FRI, Looking Back and Looking Ahead

December 21, 2023

Written by Dr. Michael Sykuta, Executive Director of FRI

As 2023 draws to a close, so does my third year as Executive Director of FRI. To say the past three years have been a whirlwind would be an understatement. It’s been a time of growth for me personally, learning about the issues facing the three regulated utility industries we address (electricity, natural gas, and water/wastewater systems), learning the regulatory landscape, and pivoting my research and teaching focus more toward regulatory economics and public utilities. It has also been a time of growth for FRI, as we’ve expanded our programs and staff. And we are looking forward to several new opportunities that are coming together in 2024.

This year marks the first since 2019 in which all our programs returned to their pre-COVID formats. Our flagship Public Utility Symposium in September attracted excellent speakers and attendees from around the country and earned stellar reviews. During the symposium, we presented the 2023 FRI Crystal Award for Distinguished Contribution to Andreas Thanos of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. The Advanced Seminar on Transformational Pricing and Rate Design was held in St. Louis in May and, for the first time, focused on water utilities. In its second year, our Regulated Utility Leadership Institute (RULI) attracted an array of individuals from across the country in June. All of these programs were endorsed by NARUC’s Subcommittee on Education & Research (SER), and we continue to collaborate with the NARUC SER to ensure our programs meet their standards of excellence and relevance for regulators.

We also hosted four Hot Topic Hotline webinars focusing on acquisitions in the water sector, a macroeconomic and monetary policy update, resource adequacy planning and retention in the electricity sector, and harmonizing natural gas and electricity systems. For the first time, we also hosted a half-day webinar discussing challenges and potential solutions to planning and developing improvements to the US electric grid.

As our academic staff has grown, so have our academic and research activities. Dr. Adrienne Ohler and I introduced a new course titled Energy Markets & Regulation, which is offered to both undergraduate and graduate students. We are exploring the creation of a graduate-level certificate for individuals seeking to strengthen their knowledge and skill sets related to public utility regulation and policy, whether in combination with a graduate degree at Mizzou or as a stand-alone professional education certificate.

On the research side, we have several projects under way, in large part thanks to partnerships with industry organizations. Using rate case data provided by AGA, we have ongoing projects examining factors affecting cost-of-service determination across the country. Using EIA’s RECS data, we’re examining consumers’ engagement with smart meter devices and their consumption behavior. Thanks to a new partnership with HData, we are able to access HData’s AI-powered analyses of FERC filings to explore research topics and to help train students to use and analyze FERC filing data. And we are just beginning a multi-year project to document the cybersecurity posture of electric utilities’ supply chains and the cost of compliance with NERC CIP-13 regulations. As these research projects reach significant milestones and finalized results, we look forward to publishing both scholarly papers and industry-relevant white papers on these topics.

Finally, we are excited to share that the University of Missouri recently established a research priority in the area of Energy and Sustainability Systems. As part of this initiative, the University is developing plans for a Center for Energy Innovation (CEI) that will bring together leading researchers at the cutting edge of energy technology research and development, including various types of generation, storage, and transmission. But as I have explained to our administration, no technology will be commercially implemented without a supporting regulatory structure and economic incentive system. Consequently, energy policy and regulation are a key component of plans for the CEI, and FRI figures to be an integral contributor to that initiative.

As 2023 draws to a close and we look forward to the new year ahead, I am excited for what’s in store and where FRI is heading. With the support and guidance of FRI’s Advisory Board and sponsors, we plan to continue offering excellent educational programming, producing industry- and policy-relevant research to inform decision-making, and contributing to regulation and policy outcomes that facilitate technological innovation across our utility sectors.