Amy Oliver Cooke, Energy, Environment, Exclusives, Governor Polis, Public Utilities Commission, Uncategorized

Cooke: Polis’ new PUC appointee bad news for Colorado ratepayers

With the appointment of former state legislator Tom Plant (D-Boulder) to Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Governor Jared Polis continues the tradition of ideological vanity appointments as the PUC continues its progression toward rubber stamping Colorado’s forced conversion to 100 percent unreliable energy sources and higher energy bills.

Currently Plant works for  former Governor Bill Ritter at the Center for the New Energy Economy (NEE) at Colorado State University, which grew out of Ritter’s goal as Governor to move the state away from the baseload workhorse coal electricity and toward natural gas and industrial wind. During his 2006 campaign Ritter told his staff, “I want my first ad to be about turning wheat fields into wind farms.”

Mismanaging Colorado’s Energy Office

Plant has been following Ritter since Ritter’s one term as Governor from 2007-2011. Upon election, Ritter tapped Plant to head up what was then the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO).

Plant’s tenure was riddled with mismanagement. In 2011, the Independence Institute released a paper titled Governor’s Energy Office Needs a Dose of Sunshine. Our research showed over $9 million in agency expenditures that we were unable to identify, and the agency couldn’t clarify. In addition, Plant used the state office for partisan meetings.

At the time, the GEO enjoyed “off-budget” status meaning it received little legislative oversight despite receiving nearly $16 million in unrestricted general fund taxpayer dollars. We suggested the legislature request an audit, which it did.

In January 2013, the state auditor released a report and confirmed our findings.

We reported how the state auditor blasted the GEO, now called Colorado’s Energy Office (CEO), “for shoddy accounting and management practices within the formerly off-budget agency.”

Among the criticisms the report levels at the CEO:

  • CEO was unable to demonstrate that $252 million spent over the past six years was spent cost-effectively.
  • CEO does not calculate or maintain a comprehensive, annual budget or budget-to-actual data for any of the 34 programs administered during Fiscal Years 2007 through 2012. As a result, CEO could not determine the total cost or the total amount spent for any of its programs.
  • CEO program managers have not been required to manage programs within a budget, though they are responsible for requesting and justifying program expenditures.

The report contains plenty of specific examples, some of which can be found here.

Perhaps most scathing was the auditor’s characterization of the CEO under Plant’s leadership:

“Overall, we found deficiencies in CEO’s management policies and practices, including deficiencies in CEO’s internal accounting and administrative control systems. Altogether, the issues we identified lead us to question CEO’s ability to implement programs and projects successfully.”

Now, Colorado ratepayers are expected to believe that as a PUC commissioner, Plant will get into the granular details of complex rate cases, ask meaningful, provocative questions, challenge assumptions, and be a good steward of ratepayer dollars. If the past is any example, ratepayers would be right to be worried.

A rubber stamp for Polis

The sad truth is that Colorado’s PUC is no longer a serious agency, but it maintains serious authority determining just and reasonable rates. This isn’t a reflection upon staff, which does an admirable job. It is a reflection of the commissioners who seem to think their role is to promote preferred policies rather than act as neutral regulators who scrutinize evidence, thoughtfully deliberate, decide reasonable costs to ratepayers, ensure grid stability, and a myriad of other things.

It shouldn’t be a job for the faint of heart or the slacker. Yet, consider this recent comment from Commissioner John Gavan, who Plant will replace upon his Senate confirmation:

“I really think Xcel needs to step back and focus on customer satisfaction instead of nickel and diming us with all of these onerous rate increases that are just pancaking and adding up. We are in a very dangerous period now and I really call on the commission to really scrutinize this to a degree we’ve never done before…”

Gavan sounds like a middle school girl gossiping in hallway about, like, really high electric bills.

Considering their job is to scrutinize Xcel, I’m left wondering what commissioners have been doing as Coloradans have been paying skyrocketing electric bills.

That’s the problem. There is no scrutiny so long as a utility appears to comply with the green, eco-left group think that is the PUC commission. Least cost power? No. Reliable grid? No. Industrial wind and utility scale solar? Yes. Higher rates to get there? You bet!

By law no more than two of the three commissioners can be from the same party. Current Commissioners Eric Blank and Megan Gilman are Democrats from Boulder and Edwards, respectively. The last Republican to serve as a commissioner was attorney Wendy Moser, appointed to a two-year term in 2017.

Technically, Plant is unaffiliated, replacing John Gavan who is also unaffiliated. Philosophically, Plant is also a Boulder Democrat, having represented the area in the state legislature. More importantly, Plant is a devoted follower of Colorado’s eco-left group think.

Bottom line, Plant hasn’t been nominated to ask questions on behalf of ratepayers. He’s been nominated because he’s a reliable rubber stamp for Polis’ forced march toward a 100 percent unreliable grid and the increasing costs that come with it. Don’t expect relief from high energy costs anytime soon.

 Amy Cooke is the CEO of the John Locke Foundation, North Carolina’s state-based, free market think tank. Prior to joining Locke, Ms. Cooke served as the Executive Vice President of the Independence Institute and director of the Energy and Environmental Policy Center.


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