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Are GISB's Days Numbered?

Are GISB's Days Numbered?

The head of a Gas Industry Standards Board (GISB) task force that's exploring the feasibility of the organization getting involved in creating standards for retail electric and natural gas, as well as for wholesale power, personally believes a new standards-setting group should be formed to undertake the task.

"We're not talking about taking a GISB charter and just making a few changes in it.....What we're talking about is getting a roomful of people that represent both the gas and the electric [industries together].....and then you'd sit down and everything would be up for grabs. You'd in effect form a new organization," said James R. Templeton, also a GISB board member, at the third industry-wide meeting exploring the issue last Wednesday.

"There may be some very good reasons why [we'd] use GISB's present certificate to get [this task] done. But it won't then be called GISB," he noted, adding that instead it possibly would be re-named the Energy Industry Standards Board (EISB). Many of GISB's principles, however, would be part of the new group --- independence, openness, its voluntary nature and balanced interests "so that nobody's ox can be gored."

But GISB "has not yet determined that it will jump into this briar patch," said Templeton, principal of Houston-based Comprehensive Energy Services Inc. Before it can proceed in this direction, it will need the broad support of the gas and electric industries, greater financial backing and more volunteers from energy companies.

Also, a key issue to be considered is whether "common standards [can] be applied to both the gas and electric industry, or are they just too different," said Jerry Langdon, a former FERC Commissioner. He noted the question has dogged the Commission for years.

Templeton's task force was formed in response to a request by the Coalition for Uniform Business Rules (CUBR) last September for GISB to explore developing retail standards for natural gas and electricity. GISB "actively took up the charge," and added wholesale electricity to the list. GISB, whose focus to date has been on developing standards for wholesale gas, has the authority to establish retail gas standards as well, but standards for retail and wholesale electricity are outside of its scope.

When it put the request to GISB, CUBR "didn't envision GISB doing this solely by themselves," said an official with Reliant Energy, which belongs to CUBR. Rather, it saw GISB as a "facilitator or coordinator" of a collaborative process in which all market segments would band together to form a gas and electric energy standards board, he noted.

In a gesture of conciliation, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) said it will meet with GISB board members within the next few weeks in an effort to bring more electric utilities and electric-related companies into the debate over whether standards should be established for retail and wholesale electricity and, if so, by whom.

Michael McGrath, EEI's group director of energy services, agreed to the meeting after a handful of electric representatives who attended the industry-wide meeting expressed concern that a gas standards-setting group, which currently has only minor electric representation, might be in charge of creating standards for the electric industry.

"I think the challenge has been made to EEI to come and visit with GISB.....and talk about how we might proceed. We accept that.....We have already assembled a board level team to work that issue," McGrath said.

Templeton and other GISB members tried to assuage the concerns of the electric representatives at the meeting. "We're not trying to jump in and tell a very large part of the U.S. economy how to run its business," he noted. There's no one at GISB who believes the group alone will "decide how and who and do electric standards and then foist them on the electric industry," said Jim Buccigross, chairman of GISB's executive committee and director and general counsel for the National Registry of Capacity Rights.

Some gas members of GISB were hesitant as well about the group becoming involved with electric standards, saying they feared that gas interests might be overlooked in the event GISB assumed this responsibility. At GISB, the "plate is pretty full with the gas agenda. So clearly what will not work is if current GISB members end up doing the work" for the electric industry, said a representative of Williams.

The issue, he said, boils down to whether the electric industry participants feel the GISB model "is the most efficient and effective way to move forward with establishing standards, or should it be a mere image organization? In other words, rather than reformulating GISB, do something different. Do [they] feel it's most effective to have their own organization, but adopt the same process [and] procedures" of GISB?

The new standards-setting organization, if formed, would propose and adopt voluntary standards for the electronic exchange of information, record and data formats, communication protocols and related business practices that would streamline the transactional processes of both the electric and natural gas businesses, including retail and wholesale, said Templeton.

Susan Parker

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