Jobs Not Commissioners’ Concern


Editor in chief TERESA HANSEN

Earlier this year, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the recipients of $3.4 billion in stimulus funds for smart grid development. These recipients must match the DOE’s funding and in some cases must contribute even more to complete the projects. Some utilities want their state utility commissions to let them pass along some costs to ratepayers. State commissioners’ support has been mixed.

The administration and Washington lawmakers understand that the stimulus money’s primary purpose is to create jobs. Some state regulators and consumer advocate groups, however, see it differently. Hence the ruling by the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) denying Baltimore Gas & Electric’s (BG&E) request to recover from its customers funding for its digital meter deployment. BG&E projected that the project would create 1,650 jobs. The PSC’s ruling shows that its No. 1 goal is not job creation, but instead ratepayer protection from unnecessary costs.

Maryland’s utility regulators question whether BG&E’s customers will benefit from the proposed project. In its ruling the commission wrote, “The proposal asks BG&E’s ratepayers to take significant financial and technological risks and adapt to categorical changes in rate design, all in exchange for savings that are largely indirect, highly contingent and a long way off.”

BG&E’s smart meter/smart grid project is on hold for now. The utility revised its request with the PSC and is awaiting its decision. Many say that to lock in the $200 million DOE award, BG&E needed an answer by the end of July. The PSC, however, doesn’t plan to hold hearings on the revised proposal until sometime this month. This affirms that it’s more concerned with protecting consumers than with creating jobs.

Should the federal government become more involved in cases like this to ensure jobs creation? Or should state commissioners continue to carry out their duties as they’ve always done, regardless of the federal government’s objective? It’s a tough call.




Your editorial posturing and superficial attempt to identify where the blame for global energy and associated environmental ills is to be placed is sadly indicative of the lack of ability in our political, industrial and social leadership to assign the blame squarely on the root cause: excessive global population outstripping the available resources and carrying capacity of the environment in which we live. Surely the highly educated captains of industry, commerce and communication are not oblivious to this fact. Why must we dance around the subject with each person floating his solution to address the symptom endemic to his or her area of specialty? Does no one have the moxie to state what is so patently obvious to anyone with even a modest amount of education and understanding?

I would hope that a fellow engineer would not need a lecture on energy cycle efficiencies, capacity sourcing, infrastructure limitations and the myriad of attending economic constraints preventing the mitigation of your lamentation of a lack of electrification of the transportation segment of industry and society. Surely one who has been trained in the scientific method, economic analysis and communication should be able to cogently assemble the facts necessary to identify a root cause and champion an appropriate solution.

The only way to bring parity to the standard of living in the world’s population at the current level of technology or at an advanced one, and maintain it while preserving our environment, is to reduce the population to a level consistent with the available global resources and strictly control it to that level. When government and industry acknowledge this and take action to address it, the glittering technological future painted in the constellation of PennWell publications has the potential to be realized; failing that, they’re all pipe dreams.

Jonathan J. Skinner, Power System Operations
Anchorage, Alaska

[Editor’s Note: Hansen is not a registered professional engineer.]


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