Agency Primer: Public Service Commission

Agency Primer by IRG:

Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission

Prior to the 1907 Public Utilities Law, Wisconsin utilities were largely regulated by local municipalities. At that time, utility services were provided by private companies and local governments alike. Each municipality set their own standards and granted franchises. Some municipalities created monopolies while others tried to create competition by granting multiple franchises. In some cases, when a utility would expand into a new municipality, those residents would pay higher rates to subsidize the cost for residents of the regulating municipality. The end result was varying levels of price, reliability and duplication of expensive infrastructure.

Enacted in 1907, the Public Utilities Law was a response to public dissatisfaction with reliability and cost of service. The law granted utilities monopoly status and transferred regulatory control to the state government. The state would now set standards of service, rates and fees, and allow utilities to take private property for infrastructure with approval of the state. The Public Utilities Law placed this authority within the Wisconsin Railroad Commission until the Public Service Commission was established in 1931.

Today, the powers of the Public Service Commission are vested in three commissioners, appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Commissioners serve six-year staggered terms. Every two years, the Governor appoints the chair of the Commission. The Chair of the Commission is largely responsible for the administrative functions of the agency alongside their normal duties as a commissioner. In some cases, the Chair may choose to delegate oversight over portions of agency operations to another commissioner. In light of the need for technical expertise, the agency is staffed by auditors, economists, accountants, attorneys, engineers and planners.

The Public Service Commission is located within the Hill Farms State Office Building on the west side of Madison.

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