Do state regulators stand to learn more from their electric choice information programs than the customers they aim to reach?
What does it cost to educate an energy consumer about electric choice? Between $1.60 and $2.26, to judge by the public education campaigns in California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
In the first year of their information programs, these states spent a combined $103 million, funded through consumer rates. Though an impressive total budget for three public initiatives, that amount pales in comparison to the ad dollars spent by General Motors. The leading national advertiser spent $8.06 million per day in 1998. That averages out to $10.74 annually per American, compared with the $2.26, $2.16 and $1.60 per person spent in a year by California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, respectively. Yet all of these states have reported high levels of awareness among customers that energy choice was coming.
The impact of these public information campaigns on residential and small business consumers, however, may be far outweighed by their long-term effect on state regulators.
"We learned so much from what people were saying [through the program's feedback mechanisms]," noted Commissioner Nora Mead Brownell of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. "The role of commissions is changing and what we're going to be when we grow up is communicators and mediators. It's important that we begin to think that way and staff that way."
Brownell's observations are backed up by signs of ongoing change at the PUCs. Their regulatory approach appears to be shifting to a focus on customer service.