The Advisory Division provides financial and legal analysis, research and evaluation in Commission proceedings. Other functions the division performs include reviewing state and federal legislation, monitoring federal agency proceedings and conducting special studies or projects at the Commissioners' request. Key areas Advisory has been involved with during the past year include the Commission's electricity restructuring proceeding and addressing telecommunications issues arising from implementing the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Other responsibilities also fall under Advisory's supervision. The Commission's Personnel procedures, Media Relations and Data Processing sections come under Advisory's umbrella.
The Advisory Division maintains and oversees the Commission's Web site (www.psc.state.al.us). The site offers links to consumer information, electricity restructuring, press releases and a search function for Commission orders.
While the Advisory Division touches almost all aspects of the Commission, the primary role the division plays is to give the Commissioners relevant information and alternatives related to regulatory issues brought before the PSC.
Here is a detailed description of the activities of each section of Advisory:
Energy-related issues such as electric industry restructuring are the types of projects in which the Electricity Advisor is involved. Research is corroborated by the Electricity Advisor with organizations both within and outside of the Commission. As a rule, the Electricity Advisor's recommendations are made independently of the Commission's other divisions.
The Electricity Advisor is updated by Alabama Power Co. regarding the company's Integrated Resource Planning and significant financial arrangements. These areas of activity are reviewed on an ongoing basis, in addition to contracts involving the purchase and sale of energy-related resources.
Natural Gas Advisor
The Alabama Public Service Commission has 11 natural gas companies under its jurisdiction. The Natural Gas Advisor works independently of the Commission's other divisions to analyze natural gas industry issues before the Commission. This gives the Commissioners a separate recommendation for their review.
The Natural Gas Advisor forms recommendations by researching the industry and utilizing this knowledge to study natural gas issues. Because they are independent from the Commission's other divisions, the resulting financial analysis, operational reviews and recommendations can be used by the Commission to make the most informed judgments for the benefit of Alabamians.
Specifically, the Advisor reviews ratemaking methodologies, gas supply contracts, accounting matters, operational issues, municipal acquisitions and other filings made to the Commission.
The primary function of the Telecommunications Advisor is to provide verifiable, independent recommendations to the Director of the Advisory Staff and to the Commissioners on all matters relating to telecommunications companies under the PSC's jurisdiction. These companies include incumbent and competitive local exchange carriers, long distance companies and pay phone providers.
Specifically, the Telecommunications Advisor has three duties: (1) to review all telecommunications filings made to the Commission to ensure these filings comply with the established policies of the Commission; (2) working closely with the Advisory Division's Director, Telecommunications Division personnel and the Legal Division, this position participates in the development of the telecommunications policies and procedures implemented by the Commission; and (3) an extensive Special Projects function both within the telecommunications industry and without.
Important special projects addressed in FY-00 include the development of LATA-Wide Local Calling Plans for Verizon, Inc.; a series of public meetings throughout the state of Alabama where citizens met face to face with PSC staff and the Commissioners to discuss their telephone service; and the Commission review of the effects of competition in the electric and gas industries.
The current Telecommunications Advisor has 21 years of experience, comprising seven years at the federal regulatory level, three years at a publicly held federal and state jurisdictional utility company and 11 years at the state regulatory level.
The Data Processing Section is responsible for automation efforts in all divisions and offices of the Commission.
The Commission is presently totally electronically networked to all divisions internally and to the State of Alabama's consolidated data center. Additionally, the Data Processing Section has developed a Web site at www.psc.state.al.us. The Web site is used for consumer education, consumer inquiries, notification of filings and proceedings and to allow downloading of Commission orders and other public documents.
The Commission has a LAN with three servers attached. The file server is running Windows NT, and clients run either Windows 95 or Windows 98. Programming is accomplished with the Access language and SQL database. The Web and Proxy servers are also running Windows NT.
The Federal Affairs section keeps the Commission abreast of federal activities affecting utility regulation in Alabama. When necessary, the staff also intervenes and files comments in federal proceedings.
To stay on top of the federal scene, Federal Affairs monitors activities of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Railway Administration (FRA), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Just as important, Federal Affairs reviews federal court appeals and decisions on utility issues and, if appropriate, makes recommendations on action to be taken. The section also looks at proposed federal legislation affecting Alabama utilities and prepares documentation to express the Commission's views.
Keeping an eye on state legislation is another function of Federal Affairs. The section assists in drafting legislation and tracks its progress. At times, Federal Affairs staff members are called upon to testify on proposed bills at state legislative committee hearings. Federal Affairs also acts as the PSC's legislative liaison with the Governor's office.
Federal Affairs has worked with several significant regulatory issues in FY-00. A previously adopted Federal Affairs in-depth report on electricity restructuring launched an ongoing Commission proceeding on the topic. Federal Affairs is the lead section on this project. Since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, addressing issues related to its implementation has also been a focal point for Federal Affairs.
The Federal Affairs Section monitors and reports on positions taken by other state commissions and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) on issues affecting the Commission. This section also maintains and makes available to the Commission staff resource materials on federal issues.
Furthermore, Federal Affairs represents the Commission on the NARUC Staff Subcommittee on Communications and Staff Subcommittee on Nuclear Issues-Waste Disposal.
The Personnel office maintains the records of Commission employees. One of its primary functions is to identify changes in payroll expenditures that are incurred by appointments, resignations, promotions, terminations, etc.
Personnel oversees the processing and orientation of new employees. As the source for state and departmental rules, regulations and benefits that apply to employees, Personnel provides information through handbooks and manuals. Requests to fill vacancies in the Commission are processed by Personnel with the coordination of division directors.
The Personnel manager acts as the liaison with the State Personnel Department (SPD), checking to see every Personnel action is in line with state laws and SPD rules and regulations. The Personnel manager also represents the Commission at meetings of the State Personnel Board and the Council of Personnel Administrators.
Personnel develops and updates job descriptions on employees. This ensures appropriate classifications are selected for a particular job and may also be used as an indicator for change in classification and pay.
The Public Affairs Section of Advisory handles the public information duties of the Commission. This entails distributing information to the news media, the public and other state, governmental and regulatory agencies.
The Public Affairs coordinator serves as spokesperson for the Commission. Topics that have received a great deal of media interest during the past year include slamming and cramming, area code relief proposals for 334 and 205, and electricity restructuring.
The coordinator also produces informational materials such as the PSC's Annual Report, brochures, presentation aids and other graphic materials. Plus, the coordinator assists in posting information to the PSC's Web site. In addition, the coordinator attends Commission hearings and meetings and monitors media coverage of the PSC.
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