About this blog

As public employees, we work for the people of Connecticut. This blog seeks to provide information on the activities of the OCC to the public, and perhaps start a conversation around issues of concern to consumers. The views expressed here are solely those of Consumer Counsel Katz.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Talking Gigabits on the Colin McEnroe Show

One of my favorite things I've done in this job was appearing on the Colin McEnroe Show yesterday.  I was on the air with former FCC chief of staff Blair Levin and CTNewjunkie reporter Lon Seidman.  The invitation to appear on the show stems from a conference we hosted, Towards a Gigabit State: A Conversation about High-Speed Broadband for Municipalities and Public Officials. We had a really interesting conversation about ultra-high-speed "gigabit" internet service:  why we need it (or do we?); what the uses could be; what other cities have done to bring gig service to their citizens;the policy implications of recent net neutrality decisions and policy changes; and what we are doing here in Connecticut.  I really liked that one caller, Suzanne, said she was going to change the channel when she heard the topic because she didn't think it mattered to her, but as she listened, she realized that she had a really strong opinion on the topic.  OCC's motto is advocate, educate, serve -- if we're getting people engaged on these important telecom issues, then I think we've accomplished our mission.

As Colin noted, I'm a former student of his.  He was my professor at Trinity College when I was working towards my Master's in Writing, Rhetoric, and Media almost ten years ago, when he taught a graduate course in blogging.  It occured to me as I was inserting a link into this post that I only know how to do that -- or how maintain a blog -- because of that class.

You can listen to a podcast of the show if you're interested.

Professor McCary's Law School Class was impressive!

I had a really great time at the class I discussed in my last post.  We had a lively discussion about competitive electric suppliers, free markets, the role of regulation and regulators in markets, natural gas supplies, the interplay between the price of natural gas and the price of electricity, and regional efforts to bring more natural gas and renewables into New England.  Everyone joined the discussion, and I was impressed with the level of engagement.  I appreciated the opportunity to meet with the next generation of attorneys, hopefully some of whom will consider energy law and advocacy.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Heading to UConn Law School tomorrow

Tomorrow I'm guest lecturing at UConn Law School, in Professor McCary's Energy Regulation and Policy Class.  I love teaching and am looking forward to it.  My focus will be on the volatility of electric prices in recent months, from the perspective of the residential consumer, and how this involves a myriad of issues across various jurisdictions and branches of government.  Should be a good conversation!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Electric suppliers investigation

A lot of our time this month has been taken up with our involvement in the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority's (PURA) investigation of the electricity supplier market.  I and other members of my office have attended public hearings, and other events, where folks have discussed their experience this winter with electric suppliers.

We have heard many heart-breaking stories from people whose electric rates have doubled or tripled in the matter of a month or two.  It's particularly worrisome to hear from senior citizens with electric heat who say that they have turned the heat way down and are living in homes that at 50 degrees.  Surely we can come up with a better solution than that for them and others.

Stay tuned...we have filed our testimony in that investigation today, and we are also working on some proposed legislative reforms, that we hope announce in a few days.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Greetings from NARUC

I am writing from the Winter Meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).  I arrived on Sunday, and I've attended some very interested discussions on utility issues (I'll write more about them individually.)

Today I participated on a panel on the future of the electric distribution market.  We discussed the changing distribution system, particularly with respect to integrating new and emerging technologies such as solar panels, wind power, small-scale hydro, and energy storage systems into the mix.  The challenge is that the electric grid has to be in constant balance -- you have to be putting in the same amount you are taking out.  Because most of these new technologies are intermittent -- wind turbines only make electricity when the wind blows, for example, which can come in bursts -- they have to be managed very carefully.  We also can't just turn power plants on and off like light switches to balance intermittent resources, as they take time, sometimes days, to power up and down.  It's far beyond my expertise as a lawyer to figure out the technological aspects of how do to all that, but I do see how our desire for renewable energy needs to be carefully managed.  We also are struggling as a society with how to pay managing the various resources.  Virtually every technology will need the grid at least as a backup, and the cost of maintaining the grid is getting more expensive, as we have to pay for storm damage, system resiliency and hardening (to make the grid better protected for the next storm), and grid modernization (upgrades to create a "smart grid," for example).  On the other hand, people get understandably upset with too many fixed charges on their electric bill -- we have to pay for all these various items before we've even used a kilowatt hour of electricity? 

This doesn't mean I'm feeling negative on renewable energy -- far from it.  I believe, especially with the strong storms we've seen in the last few years, and the changing climate, that we need to invest in cleaner technologies, but we need to make sure they are reasonably priced, and that we are supporting the grid at the same time. I see in the near future a "grid plus" world, i.e., one where many (or most?) people need the grid as their primary source of power, and virtually everyone needs it as backup.  (I won't attempt to opine on what's "past the horizon" for technology, as some future development could eliminate many of these issues, but we can only do our best to plan based on available data.)  Unfortunately, none of us on the panel had any concrete vision of how to accomplish all of these things, but we all acknowledged that these were at least some of the challenges.  Once we catalogue the issues, we can then better develop pilot programs, working groups, and other avenues to explore solutions that balance these varying needs.  My main point, I think, is that we need to be aware of all the challenges, and not just rush quickly in any one direction in our industry, lest we end up with a raft of unintended consequences.

"Opening Day" at the Legislature

On Thursday, February 6,  I attended Governor Malloy's State of the State address - here's a picture of my vantage point inside the House of Representatives legislative chamber.  It's always an emotionally moving day, because it's the start of the Connecticut legislative session for the year, with all of the pageantry, hope, energy, and trepidation involved.  The entire Legislature is there, with the House reps in their seats and the Senators seated down front, and Commissioners and others filling in any available standing room.  Representatives from "both sides of the aisle" make remarks.  I know many people are feeling cynical about government right now, but I find it an honor to witness democracy in action.

The Governor mentioned his commitment to "cleaner, greener, cheaper" energy in his opening remarks.  Both before and afterwards, many legislators talked with me about the complaints they've been getting about variable electric rates that shot up in January.  We'll keep talking to find some better tools to better educate and protect consumers from these kinds of price spikes.  My office continues to field many complaints as well.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Welcome to my blog.  As the Consumer Counsel for the state, I feel an obligation to make sure I am talking to the people whom I represent.  In this space, I plan to write about the issues we are dealing with, the policies and programs which we are working on, and the upcoming events that may be of interest to consumers.  Our motto is "Advocate, Educate, Serve."  I am hoping that this blog will allow me to be a better advocate, to educate both consumers and myself, and ultimately to be of service to the citizens of Connecticut.