Electric restructuring at the state and federal levels is moving forward fast (em too fast for some. Utilities, unions, consumers and even legislators are making their opposition known by filing...
Does it make sense to deregulate utility meters before knowing how (or if) competition will work in the electricity industry? Or is it better to wait, to get a better idea of what customers will want, need and be willing to buy?
After all, the point is to give better choices to consumers. Shouldn't they have a say?
To open electric metering to competition implies standardization - collecting groups of engineers and scientists to approve technical standards for data formats and telecommunications protocols to achieve some degree of interoperability for equipment and software. It means creating a brand new industry virtually from scratch. That can prove tough to do without some input from the market.
Before Arizona regulators opened metering to competition, Arizona Public Service Co. had fought the idea, finding it "fraught with complexities." In Illinois, regulators and utilities have apparently decided to put meter deregulation on hold, figuring that it's difficult enough to introduce retail choice itself. That news comes from Arlene Juracek, vice president for access implementation (utilispeak for "competition") at Commonwealth Edison, who hosted a media roundtable for energy reporters in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 26. She admitted, however, that the unregulated marketers were not all keen on the idea of utility metering.
Anthony Mazy, chief originator of California's idea to open electric metering to competition, sees the issue almost in emotional terms. "Just because there may be a good reason to allow a single company an exclusive monopoly," says Mazy, "that doesn't mean that they should also have exclusive monopolies on related, but 'contestable' businesses." He adds, "Once it's decided that an area need not be restricted to a monopoly, the task is then to ensure a level playing field, provide penalties for anti-competitive behavior, and get out of the way."
Unfortunately, neither regulators nor utilities nor meter vendors are getting out of the way, at least to my liking. Enron said it all last year in a white paper it wrote for the Arizona debate: "It is not an easy task for a government to 'create' a market, when if fact, most markets spring forth spontaneously as the result of concerted and repeated human endeavor."
The deregulation process looks a bit like one of those radio or television contests inviting amateur musicians to submit compositions for a new official state song. (Didn't they try that once in Los Angeles, and give up when lyrics came back about smog and freeways?)
"Philosophical and Verbose"
As I began to research the article on electric meter deregulation that you'll find in this issue on page 52, one of the first questions to pop up was whether the metering industry should adopt something called ANSI C12.19. As I was to learn later, C12.19 is a technical engineering standard for data formats published by the American National Standards Institute.
The subject appeared crucial to California's Permanent Standards Working Group on metering and meter data, asked by utility regulators in that state to help pave the way for meter competition. In particular, the PSWG was considering whether to adopt ANSI C12.19 as