WHAT IS A CITIZEN UTILITY BOARD (CUB)?
A Citizen Utility Board (CUB) is an independent, non-profit, organization of residential utility ratepayers. CUBs exist in four states in the U.S., and the first CUB was organized in Wisconsin in 1979. CUBs advocate for fair telephone, cable TV, electric, gas and water rates, and sensible energy policies before utility regulatory commissions, the government and the courts. Individual CUBs can be set up for each utility or one CUB can be set up to advocate for some or all utility ratepayers together. CUBs can also be set up (using the pamphlet method described below) to watch over other business sectors, and also government sectors.
CUBs have been very successful. For example, Illinois CUB has saved consumers more than $20 billion since 1983; Oregon CUB has saved consumers more than $8.5 billion; Wisconsin CUB has saved consumers more than $3 billion just since 2008; and UCAN San Diego has saved consumers more than $400 million. As well, all of the CUBs have advocated for sustainable energy policies.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CUBs AND OTHER CITIZEN GROUPS?
CUBs are created by a law passed by the government or by an order of a utility regulatory commission. The key to CUBs is the right (by law or order) to enclose a pamphlet once or twice each year in the billing envelopes that are sent to households by utility companies. Usually, the government or commission provides funding (a grant or loan) to the CUB to print the first pamphlet. The pamphlet informs consumers about the CUB and invites them to join for a nominal annual membership fee ($30-40). Today, the companies should be required to send out pamphlets to customers who still receive their bills by mail, and email notices to customers who receive their bills by email, with both the pamphlets and emails inviting customers to join the watchdog group.
“Piggybacking” the CUB pamphlet with the utility bills is an effective way to reach all individual ratepayers at little or no cost to government or the utilities (and sending out emails would likely be just as effective). About four percent of consumers usually join a CUB. For example, the first pamphlet for Illinois CUB was sent out in 1983 in utility bill envelopes in that state, and within six months it had 170,000 members and an annual budget of about $2 million.
According to a national survey of Canadians, 64% of Canadians support the creation of CUBs in Canada using the pamphlet method, while only 27% oppose it.
In addition, a national coalition made up of 31 citizen groups with a total membership of 3.5 million Canadians supports the creation of the CUBs in Canada.
HOW COULD THE CUB “PAMPHLET METHOD” BE USED FORM CITIZEN WATCHDOG GROUPS FOR GOVERNMENT SECTORS?
Governments can form and fund groups to watch over key government activities using the CUB “pamphlet method”. The pamphlet would be enclosed in tax return mailings, driver license and other license renewal notice mailing, and social assistance and pension cheque envelope mailings. The government would also send out email notices to any citizen they send out emails to about the watchdog groups.
The pamphlet and email would describe and either invite citizens to join government watchdog groups, or to donate to a fund that existing NGOs that watch over government can apply to for funding.
The groups and/or the funds would be focussed on watching over key government activities — with a group to watch over ethics issues, another group to watch over spending, another group to watch over service delivery (especially health care and welfare), and another group to watch over voter rights.
Like CUBs, citizen watchdog groups over government sectors would hire their own professional staff of lawyers, lobbyists, and organizers to challenge unfair and wasteful activities.
HOW WOULD CITIZEN WATCHDOG GROUPS FOR GOVERNMENT BE FUNDED?
CUBs are funded by voluntary contributions from ratepayers. CUBs do not receive any government or utility funding. Citizen watchdog groups over government sectors would be funded in the same way, using only the “pamphlet/email method” to raise funds.
WHO WOULD CONTROL CITIZEN WATCHDOG GROUPS FOR GOVERNMENT SECTORS?
Ratepayers who join a CUB control the group through the election of regional delegates and its board of directors. The board hires the CUB’s professional staff and determines the group’s policies. CUBs are democratic organizations. Citizen watchdog groups over government sectors would similarly be run by a board elected from amongst members.
For more details, go to Democracy Watch’s Citizen Association Campaign