New technologies cloud the future for the traditional electric utility, but offer hope to the gas industry in boosting residential demand.
Investors apparently were paying attention in January when a Web-based analyst predicted Plug Power's stocks could gain 10,000 percent or more by 2010. Before month's end, the fuel cell manufacturer, which doesn't expect to turn a profit before 2004, saw a ninefold increase from the $16 closing day share price at its October initial public offering. That month Avista Corp.
With few regrets, a regulator steps down from the PUC, still touting his brand of electric competition.
I'm proud to have been an author of the first chapter of a book still being written.
Today's electric industry is more competitive, more reliable, more efficient, and more dynamic than it was six years ago when I joined the California Public Utilities Commission. However, the future of the industry has not been set. The steps taken over the next several years will determine the outcome of electric competition.
AS U.S. ELECTRICITY MARKETS BECOME increasingly competitive, large industrial customers will discover many new choices. These choices include the opportunity to modify the amount and timing of electricity use in response to prices that vary from hour to hour. In addition, customers can sell certain electricity services, including operating reserves and load following, to the system operator. And industrial customers with cogeneration facilities can participate fully in bulk power markets, buying and selling energy and ancillary services in response to changes in spot prices.
All three may apply, especially if regulators go wrong and let ISOs make the business decisions.
Electricity transmission is a real business. With more than $50 billion of net plant, another $3 billion annually in capital expenditures and yearly operating income that could reach $5 billion per year under normal circumstances, the power grid is roughly twice the size of the natural gas pipeline industry. One would never know that from current events, however. Utility management treats transmission as an inconvenient stepchild.
If truth is the first casualty of war, as we learned from author Mark Krebs ("It's a War Out There: A Gas Man Questions Electric 'Efficiency,'" December 1996, p. 24), then certainly the truth has been mutilated beyond recognition.
His article, which suggests that electric utilities have used conservation and demand-side programs improperly (to build electric load at the expense of natural gas!) is full of inaccuracies, misleading charts and other errors.
I was amused and concerned by the allegations of marketing warfare that Mr. Krebs felt compelled to address in his December 1996 article.
The deregulated power market will feature large numbers of buyers and sellers. Buyers will worry that prices will rise unexpectedly above current levels; sellers will worry that prices will fall unexpectedly. Some will be interested in fixed-price forward deals that protect them from these risks.
The electric utility industry is undergoing its most profound change since Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse battled over whether the American power system should be AC or DC. In essence, that technological choice shaped the industry we know today. Edison's low-voltage, DC system would have required many small generating stations and short distribution lines. The high-voltage Westinghouse AC system promoted development
of long-distance transmission networks that deliver electricity efficiently from large, remote power plants.