Seeing how FPL has been responding to Irma cements some big-picture takeaways:
- First, the benefits are clearly evident, stemming from storm hardening investments and storm preparations FPL put in place (as highlighted in T&D World’s May 10, 2017, piece, “FPL’s Annual Storm Drill Highlights State-of-the-Art Technology").
- Second, FPL’s own crews were supplemented by thousands of crews from other utilities, under mutual assistance programs between utilities which have been critical to the rapid recovery we are seeing. (E.g. see T&D World’s Sept. 11, 2017, article "Droves of Linemen Lend a Helping Hand in Irma's Wake").
- Ongoing improvements in numerous technologies including self-healing grids, Outage Management Systems, to GIS and network connectivity models, to software for managing supply chain, as well as mobile-enabled work management solutions, have played an important role in optimizing how diverse crews safely and efficiently restore power.
As highlighted by Edison Electric Institute’s issues and policy paper titled “Understanding the Electric Power Industry’s Response and Restoration Process,” a primary goal of the mutual assistance program is to restore electric service in a safe, effective, and efficient manner, the program also serves additional objectives that benefit the entire electric power industry.
In addition, mutual assistance program perform the following functions:
- Promotes the safety of employees and customers.
- Strengthens relationships among electric companies.
- Provides a means for electric companies to receive competent, trained employees and contractors from other experienced companies.
- Provides a predefined mechanism to share industry resources expeditiously.
- Mitigates the risks and costs of member companies related to major incidents.
- Proactively improves resource-sharing during emergency conditions.
- Shares best practices and technologies that help the electric power industry improve its ability to prepare for, and respond to, emergencies.
- Promotes and strengthens communication among RMAGs.
- Enables a consistent, unified response to emergency events.
How would all of the above work if utilities did not want to cooperate with one another? While our goal is to focus on technology, business models need to be in place for technologies to be ideally leveraged. In our industry we have a mix of markets, but the utilities who “enjoy” monopoly status within their service territories not only benefit from economies of scale—they also benefit from a greater propensity to enter into cooperative agreements as described above. As a result, we should demand that writers of editorials about benefits of deregulation should include in their arguments how they could force deregulated utilities to continue such mutual assistance programs, or how they would mitigate the costs associated with stopping such programs (e.g. this Wall Street Journal article presents both sides in the debate "Is It Time to Deregulate All Electric Utilities?". In contrast, the title of the following editorial sounds attractive but would have to show how it would address major storm events in a fully competitive utility industry: "Ending electric utility monopolies will cut power bills and give consumers more options.")