Monopolies in Competition

T&D World’s IdeaXchange experts discuss how utilities should respond to the competitive threats embedded in some DER technologies and take advantage of the customer engagement opportunities also present there.
John H. Baker Jr., Mani Vadari, Doug Houseman, Michael Heyeck, Paul Mauldin, Bradley Schmidt, Mike Parr, Don McDonnell, Stewart Ramsay, Raiford Smith | Mar 29, 2016

In a pivotal scene from the epic World War II movie “Saving Private Ryan,” Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) takes Sergeant Horvath aside to discuss an unexpected turn of events. Private Ryan (played by Matt Damon), the young solider who Miller has been ordered to find and bring home, has just refused to go home, saying he wants to stay with his own unit, which has been ordered to defend a bridge at all cost.

In commenting on the dilemma that has arisen between his orders and Ryan’s loyalty and sense of duty, Miller says, “Sergeant, we have crossed some strange boundary here. The world has taken a turn for the surreal.”

When I contemplate the current state of electric utility regulation in the U.S., that world appears to have taken a turn for the surreal. The original regulatory compact was established to provide society a valuable public service while protecting customers from possible monopoly excess and still assuring utilities would receive a return large enough to attract capital investment. That was then, but now, the same utilities that received protection from competition in exchange for regulation are seeing increasing competition — often from their customers.