EDITOR’S NOTE: Sweeping changes transforming the utility and energy space will be front and center at the Empowering Customers and Cities event in Chicago next month. The role of regulators, to be addressed at the event, is explored in this essay crafted for The Energy Times by Lisa Edgar, the president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and member of the Florida Public Service Commission.
In 15 years, we may not recognize much about utility regulation as it is today. Innovative technologies that could revolutionize how we use and consume electricity are already in play. State regulators know there is no one-size-fits-all solution to utility planning. Plans to adopt and modernize the system must take this into account.
This fits nicely with my theme as NARUC president—Coast to Coast: Consumers, Convergence, Change. As various states and regions address the many challenges ahead, different solutions and trends will emerge. And as they do, regulators will continue to focus on understanding and supporting the changing needs and expectations of consumers.
States across the country are asking questions about distributed generation and its potential impacts on the grid, consumers, and the utility business. Utilities continue to roll out smart meters to provide consumers with more control over their energy use. At the same time, interest in solar has surged, and many utilities are testing the impacts of widespread integration into the grid. Studies on microgrids, energy storage, and electric vehicles are ongoing—potentially resulting in new demands on the electricity system.
Clearly change is upon us, and consumers expect and deserve regulators who understand changing technologies and industry realities. It is important that these technologies, as promising as they appear, be utilized in a manner that protects consumers from unexpected rate increases and improves service. In these days of social media and instant communication, consumers have more information about their electric service than ever before. Many want information and choices, and it is part of the regulatory role to make sure that consumers of all types benefit from these changes.
State regulators are excited about the future. There is no better time to be involved in this sector than right now. The decisions we make over the next few years will have lasting implications. Let’s use this opportunity to help customers be engaged, educated and equipped.