Mergers & Acquisitions
CP&L + Florida Progress. Carolina Power & Light announced Aug. 23 that it would purchase Florida Progress Corp. for $5.3 billion in a combination that...
And in Texas, all customer information flows through ERCOT.
Texas thinks it has the right formula for retail choice.
When queried on the wisdom of its restructuring plan relative to California's restructuring woes, Texas likes to point to the new generation capacity coming online, and a supply-demand balance much more favorable than California's.
But if you're looking for electric restructuring Texas-style, forget capacity; plenty of regions are siting new plants. Instead, look no further than the mundane topic of how customer data is exchanged among utilities and competitive retail suppliers, for no other state has taken the approach that Texas has embraced. After all, there is no single solution to making electric retail choice work, and the Lone Star State realizes the devil is in the details, such as switching processes, load profiles, the nuts and bolts of data exchange, and so on.
In actuality, however, it's not how customer data is exchanged (not much talk of EDI or XML in this article), but is handling that exchange of information. Unlike any other state, that "who" is the state's reliability council and independent system operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Unlike most states, where exchange of data such as customer load profiles is largely a function of the utility, Texas has created a more centralized system, wherein all such information passes directly through ERCOT.
"ERCOT set a precedent, really, in the way they handle customer data," says Jim Krajecki, manager at Structure Consulting Group. "At the ERCOT level, they're actually going to track each individual resident in Texas - all 10 million of them or so - and actually know which [supplier] is assigned to each customer. Nowhere else that I know of is that being done."
Structure Consulting is certainly familiar with Texas's approach to customer data, for it has been serving as a consultant to ERCOT since October 1999, assisting in areas ranging from customer care to customer registration systems. One indication of just how heavily involved ERCOT is with the retail side of competition is the mere fact that it has even created its own customer care component. Taking on a role normally assigned to the utility, ERCOT has established its own call center to handle such customer matters as problems with the switching process. The customer care component will handle such issues as supplier switching without customer consent, or slamming. To that end, the issuance of a postcard notifying a customer of a switch is left to none other than the state's ISO - ERCOT.
It might seem strange for an ISO or reliability council to become so intimately involved with retail customer issues, and so it's not surprising that ERCOT needed a lot of help in creating its new customer care component. "ERCOT as an organization É just didn't have quite the background," says Krajecki, explaining his company's role in helping to set up a customer care component that will serve 10 million end-users.
"ERCOT took the approach of, 'Okay, we're going to centralize as much of the data collection as possible,'"