A conversation with Meg Curran: New PUC Chair
Margaret “Meg” Curran has pretty much done it all.
This biologist-turned-anthropologist-turned-lawyer served as a United States Attorney from 1998 to 2003. She was also previously a member of the Rhode Island Parole Board, and she currently serves as chairperson of the Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange Advisory Board.
And now added to Curran’s already impressively long resume is something entirely new to her — she’s recently been appointed the chairperson of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which regulates the rates and structures of utilities throughout the state, such as electricity, telephone service, ferries and trains.
“Learning about the different utilities is fascinating,” said Curran of her new position. “It’s also interesting the number of intersections that overlap with the PUC, and the kinds of things the PUC touches on.”
Open to ideas from Block Island
The Public Utilities Commission often touches on Block Island issues, including regulating the island’s ferry services and the Block Island Power Company. Most recently, the PUC approved rate changes for ferry company Interstate Navigation, a decision that proved to be controversial on the island.
While talking with Curran, The Block Island Times asked how Block Island could have more of a say in cases heard before the PUC. During the most recent rate case — in which Interstate was allowed to raise its freight rates while lowering car costs — some members of the Block Island Town Council claimed that the town was not allowed as much input as it needed, even though the town was considered an interested party in the case.
“I do believe that it’s very important for the PUC to hear from the interested parties,” said Curran. “I’m open to any ideas that Block Island has got. I do think that it’s important that everyone feels that they’ve been heard, listened to and considered.”
However, Curran admitted she doesn’t know too much about Block Island’s particular issues — yet. But she does express a zeal for research (“I’m kind of a nerd,” she confessed) and plans to learn more about the island as she goes along.
“I have to admit I’m trying to read a lot of different information — my brain is pretty much teeming,” said Curran, who has been chair of the PUC since July 1, after being appointed to the post by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee in June.
She added that she hopes to visit Block to learn more about its issues. “I know that Block Island has always been very environmentally conscious. It has a great committee out there,” she said, referring to the town’s Electric Utilities Task Group. “I think Block Island has certainly been ahead on renewable energy areas, in part because its energy costs are so high.”
The Electric Utilities Task Group looks at energy issues on Block Island. It discusses options for renewable energy technologies. As an example, the group has been discussing converting town streetlights to LED technology.
Thoughts on the PUC
Curran said she hopes to look closely at expanding renewable energy in Rhode Island. One of the big issues to consider, she said, is how to “encourage the development of new technologies while at the same time allowing existing utilities to continue.”
When asked how she expects to address this issue, Curran said: “I think it’s kind of built in. There’s a lot of renewable stuff that’s before the PUC all the time.”
Since taking the job, Curran noted, “I don’t think that I have had what you consider ‘a normal day’ yet.” Instead, she’s been busy learning the ropes, and she has also chaired two public meetings of the Public Utilities Commission.
“My first one [meeting] was actually fun,” she said, a hint of excitement in her voice.
In particular, Curran said she found the public discussion aspect new and intriguing, particularly because in her previous background in law, deliberation was not always public.
“Open meetings are incredibly important. It’s an opportunity to do a general education of what the PUC does when people come before the commission. At open meetings such as rate hearings, the commission has the opportunity to explain on record certain things,” she said.
A diverse background
While Curran reiterates that she hasn’t done work that is related to utilities before, she feels confident she can master the job.
“Having worked in healthcare, I’m certainly familiar with heavily-regulated areas,” she said. “Having a background as a lawyer and having practiced, I am good at analyzing information and putting it all together.”
Curran has a B.A. in biology from the University of Pennsylvania, and a master’s in anthropology from Purdue University. Curran received her law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law.
On her switch from anthropology to law, Curran said this: “I thought, ‘What am I going to do with anthropology?’ My dad was a lawyer and he loved his job. I thought maybe I should try that.”