Media: How Minnesota is inching toward a new oversight model (Utility Dive)

Apr 24, 2018

Minnesota’s e21 Initiative, coordinated by CEE and Great Plains Institute, unites utilities, consumer advocates, regulators, and environmental advocates to develop a 21st century energy system that better aligns a financially viable utility business model with increasing customer expectations and evolving policy goals.

Excerpt from Utility Dive:

Performance-based regulation needs more work before it is ready to effectively deal with the perverse incentive, according a stakeholder group studying cutting-edge utility oversight proposals in Minnesota. A completely new performance-based regulatory approach may be less effective than innovative alternatives to the existing cost-of-service (COS) regulation, stakeholders told Utility Dive.

The perverse incentive is the curse of traditional COS regulation. It rewards regulated utilities with a return on capital expenditures even if they are not the lowest cost approaches to resolving system needs. Performance-based regulation (PBR) substitutes performance incentives for returns on investments, freeing utilities to make choices that might better benefit ratepayers. Using performance incentives that link earnings to how well a utility achieves policy goals was a “central recommendation” from a stakeholder process led by Minnesota’s e21 Initiative in December 2016. The e21 initiative includes Minnesota utilities as well as environmental and consumer advocates. But the newest phase of the think tank’s PBR work concluded in April that “this is a very complicated issue” and “we must proceed carefully.” Complicating it are questions about the best performance goals and metrics. The next step should be a formal regulatory proceeding to address the complications, e21's participants agreed.

Former Xcel Energy executive Mike Bull was one of the first utility industry leaders to take seriously the dangers of the perverse incentive and call for the study of new utility business models. Now the Center for Energy and the Environment (CEE) policy director, Bull helped lead e21’s recent stakeholder roundtable discussions on PBR and, at their completion, endorsed further but measured study of PBR.  “Xcel is keeping rates down and working toward 85% emissions-free generation by 2030, so what problem does performance-based regulation solve for?” he asked Utility Dive. “The answer may not be a new business model but enhancements to the existing one.” Participants in the e21 roundtables filed their responses to the dialogue in a proceeding established by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) to address PBR. Most stakeholder filings agreed, tentatively, with Bull...

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Related Link
e21 Initiative Website