Edison Panel Gives Glimpses of Major Electric Trends

A media briefing held yesterday, Nov. 20, in New York Cityâ''a regular event sponsored by the Edison Electric Instituteâ''opened a window into the radically new world in which energy companies are operating. While similar events in the past have been dedicated almost entirely to nifty new technology, yesterdayâ''s talks by industry leaders were about poor people unable to pay their electricity bills and corporations unable to raise capital. Sure, there was a lot of good tech talk too, but it always was in the context of how innovation can be promoted in whatâ''s a very difficult environment for everybody.

While thereâ''s hope that the situation may ease some with fossil fuel prices coming down, Ralph Izzo, chairman, president and CEO of New Jerseyâ''s Public Service Enterprise Group, warned that consumers should not expect instant relief. Though their suppliers may be paying less for oil and gas, the cost of capital to pay for new infrastructure is going up sharply, â''and everybody is repricing risk.â'' Izzo warned his colleagues against just waiting for a better business environment. Rather than looking for the economy to improve, â''we can help the economy improve by investing in energy efficiency,â'' he said.

Anthony F. Earley Jr., Chairman and CEO of DTE Energy, described programs such as one that gives customers an incentive to get rid of second refrigerators (which are almost always energy hogs) and to allow for automatic interruption of air conditioning under peak load conditions (when electricity is most expensive). Ruth Ann Gillis, executive vice president of Exelon Corp., described the companyâ''s roadmap for cutting its own greenhouse gas emissions, which includes plans to enforce green production all the way down its supply chain.

Exelon, the nationâ''s leading nuclear operator, describes itself as the countryâ''s top electricity and gas company, in terms of market cap. DTE is a holding company that owns Detroit Edison, among other things. PSEG has been recognized in three of the last four years as the countryâ''s most reliable utility, according to Izzo.

Having said that, Izzo conceded that customers donâ''t seem to care all that much about reliability and safety these days. Whatâ''s on their mind is cost and conservation.

Edison Electric Institute took advantage of the media briefing to publicize a letter it sent yesterday to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, with the Natural Resources Defense Council, calling for regulatory reform to encourage energy efficiency. EEI and NRDC asked regulators to create mechanisms that would allow utilities to recover costs they incurred in efforts made to persuade customers to use less energy, to encourage industry investment in smart metering and smart grid technologies, and to support more energy research.

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