PSC's John P. Bethel on Keeping Arkansas' Utilities in Line


PSC's John P. Bethel on Keeping Arkansas' Utilities in Line
John P. Bethel, executive director of the Arkansas Public Service Commission (Karen E. Segrave)

As executive director of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, John P. Bethel is responsible for the direction and management of the staff of the commission, which oversees the rates and services of the natural gas, electric, water, sewer and telecommunications utilities in Arkansas.

Before becoming executive director in July 2000, he was the manager of the PSC’s Telecommunications Section. Bethel joined the PSC staff in 1988, after being employed by Worthen Bank as a financial analyst in the commercial lending division.

Bethel received a Bachelor of Science in business administration with a major in economics from the University of Arkansas in 1986 and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1993.

How do you balance the interests of utility companies and the interests of the public?
Very carefully! The commission’s responsibility is to ensure that utilities provide safe and reliable service at reasonable rates. In doing so, the commission must balance the customer’s need and interest in paying the lowest reasonable rates and the utility’s interest and need to earn sufficient income to attract capital to support the networks and operations required to provide safe and reliable service.

Fortunately, I work with a very dedicated and talented group of individuals. PSC staff inspect the utility facilities to ensure safe operations, and staff members examine the utility’s filings and supporting financial records to ensure that the costs recovered through rates are reasonable and appropriate. The commission’s staff investigates and evaluates each utility filing through the lens of ensuring safe and reliable service at reasonable rates.

How is the development of alternative energy sources, such as solar, changing the work of the PSC?
Renewable resources are a new and growing part of Arkansas’ energy resource mix. Arkansas has relatively low energy costs. Maintaining a diverse mix of resources is an important component of keeping energy costs reasonable, and renewable energy resources are part of that mix. Through the resource planning process, each of the regulated electric utilities has added cost-effective wind- and solar-generating resources to their mix of generation resources. Further, the commission is currently examining the rates, terms and conditions for net metering and is also evaluating policies concerning distributed generation resources.

Do you think the internet should be regulated like a public utility?
Internet service isn’t defined as utility service in Arkansas and has developed and flourished without regulation. Customers have numerous choices for internet service, so it does not appear to exhibit the characteristics of utility service that would warrant such regulation.

What’s the future of the wireline telephone industry?
The wireline telephone industry continues to play a vital role in providing voice, data and broadband communications services to customers in Arkansas. I anticipate that the wireline telephone service providers will continue to adapt and modify the services they provide and have a role in providing voice, data and broadband service.

How are ratepayers benefiting from Entergy’s membership in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator?
The commission is currently reviewing analyses of the benefits of Entergy Arkansas’ membership in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator regional transmission organization. The analyses of Entergy and the commission’s staff indicate that customers continue to realize benefits of lower capacity and energy costs due to Entergy’s participation in the MISO markets. The commission will consider the filings in the proceeding and will issue an order later this year addressing those recommendations.