My second meeting in Tallahassee was with Barry Moline, the Executive Director of the FMEA. Representing 34 public power communities across the state, the FMEA strives to provide its members with government relations, communications and education services.
Please share a brief history of the FMEA:
The association was formed in 1945. We are the state trade association for the city owned electric utilities, and there are 34 of them in Florida. We work on pretty much every issue that a utility has: generation, power supply, distribution, customer service, energy efficiency, and delivery. We represent our members before the state legislature and at the Florida Public Service Commission.
To help our members network, we have a magazine, several web publications and events, conferences and training. So we’re out there helping them operate their businesses to the best extent possible and working on their behalf in front of legislators and regulators.
Give us a brief history of your personal background:
My educational background is a degree in energy engineering and policy analysis, so I’m doing what I want to be doing. I worked for the national association for municipal electric utilities, the American Public Power Association, for five before moving down here 14 years ago. So that’s almost 20 years now working in public power.
How do find the interaction between the association and its members?
There tends to be greater involvement from about 25 out of the 34 cities, to the extent that the smaller ones can’t wear many hats and have limited staff to participate in every event. But they all help each other out; for instance, in the case of a hurricane, large and small provide lineworkers to each other. Almost all of them have to comply with the same regulations, so we have significant communications with all our members.
Utilities are looking at changes in metering, by watching and learning from each. A few years ago, Progress Energy installed a one-way system, and the City of Tallahassee is one of the first to do a two-way system. A lot of folks are watching Tallahassee. Their system is state-of-the-art and offers many applications. Many utilities want to keep an eye on Tallahassee and in order to evaluate it for themselves.
We supply our member utilities with the information they might use to make these important decisions. For instance, if City of Tallahassee appears at a conference, we will feature them in our magazine, and show what pros and cons are of their experience.
Does FMEA interact on the consumer side? Is there any direct interaction with your members customers?
We don’t have customers who come to us directly. We do deal, from a communications perspective, with news media and policy makers. And we’ve received inquiries from reporters about the cost of implementing a smart metering system. So we explain to them that this is an opportunity for cost-cutting. It’s incumbent on the utility and incumbent on us to discuss the financial savings involved, as well as the costs.
How do you see the future of metering programs in Florida?
Utilities are somewhat cautious of smart metering. We may be reaching a tipping point where it’s clear that the economics and overall benefits justify the investment – then everybody will be clambering for it. For the moment, the economics are good, but you’re still going to have to justify it from several different aspects. Smart metering is looking at people being able to control their electricity usage, possibly reducing demand, and in the long run the utility may not have to build a power plant. So in the long run, the investment in smart metering may allow the utility not to build a new plant, or at least delay construction by years. You use smart metering in order to get that. You have to aggressively promote different tariffs so that people use pricing to change the way they use energy.
The industry is not at the tipping point yet. We’ve got to offer more examples showing precisely that when you install X and take the following actions, then you will produce Y benefits. Finally, smart metering helps integrate the utility and brings its relationship to its customers much closer.