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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

the Big Guys can live with the result, and the little guys don't have enough information to complain about it. They just get told what's feasible. Little guys are just the annoying fringe; no one would miss them very much if they disappeared. Unless they are public power utilities. That's why the Big Guys make sure they get to go first. At least as much as it will keep them quiet, most of the time. Neither one of the Big Guys wants FERC or Congress to get mad enough to do something, so they have a lot to lose if they don't cooperate with each other.

Most of the time this works. Except when it doesn't. We are already battening down the hatches for the supply crisis of 2004. By then, things will pretty much be where they are now. FERC will be waiting for a signal from Congress. Congress will be waiting for the industry, or focused on Alaskan oil, or the presidential elections.

Most people have given up on effective self-regulation. We could never get Congress to understand that NERC, the national meeting-goers who discuss reliability, needs more teeth. So, by 2004, the industry should still be going to meetings, declaring it is making progress, if not recommendations.

On the other hand, the Grid doesn't talk back to you before it falls down. And once it falls down, there is a storm of accusation. We could spend years sweeping up the mess. Arguing about what the prices should have been. Who did what.

But people are really smart. They have figured out that if no one decides anything, no one can be blamed.

The public might get angry. And Congress might get angry, too. You'd see finger-pointing and mudslinging. And more meetings, too, but only now there would be just the lawyers at these meetings, getting paid by the hour to watch what happens.

And that's OK by me. Because my management thinks my talent is "conciliation." So I wouldn't have to go to those meetings.

Like I said, we all know there is only One Grid, and that nothing has been fixed since 2000. Someday, after enough crises, we will figure out how to have one coordinated way of running it. We all know that. That's why we keep going to meetings every year. At least we know where it is going to end up, a decade or so down the line. We all want the West to work, but the West is different. We have contracts, and we have municipals, and we have hydro.

Take, for instance, our historic agreement on loop flow. We took the time to get everyone to agree on the right solution, even if it did require 27 years of meetings. So we have to be careful not to undo that.

Meanwhile, I'll try to take good notes. Because someday I am going to retire, and my replacement will need to know about all the progress we have made.

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