martes, mayo 13, 2008

Can the Power Industry Eliminate its Price Controls to the End Customer?

The dead-end of regulator’s capacity for price controls shows up once again, while modeling the Smart Grid business case. Under today’s EPAct, price controls are designed for simple problems, when we are facing a very tough systemic crisis. A systemic solution requires a EWPC re-regulation EPAct that deregulates wholesale and retail commercial energy transactions, while keeping regulated the Smart Grid reliable transport.

Can the Power Industry Eliminate its Price Controls to the End Customer?

By José Antonio Vanderhorst-Silverio, Ph.D.
Systemic Consultant: Electricity

First posted in the GMH Blog, on May 13th, 2008.

Copyright © 2008 José Antonio Vanderhorst-Silverio. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, without written permission from José Antonio Vanderhorst-Silverio. This article is an unedited, an uncorrected, draft material of The EWPC Textbook. Please write to to contact the author for any kind of engagement.

I have selected this article as the eight recommended reading associated with the overdue price control debate [1]. The introduction to the other seven recommended articles was summarized as “The regulation vs. deregulation discussion was about the wrong question. An undiscussed issue during the debate, price control is the key to a properly framed debate. As utilities keep wining rate cases to the regulators, customers are now facing a very large risk of increasing rates as unprepared regulators are part of a flawed system that pushes them to make incredible bets on Intelligent Utility Enterprise and Smart Grid investments.”

It is important to recognize that the “incredible bets on Intelligent Utility Enterprise and Smart Grid investments,” correspond to the combined utility rate case. Under EWPC, the Smart Grid investments will remain on price control regulation with the ordinary approach [2].

Building models for the Smart Grid business case gives another clear example of the systemic crisis of the power industry to contribute to the undiscussed price controls issue. This time, Jagoron Mukherjee brings to the fore in such models new complexity issues introduced to regulators by the systemic crisis [3].

Today’s EPAct legislative and regulatory system was designed for regulators to take an ordinary approach to face simple problems for revising rate structures that can be resolved by three processes: 1) in a piece by piece basis, 2) using existing solutions, and 3) under the guidance of experts and authorities [4]. That approach, which is valid in under normal and stable conditions, cannot be applied under the highly uncertain present environment of the Third Industrial Revolution, which is transforming the power industry with digital technologies. [5].

Referring to modeling Smart Grid benefits required by regulators, Jagoron writes that “Some of these benefits, such as increased customer satisfaction, though hard to quantify, are benefits nevertheless and, depending on the regulatory environment, may need to be considered in the regulatory review process. The rationale to include these benefits is that despite the lack of realization of some of these societal or non-operational benefits, the market or society at large benefits from various aspects of implementing Smart Grid technologies and needs to be considered in these discussions [3].”

The complexity of the regulatory problem is compounded, because utilities will be investing not only in the Smart Grid (SG) but also in the Intelligent Utility Enterprise (IUE) to replace their obsolete business model. [6] The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) is actually asking the FERC to consider cross-subsidization – unfairly passing on to consumers the cost of transactions between utility companies and their “affiliates” [7]. By reading about multi-state regulatory requirements, GAO concerns get multiplied as cross- subsidization complexity increases by involving several states regulators in one utility application.

Jagoron adds that “The costs and the potential benefits of these projects are inherently uncertain, and difficult to quantify, as is the case with any new technology and uncertainty in service level and customer acceptance” [3].This means that regulators have to face a very tough problem, which shows that the regulatory ordinary price controls approach should not apply at least for the very risky and costly IUE systems. The separation of the SG and IUE price controls is the key to solution of the systemic crisis, if most of the uncertainty of the new technology goes to the open market [6].

Adam Kahane, in his book “Solving Tough Problems: an open way of talking, listening, and creating new realities,” implies that legislators and regulators need an extraordinary approach for complex problems that include three different processes: 1) Systemic: the system as a whole (dynamics complexity), 2) Creative: emerging solutions (generative complexity), and 3) Participative: stakeholders and “stickholders” (social complexity) [4].

It is now clear that the simple problem (price control) process does not apply. However, thinking in a detached mechanistic way, instead of a systemic way, regulators seem to be unaware of the difference that involve them in very complex regulatory cost recovery system trap that should not result in revised rate structures. In fact, state regulators are actually calling for a systemic process as they require “that utilities include system-wide benefits into their business case [3].”

