About the OCC

The Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) was created by the legislature in 1984 to represent the public interest and the specific interests of residential, small business and agricultural consumers in electric, natural gas, and telecommunications rate and rulemaking cases before the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), federal agencies, and the courts.  In the 2015 legislative session, the passing of SB 271 (the OCC's sunset review) eliminated telecommunications from the OCC's advocacy. The OCC continues representing the public interest and the interests of its constituency for energy-related issues.

 

Unlike the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and most agencies within DORA, the OCC has no regulatory authority. The OCC is the sole voice charged with advocating for consumers when utilities seek to raise their rates. The OCC has no direct regulatory authority; it promulgates no rules. Forty states and the District of Columbia also have state utility consumer advocates.

The OCC 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 OCC reacts to filings made by regulated utilities or to initiatives of the PUC. However, the OCC may also initiate cases by challenging a utility’s rates or adequacy of service or by proposing that the Commission modify its rules. The OCC represents broad classes of consumers and may not represent individual consumers in complaints against utilities.

The OCC 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. Three attorneys in the Department of Law are assigned to the OCC for legal representation in the various utility regulatory proceedings. The OCC also contracts with recognized and technically qualified experts to perform research and appear as expert witnesses in proceedings.

 

The OCC 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 OCC. The utility assessment also funds the PUC, as well as the OCC's lawyers and technical experts.

Fiscal Year Budget*
2016 - 2017 $1,688,038
2017 - 2018 $1,840,516
2018 - 2019 $1,968,269
2019 - 2020 $1,931,820

* Budget includes Personal and Legal Services, Operating, OIT, Leased Space, and Indirect Costs

OCC Director

Cindy Schonhaut became the Director of the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel in January 2014. She previously was an executive, attorney, and consultant in the telecommunications industry and was involved in renewable energy initiatives. Her career started as an attorney with the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., and she later worked for several competitive telecommunications providers. In that capacity, she testified before several state legislatures as well as the U.S. House of Representatives. Her experience also includes testifying before many state regulatory agencies about competition in the telecommunications industry. She has a law degree from the University of Miami and a degree in social work from Syracuse University.