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Five commission chairs from states in all phases of deregulation ponder their changing roles. Will market success make them obsolete?
As most state electric competition plans are implemented within the next few years, regulators face an uncertain future. And they're already reflecting on their role in a changing industry.
Regulatory commissions in both Illinois and California have created panels to discuss the issue and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has held closed-door sessions on the subject. If commissions do not begin to determine their role as regulators in the new millennium, some commission chairs say, state legislatures may do it for them.
In early October, for example, Kentucky's Bardwell City Council proposed to abolish the Bardwell City Utility Commission and bring its duties under the city's supervision to save money. Will state utility commissions also have to fight for their survival?
Many commissioners say they are under increasing pressure to justify the public utilities commission's existence and expense to the state legislature. The PUC's performance in electric and natural gas restructuring and its responsiveness to utility customers may be what determine its future, some commission chairs say.
"I really am intent on the whole relevance of regulation and the timeliness of regulation," says one commission chair. "We just have to do a better job. We just can't take months, or in some cases years, to decide issues, or I think we will become obsolete."
But how do regulators evaluate their performance, and will those deemed successful by the legislature have regulated themselves out of a job? The Fortnightly posed these questions and many others to commission chairs from Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Texas and California.
* Joe Garcia, chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission, explains why his state has decided to delay action on electric restructuring.
* Richard L. Mathias, chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission, details the difficulties of making competition happen and what PUCs may learn from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
* Alan R. Schriber, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, argues that customer switching is not necessarily the mark of successful retail competition.
* Pat Wood III, chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, explains how his state learned from the failures and successes of others in adopting an electric competition plan.
* Richard A. Bilas, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, tells why retail competition can't yet be declared a success in his state and what he is prepared to do about it.
The commission chairs reveal their visions of the PUC's future role, as today's policy successes and failures are shaping it. They discuss lingering issues in states that have deregulated electricity markets and obstacles that remain for those that have not. Finally, the chairs weigh in on whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is infringing on matters of state authority with its plans to reorganize the national transmission grid through regional transmission organizations (Docket No.RM99-2-000).
Joe Garcia, chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission. His state has delayed major action on electric industry restructuring.
Where will Florida be