Frontlines & Op-Ed

Letters to the Editor

(December 2011) Responding to Contributing Editor John Bewick’s analysis of factors impeding the nuclear renaissance in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Plus comments about construction work in progress provisions as a strategy for saving ratepayers' money.

Smart Coaching

Customers won’t join the team unless utilities make it worthwhile.

Are utilities ready to really engage customers, and get them to care about more than just whether the beer stays cold? Or will we turn our focus away from customers, because we don’t know how to engage them — or how to convert engagement into value?

Twist and Sulk

A fearful economy cries for industry leadership.

Many utilities have trimmed their capital spending in the face of economic weakness and regulatory uncertainty. At the same time, strong energy sales have boosted cash flow and profits. Backed by regulated returns and clear resource plans, the industry should step up infrastructure investments. Are we ready to lead America out of economic malaise?

Cap-Ex Conundrum

Does slow and steady still win the race?

When a capital-intensive industry enters an asset-building cycle, many companies will operate in the red for a few years or more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as cap-ex investments represent growth for shareholders. The devil is in the details, however, and companies facing a large slug of environmental compliance investments might produce disappointing returns over the next few years.

Killing Coal

A senator’s crusade limits America’s options.

Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe has made it his mission to block environmental regulations, especially greenhouse gas constraints. His most recent attack targets John Bryson, former Edison International CEO and Pres. Barack Obama’s nominee for Commerce Secretary. But rather than protecting economic interests, as Inhofe purportedly aims to do, his actions have added to the ongoing policy chaos that frustrates clean coal development.

Letters to the Editor

(August 2011) Economic consultant Michael Rosenzweig challenges Constantine Gonatas’s proposal for ensuring FERC’s demand response rulemaking achieves its objectives. Also, Juliet Shavit takes issue with Contributing Editor Steven Andersen’s characterization of utility customers as “crazy.”

Cali Gets it Right

Not your father’s feed-in tariff.

The industry has struggled to craft a feed-in-tariff (FiT) structure that works for solar generators and utility customers, with mixed success. But now, the California Public Utility Commission might have found an approach that other states can replicate. CPUC’s FiT mechanism recognizes the value proposition of solar energy, and uses market forces to drive economic improvements, especially for distributed solar projects.

Pricing the Public Good

Weighing green energy’s costs and benefits.

Policies aimed at promoting one good thing can diminish a better thing, for a net loss to the overall public welfare. Raising prices to promote renewables, for example, makes electricity less affordable and hurts the economy. But artificially low prices can themselves create social ills — by preserving an unsustainable status quo.

The Transformation Myth

Telecom-style revolution is beyond our reach.

In the information age, big growth doesn’t come from putting steel in the ground; it comes from innovating and creating value. But if electricity customers care only about reliability and price, how can utilities create real value that didn’t exist before?