Cara Coburn-Faris – General Counsel
Cara’s lawyering has spanned corporate, government, and nonprofit settings, with an emphasis on public interest advocacy in the space where consumer and environmental issues overlap. Cara has fought to overturn wrongful convictions, secured settlements for victims of fraud, sued industrial polluters, assisted emerging non-profits, and helped voters navigate our state’s windy paths to casting their ballots. She also served as in-house counsel for one of Wisconsin’s leading transportation engineering firms. Before becoming a lawyer, Cara had a career in global marketing and development that took her across Asia and Europe. Cara is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Oberlin College and earned her law and Master of Science degrees from the University of Wisconsin.
Why are you excited to be part of CUB?
CUB has a decades-long reputation for skillful, nonpartisan, and tenacious advocacy on behalf of Wisconsin’s consumers. This time of transition and opportunity for the global energy sector and Wisconsin’s utility industry is also a next chapter for CUB. Being relatively new to CUB, and joining the organization at a time of change, I am excited to collaborate with my teammates as we work to establish CUB’s voice and the voices of consumers in the next era of utility regulation. For a small group, we bring a broad range of complementary skills and experiences to the table. I am passionate about contributing to a just, equitable, and sustainable future for Wisconsinites and feel that the CUB team is well-positioned to play an increasingly important role in this through its pursuit of just and reasonable utility rates.
From a big picture perspective, why is CUB important to the state of Wisconsin?
To live, work, and learn, we need heat and electricity (plus drinking water and, arguably today, internet). Most of us in Wisconsin buy our heat and electricity from monopoly for-profit corporations that we refer to in the industry as IOUs (investor-owned utilities). The primary goal of the IOUs is shareholder profitability, and these profits come from us, consumers of heat and electricity. Our choice—to either pay the bill the utility provider charges or to forgo heat and electricity altogether—is clearly not a choice at all.
The role of the WI Public Service Commission (PSC) in this power imbalance is to regulate the IOUs such that customer pricing is “just and reasonable.” The IOUs have plenty of resources to hire attorneys and expert witnesses to argue for raising customer charges, and they do, because even a small increase in customer charges can make a big difference in an IOU’s profitability. Individual consumers and small businesses, on the other hand, generally can’t afford to hire attorneys and expert witnesses to advocate for steady or lower customer charges before the PSC, and even if they could, the benefits of doing so (a few cents less on a monthly electric bill, for example), would hardly outweigh the costs.
This is where CUB steps in. Year after year, since the 1979 law passed making CUB Wisconsin’s consumer voice in utility regulation, CUB has gone before the PSC to represent the interests of all of Wisconsin’s individual consumers and small businesses. CUB’s collective victories have added up. Today, with the imperative to transition to renewable energy, IOUs are rapidly proposing large construction projects, fossil fuel plant retirements, and pricing changes. CUB will use its established voice to protect consumers and small businesses every step of the way. My hope is that with CUB’s involvement, heating our homes, workplaces, and schools and powering our lives becomes LESS expensive over time, both in terms of our utility bills and in terms of costs to our environment and communities.