The Oregon Public Utility Commission has Roguishly forgotten to whom it reports—customers who have no choice but to pay monopoly utilities' monthly bills.
A little background behind our reasoning: In 2005, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 408. That law requires two things. Monopoly utilities may collect from ratepayers only those income taxes actually owed by the utilities. And those companies must show their books to the PUC and ratepayer advocates annually.
Last year, PacifiCorp filed its tax report for the 2006 tax year. The Utility Commission approved its filing. But Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities disagreed with PacifiCorp's calculation. The industrial customers' group appealed the commission decision and is now litigating that ruling (PDF) in front of the Oregon Court of Appeals.
But the industrial group faces a severe and unfair disadvantage. After SB 408, the PUC allowed utilities to enforce draconian secrecy rules on their tax filings. Customer groups agreed to be bound by "protective orders" that would keep the documents confidential. But the PUC ruled that if customer groups want to review the filings, they must do so in a "safe room" at utility headquarters, be monitored by utility staff, and take notes but not copies.
That ruling ran contrary to the interests of customers, who are already captive of monopolies. But now the situation is even worse.
Although ICNU has appealed PacifiCorp's 2006 payments to the state's second-highest court, the PUC says PacifiCorp's tax filings can be given to the Court of Appeals—but not to the customer group.
ICNU "may not be able to support its case if information is not included in the record," its attorney Melinda Davison wrote in a brief filed with the court last week.
PUC spokesman Bob Valdez says divulging PacifiCorp's tax information could make the agency "criminally liable."
But not providing it to ICNU definitely violates customers' rights.