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Perspective

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.
Fortnightly Magazine - March 15 2003

a group recommendation unless everyone agrees with my employer. We can keep talking, as long as there is no one to listen to the recommendation but my employer and some of our favorite neighboring utilities.

I used to ask to be given some other job to do at my company. But they said no so many times that I stopped asking.

Besides, I have accumulated too much knowledge about all the things we have disagreed about before. It is difficult, especially in some parts of the West, to find a good job. So I go to meetings. We can do no harm there, as our management knows. There is not much chance of anything major happening. And were we all to emerge with the exact same idea, there would still be no money to implement it.

Because, as you see, the one thing we really need but don't have is capital. We need more-lots and lots of capital to keep up with growth and to replace old plants. But capital wants certainty. So as long as we go to meetings and talk about all the progress we're making, capital stays away. It just sits and waits for us to agree on a decision, which we don't want to do.

But we keep going to meetings anyway-not because we don't need capital, but because someday we may agree enough to encourage capital to come back.

Even if there were an independent board or some sort of regional council that listened to our recommendations but didn't agree to all of them, I would not worry too much, since they wouldn't likely agree to do much except file requests with FERC for more time. But don't worry-FERC also prefers not to make any decisions that involve risk. Instead, FERC just issues another order "encouraging" us to continue making progress.

"Let us know when you are ready," says FERC. "We are here to serve."

That is very wise of them. FERC is waiting for Congress to tell them what to do. And Congress is waiting for "the industry" to tell it what to do, but only if they (that's us) can all agree on something first.

So far, we agree "it ain't broke"-when the power system is working, of course. When it's not working, we agree it was "the other guy."

We have it good. It's true that we're a little scared of a truly independent RTO board, but that board is scared of FERC, and FERC is scared of Congress, and Congress is scared of the voters. And I'm a voter.

Here's an Example

Once, our group even agreed on making a recommendation. It was nearly a year in the making. We agreed that we needed one market monitor in the West because it is so important to find the bad guys-to enforce "appropriate" market behavior.

So we took our group's recommendation to another group. We knew this second group would not make a decision, but we hoped that if they liked our idea, they would recommend it to a third group: the Filers-the people