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Pamela’s Blog:
The Energy Utility - re-imagined, re-invented

Returning to the Cause

April 9, 2013

July 10, 2012.  That is the date I last managed to capture a thought about re-imagining and re-inventing the energy utility in writing and post it on this blog.  It is not that I stopped having such thoughts, of course.  It is simply that I stopped – temporarily – writing them down.  Shame on me.  But perhaps the hiatus was not without purpose.  As one of the quotes that I use on this blog states:

Clay is molded to form a cup, but it is on its non-being that the utility of the cup depends.  . . . Therefore, turn being into advantage and non-being into utility.  

               Lao-Tzu

I will look for the utility of the non-being of this blog form July last year until now.  Perhaps insights lie in this period of fallowness.

As I survey the energy utility landscape of these last nine months, I see little that is new.  Indeed, some of what is growing in the field looks suspiciously like the shoots of that rhizome you can’t quite seem to get rid of and that,220px-Euphorbia_rhizophora2_ies year after year, sends unplanned growth into your carefully planned garden.   Natural gas prices below the cost of acquiring new supply and consequent questions about whether to continue spending on energy efficiency or commitments to renewable portfolio standards (See, e.g., the 1990’s).  More rate cases (See, e.g., the early 1980’s).  Transmission projects stuck in siting processes or abandoned altogether (See, e.g., the last three decades).  The California Energy Crisis cases at FERC, still!!

I like the image of the rhizome for these observations of the “not new” because it ably illustrates why these shoots appear over and over.  See the tangled, root-like structure in the picture?  That is what lies below, out of sight, of the more or less orderly shoots we see above ground.  In the energy utility system (and even the larger economic system from which the outcome of available natural gas arises), it is complex, largely unseen structure that causes us regular experiences of “déjà vu, all over again.”  The interactions we have with each other and with artifacts, where and when we have them, guided by laws, rules, practices, beliefs – this is the “structure” we have been growing for many decades now.  We keep fertilizing it: more artifacts (think Smart Grid technology); more “interactions” (think rate case data requests, all-day workshops, comment processes); more rules (think reliability and cyber-security); reinforced beliefs (think “utility versus ratepayers” accepted as the natural order of things).

I wish that I was looking out over the last ten months and seeing disturbed ground where people had dug around in these rhizomes: disturbed them; questioned them; poked and prodded at what holds them together; asked “why?” and “why not?”  But that is not what these last nine months have been about.  If anything, they have been a time for collective relief:  been there, done that, know what to do.  It’s all so familiar.  And it will be even more so once the economy “recovers.”  Really.

I began this blog about a year ago with the firm belief in the opposite: We haven’t been there.  We haven’t done that.  We don’t know what to do.  Not Really.  This belief remains.  So I will return to the cause.  In the coming weeks and months, look for more here on the energy utility, re-invented, re-imagined.

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