At the beginning
of this new century, we extend the season's best wishes to all our readers.
We wrote that same greeting a year ago and express it again to cover those
who subscribe to either school of millennium beginnings.
A number of our
readers write asking us for frequent updates on electric utility deregulation.
As a new session of our state Legislature convenes this month, deregulation
is once again a timely topic. We reassure our readers that legislators
in Jefferson City are dealing with deregulation in a responsible way.
public hearings, they conclude we have a lot to lose if we diminish our
current resources. That's because we now enjoy reliable electric service
delivered through a publicly owned, consumer-owned and privately owned
regulated system. Also, we enjoy relatively low cost power in our state
along with projections of moderate rate increases in future years.
electricity shortage and skyrocketing rates have slowed down a move toward
deregulation in Missouri and other states. Some states that passed deregulation
legislation will revisit the issue this year to decide if they should
The damper the
California crisis threw over deregulation reaches all the way to Washington,
D.C. That observation was made by a senator who has led the charge for
deregulation nationwide. Those close to the issue say the momentum gained
for national legislation was lost because of California.
A study issued
recently by a national consumer group says systemic market conditions
and flawed law are dashing any hope consumers will benefit from restructuring.
The study points to indicators of massive market failure. They warn consumers
will be hurt, not helped, if restructuring results in marketing arrangements
controlled by powerful interests.
The price of natural
gas more than doubled in recent months. Rapidly rising home heating bills
have made consumers angry. Their anger has political ramifications because
they will ask elected officials (fair or not) how they let this happen.
If deregulation of the natural gas industry gets some of the blame, it
will dampen the enthusiasm of legislators wanting to advance electric
utility deregulation at this time.
The focus of our
state Legislature is clearly on the consumer as they debate this complicated
issue. They will not allow a bill to advance that would raise rates for
any class of consumer. They will not allow a bill to advance that would
diminish the extraordinary reliability of our present system.
A track and field
expression for pole vault is "the bar is set high." When our present electric
generation, transmission and distribution systems are measured, we find
the bar to be set very high. It will be difficult for anyone to advance
a deregulation plan that can clear the bar at its present setting.
of deregulation and restructuring of the electric utility system in Missouri
will remain clearly focused on the consumer. Legislators will change nothing
until a plan is advanced that will "raise the bar" as it relates to consumer
confidence in our existing systems.
Stork was executive
vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric
Cooperatives and a member of Three Rivers Electric Co-op.