It is an inane misconception to attempt to determine what a person wants when that person is unheard in the discussion. It's not that actual consumers are unwelcome at the events, it's that registration and travel to attend these conferences runs in the thousands and is prohibitively expensive to actual consumers. Instead, consumer interests at these conferences are inaptly represented by regulators, who never actually communicate with the consumers they are tasked with representing. Regulators see their job as "representing the interests of the consumers as a whole," and not as representing the interests of the individual consumers. However, unless the regulators have an open dialogue whereby they listen to individual consumers, they fail to develop knowledge upon which to base their opinion of what consumers want as a collective whole. They don't get that dialogue at these conferences either, because no actual consumers, or even representatives of groups of actual consumers, are ever present.
The days of blissfully unaware electric consumers feeding at the corporate energy trough are over. As the electric generation, transmission and distribution business model has evolved into a profit-driven, investor-owned structure, unrest among consumers has grown. On occasion, the utilities will miscalculate and commit an action that ends up being the straw that broke the camel's back, because they also do not know what consumers want (and they don't much care either). For the utility it's all about what their investors want -- money -- and their task is to find a way to manipulate the consumers into unwittingly accepting their profit-seeking actions.
The occasional "back breaking" initiative eventuality has been occurring with increasing frequency lately. Just a couple of examples:
- The Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) Project that incensed landowners and ratepayers in three states and compelled them into educating themselves on utility processes and energy policy, which then propelled them onto a local/state/regional/national quest to have a seat at the table and some modicum of control over their fate.
- The consumer "prairie fire" AEP's Ohio subsidiary lit with its unbalanced, gluttonous rate increases, a product of a corrupted state commission and corporate greed and arrogance.
Utilities have long sought to capture this dynamic by forming fake "grassroots" coalitions to champion their money-making initiatives, but that approach will never succeed or sustain itself. Real people know the difference between koolaid and wine, and the essential handful of "real people" leaders is missing from this paradigm.
The "real people" are also missing from regulatory "consumer advocate" models. Government-based consumer advocacy is disconnected from the consumers and is perpetually underfunded so that they are unable, or unwilling, to provide the same kind of comprehensive advocacy that grassroots consumer groups deliver. Also missing from government-based models is common cause and that all important "prairie fire" spark that grassroots leadership supplies.
The only way regulators and industry will ever figure out what electric consumers really want is to change their approach to the dilemma by adding another easily available seat at the table.