Office of Sustainability Works for Decarbonization and Community Wellbeing at the Public Utility Commission
Close to half of Multnomah County’s carbon emissions are associated with the use of electricity and natural gas. That gas and electricity come from three privately-owned utilities: Pacific Power, Portland General Electric, and Northwest Natural. Since the Public Utility Commission of Oregon (PUC) is their main regulator, engagement at the PUC is one of Multnomah County's key tools in addressing a large portion of those carbon emissions and ensuring that there is progress toward the clean and equitable future outlined in the 100x50 Resolution, approved by the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in 2017.
Engagement at the PUC is also a key tool to ensure that our most vulnerable community members can have access to energy. Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color in our community, as well as other vulnerable populations, are especially at risk of losing that access. Indeed, in the United States lower income households are at higher risk of disconnections, and Black, Latinx, and households with older adults, on average, have incomes lower than the median income in the United States. In Multnomah County, one third of households do not earn enough to meet their basic needs, including utility services.
The PUC is a state agency that works to ensure that our communities have access to high quality, reliable, and safe utility services at “just and reasonable” rates. With that aim, the PUC oversees a lot of what our privately-owned utilities do. For example, the PUC regulates what costs those utilities can pass to their customers and how much they charge those customers. The PUC also oversees how utilities plan to make sure they have sufficient resources to make sure to provide us with that high quality and reliable service. Importantly, the PUC also oversees how utilities comply and plan to comply with state policies like Oregon’s renewable energy standard. With that level of PUC’s oversight over utility actions, PUC proceedings offer a unique opportunity to advocate for a cleaner and more equitable energy system.
Two recent processes will give you an idea of how Multnomah County engages with the PUC:
Our electric utilities’ most recent Integrated Resource Plans, and
The recent Investigation into the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Utility Customers.
These examples illustrate the extent of the impact that PUC advocacy can have. The Office of Sustainability is committed to advancing our mission, including through advocacy at this often overlooked but very important forum.