Welcome to Third Act’s Sunlight Is the Best Disinfectant blog series for the Power Up Communities! project. 

My name is Nancy LaPlaca, and I’m excited to be part of Third Act’s Power Up! Communities project. I’ve been working in the obscure and complex world of public utilities commissions (PUCs) and the utilities they regulate for nearly two decades. I’ve served as congressional staff for two congresspersons, and policy advisor to an elected PUC commissioner in AZ from 2009-2013. I’ve worked on many issues, from so-called “clean” coal to fracked gas to pipelines, and great solutions like solar, wind and batteries, in many states.

Like all of us at Third Act, I’m dedicated to the concept of public service. We need democratized energy systems, with transparency and due process to make future-proof, equitable decisions about how we generate electricity – and that we must optimize outcomes for people, not corporate profits.

Why are utilities slowing down the clean energy transition? 

This is where we are:

Utilities are slowing and even stopping the growth of clean energy, while far too many regulators are captured by the industries they are supposed to watch over. Far too many regulators are lapdogs, not watchdogs, and the revolving door between the fossil fuel industry and the regulators who are supposed to serve us is all too real.

The reason is simple: utilities make more money when they build large, centralized fossil-fueled power plants and expensive long-range pipelines and transmission lines. While some new transmission lines are needed, utilities want to gold-plate transmission spending, slowing down or stopping the growth of people-powered, locally-owned and -produced clean energy. Full stop. 

Electric utilities are enormously powerful, selling nearly $500 billion worth of electricity annually. Adding to the problem, regulators allow utilities to use customer funds to promote fossil fuels, not the clean energy we want. 

Case Studies: Nevada and Arizona

Why else would utilities like Nevada’s NV Energy, owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Corporation, push new fossil gas (aka “natural” gas) power plants and pipelines in one of the sunniest, driest areas in the world, and one that’s at great risk of losing 90% of its water from the declining CO River? NV Energy’s 600 mile Greenlink project, whose cost just jumped from $2.5 to $2.9 billion, will be paid off over a stunning 70 years. NV Energy can collect money from customers before the line is built, and is guaranteed cost recovery even if the project is canceled. 

Nice work if you can get it.

The same thing is happening in Arizona, where regulators recently eliminated AZ’s already-low solar goal of only 15% by 2025? Massachussetts has reached nearly 25% solar, while sunny Arizona is a sad 10%

And oh yes: NV Energy and Southwest Gas are spending lots of money to grease the wheels for more fossil gas, despite the fact that surveys show that the vast majority of Nevadans and Arizonans want clean energy, not imported fossil gas. 

I lived and worked in energy, law and politics for 27 years in sunny Arizona, and can hardly believe the foolishness of investing billions of dollars in fossil gas power plants, pipelines, and compression stations that run 24/7/365 to keep the fossil gas flowing. 

Taking Action

So what are we going to do about this? We are going to act, because we are Third Actors. We are going to push back against these ill-advised policies because we want a livable planet for our kids and grandkids, and because no matter what the future brings, we will need electricity.

You are the backbone of this campaign to Power Up Communities! – through advocacy in public utility commissions and beyond, to other elements of the energy system. Third Actors include retired PUC staff, retired and practicing attorneys with deep experience in the regulatory world, economists, engineers, fighters for civil rights, grandmas and grandpas, just like me. 

In 1913, future US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote in Harper’s magazine that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” He was speaking about the power of transparency, calling upon businesses to “shed light on” their finances in duty to the public.

Brandeis was particularly concerned with the hidden fees and commissions collected by J. P. Morgan and other banks on publicly traded stock purchases. His phrase holds a double meaning for us here at Third Act. Sunlight really is the best disinfectant, for both cleaning up our politics and the energy that powers our lives.  

We’ll be continuing this series regularly, shining light on the hidden world of regulators, utility companies, nonprofits, and our communities. Together we will change the current fossil-fueled electricity system to one that serves people, not giant corporations and multi-millionaire utility executives.

In our next post, we’ll discuss what influences are stopping our progress on clean energy. Hint: powerful utility trade groups, utilities’ political and financial muscle, lack of transparency, and gaming the rules.

Here’s how you can contribute to Power Up Communities:


Nancy LaPlaca

Nancy LaPlaca

Nancy LaPlaca (she/her), J.D., is an Energy and Climate Policy Consultant for Third Act’s Power Up Communities Campaign. She has 40 years of public policy experience, including 19 years of professional experience in electric/gas utility issues. Nancy has served as Policy Advisor to an elected Public Utilities Commissioner (Arizona, 2009-13), and was a public interest intervener at state-level public utilities commissions in AZ, CO and NC. Her areas of expertise include coal, natural gas, power plants, net metering, rate cases, renewable portfolio standards, and a wide range of electric, gas, and water utility dockets in a half dozen states.