Florida Public Service Commissioner Ron Brise is no stranger to policymaking, having served on the PSC for the past five years and as a member of the Florida House of Representatives prior to that. Politic365 recently had the chance to catch up with Commissioner Brise, and here’s what he had to say about the role of utilities regulators and the most important issues consumers are facing.
Politic365: What do you see as the most important role of utilities regulators?
Our primary concern is to make sure that the lights, water, and gas are all available as needed. As economic regulators, we accomplish this by making sure the rates charged are reasonable, the service provided is safe, and that the customers are being treated equitably.
Politic365: What are the most critical issues facing communities of color and members of low-income or fixed-income households?
Specifically as it relates to low or fixed-income households, certainly rate impact is always a concern. Households with limited income are greatly impacted by rises in utility costs. So, as regulators, we do what we can to manage rate shock and to make sure that each expenditure for which a utility seeks recovery from ratepayers, must be prudently incurred. The engagement of low-income and minority communities in the renewables market is also important. We need to ensure that all communities can benefit from renewable technologies that are becoming more popular. Recently, the FCC changed the definition of broadband to include speeds above 25Mbps. Regardless of where you fall on that decision, just the fact that the FCC recognizes the importance of high speed internet in today’s society evidences how vital internet access is today. Half of rural residents today don’t have access to broadband. My goal as a regulator is to make sure that everyone in our society including those in rural areas and low-income communities have the ability to engage government, healthcare, educational opportunities and commerce. Lastly, I have an interest in making sure that all communities have an opportunity to engage with utilities as a vendor or professional employee. We have partnered with the National Utilities Diversity Council to develop a database that will benefit diverse vendors that are interested in working with utilities.
Politic365: Would you welcome greater interplay with the FCC and FERC on hot-button issues? Why or why not?
There is an appropriate level of interaction right now. From an advocacy perspective, state commissions engage with federal agencies by providing comments on proposed orders. In addition, federal agencies and state commissions work together by participating in collaborative bodies such as Federal-State Joint Boards, the Intergovernmental Advisory Committee, and the Universal Service Administrative Company. These mechanisms are in place to ensure that the federal agencies are informed on state issues.
Politic365: What is the process you employ to determine whether regulations are in the public interest?
When I go through the process of thinking through how we handle regulations, I ask myself questions like, “Does this decision stand the test of time?”, “Is it technologically neutral?”, “Is it fair, just, and appropriate to all of the parties involved?”, “Does it enhance opportunities for economic development while protecting customers?”, “Does it advance the long-term public good?” When I can answer “yes” to questions like these, it provides me with a level of certainty that the decision is sound.
Politic365: How can people become more involved in regulatory decision making?
The easiest way to become more involved is by participating in the process. Most of the items that come before us necessarily include opportunities for the public to be heard, either through live testimony or through the submission of written comments. Unfortunately, only a small minority of ratepayers take advantage of these avenues.
Politic365: Since assuming office, what are the areas you feel most passionate about, and how would you like to be remembered?
While serving as the chairman in 2012-2014, I made a deliberate effort to increase the profile of the commission so that the general public had a better idea of what we do and how our decisions impact their everyday lives. We developed a mobile platform so that people could engage with us while on the go and even watch our hearings on their mobile devices. We increased our access to the community through some of the “on the road” activities I mentioned previously. On a national level, I am proud of the work we did on the Utility Marketplace Access subcommittee that will hopefully open doors for diverse business owners in the utility market.
Politic365: What are the top misconceptions that you think people have about regulators and the regulatory process in this country, and how do we improve consumer education and awareness?
One misconception that is expressed to many state regulators is that we are advocates for consumers or, in the alternative, working on the utilities’ behalf. In Florida, we are a quasi-judicial body that makes its decisions based on the advocacy of the evidence provided by the Office of Public Counsel, the utilities, and the intervenors that are involved in the process.
Politic365: How important is it that utilities commissioners reflect the diversity of this nation?
We are all shaped by our backgrounds and experiences. Everything that we have perceived or experienced provides a certain perspective on how decisions impact segments of the population and the economy. Having a diverse board is essential to robustly discuss and determine how our decisions will affect all Floridians.
Politic365: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned about policymaking since taking office?
Regulators in most states don’t typically play a role in the legislative process. As a former legislator, I know first-hand that there’s often not enough thought given to implementation of the laws due to the nature of the legislative process. Implementing agencies should be consulted not only on feasibility but also on the real-life impact of these laws.
Politic365: How have your previous experiences prepared you for your current post and what would you say is your leadership philosophy?
I’ve been fortunate to gain experience as both the COO of a telecom company and as a former legislator. My business background helps me understand the impact of decisions by regulatory agencies on the bottom line. My legislative experience affords me the opportunity to recognize the interplay between the law and regulations and how they are perceived by constituents. In both experiences, I’ve learned that a good leader is someone who is thoughtful, who can build consensus and is decisive.