Many citizens know about the organizations that regulate investor-owned utilities in the Carolinas – in SC the Public Service Commission, and in NC, the Utilities Commission.
Fewer people may know about a separate group in each state that provides support to the commissions – a public staff. In SC it is known as the ORS – Office of Regulatory Staff. In NC – the most common term is the Public Staff.
The staffs represent the public in the ongoing regulation of major utility industries such as power, natural gas, water, sewer, transportation, and telecommunications. This involves, for instance, responsibility for the inspection, auditing, and examination of public utilities. The staffs perform research and information services for the utility commissions, courts and legislatures, and help solve issues between customers and regulated businesses.
Public staffs do not make decisions about the utilities. Decisions are up to the commissions. The staffs provide information to the commissions.
Public staffs do not have to wait to have an issue raised by the utilities commission for action. They can bring issues to the commissions. The staffs are involved in matters with utilities that are brought to the utility commissions.
Public staffs have more limited abilities to handle issues with coop power systems, they may assist in areas such as territory issues. The resources of the South Carolina ORS is not allowed to weigh-in on Santee Cooper discussions.
In NC the public staff was created in 1977. In SC, 2004. The reasoning on both counts was to have a division of responsibilities between those who did the background work on these industries and those who adjudicated issues for these industries. Consider the public staffs as another voice in the room to add perspective and input.