Five commission chairs from states in all phases of deregulation ponder their changing roles. Will market success make them obsolete?
As most state electric competition plans are implemented within the next few years, regulators face an uncertain future. And they're already reflecting on their role in a changing industry.
Regulatory commissions in both Illinois and California have created panels to discuss the issue and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has held closed-door sessions on the subject. If commissions do not begin to determine their role as regulators in the new millennium, some commission chairs say, state legislatures may do it for them.
In early October, for example, Kentucky's Bardwell City Council proposed to abolish the Bardwell City Utility Commission and bring its duties under the city's supervision to save money. Will state utility commissions also have to fight for their survival?
Many commissioners say they are under increasing pressure to justify the public utilities commission's existence and expense to the state legislature. The PUC's performance in electric and natural gas restructuring and its responsiveness to utility customers may be what determine its future, some commission chairs say.
"I really am intent on the whole relevance of regulation and the timeliness of regulation," says one commission chair. "We just have to do a better job. We just can't take months, or in some cases years, to decide issues, or I think we will become obsolete."