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History and Description

History

The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) was created by the General Assembly to regulate the prices and services of some, but not all, public utilities in North Carolina. It is the oldest regulatory body in state government. The NCUC evolved from the Railroad Commission which was created in 1891 to regulate railroad, steam boat, and telegraph companies.

Today the Commission regulates the following investor-owned or privately-owned entities:

  • Electric companies
  • Natural gas companies
  • Water companies
  • Wastewater companies
  • Water resellers (typically apartment buildings)
  • Household goods movers
  • Busses
  • Transportation brokers
  • Ferryboat companies

The NCUC also runs natural gas pipeline safety programs for which it is partially reimbursed by the federal government. To a limited degree, the NCUC regulates telephone providers, electric membership corporations, municipal electricity providers, small power producers, and electric merchant plants. The NCUC assures compliance by all of the State’s electricity suppliers with the State’s laws requiring the use of renewable energy sources to produce electricity.

The NCUC does not regulate:

  • Telephone membership corporations
  • Cable TV providers
  • Satellite TV or radio providers
  • Commercial mobile radio service
  • Cellular phone companies
  • Pagers
  • Data and internet service providers

Staffing

The NCUC has seven commissioners who are appointed by the Governor to serve six-year terms subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. The standards of judicial conduct provided for judges in Article 30 of Chapter 7A of the NC General Statutes also apply to members of the NCUC. NCUC members cannot engage in any other employment, business, profession, or vocation while in office.

The Governor designates one of the Commissioners to be Chairman for a four-year term. The Chairman is the chief executive and administrative officer of the NCUC. Via a designated executive, the Commission is represented on the State’s Geographic Information Coordinating Council.

The NCUC’s 56-member staff is composed of four divisions: Legal, Operations, Clerk and IT Services, and Fiscal Management. The NCUC employs attorneys, accountants, engineers, IT specialists, clerks and administrative personnel.

Funding

The NCUC is funded via fees collected by public utilities from their customers.  The NCUC’s annual budget for fiscal year 2016 was $7.6 million.

Activities

Most of the Commission’s duties are determined by the General Assembly and can be found in NC General Statute Chapter 62. The Commission is also authorized to promulgate rules that (make that a link) establish the details for how it implements the policies established by the General Assembly. 

The NCUC is required by law to secure for the people of the State an efficient and economic system of public utilities.

Common decisions made by the Commission:

  • Determining the need for new utility facilities such as power plants and large power lines
  • Setting the prices that consumers pay for utility service
  • Establishing the pricing and interconnection practices that electric utilities must follow with small power producers who want to connect to the grid
  • Providing oversight of utility service quality
  • Acting on formal complaints filed by consumers when disputes with a regulated utility reach an impasse

The NCUC functions similar to a court of general jurisdiction in that it conducts hearings, issues orders, and presides over informal investigations where a record is made via testimony under oath.  


During a typical, year several thousand formal proceedings are begun before the Commission; most are initiated by regulated utilities. The Commission conducts 50 – 80 formal hearings in a typical year.  Each week the Commission receives about 300 submittals of various kinds, and issues about 50 orders.


Utility customers who have a dispute with their utility provider and have reached an impasse can file a formal complaint with the Commission, and the Commission has the authority to compel regulated utilities to take specific actions to resolve such disputes.


Parties can appeal NCUC decisions to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, with the exception of general rate case decisions, which can be appealed directly to the North Carolina Supreme Court. .

Hearings

To take evidence in complex matters, the NCUC typically conducts evidentiary hearings where experts provide testimony under oath. The NCUC can compel the attendance of witnesses, require the examination of persons and parties, compel the production of books and papers, and punish for contempt.

The Commissioners (and NCUC staff members who are designated to serve as Hearing Examiners) administer oaths and hear and take evidence, which is recorded by a court reporter.  In most cases the NCUC’s hearings are open to the general public.

The NCUC decides questions of law and fact in the same manner as a court of record. A majority of the Commissioners constitutes a quorum, and any decision of a majority of Commissioners constitutes the decision of the NCUC. The NCUC and its staff are prohibited by law from engaging in ex parte communications with parties to contested cases pertaining to the merits of the proceedings. In other words, Commissioners and staff cannot discuss the merits of a case with parties to the proceeding while the case is pending. This is to ensure that the NCUC’s final decision is based solely on the record evidence and the law.

The full seven-member Commission may be designated by the Chairman to hear cases involving matters of significant policy and/or substantial importance. Often, however, the Commissioners sit in panels of three. For the purpose of conducting hearings, the Chairman assigns Hearing Commissioners or Hearing Examiners and designates a presiding commissioner.

Utility Service Charges

The Commission's authority to regulate public utilities is found in Chapter 62 of the North Carolina General Statutes, the Public Utilities Act. This Act sets out in great detail the jurisdiction of the Commission over public utilities and the procedures the Commission must follow in regulating their prices and services.

The law requires that utility companies must provide reasonably good service and must be fairly paid for doing so. In setting prices, the Commission must be fair and reasonable to both public utilities and their customers.

In proceedings for setting the prices that utilities can charge, the Commission is required to conduct evidentiary hearings and the utility is required to provide expert witness testimony to justify its price request. A separate public agency, the Public Staff, participates in the evidentiary hearing on behalf of consumers. Often the Attorney General and other parties participate as well. While these evidentiary hearings typically are held in Raleigh, the Commission usually holds additional public hearings in the utility’s service area to give customers a convenient opportunity to testify. Customers can also file written comments.

The Commission occasionally participates before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in matters involving the pricing and delivery of wholesale natural gas and electricity supplies.

For more information

This slide deck provides more information about the NCUC. 

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