- Colorado’s legislature is set to deal with Senate Bill 271, which reauthorizes the state’s Office of the Consumer Counsel (OCC). The OCC advocates for consumers in gas, electric, and telephone company rate cases and other proceedings at the Colorado Public Utility Commission (CPUC).
- Without reauthorization, the OCC would lose its official standing. Its advocacy independently saved Colorado consumers almost $224 million from 1984 through 2014 and helped save another $1.7 billion. The fate of SB 271 and the OCC are tied to Colorado’s telecommunications deregulation, which goes into effect January 1, 2016.
- Republican State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg brought the bill out of committee last week after what critics say was a prolonged delay, and expects no opposition now that OCC’s authorization to advocate on behalf of phone users has been removed. Reauthorization must be done by May 6 or the OCC will be shuttered on July 1.
The OCC was established by Colorado’s legislature “to represent the public interest and the specific interests of residential, small business, and agricultural consumers in electric, gas, and telephone rate and rulemaking cases” at the CPUC, federal agencies and in the courts, the OCC website explains.
The Utility Consumers' Board, an 11-member Governor-appointed committee, provides policy guidance to the OCC. It also evaluates the performance of the OCC and its director. At present, 45 states and the District of Columbia have utility consumer advocates.
The OCC is an independent agency within Colorado's Department of Regulatory Agencies. It is funded through an assessment on the state's regulated utilities that comes to about $0.04 per month per consumer. Utility assessments also fund the CPUC and utilities' lawyers and technical experts. The OCC’s $1.4 million annual budget covers an 11-person staff who deal with 80 to 100 cases per year and return $30 for every $1 of expense, its supporters say.