, and telecommunications utilities are represented at the CPUC and in other forums that affect customers’ utility bills, environmental benefits, and reliability and safety of those services.

 

On or before January 10 of each year, the Office is required to submit its Annual Report to the Legislature, providing:

  • The Office’s Staff:  The number of personnel years assigned to the Office and a comparison of the staffing levels for a five-year period.

  • The Office’s Budget:  The total dollars expended by the Office in the prior year, estimated total dollars expended in the current year, and the total dollars proposed for appropriation in the following budget year. 

  • The Office’s Workload Standards and Measures:  The number of CPUC proceedings, pleadings, and education and outreach in which the Office participates in the reporting year.  

In 2014, the Office...  

  • Participated in 175 CPUC proceedings
  • Filed approximately 535 pleadings to aid the CPUC in developing the record from which Commissioners formulated their final decision
  • Met with decision-makers on behalf of ratepayers 184 times 

The Office’s 2014 budget of $25,180,000 represents a small fraction of ratepayers’ investment compared with the more than $4 billion in savings the Office helped to achieve on behalf of ratepayers in 2014. This savings was realized in the form of lower utility revenues and avoided rate increases. For every dollar customers spent on the Office in 2014, they saved approximately $160 across their utility bills. Additionally, the Office influenced the outcome of numerous CPUC policies, decisions, and California legislation that will positively impact ratepayers.

 

The Office has a staff of 142 professionals consisting of engineers, economists, scientists, and auditors with expertise in regulatory issues related to the electricity, natural gas, water, and telecommunications industries in California. The Office’s staff performs in-depth review and analyses of regulatory policy issues and utility proposals, for funding that totals in the tens of billions of dollars, in order to determine whether utility requests are in the interest of the ratepayers who fund utility activities through their utility bills. The Office also supports environmental policies that benefit customers and seeks to ensure that utility actions comport with CPUC rules and California environmental laws and policy goals.

Energy

The Office represents approximately 80 percent of California’s energy customers of  investor owned energy utilities with an emphasis on residential and small business customers. The Office evaluates utility and other stakeholder proposals for both electricity and natural gas in the areas of Customer Rates, Procurement, Renewables, Climate Initiatives, Distributed Energy Resources, Electric and Gas Transmission and Distribution, and Consumer Protection. In 2014, the Office’s major areas of focus included reviewing these utility proposals for accountability and keeping rates affordable, while supporting California’s energy goals and promoting the safety of the state’s energy infrastructure. The Office scrutinized the requests of California’s investor owned utilities seeking to significantly increase customer rates. In 2014, the Office reviewed utility requests for energy revenue increases and programs that totaled more than $24 billion statewide. The Office’s advocacy efforts on energy issues aided in saving ratepayers over $4 billion.

Water

The Office represents about 6 million people who are customers of California's investor owned water utilities, approximately 20 percent of all of California’s urban water usage. The Office advocates for affordable, safe, and reliable investor owned water utility services, as well as strong low-income water programs, cost-effective conservation programs, and long-term water supply solutions. The Office reviews water utility requests for additional revenues to ensure service is high-quality, prudent, and affordable. In 2014, the Office reviewed nearly $200 million in water utility requests to increase revenues. The Office’s efforts saved water ratepayers nearly $50 million – or approximately $7.76 per month on customer water bills. Additionally, the Office negotiated settlements with water utilities that would result in an additional $15 million in savings, which are pending before the CPUC.

Communications

The Office advocates for the fair treatment of California's wireline and wireless telephone service customers, as well as to ensure universal access to affordable broadband services. The Office’s Communications efforts in 2014 primarily focused on affordability, public safety, consumer protection, service quality, and reliability for voice and broadband Internet services. The Office supports programs that promote greater access to services across a variety of technology platforms, because communications is a basic societal necessity. In 2014, the Office reviewed utility requests associated with the CPUC’s oversight of approximately $1 billion in Universal Service program funds to help ensure that these programs were operated prudently and consistent with the public benefit, including subsidies for broadband deployment and adoption, Lifeline, and the Deaf and Disabled Telephone Program. The Office also reviewed national policy and economic issues that will have significant impact on California broadband consumers.

The Office in Sacramento

The Office maintains a full-time presence in Sacramento, actively participating in the Legislative and Budget processes in Sacramento by working directly with the Governor’s office, the Legislature, Department of Finance, Legislative Analyst’s Office, and other related entities. In 2014, the Office worked directly with Member offices and testified on many public utilities bills. The Office achieves its statutory mission to represent the customers of investor-owned utilities for energy, natural gas, water, and communications in Sacramento by:

  • Taking positions on bills.
  • Testifying in informational and bill hearings.
  • Providing technical legislative and constituent assistance.
  • Participating in working groups.
  • Providing updates on CPUC and the Office actions.