For a good half a century, electric regulation has meant law, accounting, and economics. But no more. Now it's all about computers, telecommunications, and file-transfer protocols. Forget about CWIP, AFUDC, double leverage, and interest synchronization. They are all irrelevant. In their place, say hello to "bulk-power transmission protocol" (BPTP) and a host of new terms even more perplexing (em such as ICCP, TCP/IP, API, ATC, and FCTTC.*
Several weeks ago I sat in on the Technical Conference for Real-Time Information Networks (RINs), held July 27-28 in Washington, DC, at a modest hotel a few blocks away from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The FERC had set up the meeting to gather comments on how to design and coordinate new computerized data networks to help power traders gain access to electric transmission. Sometime after mid-October, it expects to issue a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) on what information RINs should contain, and how to harness technology to deliver that information to market players.
The discussion was informative. But it also showed how far the electric industry has moved beyond regulatory constructs. In fact, RINs will probably usher in a host of new free-market vendors selling information services and "interfaces" to help transmission users gain access to the grid. Showing herself a skeptic, Commissioner Vicky A. Bailey asked at one point, "Who is the free market?" The witnesses assured her that, given the chance, "they" would come, just as the Internet has exploded with private-access vendors. Another witness couldn't resist: "Internet access will be too cheap to meter."
Commissioner Bailey was left to ponder: "I just wanted to know if there was a job for me."