Some want to cut costs, others to improve service.
Uncertain economic times have always moved companies to find ways to cut costs. Utilities...
Anyone on the East Coast can tell you a good snow story this winter. Like when I looked out my front window one morning and saw a four-wheel-drive utility vehicle get stuck in the middle of my street in downtown Washington. After spinning his wheels for a while, the driver got out and began walking toward Connecticut Avenue, a main DC thoroughfare.
The driver soon returned, carrying a fresh, steaming cafe latte from Starbucks in each gloved hand. He opened the door, climbed in, and gave one cup to his passenger. They sipped. The driver then turned the key, started the engine, and the jeep pulled out straight away, as if nothing had happened.
Careful readers may remember the article by Kevin O'Donnell from late last year ("Aggregating Municipal Loads: The Future is Today," October 1, 1995, p. 26) that told the story of four small towns in eastern North Carolina that joined forces to aggregate loads and explore opportunities in wholesale power markets. O'Donnell showed how towns with very small loads (1.3 to 3.8 megawatts) can still play ball in competitive markets.
On January 11, Kevin called me to report that three of the four towns mentioned in the article have now entered an energy management agreement with Duke/Louis-Dreyfus, which will serve as agent to procure bulk power for Lucama, Black Creek, and Stantonsburg. These towns previously obtained their bulk-power requirements from the Town of Wilson, NC (itself supplied by the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency). O'Donnell reports that the Town of Fountain backed out of the group. Fountain, which is supplied by the City of Farmville, lacks line crews, bucket trucks, and other maintenance resources, says O'Donnell, so it decided to stay with a local power supplier. The Wilson Daily Times (an evening newspaper) carried the story on the front page on January 11: "Three towns unplug from Wilson . . .; rates cut 30-40%."
O'Donnell continues to express amazement at the difference in attitude ("can-do" versus "go-slow") in wholesale and retail electric markets in the Old North State. He acknowledges that the state commission ranks far down the list of deregulatory activists, but feels strongly that in this case, his three rural towns showed a commitment to customer choice: "Small loads can benefit simply by acting as their own power marketers and aggregating loads." In fact, O'Donnell says that after his article came out, he received calls from several marketers looking for small-sized loads.
Many years ago, I'm told, before we had funding for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), energy R&D came from appliance manufacturers vying for competitive advantage.
Robert L. Hirsch, a former EPRI vice president, has taken that lesson to heart in forming his new R&D venture, doing business as E-TEC, The Energy Technology Collaborative, Inc., headquartered in Washington, DC. I talked with Hirsch a few weeks ago about his new company.
E-TEC (formed in September 1995, with Hirsch as president) operates as an R&D brokerage company on behalf of a small group of fee-paying subscribers, generally electric utilities. It offers to procure