ORA - The Office of Ratepayer Advocates is the independent consumer advocate within the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that advocates solely on behalf of investor owned utility ratepayers.
ORA's statutory mission is to obtain the lowest possible rates for service consistent with reliable and safe service levels. In fulfilling this goal, ORA also advocates for customer and environmental protections. As the only state entity charged with this responsibility, ORA plays a critical role in ensuring that the customers of California’s energy, water, and telecommunications utilities are represented at the CPUC and in other forums that affect customers’ utility bills, environmental benefits, and reliability and safety of those services.
On or before January 10 of each year, ORA is required to submit its Annual Report to the Legislature, providing:
ORA’s Staff: The number of personnel years assigned to ORA and a comparison of the staffing levels for a five-year period.
ORA’s Budget: The total dollars expended by ORA in the prior year, estimated total dollars expended in the current year, and the total dollars proposed for appropriation in the following budget year.
- ORA’s Workload Standards and Measures: The number of CPUC proceedings, pleadings, and education and outreach in which ORA participates in the reporting year.
In 2014, ORA...
- Participated in 175 CPUC proceedings
- Filed approximately 535 pleadings to aid the CPUC in developing the record from which Commissioners formulated their final decision
- Met with decision-makers on behalf of ratepayers 184 times
ORA’s 2014 budget of $25,180,000 represents a small fraction of ratepayers’ investment compared with the more than $4 billion in savings ORA helped to achieve on behalf of ratepayers in 2014. This savings was realized in the form of lower utility revenues and avoided rate increases. For every dollar customers spent on ORA in 2014, they saved approximately $160 across their utility bills. Additionally, ORA influenced the outcome of numerous CPUC policies, decisions, and California legislation that will positively impact ratepayers.
ORA has a staff of 142 professionals consisting of engineers, economists, scientists, and auditors with expertise in regulatory issues related to the electricity, natural gas, water, and telecommunications industries in California. ORA’s staff performs in-depth review and analyses of regulatory policy issues and utility proposals, for funding that totals in the tens of billions of dollars, in order to determine whether utility requests are in the interest of the ratepayers who fund utility activities through their utility bills. ORA also supports environmental policies that benefit customers and seeks to ensure that utility actions comport with CPUC rules and California environmental laws and policy goals.
ORA represents approximately 80 percent of California’s energy customers of investor owned energy utilities with an emphasis on residential and small business customers. ORA evaluates utility and other stakeholder proposals for both electricity and natural gas in the areas of Customer Rates, Procurement, Renewables, Climate Initiatives, Distributed Energy Resources, Electric and Gas Transmission and Distribution, and Consumer Protection. In 2014, ORA’s major areas of focus included reviewing these utility proposals for accountability and keeping rates affordable, while supporting California’s energy goals and promoting the safety of the state’s energy infrastructure. ORA scrutinized the requests of California’s investor owned utilities seeking to significantly increase customer rates. In 2014, ORA reviewed utility requests for energy revenue increases and programs that totaled more than $24 billion statewide. ORA’s advocacy efforts on energy issues aided in saving ratepayers over $4 billion.
ORA represents about 6 million people who are customers of California's investor owned water utilities, approximately 20 percent of all of California’s urban water usage. ORA advocates for affordable, safe, and reliable investor owned water utility services, as well as strong low-income water programs, cost-effective conservation programs, and long-term water supply solutions. ORA reviews water utility requests for additional revenues to ensure service is high-quality, prudent, and affordable. In 2014, ORA reviewed nearly $200 million in water utility requests to increase revenues. ORA’s efforts saved water ratepayers nearly $50 million – or approximately $7.76 per month on customer water bills. Additionally, ORA negotiated settlements with water utilities that would result in an additional $15 million in savings, which are pending before the CPUC.
ORA advocates for the fair treatment of California's wireline and wireless telephone service customers, as well as to ensure universal access to affordable broadband services. ORA’s Communications efforts in 2014 primarily focused on affordability, public safety, consumer protection, service quality, and reliability for voice and broadband Internet services. ORA supports programs that promote greater access to services across a variety of technology platforms, because communications is a basic societal necessity. In 2014, ORA reviewed utility requests associated with the CPUC’s oversight of approximately $1 billion in Universal Service program funds to help ensure that these programs were operated prudently and consistent with the public benefit, including subsidies for broadband deployment and adoption, Lifeline, and the Deaf and Disabled Telephone Program. ORA also reviewed national policy and economic issues that will have significant impact on California broadband consumers.
ORA maintains a full-time presence in Sacramento, actively participating in the Legislative and Budget processes in Sacramento by working directly with the Governor’s office, the Legislature, Department of Finance, Legislative Analyst’s Office, and other related entities. In 2014, ORA worked directly with Member offices and testified on many public utilities bills. ORA achieves its statutory mission to represent the customers of investor-owned utilities for energy, natural gas, water, and communications in Sacramento by:
- Taking positions on bills.
- Testifying in informational and bill hearings.
- Providing technical legislative and constituent assistance.
- Participating in working groups.
- Providing updates on CPUC and ORA actions.