The New Mexico State University Center for Public Utilities (CPU) is housed in the school’s College of Business. The CPU relies upon EEI to help craft its training program. CPU’s website states that it “provides training programs and current policy issues conferences to meet the needs of professionals employed at federal and state commissions, utility companies, and other stakeholders in the electricity, natural gas distributed, interstate pipeline, telecommunications and water utility industries.”
CPU hosts an annual “Current Issues Conference” as well as a fall and spring regulatory training course called “The Basics,” which is a “practical regulatory training for the electric or natural gas local distribution industries.” Public officials attending CPU events over the past few years (2013, 2014, 2015) have represented over 30 states. However, CPU specifically advertises the training course to staff with less than one-year experience in the regulatory arena.
Sponsors of CPU include EEI and over a dozen utility companies and industry groups:
- American Electric Power
- Arizona Public Service Company
- American Gas Association
- Duke Energy
- El Paso Electric
- MidAmerican Energy Holding Company
- NorthWestern Energy
- Nuclear Energy Institute
- Pepco Holdings
- UNS Energy Corporation
Additionally, consulting firms with connections to the utility industry such as Butler Advisory Services and Gee Strategies Group are involved with the center. Gee Strategies Group is a consultancy organization with expertise in litigation support for energy and utility industries. Robert Gee is the president and Sheri Givens is the senior vice president. Robert Gee was a public utility commissioner in Texas and also chaired the Committee on Electricity for NARUC. Gee Strategies’ clients include trade associations, independent power companies, and utilities. As mentioned previously, Gee Strategies was mentioned in EEI’s action plan to help utility companies educate regulators.
The CPU Advisory Council includes the Honorable Paul Roberti, Commissioner at the Rhode Island Public Utility Commission; and Elizabeth Stipnieks from EEI. Public records reveal that EEI has a considerable amount of influence with the CPU.
EEI staff created agendas, chose speakers, and assisted with obtaining membership and sponsors in CPU. While not unethical, EEI’s activities show that the trade association has exerted its influence to decide the agenda of CPU events (which are “academic” in nature) that are then attended by regulators and regulatory staff.
Specific examples include:
- EEI provided feedback on the Current Issues Conference, helped publicize the event with its own members, rejected panelists, and participated in discussions regarding the event’s program and agenda.
- EEI and CPU agreed to discuss their membership and the Current Issues Conference agenda. EEI also agreed to prepare draft agenda and reached out to Duke Energy, inviting the power company to join the roster of utility members funding CPU.
- The Associate Director of CPU at New Mexico State University, Larry Blank, teaches many of the rate design classes. Blank has been an expert witness in over 150 rate cases for government agencies, regulatory commissions, utility companies, and utility customers. Blank was previously a manager of regulatory policy for the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada and started the firm TAHOEconomics in 1999, which specializes in policy and ratemaking facets of regulated utility industries. He also instructs a course, Overview of Electric Ratemaking, at the EEI Electric Rates Advanced Course at the Wisconsin Public Utility Institute.
In addition to revealing CPU’s relationship with EEI, the emails raise questions regarding Wisconsin Public Service Commissioner Phil Montgomery and his relationship with the utility industry. According to the records, Bob Gee of The Strategies Group has communicated on behalf of Montgomery, a public regulator. Gee Strategies’ clients include trade associations, independent power companies, and utilities.
Montgomery voted in favor to increase fixed charges on electric bills for We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service Company, and Madison Gas & Electric. He was a Board Director for the American Legislative Exchange Council, and was a Board Director for the Public Utility Institute at the University of Wisconsin.