When I think about all the challenges that we have encountered over the thirty-seven years that I’ve been in this business, I recall feeling on many occasions the circumstances that we never had to deal with before in our history, and I wondered how successful we would be going forward in meeting those challenges. Initially it was the obstacle of determining where we needed to build substations and power lines to meet our customer’s ever increasing demand for electricity, and just as important, deciding how in the heck we were going to pay for it. Ah, those were the days. Then there was the period where we purchased computers for the first time and had to automate our customer and accounting systems. No jokes please, but yes, I was here when we virtually did everything by paper and pencil.
Of course, things became more serious when nationwide there was talk, and even implementation by a few states, about the concept of retail choice where customers would have the option of choosing their power supplier. That was probably the first time that I felt that we were encountering a period of very significant change. Not only were we still going to have the difficulty of meeting customers demands for power on a cost-effective basis. We had to think differently and work towards putting the District in a position of being our customer’s preferred electric service provider. However, primarily because electric competition in the areas of the country where it was tried didn’t slash prices as promised, retail choice never came to pass.
Now, I don’t want to get over dramatic, and I’ll calm down and take a sedative of some sort if necessary, but I sense that due to outside influences we once again are embarking on a period of change that could notably transform the way we do business. The outside influences that I am referring to are technology and public policy.
Regarding technology, as the capital cost of solar and wind generation declines and, along with subsidies, entices more and more people to try to generate their own power, the impact that these renewable energy systems could have on system power quality is something that we will need to focus on. At the same time having the proper capacity in the electric system will also be important. Remember, the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, and unless battery storage becomes viable the electric system will need to be able to serve all customers all the time. Furthermore, it will be just as challenging to design rates that assure customers that don’t have distributed generators, as they are called, don’t help pay for customers that do.
With respect to public policy, right or wrong continued conversations regarding climate change will lead to continued proposals for curbing carbon emissions. If this results in legislative regulation, without question our cost of doing business will increase, and remaining affordable will be a concern that we would need to contend with.
Yes, there are challenging times ahead. But even though they may be unprecedented from the standpoint of its impact to the electric industry, there is no doubt in my mind that we will once again meet these challenges head on, just as we have done in the past.