NEW JERSEY DIVISION
OF THE RATE COUNSEL
WHAT IS THE DIVISION OF THE RATE COUNSEL
The Division of Rate Counsel (formerly called the New Jersey Division of the Ratepayer Advocate) is a division within the Department of the Public Advocate and represents the interests of consumers of electric, natural gas, water/sewer telecommunications, cable TV service and insurance (residential, small business, commercial and industrial customers).
The Rate Counsel is a member of all state utility policy making groups and also represents consumers in setting energy and telecommunications policy that will affect the provision of services into the future.
The mission of the Rate Counsel is to make sure that all classes of utility consumers receive safe, adequate and proper utility service at affordable rates that are just and nondiscriminatory. In addition, the Rate Counsel works to insure that all consumers are knowledgeable about the choices they have in the emerging age of utility competition. Since January 2006, the division began representing consumers in certain insurance cases.
Additional information on the Rate Counsel and other utility matters can be found at the Division’s website at http://www.rpa.state.nj.us. The phone number is 973-648-2690. The Department of the Public Advocate website is http://www.state.nj.us/publicadvocate
HOW DOES THE RATE COUNSEL REPRESENT RATEPAYERS IN RATE CASES?
A utility cannot increase its rates - the charge to consumers for use of utility services - until the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities ("BPU") approves the change. To obtain BPU approval, the utility must "prove" that such a change is merited. The utility files its application with the BPU to demonstrate that an increase is justified.
The Rate Counsel is party to every proceeding in the State of New Jersey in which utilities seek to alter their rates or services. In each case, the Rate Counsel thoroughly investigates all aspects of the company's request.
is based on detailed information that the utility provides regarding its request
for changes in service or rate increases. The Rate Counsel's attorneys, along
with consulting economists, accountants, and engineers, analyze that information
and develop independent conclusions regarding the reasonableness of the utility's
request and prepare and file testimony that supports those conclusions and protects
ratepayers interests. Later, as a party to evidentiary hearings, the Rate Counsel
cross-examines the utility's witnesses and submits evidence to support the Division's
position. Subsequently, if necessary, the Rate Counsel will seek a better outcome
for ratepayers, by litigation in the appropriate state or federal court.
DOES THE RATE COUNSEL NEGOTIATE WITH UTILITIES TO AVOID THE EXPENSES OF LITIGATION?
Good consumer advocates must be ready to litigate to protect consumers' interests. However, litigation is expensive, and, in the case of utility litigation, a part of the expense may be passed on by utilities to consumers. To avoid the expense of litigation whenever it is in the best interest of ratepayers, the Rate Counsel negotiates with utilities and attempts to settle as many issues as possible without or before going to a contested hearing.
HOW ELSE DOES THE RATE COUNSEL WORK FOR RATEPAYERS?
The Rate Counsel plays an active role in policy making. The Division's attorneys participate in the Advisory Council of Energy Planning and Conservation and on the Energy Master Plan Task Force within the BPU. The Rate Counsel is also a member of the BPU's Cable/Telecommunications Task Force, which sets policies to ensure that all New Jersey consumers benefit from new information technologies. Additionally, the Division works with the BPU to develop long-term energy and telecommunications policy and goals that affect all New Jersey ratepayers. By assuring that the consumer's voice is heard at the outset of the ratemaking and policymaking processes, the Rate Counsel promotes the development of consensus and spares the State and its residents the expense and inefficiency of unnecessary litigation.
COMPETITION LOWER UTILITY BILLS?
Customers already have options in choosing their long distance telephone carriers. Current state and federal efforts will give customers more utility choices, with freedom to choose who supplies their local telephone service, cable television, as well as natural gas and electricity service. Effective competition in the energy and telecommunications industries should further the economic and environmental well-being of all New Jersey ratepayers. The Rate Counsel is working with policy groups in New Jersey to insure that competition provides all consumers - including lower income residential customers - with opportunities to realize savings while increasing consumer choice of services.
DOES PARTICIPATION IN PUBLIC HEARINGS MATTER?
Yes! Public hearings provide an opportunity for ratepayers to comment on proposed rate changes as well as utility services. These voices, joined with that of the Rate Counsel, can make a big difference. Speaking at a public hearing is important so ratepayers can communicate their positions to the Board of Public Utilities. Public participation also strengthens the Rate Counsel's challenges to rate increase requests and affects decisions of the BPU.
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