Alongside more than a dozen other partners, we're building the largest-ever coordinated nationwide initiative to influence Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) in order to strengthen clean energy policies and build a better future -- with clear, smokeless skies -- to pass on to our grandchildren.

Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) are state government agencies that regulate utilities – the monopoly companies that supply electricity, gas, water, and more.

Broadly, PUCs have significant authority to dictate standards, enforce rules, and establish new policies that jumpstart – or impede – clean energy, climate, and environmental justice priorities at a state level. PUCs touch nearly every key issue:

  • Statewide Energy Plans and Targets
  • Clean Energy 
    • incl. rooftop solar rules and minimum renewable standards
  • Consumer Energy Pricing and Protection for low-income ratepayers
  • Environmental Justice Policies 
    • incl. power plant and infrastructure siting, health and racial justice 
  • Permitting for new power plants and infrastructure 
    • incl. transmission line and storage improvements and modernization – critical for renewable energy
  • Oversight of existing power plants and infrastructure 
    • incl. nuclear safety, fracking regulations, and more
  • Energy Efficiency and Conservation Standards
  • Transparency, data access, and public participation in decision-making


A small number of private investor-owned utilities (IOUs) serve electricity to about 72% of all US customers and directly account for about a third of total U.S. electricity generation and nearly 25% of all US greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Other utilities are either publicly-owned / municipal (“munis”), or cooperatives (coops). Beyond electricity, utilities supplying gas and other resources must also play a key role in creating a livable future.

Altogether, 200+ PUC commissioners are ruling on our country’s energy future. With clean and renewable electricity production on the rise, their role is expanding.

How Are PUCs Structured?

PUCs exist in every US state and territory, under varying names: state corporation commission, department of public utilities, etc. They are established under the state’s constitution or other legislation, and have (usually) three, five, or seven members, who may be elected (11 states) or appointed by the governor (the other 39 states).

Start here to learn more about your state’s PUC.

Some PUCs operate in good faith, but all too often, there is a revolving door between PUC commissioners and the industries they regulate. In many states, commissioners simply rubber-stamp utility wishlists with limited scrutiny, from behind a wall of secrecy and obscurity, with little meaningful input from environmental experts or the public.

PUCs have (usually quite small and overburdened) staff which must work across diverse areas requiring significant expertise, and are generally significantly outnumbered by the vast resources available to big-business IOUs. There may also be staff whose mandate is to protect the interests of the public.

Find out if an organization in your state represents the public interest.

How Do PUCs Operate?

  • PUCs are quasi-judicial organizations, with meetings resembling courthouse proceedings.
  • Cases before them are assigned docket numbers. Each docket specifies how various entities can influence the outcome, ranging from individual customers to “intervenors” – trade groups, environmental organizations, companies, social justice coalitions, etc. 
  • The PUC may have an intervenor (or “expert witness”) hearing, where utility staff, intervenors, government staff and commissioners may cross examine each other.
  • For the general public, the PUC might schedule public hearings, either in-person, virtually, or both, and will have avenues to submit comments in writing.
  • Some cases are for long-range planning, referred to as Integrated Resource Plans (IRPs). States with a climate mandate may require a separate docket for the PUC to help shape the Climate or Carbon Plan.

Want to learn more? Check out this brief overview:

Canary Media, What are public utility commissions? A beginner’s guide

And for an even deeper dive, here are Third Act’s favorite links, videos and long-form articles to help you become a PUC Expert:

  1. John Oliver: Last Week Tonight: Utilities 
  2. David Pomerantz, Utility Dive: Getting Politics Out of Utility Bills
  3. Leah Stokes @ Bioneers: The Future Is Electric
  4. Chisholm Legacy Project: Who Holds the Power report
  5. Wired: Everyone Wants to Build Green Energy Projects. What’s the Holdup? 
  6. Rocky Mountain Institute: The Untapped Potential of Public Utility Commissions (3 part series)
    • Purpose: Aligning PUC Mandates with Clean Energy Goals
    • The People Element: Positioning PUCs for 21st-Century Success
    • Regulatory Process Design for Decarbonization, Equity, and Innovation
  7. LATimes: The revolving door at public utilities commissions? It’s alive and well

About the Author:

Cathy Buckley (she/her)

Cathy is a consultant for Third Act (, working with Jeremy Friedman on Power Up Communities. As staff for the NC Alliance to Protect Our People and the Places We Live (APPPL), Cathy concentrates on clean energy and environmental justice matters at the NC Utilities Commission and in eastern NC.A Climate Reality Leader since 2013, she founded the Raleigh chapter in 2020. Cathy received a Bachelor and a Master of Science from MIT.