Monitor for the Monitors?

Flew on a Monday night, a couple of weeks ago, from EEI’s annual financial conference outside of Miami to NARUC’s annual meeting in New Orleans. Both great events! Talked to a few hundred of you all between the two.

From those conversations, so many ideas and views are swimming around in my head. We sure have plenty to talk about, you and me, in coming issues of PUF and Where’s Energy.

For one, there’s increasing momentum for monitors. That is, someone, FERC perhaps, instituting another layer of review for transmission projects.

As the guy who is constantly analyzing the value of electricity and its cost to consumers, some would say ad nauseam, this thing for monitors got my attention. I mean, with the greatest respect for those wanting monitors, to put another check on one of the most effective monitoring systems ever devised by man (our utility regulatory process), really?

Before going any further with my argument, or rant, however you might classify it, I invite monitor fans to make their case. Right here. Or in the pages of PUF.

Mine is merely one opinion. Public Utilities Fortnightly literally exists to be a platform for differing perspectives on utility regulation, policy, and strategy.

So don’t be shy. Send us your view. We’ll publish it, space permitting, for the entire PUF community to read.

Ok, now back to this notion. Establishing a monitor for the monitoring that utilities, utility regulators, consumer advocates, and other parties participating in regulatory proceedings already bring to the table. Oh, did I forget court review of our decisions and orders?

I know that monitors have filled a need for RTO markets. But those monitors are largely evaluating trends in energy market behaviors. To detect anomalies and misbehaviors.

While a monitor for transmission projects would presumably have to conduct comprehensive analyses of the engineering and economics of each proposal. Plus, its competing supply and demand-side alternatives.

And I know that electric rates and bills have risen. That it’s causing serious pain for many electric service customers. But heightened natural gas prices are your culprit.

Yes, there are more transmission costs to cover in base rates. That’s certainly so for distribution costs. Yet electricity's share of personal consumption expenditures nationwide remains at around one and one-third percent. In part it’s because there are less generation costs to cover in base rates (in real dollars).

It's clear, to me and many of you, that the transition to a more resilient and cleaner electric system is going nowhere if our country doesn’t figure out a way to build more transmission, not less. So don’t count me among those wishing for another monitor to weed out some transmission projects. The monitors that are at work today, are in my estimation, pretty good at what they do.

Anyway, as I said, that’s my view. So what. Tell me what I’ve got wrong here. Send us your take on all of this.


Steve Mitnick, Executive Editor, Public Utilities Fortnightly, and President, Lines Up, Inc.

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