Four stakeholders committees, set up last March by the PublicService Commission (PSC), have now identified the issues in thestate of New York’s stalled retail deregulation process forelectric power and natural gas, and by next spring they expect tohave some solutions — if it isn’t too late.

That the electric market in the state isn’t functioning verywell was evident in the summer’s power price spikes, emergencyprice caps and irate consumers. This winter may just give thecommittees a lot more real-time input about how well thederegulated natural gas market and power markets function during apeak heating season.

The committees submitted Phase One drafts totaling about 150pages last week to PSC administrative law judges. Revised draftsshould be available in mid-to-late October, after which, in PhaseTwo committees will discuss and analyze the issues. The committeesare scheduled to meet regularly throughout the fall of 2000, andwill present a final report with a general consensus if possible tothe PSC in January 2001. A final recommendation to the commissionis expected during the Spring of 2001.

One “issue” that emerged from the research of the PublicInvolvement and Input Committee was that a sizeable number of NewYorkers didn’t even know they had a choice. Market surveys in 1999showed that 61% — about the same percentage as in 1998 — wereaware they had a choice of power suppliers, but only 24% knew aboutretail competition for gas.

Of those who did know about and were involved in natural gaschoice programs, a survey showed 54% and 71% of residential andcommercial customers respectively were “satisfied” with their gasmarketer. The study also pointed out that satisfaction varied amongutility service territories. Only 36% of residential and 53% ofcommercial customers in the Con Edison service territory weresatisfied, whereas the National Fuel territory reportedsatisfaction levels of 76% for residential and 83% for commercialcustomers.

Other stakeholders committees turning in first drafts last weekwere the Public Benefits Committee, Future Role of RegulatedUtilities Committee, and the Retail Development Committee. Thegroups include representatives of utilities, energy servicecompanies, state agencies, consumer advocate groups, environmentalgroups and other interested parties.

“There is a psychological process that groups go through as theywork together toward a common goal,” said ALJ Jeffrey E. Stockholm.”What all the judges have tried to do is to give them a common goaland the first piece of it was generating these reports, now thesecond part is the analysis which is going to be more difficult. Inmy opinion the groups have come together and the committees areworking extremely well.”

“Phase two is going to be a much more compressed time periodthan phase one, so I am not sure exactly what level we are going tobe able to address a lot of these things,” said Public BenefitProgram co-Chair and Niagara Mohawk representative Jack Ziegler.”But I am sure there is a meeting of the Executive Committee onFriday and we will get some direction from the judges at thattime.”

“I think it [choice] certainly can work, ‘can’ has never been adoubt, but whether it will is another thing entirely,” said acommittee member. “There are all kinds of variables. Some peoplesay that ISO caps are making warning signs towards generators, Idon’t think so, the ISO caps that have been proposed are highenough that I don’t think they should scare off many generators. Icertainly think a form of competition can and will exist in NewYork. “In the birthing process, there is always a little bit ofpain, the question is whether you can ride out the pain.”

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