Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2010 National Electricity Forum – Day 1

Increasing participation in electricity planning without harming electricity markets was a key focus of an early panel on day one of this year’s National Electricity Forum. The forum is a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Energy and NARUC.

The event features both industry representatives from the utilities and transmission owners, as well as officials who regulate these businesses at the state and federal level. This mixed crowd approaches the planning challenge from very different perspectives that can lead to vibrant discussion as they try to find middle ground. A good example was the following comment from Commissioner Lauren Azar of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

“We currently have been long on rhetoric and short on data when it comes to the planning for the nation’s interconnect system. I hope the people held accountable to the public interest will have a larger role in this process going forward.”

New England ISO President and CEO Gordon van Welie acknowledged that the planning process is less than perfect.

“Any plan you create on an interconnection-wide level is likely to be flawed from the beginning. My view is that you must start at a regional planning level and then build from there to interconnection wide plans.”

In response to Azar, Welie suggested that the goal of any cooperative effort must be more granular than just caring for public interest. He noted that there should be agreement about whether the goal is related to cost of electricity, carbon challenges or other factors that define the public interest.

Regardless the scenario, it is clear that the future of electricity planning is going to include even more stakeholder input and that means massive communications efforts from industry, regulators and other third parties like environmental groups and concerned citizens groups.

The panel is one of six touching on the theme of infrastructure for a clean energy economy. The forum runs through mid-afternoon on Thursday.

- Potomac Communications Group

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