- Participating in Commission proceedings
The Maine Public Utilities Commission welcomes the participation of the public in its proceedings. Individuals or groups may participate or share their views with the Commission in several ways. You may speak at Commission public witness hearings, write a letter to the Commission, or request information from our staff on any issues of concern. A member of the public may become an official “party” (or participant) in a formal Commission case. Read on to understand how the Commission works and what the options are for your participation
- Commission Cases
The Commission conducts much of its official business through formal legal cases. The issues addressed in formal cases include rate adjustments, service adequacy, the prudence of proposed investments, and utility practices. Cases are divided by issue area: Electric, Gas and Gas Safety, Communications (Telephone), Consumer Assistance Division Appeals, Damage Prevention (Dig Safe), Water.
Types of Cases
There are several types of cases that come before the Commission as described below.
• Adjudicatory Proceeding: Most cases involving individual utilities are adjudicatory cases, which are very similar to litigation in a court case. The Maine Administrative Procedure Act and the Commission's Rules of Practice and Procedure Chapter 110 provide formal guidelines on how such cases must be handled. Adjudicatory proceedings typically include pre-filed written testimony, a period of time for written discovery and technical conferences so parties can ask witnesses questions, hearings before the Commissioners, briefs filed by the parties and finally a recommended decision by staff and an opportunity to comment on the recommendation. The Commissioners make a final decision based on the record developed in the case.
• Investigation: An investigation is typically initiated by the Commission to review an issue that involves one or more utilities. Investigations are adjudicatory proceedings.
• Inquiry: An inquiry is a less formal proceeding initiated by the Commission typically to gather information. The formal rules of adjudicatory proceedings do not apply. If after gathering information the Commission wishes to take an action, it may open an adjudicatory proceeding or rulemaking.
• Rulemaking: Rulemaking proceedings are conducted pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 M.R.S. §§ 8001-11008. The Commission seeks comment on a proposed rule or rulemaking amendments that have general applicability to more than one utility or entity. Rulemakings are less formal than adjudicatory proceedings.
- Staff Role in Commission Cases
The Commission’s staff includes accountants, engineers, lawyers, financial analysts, consumer specialists, and administrative and support staff. Staff performs myriad duties in order to carry out the Commission’s regulatory responsibilities as well as perform other functions assigned to the Commission by the Legislature (hold auctions for standard offer electricity supply, solicit bids for long-term electricity contracts, investigate green power options, and more).
In adjudicatory (also called “litigation”) proceedings, the staff act as advisors to the Commission. Lawyers on staff manage the procedural aspects of a case. The staff assists the Commission by making sure the record of the case is fully developed and by analyzing the information presented by the parties (persons who are formal intervenors in the case). Staff asks questions of parties either orally or through written data requests. If staff intends to rely on facts not in the record or if it conducts an independent financial or technical analysis, this information is provided to the parties in the form of a document called a “Bench Analysis.” Parties can ask questions of the staff about the Bench Analysis.
In some cases, the parties try to resolve or settle their differences. During a settlement process(described in detail below), staff can participate in settlement discussions if all parties agree. Staff does not sign any settlement agreement (called a “stipulation”) which might result from the discussions. If a case is not settled, formal adjudicatory hearings and briefing occur after which staff issues a recommended decision called a Hearing Examiner’s Report. All parties may file comments (called “exceptions”) on this Report. The Commission (the three Commissioners) then publicly deliberates the matter and issues a decision. Any party can appeal a Commission decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
- Initiating a Case
A case or proceeding begins when a utility or some other party formally requests the Commission to take action or make a decision on an issue. Each case is referred to as a Docket and given a number (e.g., Docket 2013-00123). The Commission also initiates its own inquiries and investigations. In addition, ten or more consumers may submit a petition requesting that the Commission open a case (see below for more on this process).
- Filing Written Comments
You may file written comments in any case that affects or interests you. Your letter can be sent electronically by the the Commission's new on-line filing system. If you do not have access to a personal computer or at your local library, please contact the Clerk of the Commission at (207)287-3831. Your filing must include the docket number of the case about which you are writing. You can find the docket numbers on the website (see instructions in “Commission Cases”). Include your name, address, phone and email. If you are mailing your letter by post, send to the attention of the Administrative Director, MPUC, 18 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333. Written comments in Inquiries and Rulemakings will be considered in any final decision of the Commission. In Adjudicatory Proceedings, including investigations, comments are read by Staff and Commissioners but facts contained in the letter cannot be considered as evidence in a case unless they are sworn. Letters can provide the basis for the Commission to further look into a matter or issue. Sworn testimony can be provided during a public witness hearing (see below) or by intervenors in cases.
- Ten Person Complaint
Ten or more persons can request the Commission open a case by filing a petition with the Commission. The complaint must be about a utility’s rates, acts or practices which the petitioners believe are unreasonable, insufficient or discriminatory, or about the fact that utility service is inadequate or cannot be obtained.
The complaint must clearly state full names and addresses of those who’ve signed the complaint and identify a “lead complainant”—a primary contact person designated the agent for the other complainants. The petition must clearly state the act or thing done (or omitted to be done) about which the complaint is made and include reference wherever possible to the law, order or rule (and sections thereof) related to the claimed violation. The petition will be reviewed and judged as to whether the complaint has merit; if so, the Commission will open an investigation.
