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1.3.1 The Governing Statute

The first place to look for the law governing a consumer’s relationship with a regulated utility or a competitive provider licensed by the commission is the statutory scheme establishing the state public utilities regulatory commission. The statutes usually provide for the establishment of a commission or board, define its jurisdiction, and define the entities subject to its oversight. The organic statute of the commission often is the source for provisions such as a complaint mechanism,78 a mechanism for the commission or attorney general to enforce the public utility law and its orders,79 a hearing process, and the appeals process.80

Often, a statutory scheme will have separate titles or chapters, sometimes widely scattered, that govern utilities providing different types of utility service such as gas, electricity, and telephone. The advocate must find the appropriate chapters because the industry-specific chapters may include additional material regarding commission jurisdiction over the utility in question and may also include rules applicable in customer service cases: restrictions on terminations, deposit rules, rules for tenant utility access when landlords default on the building’s bill, and so forth. Important protections for tenants will often be found outside the utility laws, in chapters or titles addressing general landlord-tenant law, manufactured homes, real property, or health and safety requirements.

Footnotes

  • 78 {78} For example, see S.D. Codified Laws § 49-34A-26, which provides for investigations of a utility’s rates and practices on the commission’s own motion or upon a complaint by the governing body of any political subdivision, another public utility, or any twenty-five consumers of the particular utility. As with most such statutes, the commission is not obligated to hold hearings or to take any particular action. Some statutes force a hearing process if certain officials request it or if sufficient numbers of customers join in the complaint.

  • 79 {79} For example, see Conn. Gen. Stat. § 16-10, which allows for the superior court, upon application by the department of public utility control or the attorney general, to enforce any provision of the public utility statute or any order of the department.

  • 80 {80} The Connecticut statutes include good examples of the level of detail that may be found in some states. For example, section 16-259a provides limits on the liability of customers to pay high catch-up bills rendered after a lengthy period of inaccurate bills (such as estimated billings). Section 16-262c contains extensive limitations on the time of day and day of the week during which disconnection is allowed, a winter moratorium on disconnection of “hardship” customers, and a year-round right of hardship customers to payment plans in the event of nonpayment, among other protections. Section 16-262d covers the type and length of advance notice required before disconnection of service, as well as appeal rights and limits on disconnections in hardship cases. Sections 16-262e and 16-262f provide a mechanism for notice to tenants of nonpayment by a landlord of utility bills and the appointment of a receiver in certain such cases.