New PSC chair believes in consumer electric choice

Audrey Zibelman

Audrey Zibelman

 

New York’s new Public Service Commission chair will continue the state policy of relying on the free market to keep residential electricity prices affordable.

Improving the retail energy market will be a top priority, PSC chair Audrey Zibelman told a generating industry lobby group on Tuesday. When it comes to electricity, Zibelman said, consumers should have “the same level of choice that they have on other products, giving them a lot more choices and control.” Here’s an account of her talk in the Albany Times Union.

Zibelman’s work is cut out for her. Measured by consumer prices, deregulation is a failure.

The state hoped prices would drop after it deregulated the electric markets in 1999. Instead, prices have increased. Con Ed’s residential rates in 2011 have grown more quickly than prices charged by other US utilities, and in 2011 were more than twice the US average, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration.

Those who buy power from energy service companies — which were supposed to give consumers alternatives to the power bought on their behalf by Con Ed and other mainline utilities — seem to pay even more. A study in National Grid’s upstate territory released last year found that electric customers who bought electricity from other companies paid an extra $413 over a two-year period.

There’s more New York could do to advance consumer choice. The PSC is trying to figure out how to give consumers better information about energy service company prices. And even consumers who won’t switch to an energy service company might like the time-of-use plans offered in other states, which charge lower rates overnight and at other times when usage is low.

Zibelman, a long-time electric industry executive, knows the issues well. Her last job was as CEO of Viridity Energy, a Philadelphia firm that helps companies manage their energy use. She was also a top executive at PJM, which runs the power grid in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, DC and 10 other states.

According to the Times Union story, Zibelman sees many possibilities for products and services that connect people to the electric grid. “Now we need to take this further,” Zibelman told the generating industry group. “How do I want to pay for my services? What kind of information will I need? What kind of service quality do I need?”

 

About Bill Sanderson

I'm a New York-based journalist, and a former reporter at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, the Bergen Record in New Jersey, and the New York Post. My work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch.com and Politico New York. Twitter: @wpsanderson.
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