WHEN 42 PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSIONERS HUDDLED in private recently at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver to discuss their roles come 2003, they came to a striking conclusion: Someday they might be out of business. Some said it would take five years, others said as long as 10.
"There was quite a bit of discussion and interest in commissions actually formulating what they call an 'exit plan,' by which they meant, in a kind of systematic way ... being prepared to wind back on their regulatory oversight," says Douglas N. Jones, director of the National Regulatory Research Institute, co-sponsor of the Commissioners Summit. "I'd not heard that before. And I've been in [regulation] 38 years."
"I think it is a reasonable goal to work ourselves out of a job, over some period," agrees R. Brent Alderfer of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, a summit attendee. "We're now the B-52 of utility regulation ... it's time to trade it in for the B-1, or something a little more flexible."
The conclusions of members from 28 commissions, reported by a half-dozen attendees interviewed after the gathering, were a fitting adjunct to an NRRI report that served as the summit primer. Called Organizational Transformation: Ensuring the Relevance of Public Utility Commissions, the white paper captures conclusions of a similar 1995 get-together, also sponsored by NRRI and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.
The report confirms that commissions must change their culture, staffing and skills to ready for deregulated utility markets. They must prepare for a world where there are no more rate cases. Commissions must transform the public into educated consumers while also assessing their own performance as public bodies.
Examing Skills and Culture