New Years resolutions

Michael T. Burr,

Managing Editor

I haven`t made any New Year`s resolutions since 1984. That was the year I swore off New Year`s resolutions, and I`ve gone 15 straight years without breaking that commitment.

Now, I`ve decided to revive the tradition. But instead of making silly resolutions for myself-i.e., cease bathing, take up bungee jumping, etc.-I hereby appoint myself resolution-maker for the whole U.S. electric utility industry. Somebody has to do it. So here they are:

1. No more price spikes: The summer 1998 price spikes were a bad idea. Let`s not do that again. One might ask how this volatility can be avoided. The answer is complicated and controversial-much too weighty for this light-hearted column. In brief, neither price caps nor a sudden shift to a free-for-all market are the answer. As the Buddha said, “The middle path is the road to enlightenment.” Just don`t hold your breath on the way, or you might pass out and impale yourself on a price spike.

2. Plug all Y2K cracks: The scariest thing about the millennium bug is the potential for a chain reaction. Given the interdependency of so many systems, 99.9 percent Y2K readiness won`t be enough. So let`s resolve to achieve perfection in the next 11 months. The whole economy might depend on that perfection. (Hello, Plummet Travel? Cancel my Jan. 1 flight to Kukamunga. I`m taking a camel instead.)

3. Unify deregulation: The crazy quilt of deregulation across the country is messy, messy, messy. We need a unified approach to open access and electric market deregulation that doesn`t require FERC Chairman Jim Hoecker to don jack boots and steel gauntlets. This approach should be voluntary, ensuring fair and open competition for all players in all states. It must not rob utility shareholders of their stock value, but should provide reasonable stranded asset recovery. As long as we`re at it, let`s cure cancer, complete the Grand Unified Theory of physics, and make cold fusion a reality. No problem.

4. Stop merger madness: All these mergers and acquisitions are difficult for us journalists to cover. It`s like trying to keep tabs on 50 games of Pac Man at once. Bewildering! But nearly as troubling is the fact that industry consolidation is making it tough for smaller companies to remain alive and competitive. So let`s resolve to have free competition without a few 800-lb gorillas dominating the whole industry.

5. No more convergence: Speaking of consolidation, the oil majors are quickly waking up to the benefits of owning power generating capacity. But if they take over the power business, it will take all the fun out of playing in the merchant energy markets. So let`s add a new rule to the Electric Power Club charter: no big oil companies shall be allowed to join. What? They`re already in? Dang! There goes the neighborhood!

6. No new acronyms: Between the regulatory community, the engineers and the information systems people, there are enough acronyms in the electric power business to choke a whole herd of horses. Some irritating examples: DSM and DMS (demand-side management and distribution management system); GIS (geospatial information system or gas-insulated switchgear). Then there`s AM/FM, SCADA, CIS, OIS, EIS, ISO, ITC, TLR, ERP, VaR, … the list goes on, seemingly forever. Let`s just take a breather, and coin no new acronyms for the rest of the century.

5. Stop cutesy names: Too many companies are putting unusual characters in their name, adopting weird spellings, clumping words together or insisting on awkward upper- or lower-case treatments. Examples include, … well, on second thought, I don`t want to get fired. You know who they are. I suppose their intent is to create name recognition and stand out in the crowd. But in my opinion, it calls their credibility into question-which is a shame, because some of them are truly great companies. Anyway, it`s annoying. Stop it.

I`m convinced that if the industry can honor these resolutions, the world will be a better place. Unfortunately, New Year`s resolutions seem to last about as long as a dried-out Christmas tree. Certainly they won`t live to see the Y2K bug hatch next January 1.

Oh well. You can`t blame me for trying. Happy new year.

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