The Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (UCA) formally the Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC), was created by the General Assembly in 1984 to address consumer concerns about the rising cost of utility service, the challenges of monopoly influence on regulation, and recent crisis’ in energy sectors. The office was tasked to be the advocate for the Public Interest in front of state and federal regulatory bodies.
In doing so, the office was to advocate on behalf of residential, small business, and agricultural customers, considering both short and long term interests of the public before the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), federal agencies, and the courts. In 2021, the General Assembly once again affirmed the value of the office in defending the public interest and reauthorized the UCA until 2028 with the passing of SB21-103.
This reauthorization broadened the UCA’s mission to include specific direction to consider the impacts on rates and charges to consumers and giving due consideration to statutory decarbonization goals set forth in sections 40-2-125.5 (3) and 25-7-102 (2)(g), just transition in accordance with section 40-2-133, and environmental justice. In addition, the General Assembly reestablished the advocacy on behalf of telecommunications consumers, which had been removed in 2015.
Unlike the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and most agencies within DORA, the UCA has no regulatory authority. The UCA is the sole voice charged with advocating for consumers when utilities seek to raise their rates. The UCA has no direct regulatory authority; it promulgates no rules. Forty states and the District of Columbia also have state utility consumer advocates.
The UCA plays a significant role in advocating for these constituent consumers’ interests in multimillion-dollar rate proceedings involving energy. Utility regulatory proceedings are very technical, complex, and complicated, requiring specialized analyses and modeling tools, resources not readily available to the average citizen or small business owner.
In most cases, the UCA reacts to filings made by regulated utilities or to initiatives of the PUC. However, the UCA may also initiate cases by challenging a utility’s rates or adequacy of service or by proposing that the Commission modify its rules. The UCA represents broad classes of consumers and may not represent individual consumers in complaints against utilities.
The UCA employs financial, economic, engineering, and policy analysts and other professionals to analyze utility rate and service information and intervene in proceedings that involve rate changes, rule-making, service modifications, and certificates of public convenience and necessity. Five attorneys in the Department of Law are assigned to the UCA for legal representation in the various utility regulatory proceedings. The UCA also contracts with recognized and technically qualified experts to perform research and appear as expert witnesses in proceedings.
The UCA is a cash-funded, type 1 policy independent agency in the Department of Regulatory Agencies. The cash funds come from an assessment on the state's regulated utilities collected through the Fixed Utility Fund. This would translate to about 4 cents a month in individual consumer rates to fund the UCA. The utility assessment also funds the PUC, as well as the UCA's lawyers and technical experts.
|2016 - 2017||$1,688,038|
|2017 - 2018||$1,840,516|
|2018 - 2019||$1,968,269|
|2019 - 2020||$1,931,820|
|2020 - 2021||$2,100,000|
* Budget includes Personnel and Legal Services, Operating, OIT, Leased Space, and Indirect Costs
Ms. Schonhaut was appointed Director of the Colorado Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (UCA) on January 2, 2014 (previously the Office of the Consumer Counsel). With a staff shortly becoming ten in number, working along with five attorneys from the Attorney General’s Office, she is responsible for representing the public interest, specifically the interests of residential, agricultural, and small business consumers in cases involving electric, natural gas and telecommunications utilities. The UCA represents consumer interests in cases before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, federal regulatory agencies, and the courts.
Prior to her position with the State of Colorado, Ms. Schonhaut was a telecommunications executive, attorney and consultant and an expert on telecommunications legislative and regulatory matters, appearing before state and federal governments. She had the privilege of testifying on behalf of competitive telecommunications companies before the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier in her career, she held high-level positions with the Federal Communications Commission.
Ms. Schonhaut is currently serving her second term as Secretary of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA). She previously served as Vice Chair of a competitive telecommunications trade association, now known as Incompass.
Ms. Schonhaut received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Syracuse University and a Juris Doctor degree, cum laude, from the University of Miami School of Law.