Sign up for the #UTCC conference at this link.
If you count a very young — aged 17 — reporter crawling around the construction of the Kariba hydroelectric dam on the Zambezi River between Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia, now Zambia and Zimbabwe, I’ve been writing about the electric business for a very long time. Even if you start when I joined McGraw-Hill in 1970, or when I founded The Energy Daily in 1973, it still amounts to a long time.
Yet, I think the electric utility business is facing greater challenges today than it has faced in all the time that I’ve been recording its ups and downs. New technologies and new players are encroaching on the utility space – often quicker than the established players realize.
That’s why I’ve joined forces with Public Utilities Fortnightly to examine the challenges in this vital industry, and to explore ways forward.
To do this, I and the talented staff at PUF are putting together a conference with a faculty of the best thinkers in the industry and those who serve it. A blue-ribbon group, if you will. The conference will take place, appropriately I feel, in Scottsdale, AZ on November 17 and 18, concluding with a tour of one of Arizona Public Service Company’s impressive solar installations.
So far, we have secured these remarkable speakers:
- Irwin Stelzer, founder of National Economic Research Associates, and a seminal thinker and consultant to the industry for many decades. Stelzer has branched out to advise such players as Google, Heathrow Airport and two British prime ministers. He has often been at the right hand of Rupert Murdoch, the world’s most successful media entrepreneur.
- Susan Bitter Smith, chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission — the regulator in Arizona.
- Steven Mitnick, author of “Lines Down: How We Pay, Use, Value Grid Electricity Amid the Storm,” which has been called “an invaluable guide to understanding the value of electricity and reliability.” Mitnick has had hands-on experience running a transmission company and advising the governor of New York.
When I worry about the utility industry, it’s because I’m haunted by what has happened to my own beloved newspaper industry, which has been irreparably damaged by not responding fast enough to new technologies; or by the sad fate of the Western Union Company, which had a grip on long-distance communications that looked as though it would last for centuries, but which was brought low by the Internet.
The utilities, to my mind, face the same challenges that the health care system does: if the healthy leave the insurance plans, the sick will pay much more. If the utilities allow their best customers to abandon them, the rest will pay much more for the poles and wires that link together modern society.
If we don’t do this transformation right, we’ll end up with an electric system more like Amtrak than the proud passenger railroads of yore.
I hope you’ll accept my heartfelt request to come to Arizona with as many of your colleagues as can be spared. The future is staring at us now. And are we, as Shakespeare said, to take this tide “at the flood which leads on to victory?”
The alternative, I fear, is to be making silent movies after the talkies have been invented.
See you in Scottsdale.