The air is fresher, the view longer and clearer, and the thinking
crisper the morning after. A storm. A community meeting. A date, even.
Or at least it seems to be. And if only the powers-that-be in California knew then what they know
now, they might have restructured their state’s electric utility
industry differently, if they had done so at all. And as California
tries to climb out of its self-imposed mess, other states are watching the
West Coast with keen interest, to learn what NOT to do in introducing
competition to an industry that has been a regulated monopoly business for
over 100 years.
Some 24 states are in the process of restructuring the electric utility
industry and introducing choice among electric suppliers to their
state’s citizens. Virginia is one of these states, with legislation
passed by the General Assembly in 1999 and fine-tuned in 2000 and ’01. In
Virginia, choice will be introduced beginning January 1 of next year, and
is set to be complete by January 1, ’04.
As you may know, the choice that consumers will have involves only the
energy itself — the electricity — and does not involve the delivery of
that electricity to your home or business. The utility delivering the electricity to you — in your case, it’s a
member-owned electric cooperative — will remain the same. You will
be able to choose only the supplier of the electricity itself.
Or will you?
For a consumer to make a choice, there have to be at least two
businesses marketing their products or services to that consumer. Making
a choice involves having a choice. And at least at the outset, it
appears that some Virginia consumers may not have a choice even after
competition is introduced beginning next year. In Pennsylvania, for
instance, four years into customer “choice,” there are no choices for
member-owners of Pennsylvania’s electric cooperatives. That is, no competitive suppliers are willing at this point to market
and provide electric energy to these mostly rural consumers, who of
course continue to buy their electricity from their electric cooperative.
California — with all its
problems — is not Virginia. Out there, demand for electricity rose
dramatically in the 1990s while almost no additional electric generating
units were being built. And under California’s restructuring law, rates
for customers of utilities were capped, while those same utilities were
required to sell most of their own generating units and buy electricity on
the volatile “spot” market. And
with weather extremes mixed in, all of this became a recipe for disaster,
one that has captured the attention of the nation as we head into
summertime, a season of high usage of electricity.
And Pennsylvania — with its
lack of choice for cooperative members — may not be Virginia, either.
In the future, there may be electric suppliers courting you, or there may
not. On that count, your electric cooperative can make no promises. In the
case of competitive suppliers, the decision of whether to seek you as a
customer will depend entirely upon whether there’s money to be made in
selling electricity to you.
Your cooperative can promise you this, though. Whether
or not others are interested in your business, your cooperative always has
been. And will continue to be.
And if there are competitive suppliers courting you and you select one
of them, your cooperative will continue to deliver that other supplier’s
electric energy to your home or business. Or if you “choose not to
choose,” your cooperative will continue to provide you with electric
energy and deliver it to you, at cost, as we’ve been doing in your
community for three generations.
Your cooperative has been your utility of need in the past. We
very much want to be your utility of choice in the future.