On January 6, 2015, outgoing Democratic Governor Mike Beebe appointed Lamar Davis to replace Colette Honorable on the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Davis, who served as the governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff for eight years, entered the post with a wealth of experience under his belt and a profound understand of the important, and delicate, balance Commissioners face in regulating utility companies. A licensed attorney and former consumer advocate, Davis told Politic365 that his time in the Governor’s office provided him with numerous opportunities to be involved in a range of policy issues and to work with a broad variety of individuals. He says the experience taught him “to balance the interests of opposing sides and to work toward consensus where possible,” and it “greatly influenced [his] philosophy that when trying to problem solve, it is best to prevent solutions deemed as “perfect” from being the enemy of the “good” solutions.”
As the only African American on Arkansas’ three-member Commission, Davis embodies the value of diversity on the state’s chief regulatory body, which he says “helps ensure that a variety of perspectives and points of view come to bear in the critical issues that utility regulators face.” Because utility issues affect all people, “diverse representation on the Commission helps shape effective utility policies,” he says. It is this perspective – one that values diversity and appreciates the balance between the interests of consumers and utilities – that guides Davis.
Mindful of the dynamic space in which utilities operate, Commissioner Davis takes seriously his role as utility regulator and is excited about the opportunity to make good policies, policies that both promote the public interest and sustain the utility market. Noting that the Consumer Utility Rate Advocacy Division of the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office is the primary consumer advocate in the state, Commissioner Davis believes “the interests of utility consumers is a serious and important consideration in all Commission decisions. However, the Commission is required by law to balance the interests of both consumers and the utilities that serve them [and] the Commission must ensure that the utility is financially and operationally healthy so that it is able to provide safe and reliable service to its customers.
“As a surrogate for a competitive market,” he says, “the Commission, as the utility regulator, is charged with the important role of ensuring that utility services are provided at a reasonable price.”
Commissioner Davis is keeping affordable, efficient, and safe utility services front of mind when he considers his new role. Mindful of the variety of factors that cause the costs of providing utility service to increase, he thinks that “affordability of utility services is a critical issue facing low-income and fixed-income customers” in particular. “Maintaining safe and reliable service at an affordable price, especially for the low-income and fixed-income customers is a challenging and important aspect of utility regulation,” he says, and “ensuring that energy efficiency programs take into consideration the divergent economics of potential users by making sure that low-income and fixed income households have similar opportunities where possible to reap the benefits of participating in energy efficiency programs” is also a top-line priority.
Given his passion for utility service safety, reliability, affordability, and the protection of critical infrastructure, he plans to “focus on the preparedness of the jurisdictional utilities to provide safe and reliable service at a reasonable price,” and believes “it is essential that utilities construct, operate, and maintain their facilities in a way to ensure reliable provision of critical utility services while maintaining and improving system critical infrastructure.” He also thinks “it is important to balance the provision of safe and reliable service with the cost of providing service.”
Even as the Commission does its part to regulate utility rates and operations in a manner that is consistent with the public interest, Commissioner Davis is hopeful that people will take every opportunity possible to become more actively involved in the work of the Commission. “In all cases pending before the Commission, members of the public can provide comment in person, via the Commission’s web page, by email, and by U.S. mail,” he says. “The Commission welcomes, appreciates, and is interested in the comments provided by members of the public,” and in addition to providing online opportunities to gather information and access to all filings in every pending docket, “the Commission also provides the opportunity for qualifying customers to actively participate as parties in Commission proceedings provided they satisfy the requirements for intervener status.”
Commissioner Davis’ current term will last for two years. During this tenure, his mission is clear: “Ensuring safety, reliability, affordability, and the protection of critical infrastructure are priorities…Equally important is…to act in the public interest and prevent unjust results to rate payers while providing a fair climate for the utility to operate.”