Frontlines & Op-Ed

Death of a Turkey

DOE’s move to ‘restructure’ FutureGen clears the way for more rational R&D.

When President Bush announced the FutureGen initiative halfway through his first term, industry veterans instinctively understood its purpose. Nominally a public-private partnership to build a “zero-emissions” coal-fired power plant, FutureGen stood as a symbol for the administration’s climate-change strategy. It helped the government argue mandatory carbon constraints were unnecessary, because America will develop more green technology than any other country in the world.

PURPA Redirected

The latest ‘incremental’ policy changes might realign utility financial incentives.

Back in 1978, Congress passed an energy bill, the National Energy Act, including an obscure provision that seemed like an incremental tweak to U.S. energy policy. But eventually, that incremental tweak—the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA)—smashed through the gates of the vertically integrated utility construct. PURPA introduced competition into wholesale power markets in a way that fundamentally changed the U.S. utility industry.

What Price, Security?

Grid reliability depends on ‘reasonable business judgment’

The word “security” no longer means what it used to mean. Now, “security” means gates, guards and guns. It means protecting critical assets with a multi-layered cyber and physical perimeter. It means exercising vigilance and caution, and accepting inconvenience as a matter of routine.

Letters to the Editor

Before the hearings started, I felt the number of critical cyber assets for a medium size utility would be on the order of several thousand, not 20 as some major utilities are identifying under the CIP standards. This should be a red flag for the industry.

Hot-Potato Policy

DOE loan guarantees degenerate into a political game.

Once upon a time, the U.S. Congress started a game of hot potato. The potato, otherwise known as the EPAct Title XVII Loan Guarantee Program, has been bouncing around Washington, D.C., since 2005. But now that the industry is getting a good look at the potato, it looks decidedly funky—stuffed with caveats and half-measures. Whether that’s good or bad depends largely on whether you believe the government belongs in the potato game in the first place.

Letters to the Editor

(December 2007) John Ferguson responds to “Creating the Perfect Regulator”: "Burr identifies four fundamental goodness traits: omniscience, Solomonic wisdom, clairvoyance and righteousness. Inherent in these traits, but not specifically addressed by Burr, is the ability to recognize and reject advice from those interested in telling the regulator what the advisors think the regulator wants to hear instead of what the regulator should hear."

Creating the Perfect Regulator

Regulatory complexities call for supernatural skills

A regulator’s “goodness” is defined by four fundamental traits: Omniscience; Solomonic Wisdom; Clairvoyance; and Righteousness.

Recession Reprieve

An economic slowdown might buy time for regulatory change.

Last month’s “Frontlines” column invoked the dreaded “R” word: “recession.” In what turned out to be Executive Editor Richard Stavros’s final column in this space (Richard left the Fortnightly in September to join Dominion Resources in Richmond, Va.), he suggested the industry’s fortunes might actually benefit from an economic downturn, as Wall Street money flees toward defensive investments.

Letters to the Editor

A lengthy letter to the editor addresses whether the Energy Information Administration’s gas-market forecasts, as laid out in a recent article, are biased. The authors of the original piece, Timothy J. Considine and Frank A. Clemente, then respond to the letter.

Sub-Primed and Ready

Will the turmoil on Wall Street spur a massive flight to utilities?

There remains a concern that during the next economic downturn investors will pass on utilities again. The reason is that the industry’s risks are still opaque to investors.