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Anatomy of a Typical Rate Case

Rate cases have many points at which the Commission staff or outside parties, called intervenors, get to have a say in how the case proceeds.  To help you understand the timeline and progress of a typical rate case, we have prepared the following summary.

Application is Filed

The Commission has 30 days to determine if the filing meets the requirements and can be deemed “sufficient,” that is, it meets all of the statutory and rule requirements for filing a rate case.  If it is deficient, it is sent back to the utility with an explanation of why it was found deficient.

The administrative law judge will issue a Procedural Order setting forth the date for and the language to be used to notify customers of the filing.  It will also set forth the deadline for filing an application to intervene, dates for the parties to file direct testimony and dates for the applicant’s rebuttal testimony, surrebuttal and rejoinder testimony.  Additionally, a hearing date and public comment dates may be set.  This information is available on eDocket.

Discovery Period

This is the time period during which the parties review the application and exchange or subpoena information during the course of the case.

Public Comment

The Commission will hold public comment sessions in the affected communities on an as needed basis.  This is usually determined by the amount of public interest in the matter.  Public comment sessions are one way that ratepayers can have a voice in the process.  Although there are many ways for the public to participate, these meetings are generally the most local and accessible way for the affected populations to be heard.  A court reporter documents the entire proceeding and comments become part of the official record that the Commissioners review before making a decision.

Submission of Applicant’s Testimony

Applicants will file testimony supporting their application so that it can be reviewed prior to a hearing.

Submission of Staff’s and Intervener Testimony

The deadline for the filing of staff and intervener testimony is typically the same date.

Submission of Rebuttal Testimony

The applicant may submit testimony in response to staff and intervener testimony.

Submission of Surrebuttal and Rejoinder Testimony

Staff and intervenors may submit testimony, called surrebuttal testimony, in response to the applicant’s rebuttal testimony.  Rejoinder testimony may be filed by the applicant in response to the staff and intervener testimony.


Settlement

If a settlement – an agreement among the parties – can be reached, it is usually drafted and submitted to the Commission prior to the hearing.  The hearing will still go forward and the focus will be on examining whether the terms of the settlement are sound and in the public interest.  Sometimes, in hotly contested cases, a settlement is reached after the evidentiary hearing.  In such a case, a secondary hearing on the merits of the settlement would still occur.  Any settlement agreement will need to be based on the principles of fair value rate base findings.

Evidentiary Hearing

An administrative law judge presides over a hearing to examine the evidence in the case.  The staff, applicant and interveners are given an opportunity to question and cross-examine witnesses under oath.  The administrative law judge will question witnesses as well.  Members of the public may attend hearings.  The administrative law judge will also allow public comments before the formal hearing begins.  Commissioners may be present at hearings as well and ask questions of witnesses.

Recommended Opinion and Order

The administrative law judge will prepare recommendations to the Commissioners based on the weight of the evidence, testimony and any agreements that may have been reached.  The resulting document is called a Recommended Opinion and Order.  These recommendations can also include new and different terms under which a case should be accepted or denied.  The memo attached to the Recommended Order generally also sets the date on which the Commissioners will hear the matter in an Open Meeting.

Exceptions

The parties may file exceptions to the Recommended Opinion and Order expressing their changes to the document.  The administrative law judge will allow enough time between the release of his or her recommendations and the Open Meeting to allow for exceptions to be filed.

Final Decision

The Commissioners will take the matter under consideration in an Open Meeting.  Again, anyone who wishes to speak out on the matter will fill out a ‘speaker slip’ indicating his or her desire to speak.  Members of the public will be given the opportunity to speak prior to the vote.  Commissioners often call the parties to the podium to answer questions about the case.  Amendments may be offered by the Commissioners or the parties.  Votes are taken on each amendment and then a vote is taken on the final document.  The Commissioners have a host of options at their disposal – they may accept, amend or deny the administrative law judge’s recommendations but they can also send the matter back for further examination.

Appeal

Parties may appeal Commission decisions but they must first file a Request for Reconsideration.  The Commissioners are not obligated to reconsider their vote, rather they have the option to bring the matter back to a subsequent Open Meeting.  If the Commissioners do not reconsider their votes,    after a period of time as determined by statute, the party opposing the Commission’s decision may file an appeal in the appropriate court.