An effort spearheaded by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance resulted in a coalition of groups petitioning the MN Public Utilities Commission requesting that they establish the rules and technological infrastructure to allow citizens to easily monitor and participate in energy decisionmaking. This is an example of Democratic Energy in action. Minnesota isn’t the only state behind the curve either. A quick survey of other state regulatory agencies that oversee energy issues indicates that groups in many states may want to replicate the petition filed in Minnesota.
Getting easy access to information is a critical first step if citizens are truly going to be able to help change the rules to favor a decentralized and responsible energy system. Current structures and procedures in place around the country make it extremely difficult, time-consuming and costly for citizens and small organizations to get involved in regulatory processes.
The procedures and operation of dockets online at the California Energy Commission (CEC) may be a model example that Minnesota and other states could strive to emulate [e.g. see http://www.energy.ca.gov/2005_energypolicy/index.html]. E-mail submissions are encouraged, documents and background materials are archived, meetings are web-cast, etc.. One idiosyncratic aspect in California is the fact that the accessibility is much less robust at CEC’s sister agency, the CA Public Utilities Commission.
Below you will find the text of the original petition from December 2004 [download pdf version here].
The response to the petition from the DOC and PUC was not what we were hoping for (see copy of letter below). While their response appears to indicate that they are very interested in the idea of providing broader public accessibility to energy decisionmaking they don’t appear to be willing to put the idea on the fast track toward implementation. We’re continuing the dialogue in hopes that the timelines will speed up.
Petition for Electronic Filing, Distribution and Retrieval to Increase Public Understanding and Participation in State Regulatory Proceedings
To: MN Department of Commerce and MN Public Utilities Commission
WHEREAS, the Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC) and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) make decisions that significantly affect the quality and structure of our energy, communication, transportation and financial systems;
WHEREAS, state policy is to maximize the ability of households and businesses to participate in decisions affecting their livelihoods and quality of life;
WHEREAS, the current paper-based public comment systems used by the DOC and the PUC are outdated, very labor intensive and costly, especially for individuals and small organizations;
WHEREAS, the postage, copying, mailing and distribution-related costs to the public for active energy and telecommunications related dockets could well be in excess of $500,000 per year;
WHEREAS, technology adopted by the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board allows citizens to comment and retrieve information on proceedings before the EQB directly from the EQB web site;
WHEREAS, the technology exists and is used in other parts of the country to allow for electronic retrieval and filing of documents;
WHEREAS, a survey conducted by the PUC found broad support for an electronic filing and retrieval system;
WHEREAS, the state of Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission will, as of January 1, 2005, fully offer its citizens the option of electronic filing for all proceedings;
WHEREAS, the State of North Dakota’s Public Service Commission already allows comments on matters before the Commission to be submitted electronically;
WHEREAS, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and the Minnesota Department of Commerce have for many years declared their intent to establish an electronic filing system “soon”;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the groups listed below and on behalf of their respective citizen members (if applicable) formally request the following actions:
1. By the end of January 2005, the DOC and PUC implement procedures for receiving comments and filings in electronic formats.
2. By the end of January 2005, the DOC and PUC implement physical changes on their web site to accommodate electronic filing and distribution of comments on proceedings in electronic formats.
3. By the end of January 2005, the PUC establish on its web site an archive for each docket. At a minimum, the archive should contain electronic copies of the case control file sheet, service list, timelines, filings by parties, information requests, comments, orders, staff briefing papers and other relevant information.
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
J. Drake Hamilton
Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Richard J. Savelkoul
O’Neill Grills & O’Neill, PLLP
CURE – Communities United for Responsible Energy
North American Water Office
Copy of response from Edward Garvey (DOC) and Burl Haar (PUC)
December 27, 2004
Dear Mr. Bailey,
Thank you for your December 16 letter and petition concerning greater electronic access to dockets filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Your comments are very timely and we’re pleased to give you a report on progress to date, as well as a timeline for work to be completed in 2005.
As you know, we have been moving toward e-enablement for several years. In 2001, the PUC launched a web site which was intended to create a bridge between a paper intensive environment and an entirely electronic filing, storage and retrieval system. That effort mad document issued by the PUC available electronically: orders, notices, briefing papers, case control (log) sheets. Moreover, a PUC calendar archive dating back to August 2001 is maintained, including clickable links that drill down to the document level. While we continue to be pleased with the functionality of the web site, we do know that this was only a beginning.
You may also remember that the PUC conducted an e-filing pilot on Docket 01-961 (Transmission Need filing), with a view of getting a sense of the look, feel and functionality of a totally electronic process. While the pilot was well received by all participants (including most of the signatories to your petition), it also confirmed that the methodology we were compelled to use for it was much too labor intensive for application system-wide. This is because of the extremely large number of documents filed with the PUC each year. Entities with relatively fewer and less voluminous filings can use this approach, as the Environmental Quality Board has successfully done. However, it is not a sustainable approach for the PUC.
Our quest for an approach that will be sustainable and offer the functionality our stakeholders have indicated they desire has led us to develop a system based on a FileNet enterprise content management solution. We have implemented this system internally and are still trying to refine it. The next major step in this endeavor was most recently taken with the hiring of a web development consultant who will begin work on January 12. One of the second quarter (2005) deliverables for this phase of the project includes the web delivery, from a simple but powerful search utility, of all documents filed in PUC dockets. After work begins, we will post regular updates on our progress at http://www.puc.state.mn.us/news_events/index.htm In addition, when this phase is near completion, we will publish timelines for the next phase in the project, i.e., electronic filing. This will require not only technology modifications but also amendment of the Commission’s Rules of Practice and Procedure (Minnesota Rules, Chapter 7829).
We look forward to improving the service to all our stakeholders with a more effective web presence in 2005. As always, we will appreciate your feedback as the project advances.
Burl W. Haar
MN Public Utilities Commission
121 7th Pl. East, Suite 350
St. Paul, MN 55101-2147
Edward A Garvey
Deputy Commissioner for Energy and Telecommunications
MN Department of Commerce
85 7th Pl. East, Suite 500
St. Paul, MN 55101
Governor Tim Pawlenty