The North Carolina Utilities Commission is
an agency of the State of North Carolina created by the General Assembly to
regulate the rates and services of all public utilities in North Carolina.
It is the oldest regulatory body in state government. The present Commission
evolved from the Railroad Commission which was created in 1891 and given
authority to regulate railroad, steam boat, and telegraph companies.
Today, the Commission regulates electric, telephone (including payphone
service and shared tenant service), natural gas, water, wastewater, water
resale, household goods transportation, busses, brokers, and ferryboats. To
a limited degree, the Commission regulates electric membership corporations,
small power producers, and electric merchant plants. The Commission is also responsible for
administering programs in North Carolina to ensure the safety of natural gas
pipelines. The Commission does not
regulate telephone membership corporations, cable TV, satellite, commercial
mobile radio service, cellular, pagers, or data and internet service
The Commission has seven members who serve six-year
terms. Appointments are made by the Governor, subject to confirmation by
the General Assembly by joint resolution. The Governor also designates a
Chairman to serve a four-year term. The Chairman serves as the chief
executive and administrative officer of the Commission and as a member of
Agency for Public Telecommunications Board and the Geographic Information Coordinating Council. The standards of judicial conduct
provided for judges in Article 30 of Chapter 7A of the General Statutes
apply to members of the Commission. Members of the Commission are
prohibited by law from engaging in any other employment, business,
profession, or vocation while in office.
The Commission is composed of three divisions, Legal, Operations, and Fiscal
Management & Administration, in which it employs approximately 56 staff members.
The Public Staff of the Commission represents the interests of the using and consuming
public in matters pending before the Commission. The Public Staff is an
independent agency which is not subject to the supervision, direction, or
control of the Commission. The Executive Director of the Public Staff is
appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the General
Assembly, by joint resolution, for a term of six years.
The Commission is, by law, an administrative board or agency of the
General Assembly created for the principal purpose of carrying out the
administration and enforcement of the Public Utilities Act. The Commission
is accountable to the General Assembly and is subject to legislative
oversight by the Joint Legislative Utility Review Committee. The
Commission is authorized to promulgate rules and regulations and to fix
utility rates pursuant to Chapter 62. In carrying out its purpose, the
Commission is required by law to perform its duties and responsibilities
in securing for the people of the state an efficient and economic system
of public utilities in the same manner as commissions and administrative
boards generally. For the purpose of conducting hearings, making
decisions, issuing orders, and informal investigations where a record is
made of testimony under oath, the Commission is deemed to exercise
functions judicial in nature and has all the powers and jurisdiction of a
court of general jurisdiction as to all subjects over which it has
jurisdiction by law.
The Commission is required by law to make and publish annual
reports to the Governor regarding its activities, including copies of
general orders and regulations, comparative statistical data on the
operation of various public utilities in the state, comparisons of rates
in North Carolina with rates elsewhere, a review of significant
developments in the fields of law, economics and planning, a report of
pending matters before the Commission, and a digest of the principal
decisions of the Commission and the North Carolina courts affecting public
utilities. The Commission is also required to publish in a separate volume
each year its final decisions made on the merits in formal proceedings
before the Commission, including significant procedural orders and
The Commissioners and members of the Commission staff designated and
assigned to serve as Hearing Examiners have full power to administer oaths
and to hear and take evidence. The Commission renders its decisions upon
questions of law and fact in the same manner as a court of record. A
majority of the Commissioners constitutes a quorum, and any order or
decision of a majority of Commissioners constitutes the order or decision
of the Commission. The Commission has the same power to compel the
attendance of witnesses, require the examination of persons and parties,
compel the production of books and papers, and punish for contempt, as by
law is conferred upon the superior courts.
The Commission and its staff are also prohibited by law from engaging
in ex parte communications with parties to contested cases pertaining to
the merits of the proceedings.
The full seven-member Commission may be designated by the Chairman to
hear cases involving matters of significant policy and/or substantial
importance. Generally, however, the Commissioners sit in panels of three.
For the purpose of conducting hearings, the Chairman assigns Hearing
Commissioners or Hearing Examiners and designates the presiding officer.
During calendar year 2009, there were a total of 1,520 formal proceedings
instituted before the Commission and a total of 56 hearings in contested cases. The Commission's Chief Clerk's office
received 10,036 filings and issued 2,166 orders in 2009. When acting as a court of record, the
Commission applies the rules of evidence applicable in civil actions in
the superior court, insofar as practicable. Decisions must be supported by
competent material and substantial evidence upon consideration of the
whole record. Final orders or decisions entered by the Utilities
Commission in general rate cases may be appealed directly to the North
Carolina Supreme Court. All other appeals must first proceed to the North
Carolina Court of Appeals.
The Commission publishes weekly and monthly calendars of its
proceedings designed to provide public notice of all hearings and public
meetings being conducted. These hearings and meetings are open to the
As stated earlier, the Commission's authority to regulate public utilities throughout the
state is set forth in Chapter 62 of the North Carolina General Statutes,
the Public Utilities Act. This Act is a comprehensive body of law which
sets out in great detail the jurisdiction of the Commission over the
public utilities and the procedures the Commission must follow in
regulating these utilities with respect to rates and services.
The law defining the Commission's responsibilities is specific in the
sense the utility companies must be fairly remunerated for services
rendered, but broad enough to provide latitude for the Commission to go
beyond rate setting and requiring adequate service into such matters as
establishing a plan for the construction of new generation facilities,
reviewing management efficiencies, requiring least cost planning by
electric utilities, etc.
The purpose of regulation of public utilities is to protect the
interest of the public to the end that adequate service may be provided at
reasonable rates. In fixing such rates, the Commission must be fair and
reasonable to both public utilities and their customers.
With respect to the fixing of rates for public utilities, the
Commission is required by law to conduct hearings in general rate cases
and other rate making proceedings which, in the case of the larger
utilities such as the electric, telephone, and natural gas companies, may
be lengthy and complex and take up to several weeks to complete.
Participation in these hearings includes the utility, the Public Staff,
and the Attorney General, as well as other parties who have an interest in
being assured that the rates and charges of the utility are just and
reasonable. General rate cases may be heard by the full Commission of
seven members or by a panel of three Commissioners. The hearings are held
in Raleigh and are also held throughout the state in the service areas of
the utilities to give the customers an opportunity to testify.
The Commission frequently appears before federal and state courts and
agencies, particularly the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in natural
gas matters and state superior courts in water/wastewater matters, to secure
just and reasonable rates and service for the users of public utility
service in this state.