Rural Missouri Magazine

Raising the bar


by Frank Stork

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.

After numerous 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.

The California 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 retreat.

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.

The objective 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.

Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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