Consumer advocates, utility chiefs, regulators, and analysts offered conflicting visions of retail competition's future at NASUCA's 1996 Capitol Hill Conference.
The National Association of State Consumer Advocates ( NASUCA) conference, "Restructuring the Electric Industry: What Are the Costs and Benefits to Consumers?," was held on February 29 and March 1 in the Rayburn House Office Building. The event was co-sponsored by Rep. Dan Schaefer
(R-CO), chairman of the Energy & Power Subcommittee, but the congressman was conspicuously absent, apparently attending a committee hearing.
Conference speakers, however, spoke their minds and defended their positions on a topic now debated at public utility commissions (PUCs) in at least 37 states. William L. Massey of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a keynote speaker, said the nation was undergoing a "celebration of competition" driven by customer choice.
"Why shouldn't customers get to choose their electric supply?" he said. Competition and choice could release innovation and entrepreneurial genius "in this somewhat stodgy and old-fashioned industry. How long would it have taken the U.S. Postal Service to create Express Mail without some competition from Federal Express?"
The economic stimulus from competition could be huge, Massey argued. Cash revenues from retail electric reach $260 billion a year in the United States (em more than the combined revenues of the natural gas, telecommunications, and airlines industries. Quoting Merrill Lynch, Massey noted that an aggressive national movement toward wholesale and retail competition could save consumers $31 billion annually.
That's an alluring prospect for policymakers and lawmakers.