In addition, whether they like it or not, regulators are an integral part of today’s systemic crisis and one of the most important contributors to the solution. Their contribution is for state regulators to step aside from the ordinary approach of price control regulation of energy sales, to prudential regulations approach designed to protect customers from supply disruptions and unfair pricing, under the new EWPC market architecture and design paradigm that faces dynamic complexity. [8].

Under the EWPC, that emerged last year from a creative process under the Energy Central Network, complexity is reduced by dividing the system in two: an open commercial market and a closed transportation market, which are designed to mutually reinforce each other in a virtuous way to produce system-wide benefits, as described next [2].

System-wide benefits will be the result of least costs transportation (tightly integrated T&D) expansion plans of the transportation network that include and enable system-wide benefits to the open market. In other words, the least costs expansion plans will consider the investments, operation, maintenance and outage costs forecasts of the whole power system, including the value chain (generation, retail, customer) of the open market.

In the closed market, the smart grid transportation only utility will operate under a regulatory compact. The new compact will shift from the old utility obligation to serve to the new utility obligation to transport, in exchange for tolls that enable investors to get a prescribed regulated return on investment. The necessity, motivation, and incentives to expand at least costs are then part of the regulatory transportation only compact.

The difference to customers between the old and new regulations will be demand response as a condition of service. It is that condition of service that enables a vibrant retail market to be developed by Second Generation Retailers (2GRs) [9] to produce very large coordination saving that maximize system-wide benefits, as some customers are better able than others to contribute to produce the required aggregate demand response every time and everywhere.

That is how the breakthrough system-wide benefits will be the result of demand integration into power system planning, operation and control, which requires considering the large investments made by 2GRs, customers’, and generators, and not just the old utilities investments. The social complexity issue is then solved by 2GRs as they produce the large system-wide coordination savings under retail and wholesale competition by integrating demand.

Coordination savings can be considered in “valuation models… that … quantify societal benefits, such as avoided generation [and transmission and distribution] investment, reduction of greenhouse gases and overall carbon footprint… [3]”. That is also how the EWPC change brings 2GRs and customers’ as an integral part of the solution to the systemic crisis.

As can be seen above, regulators are then able to call for system-wide benefits and transport tolls, but are no longer able to define customers’ energy rates. One way to understand why regulators lose their price control power is the freedom customers should have to invest, or not, given the widely varying perception of benefits from electric power service that they will expect (such as “increased satisfaction due to better service and billing, and wider service and choices [3].”).

Another way to understand these new conditions is that regulators will not be able to control energy prices that depend on customers’ investments that impact their balance sheets and income statements in important ways. While some customers will be able to negotiate prices with 2GRs, most of them will be able to select from the competition the business plan that best fits their needs for low cost and/or high value. As every customer gets the best market deal, the total economy gets the maximum social welfare.

As far for modeling and uncertainty are concerned, the interface standards between the open and the closed markets will be the key. Since 2GRs will actually develop their competitive business models, they will need to invest at their own risk in their Retailers’ Enterprise Solutions that will have standard interfaces for the smart grid. That way, most of the technology uncertainty will be left to the market as is common practice in other industries.

While competition will be absent for the Smart Grid under EWPC, competitive 2GRs replace the regulated stillborn IUE monopolistic retail arms of the old utilities. Operating under the EWPC market architecture and design paradigm, multi-state regulatory requirements difficulties mentioned by Jagoron should disappear in the new EWPC EPAct legislation, allowing the development of the Smart Grid transportation utility under a minimum set of compatible federal rules.

Conclusion: The dead-end of regulator’s capacity for price controls shows up once again, while modeling the Smart Grid business case. Under today’s EPAct, price controls are designed for simple problem, when we are facing a very a tough systemic crisis. A systemic solution requires a EWPC re-regulation EPAct that deregulates wholesale and retail commercial energy transactions, while keeping regulated the Smart Grid reliable transport. A generic framework and valuation model for the Smart Grid might be developed under the EWPC market design and architecture as most of the legislative and regulatory uncertainty disappears under the EWPC EPAct.


[1] An Overdue Debate: Customers’ Price Controls

[2] Free Market and Central Planning, Under R1E2

[3] Energy Pulse article Building Models for the Smart Grid Business Case, Jagoron Mukherjee, Senior Consultant, KEMA,…

[4] “Building Collaborations to Change Our Organizations and the World: System Thinking in Action,” December 1-3, 2004. The 14th Annual Pegasus Conference.

[5] The Electricity Revolution

[6] Leadership Answers What to do First

[7] To Congressional Requesters of Utility Oversight

[8] Shrinking the Regulator’s Jobs

[9] Second Generation Retailers - 2GRs

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