EDITOR'S NOTE: Building the grid of tomorrow – and getting customers to pay for it – is putting great pressure on state utility regulators. The Energy Times recently sat with state regulators from around the country to discuss these issues. They included Lisa Edgar, of Florida, Philip Jones of Washington, Robert Kenney of Missouri, Robert Powelson of Pennsylvania, Paul Roberti of Rhode Island and Gregg Sayre of New York.
This is last of a series of articles sponsored by Burns & McDonnell. Mike Beehler, company vice president, was on hand for the exchange.
ENERGY TIMES: What are the major forces shaping the future of the electric utility business?
Paul Roberti, left, and Mike Beehler.
Beehler: As engineers, we can build anything you want to come up with in terms of policy. There are two drivers to business. One is technology. The other is policy that allows us to do things. Some of the utilities that I've been to have said things like 'Well, my regulator won't let me do that.' We need a strong, robust grid that's safe and reliable. How are we going to build a safe, reliable grid if we don't have companies that can deliver that?
Jones: It costs money. It comes down to rate design. When the utility comes to us, the policy is good and they can talk about reducing emissions, but it's all about cost recovery and getting an appropriate return for investment. I agree with you. We need to be a little more forward leaning in these efforts. But we have to balance that with cost. We have to protect low-income ratepayers. We can't have a chasm between those who can pay for electricity and those who can't.
Roberti: There is a focus on reliability in wake of many storms in recent years. There has been such a strong focus on smart grid, microgrids and on meter technology. Our utilities are under great pressure to maintain the most reliable electric service that I've seen in 20 years. The grid is going to have amazing reliability. It's going to have sensors. It's going to be modern. It's going to be resistant. It's going to be able to handle two-way power flows.