October 01, 2017

Editor’s Column

By Charles A. Patrizia

The articles in this issue reflect the breadth and depth of issues of interest to our Section. In “Hurricanes Harvey and Irma: Electric Industry Impacts, Restoration, and Cost Recovery,” Everett Britt describes the major impacts of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma on electric companies in their paths, the companies’ restoration efforts, and how recovery of the storm-related costs for electric utilities may be addressed under the applicable regulatory frameworks. While the extraordinary nature of Harvey meant that restoration efforts in Texas faced exceptional circumstances, the use of advanced technologies and other pre-storm efforts appears to have yielded improved recovery results. And in Florida and Georgia, the electric industry mounted an industry-wide response to Irma that, with approximately 60,000 workers, was one of the largest power restoration efforts in U.S. history. Indeed, it is the cooperative efforts of the companies on the mainland that reinforced the prompt and effective response, and contrasts with the difficulties still faced in Puerto Rico.

As noted in prior issues of this newsletter, this year is the 100th anniversary of our Section, and we are taking the opportunity to use our history to consider the future. This issue features the fourth in a series of essays celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Infrastructure and Regulated Industries Section. In “One Hundred Years of State Utility Regulation,” Charlie Read, Joe Seliga, Mitch Holzrichter, and Noelle Coates trace the evolution of public utility commissions in their respective states (California, Illinois, and Virginia). As the authors note, common themes emerge. State commissions “originated from popular anger, distrust, and fear of monopoly enterprises —in most cases, the railroads—and they have never abandoned those roots.” State commissions have often been subject to the public perception that they are “too cozy” with the industries they regulate and the three-way tug of war among state commissions, legislatures, and governors continues. The authors suggest that the “increasingly higher stakes in terms of dollars, social impact, and legal complexity” will push state commissions toward “more formal rules of practice and procedure, more emphasis on transparency in dealing with utility personnel, and probably more frequent resort to state court reviews.”

By Charles A. Patrizia