Meet the new Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, Ron Gerwatowski

Published Date
September 2020
Ron Gerwatowski
Ron Gerwatowski

Governor Gina Raimondo appointed Ron Gerwatowski Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission in June 2020. Chairman Gerwatowski has worked in the utility and energy industry for over thirty years. Prior to his appointment, he served as a Senior Regulatory Advisor to the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers. For the past four years, he has been a guest lecturer and instructor in the Energy Fellows Program at the University of Rhode Island.

 

We asked Chairman Gerwatowski about the PUC and his vision for the next year and beyond.

 

1. For our readers who are not energy experts, can you describe what the PUC does and what your role is there?

 

The Public Utilities Commission is a “quasi-judicial” agency.  The utilities we regulate have statutory requirements to obtain approvals from the Commission, such as rate increases, procurement contracts, energy efficiency programs, and other matters. It is the role of the Commission to consider the proposals and issue orders approving or denying the requests based on an evidentiary record, much like a court. When rate changes are proposed, it is the role of the Commission to assure that the rates are just and reasonable, and that the utilities have the resources and are conducting their business in a way that assures safe and reliable service. We also have an important role to assure that the proposals being made by the utilities are consistent with the law and policies adopted by the General Assembly. Because the statutes do not always specify what is permissible and not permissible, the Commission also can fill regulatory gaps and issue directives designed to assure that the actions taken by utilities are in the public interest.

2. Looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, what are the major goals that you would like to accomplish as the new chairman?

3. The coronavirus pandemic has changed life for Rhode Islanders. In what way has the PUC changed in the face of the pandemic? Have your priorities shifted?

The last two questions call for a similar answer, so I will answer them together.

Unlike other agencies with policy-making responsibilities, the Commission in Rhode Island does not typically set policy goals or create initiatives. While we do establish policy standards for reviewing proposals, we largely operate as the last stop before a utility launches any initiative, whether the proposal is small or one with wide-ranging policy implications.  

Having said this, the economic difficulties being experienced in Rhode Island from the pandemic will be a significant point of reference for me as Chairman when the Commission considers the impacts of proposals in 2021. My goal would be to strive for rate stability during a very challenging time. 

As we strive to emerge from this short-term crisis, I recognize that we have some very important long-term objectives to achieve a clean, affordable, and reliable energy future. This presents the biggest challenge for the Commission because these three related objectives of “clean”, “affordable,” and “reliable” do not always neatly align with each other. It almost always requires a careful balancing of competing objectives that is not easy for the general public to appreciate. But that is a part of our job at the Commission.