Audrey Zibelman, chair of the New York State Public Service Commission since September 2013, set her vision for state utility policy in her keynote address at the “Utility Industry of the Future” symposium. The event was sponsored by the NYU Environmental Law Journal and NYU Environmental Law Society in collaboration with the Guarini Center on Environmental and Land Use Law.
Paraphrasing Ken Olsen, a famous American computer engineer who said, “Nobody’s ever going to want a personal computer,” Zibelman made a comparison to the once-underestimated movement toward alternative energy. Zibelman has extensive experience in the public, private and not-for-profit energy and electricity sectors, and is a recognized expert in energy policy, markets and Smart Grid innovation. New York, she said, has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership on economic, efficiency, and security bases, and the technology will exceed our expectations.
Zibelman emphasized the importance of identifying the critical factors that will drive changes in energy development and transmission, formulating a policy vision for the state of New York, and identifying the key obstacles to overcome. Some of those obstacles include updating infrastructure, much of which is outdated and must be replaced. Other important considerations going forward include building a resilient system that will enable us to face the challenges of climate change, the need to take cyber and fiscal security into account, and facilitating greater customer engagement in the electricity business by supplying customers with more information and opportunities for choice. Utility companies will need to adjust to a changing demographic that is accustomed to having information at their fingertips, Zibelman noted.
The overarching theme of Zibelman’s speech was that the increasing importance of clean energy will force the industry to develop in ways that are not currently anticipated. Regulatory flexibility is key, as is getting things right in these first few years to lay the groundwork for success in the future. Finally, the industry should not underestimate the importance of educating customers so they understand what changes are being made and why. To that end, Zibelman underscored the need for the government, utilities, NGOs, and vendors to work together.