A SUNDAY AFTERNOON, NOT THREE WEEKS 'TIL CHRISTMAS, and I was holed up at Washington's Mayflower Hotel, attending a workshop (no Santa, no elves) on electric transmission pricing.
I wasn't alone, however. At least 200 others had filled the hotel's East Room near to capacity to hear about such topics as nodes, zones, access charges and load duration curves. The 5th National Electricity Forum, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, was under way. Harvard Professor William Hogan stood at the podium, explaining how his congestion pricing method had won approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission just two weeks earlier for the new PJM independent system operator.
A few steps away, through the door and in the lobby, music blared from office Christmas parties in full swing. Revelers slid past, drinks in hand, oblivious to the PUC staffers at the registration desk, lining up for their badges and conference materials. Not everyone it seemed, had heard of or cared about deregulation.
FERC Chairman James Hoecker, speaking two days later, caught the mood of the partygoers. Consumers, Hoecker said, had raised no clamor yet for electric utility competition. Until they did, customer choice would prove a "tough sell."
That prospect could change. Karen Hunsicker, a staffer on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, predicts that Congress will gain momentum on electric restructuring soon after direct access begins in California.
"Wait 'til Jan. 1, when constituents start writing letters."