April 01, 1998
WHICH NUCLEAR PLANTS WILL SURVIVE competition? To answer that question, senior managers at electric utilities must know a nuclear plant's true economic potential....
The musings of a utility staffer-written in a spirit of respect for all those staffers who have come to terms with their innermost fears.
I am an employee at what they call a "FERC jurisdictional utility." That means I also moonlight as a professional meeting-goer. But it's a good job. I do my small part to keep the electric transmission grid safe and reliable.
And it better be. Because, as you know, there is only one Grid, and we all have to share if we want to move power around. Out here in the West, each of us owns different pieces of the Grid. But since we must balance the Grid almost instantaneously, from Canada on down to Mexico, and from the left coast to the interior of Colorado, we know that it would collapse and fall down if we didn't coordinate our operations. After all, it takes only seconds for power to move across a continent.
For 10 years I've worked hard at this-ever since Congress chose open access in 1992. And though it's been a long time since anyone considered me for a promotion, that's OK, too. You see, I've put my ambitious younger years behind me now. Even so, I still put in a lot of early mornings and late nights, traveling around the Western states to meet with other utility employees, just like me.
What I Do
I admit that my company doesn't consider me to be indispensable to day-to-day operations. Yet they see my salary as a small price to pay for keeping FERC satisfied with the progress toward a standard market design for the electric industry. I find that rewarding.
In fact, anyone from the public is free to come to our meetings and speak his mind or vent her frustrations. We all have them. Frustrations, I mean.
When not at meetings, I fulfill the very necessary job of keeping everyone in my company informed. I report on the issues-on everyone else's position on all of the issues, on all of the other groups and all of their issues, and on how those issues relate to the timing of my group's issues. Plus, I keep track of the issues that my company thinks we should make some comments on later, or perhaps should have already made some comments on but didn't.
Sharing information is critical. Mutual understanding is essential if we are ever going to find a solution to please every stakeholder, which, of course, is even more essential.
Why I Do It
As long as people go to meetings, FERC will wait for us to figure things out ourselves for the Western Grid, which is OK by me.
No one at these meetings makes any decisions, so there's no harm in requiring just about everyone to attend, as FERC does. Nor does anyone ever make recommendations to other people who actually might make decisions. Decisions mean risk. And we all agree that risk with something as important as electricity is not a good thing.
In fact, there is really no point in getting together for