Who Speaks at Commissions?

This blog comes with a thesis: that increasing the diversity of participation in energy regulation will ultimately improve how energy is regulated. In one of my first posts, I looked at the gender distribution of public utility commissions (PUCs). Now I have another question: what’s the gender distribution of those who give the evidence at PUCs?

The Data

I created a data set that included 172 pieces of testimony from 159 distinct witnesses across 4 rate cases that were filed in 2015 or 2016. I selected cases based on either being familiar with them or knowing that the PUC websites were sufficiently navigable that I could quickly assess who was providing the testimony:

  • El Paso Electric (Texas, 44941)
  • Xcel Energy (Colorado, 16AL-0048E)
  • FP&L (Florida, 160021)
  • NV Energy (Nevada, 16-06006)

This ONLY includes direct and answer testimony — I did not collect changes or duplicates in cross-answer and rebuttal testimony. Where I didn’t know the witnesses personally or by reputation, I verified gender through company websites or LinkedIn (i.e., I endeavored not to make assumptions about people’s gender identification). Additionally, I classified the witnesses based on the stakeholders for whom they spoke (e.g., consumer advocate, PUC staff, commercial & industrial, etc.).

Given that there were 118 electric utility rate cases filed in 2015 and 2016, I’m not sure that this is a statistically valid sample, but the cases I selected are consistent with my observations over 8 years as to the scope of issues covered, the range of stakeholders represented, and the number of individuals providing testimony as a whole.

The Conclusions

Fully three-quarters of the witnesses in the electric rate cases I sampled were men. The most interesting result to me — something I had observed but not quantified — was that most of the women who provided testimony were working for PUCs or utilities. While the most common areas for women were in accounting and human resources, a lucky few performed load forecasting, cost of service studies, distribution engineering(!), economic analyses, and overall policy. Consumer advocates provided a couple of female witnesses. Commercial and industrial customers (large retailers and manufacturers) were entirely represented by men, with 16 pieces of testimony by 12 male witnesses.

Interestingly — but anecdotally — I don’t think this data is reflective of attorneys in the same way that it is with witnesses. Women are now receiving more JDs than men year-to-year, and if you look at service lists, you’ll find female attorneys representing stakeholders in every part of the electric utility industry. They’re performing the tough cross-examination, but they’re not the people providing the factual evidence.

The Next Steps

Initially, I was collecting much more data — for example, I tried to use college graduation dates in resumes as a proxy for age, and I began marking the testimony areas (financial, accounting, resource planning, etc.). I believe it would be useful to look not only at gender, but also at race, age, and experience to build a fuller perspective as to who participates at PUCs. It would also be useful to look at whose voices are heard and adopted into final decisions. However, building that dataset requires more time and forethought as to how to quantify these complex concepts.

Now — because this is the internet, I will continue to emphasize that this is not to cast aspersions on any men who are providing regulatory testimony. But PUCs have a diversity challenge. Given that they are tasked with making findings as to what constitutes the public interest, I believe they would benefit from encouraging participants who represent the fuller demographics of the public, from gender and race to geography and economic background.

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