- Intervening in a Case
You can intervene in a Commission case. If you want to be an official participant in the case, you can file a petition for intervenor status via the Commission's new on-line filing system. Mandatory intervention is granted to persons or groups who may be substantially and directly affected by the proceeding and to any government agency. Discretionary intervention may be allowed for any other interested person or group after a determination of the Commission. Once you have filed for intervenor status and it has been granted, you will receive the official documents of the case (by electronic mail). You will be automatically notified of events in the case (hearings, meetings, decision points) and can participate in those events.
- Following the Progress of a Case
You can receive information on a particular case in a number of ways.
• If you are an intervenor, you will receive email notice of all materials filed by the parties to a case including legal briefs, and discovery documents.
• You can place yourself on the notification list for any case. You will then receive electronic notice of all filings in the case.
• All documents filed in a case and transcripts of hearings are available to the public and may be viewed at the Commission's new on-line filing system
- How to Access the Commission's New On-Line Filing System
The Commission's new on-line filing system is where all the publicly available documents in all Commission cases are filed. To access those documents, go to the Commission's new on-line filing system. For more information how to use this new system, please view the Commission's training manuals.
- Public Witness Hearings
The Commission holds public witness hearings in selected proceedings to allow customers of a utility and other interested people to comment on a pending case about their utility. The Commission typically schedules public witness hearings in the service territory of the utility. Prior to a hearing, the Commission will publish a public notice twice in a statewide newspaper at least seven days before the scheduled hearing. The Commission also sends out information to the press about the coming event.
The public witness hearing is held to allow the public to share their comments with the Commission. The Hearing Examiner—a Commission staff member in charge of the case—will explain the format and process of the hearing before it begins. The Hearing Examiner will be available after the hearing is over to answer questions from the public.
- Speaking at a Public Witness Hearing
Sign-up sheets will be available; sign in if you wish to speak. The Hearing Examiner will call the speakers’ names in order from the sign-in sheet. When your name is called, you can go to the microphone. You will be asked to state your name and whether you are providing “sworn” or “unsworn” testimony.
• Sworn Testimony is part of the official record of the case and is reviewed by the Commission before it makes its final decision. The Hearing Examiner will administer an oath to all those planning to give sworn testimony stating that what they are about to say is the truth.
• Unsworn Testimony will not be part of the official case record, but is considered and can provide the basis for further Commission investigation.
The best testimony is brief and to the point. Those testifying are asked to provide written copy of their comments if possible.
- Settlement process
In some Commission cases, the parties to the case hold settlement discussions during the same timeframe as the adjudicatory or litigation proceeding. Commission staff can participate in settlement discussions if all parties agree. Staff does not sign any settlement agreement which might result from the discussions. If these settlement discussions between parties result in an agreement (called a “stipulation”), that agreement is filed with the Commission by the parties. There may be a hearing on the settlement agreement before the Commission. Whether there is a hearing or not, the Commission schedules a deliberation at which to review and decide whether or not to accept the stipulation. If the Commission approves the stipulation, the case is decided and there is no further adjudicatory process. If the stipulation is not approved, the Commission continues the litigation process to its final conclusion.
- Commission Hearings and Deliberations
Members of the public are welcome to observe the Commission at work. At expert and evidentiary hearings, the Commissioners hear from and question parties to the case. At deliberations, the Commissioners publicly discuss and decide cases. Unlike a public witness hearing, you may only observe, and may not comment, at these regular hearings and deliberations.
Deliberations are usually held at 10am on Tuesdays most weeks at the Commission offices, 101 Second Street, Hallowell. They are usually streamed live from the Commission website. You can listen to or view many hearings and deliberations through the Commission’s live audio programming, see information below.
Check the calendar on the Commission's homepage for the time of the deliberations and to confirm that the item that concerns you is on the agenda. The Administrative Director prepares an agenda of issues to be deliberated by the Commission each week. The agenda is sent to all parties in advance and posted on the Commission’s homepage. You can also call the Commission office to check on the agenda (207-287-3831).
- Commission Decisions
At the conclusion of an adjudicatory proceeding, the Commission makes a decision to approve, approve with conditions, or deny the request. Every decision is made in writing and is not final until the final Order is issued which includes the findings of fact sufficient to explain the basis for the decision to parties and the public. The Order is publicly available at the Commission's new on-line filing system.
- Using Live Audio to Hear Commission Proceedings
Many Commission proceedings (hearings, deliberations) are streamed through the Commission website. You can listen to sessions live as they happen or go into the audio archives and hear previous sessions. You can find dates and times of proceedings on the calendar on the homepage.
For live audio, go to the Live Audio page. Click on the “Live Audio"; follow directions for entering the recording system, and click on the live session.
To hear audio for past Deliberations during 2010 and forward: go to the Live Audio page. Click on “Live Audio”; follow directions for entering system; and then, click on “Archives” in left-hand navigational bar to get list of archived deliberations sessions by date.
- Review, Reconsider, Appeal of Commission Decision
Anyone who is a party to a given case can request that the Commission reconsider a decision by filing a petition with the Commission stating the grounds for reconsideration. This petition for reconsideration must be received by the Commission within 20 days of the date of the final Order in the given case. Any petition not granted within 20 days from the date of filing is denied.
Anyone who is a party to a given case can also appeal a final Commission decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, by filing within 21 days of the date of the final Order a Notice of Appeal with the Commission (attention: Administrative Director, MPUC, State House Station 18, Augusta, ME 04333). Such an appeal must follow the Courts Rules of Appellate Procedure.
You can view these rules from the Maine Court’s website. Scroll down to “Court Rules Continued”; there you will find the Maine Rules of Appellate Procedure.