More consolidation could trim costs, but some CEOs fear a backlash from regulators.
Richard Stavros, Executive Editor
With the possible exception of keeping the lights on, the merger game dwarfs just about every other question facing today’s electric utilities. The last big wave of consolidation hit in the late 1990s. Now the forecast calls for a repeat performance, but don’t bet the farm. There’s a hitch, you see. It’s today’s high commodity costs.
Congress renews PURPA’s call for conservation and load management, but the world has changed since the 1970s.
The “N-word” in the title first appeared in this journal more than 20 years ago, courtesy of the celebrated environmentalist Amory Lovins and his widely quoted piece, “Saving Gigabucks with Negawatts” (Fortnightly, 1985). Scroll forward a few decades. With restructuring of wholesale electric markets at FERC, plus formation of regional transmission organizations and independent system operators, the game was changed.
Budgets are expected to increase, even as new IT challenges present themselves.
In our annual technology forum, we talk with tech/information specialists at four companies: Patricia Lawicki at PG&E; Ken Fell at the New York ISO; Mark C. Williamson at American Transmission Co.; and John Seral at GE Energy.
RTOs in the region continue to struggle.
Lawrence J. Risman, Ph.D.
Efforts to develop more RTOs in the West came to a near standstill again after talks last year among key players Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), Grid West, and the Transmission Improvements Group collapsed over BPA’s convergence proposal. The end of talks is one more failure in a long line of failures to find consensus on an RTO approach in the West. Grid West is attempting to reorganize following BPA’s withdrawal, but its fate is indeterminate. Key issues are funding for continued development and achieving agreements with BPA and other transmission providers in the region.
FERC this year must select a reliability czar. But the obvious choice could prove less than ideal.
Richard Stavros, Executive Editor
NERC up until now has been, in its own words, “a self regulatory organization, relying on reciprocity, peer pressure, and the mutual self-interest of all those involved in the electric system.” Nevertheless, can this tradition of kind, gentle, and voluntary consensus-building stand NERC in good stead as it seeks to transform itself in to a steel-fisted czar that would enforce mandatory standards?
We must efficiently deliver wholesale power within competitive regional markets.
When President Eisenhower was growing up in Kansas, he saw America’s byways and back roads develop to meet point-to-point needs, eventually forming a loosely connected national interstate highway network. The U.S. electric transmission system has similar roots, and it needs a similar vision to meet the needs of the 21st century.
FERC says it won’t ‘change’ the native-load preference, but don’t bet on it.
When FERC opened wholesale power markets to competition a decade ago in Order No. 888, it codified a system for awarding grid access known as the pro forma Open-Access Transmission Tariff (OATT), founded on physical rights, and on the fiction that electrons travel along a “contract path.” Should the commission “tinker” with the OATT, making only surgical changes to make it current? Or, do events instead warrant a complete overhaul?
State regulators grapple with investments, supply planning, and structural issues.
The opposing challenges of higher gas prices and rising environmental concerns have put utility regulators in a difficult position: How can they bring rate stability while minimizing environmental impacts? At the same time, they are grappling with trends in consolidation, competition, transmission planning, and distribution service quality. Each state brings a different view of the changing utility landscape. For insight, Fortnightly brought together regulators from several states to discuss their plans and priorities for today and the future.
FERC mulls rival plans at the last minute, while on the West Coast, California gets into the game.
FERC, the ISO, and many other parties had seen no reason for further debate over the need for a location-specific capacity market. By limiting debate, FERC had foreclosed a raft of competing ideas. When the moment finally arrived for the oral argument at FERC, attorneys and witnesses attempted valiantly in the precious few minutes allotted each speaker to flesh out new ideas, and the commissioners struggled as well to keep up. This highly unusual situation made for a helter-skelter hearing, with new topics seeming to come out of the woodwork.
Seven years after restructuring, challenges remain. Should the region stay the course?
Electric restructuring—identified in some quarters with Enron, California, and the August 2003 blackout—has brought significant, measurable benefits to us in New England. Seven years after restructuring began, it's a good time to assess the challenges that remain and gauge whether to stay the course toward continued restructuring.