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Fortnightly Magazine - March 15 2000

Fuel Cells: White Knight for Natural Gas?

Regina R. Johnson

New technologies cloud the future for the traditional electric utility, but offer hope to the gas industry in boosting residential demand.

Investors apparently were paying attention in January when a Web-based analyst predicted Plug Power's stocks could gain 10,000 percent or more by 2010. Before month's end, the fuel cell manufacturer, which doesn't expect to turn a profit before 2004, saw a ninefold increase from the $16 closing day share price at its October initial public offering. That month Avista Corp.

E-Marketing: Is Energy Missing the Net?

Patricia Lloyd Williams

Before the industry can tap into the Web's full potential, it needs to remove some roadblocks - without regulating itself into a corner.

Everyone involved in energy recognizes that deregulation is driving major changes in how the industry operates. What some may not recognize is that the evolution of e-commerce is compelling even greater changes in the way energy is marketed and purchased in both wholesale and retail markets.

Frontlines

Bruce W. Radford

Why utilities haven't scored at e-commerce.

From what I hear, utilities would love to junk their call centers, whether or not they run them in-house. Call centers had their moment in the sun, but today the Internet makes them look feeble. Why hire a minimum-wage sales staff to take orders by phone when consumers will gladly input their own bids at the click of a mouse? You can't trim transaction costs any closer than that.

People

Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson appointed three new members to the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board for two-year terms. J. Brian Atwood is the executive vice president of Citizens Energy Corp. and director of Citizens International. Daphne Kwok is the executive director of the Organization of Chinese Americans Inc. Burton Richter is the Paul Pigott Professor of Physical Sciences at Stanford University and director emeritus of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

News Digest

State PUCs

Retail Energy Choice. At press time, Virginia issued proposed interim rules governing pilot programs for electric retail competition in electricity and natural gas, with comments due Feb. 24. The interim rules were not expected to resolve all issues, but only to provide a starting point to gain experience.

Among other points, the interim rules would require utilities to make information available through electronic bulletin boards on availability of commodity supply, ancillary services, and transmission and distribution capacity. Case No.

News Analysis

Lori A. Burkhart, Carl J. Levesque and Bruce W. Radford

State regulators say they won't bargain under "threat of blackouts," but their complaint only highlights how the power is shifting.

The Michigan Public Service Commission is concerned about power supplies this summer - so much so that for the third year in a row it has ordered electric utilities in the state to file plans assessing their generation and transmission capacity for the upcoming summer.

Off Peak

As energy suppliers gather more detail about customers, opportunities for segmenting and selling them will increase during the next five years.

As technology such as AMR and improved information-gathering systems enhance customer data, energy service providers will be well-positioned to segment load profiles into valuable blocks for sale. According to PHB Hagler Bailly's "Energy Industry Outlook 2000," this bottom-line-enhancing possibility will contribute to the changing customer-energy supplier relationship during the next five years.