Burdensome and Unnecessary Reporting Requirements of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act Need To Be Changed

EMD-81-105: Published: Sep 14, 1981. Publicly Released: Sep 14, 1981.

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GAO reviewed the need to continue portions of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act which address retail rate and regulatory policies for electric utilities. The Act was established to encourage conservation of energy supplied by electric utilities, efficiency in the use of facilities and resources by these utilities, and equitable rates to electricity consumers. It requires each State regulatory authority, in the case of every electric utility for which it has ratemaking authority, and nonregulated electric utilities to consider and determine whether adoption or implementation of 11 ratemaking and regulatory standards is appropriate. They are required to report to the Department of Energy (DOE), the President, and Congress on their actions and to make recommendations on additional Federal actions needed to achieve the purposes of the Act. The Act also requires utilities to file biennially with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and their respective State regulatory authorities extensive cost-of-service data.

DOE is unclear regarding the specific contents of the annual reports and believes that the contents should focus on the status of the consideration process, not the actual implementation of the standards. The preparation of future annual reports is jeopardized by the Administration's proposed budget cuts. The effectiveness of the DOE annual reports is somewhat weakened by untimely and nonverified information on actual State and utility progress in considering and making a determination on the standards. Some of the data available from sources other than DOE on State and utility ratemaking status are more timely than the material presented in the DOE annual report. There is a wide variance of opinion among utilities regarding the cost of compliance. Officials at small utilities stated that the costs of compliance are especially burdensome to them. Despite serving fewer customers, the load research sample requirements for small utilities are nearly as large as those of the much larger utilities. The current use of filed reports by the Federal Government, States, utilities, and special interest groups is minimal. The content, analyses, and potential use of the data have yet to be thoroughly reviewed by States and special interest groups.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should repeal section 116 of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act effective after the completion of the DOE third annual report.

  2. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should ensure, through the appropriations process, that DOE has sufficient priority to prepare and submit its third annual report to the President and Congress in a timely fashion.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should review and, as appropriate, revise its regulations for implementing section 133 in order to reduce the cost and burden on utilities. In doing so, FERC should, before the next filings are due: (1) review the extent to which data collected under section 133 duplicates other data submitted to the Federal Government; (2) assess whether the number of utilities required to comply with section 133 should be reduced in terms of size, number of utilities reporting per State and other factors; and (3) determine whether the data are actually being used by the parties for which they were intended and whether the benefits received from use of the data outweigh the costs. If FERC finds that it is cost beneficial to amend its regulations to reduce the number of utilities required to comply with section 133, it should seek such authority from Congress. However, if FERC shows that the costs to utilities to comply with section 133 are greater than the benefits to States, special interest groups, and other potential users of the filings, then FERC should request that Congress repeal the section.

    Agency Affected: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission


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