An Ode to Toby Keith, Or Why Electricity Grids Should Stop Talking and Do Something

While transcribing notes and recordings from an electricity market's conference on grid reliability, I was inspired to write the following. Maybe it's harsh, but I can't stand hearing people having discussions about how they should discuss stuff:

Glen Thomas of the GT Power Group and PJM Power Providers (better known as P3) called PJM CEO Andy Ott “the great prophet” at PJM’s Grid 20/20 conference on system reliability in April 2017. At the risk of alienating a whole stakeholder sector, I have to quibble with Mr. Thomas’ appellation. Andy may be a great prophet for some people’s money, but he’s not MY great prophet.

That title belongs to Toby Keith. No matter your stance on country music, you must admit Mr. Keith has penned a few humdingers that get toes tapping in even the most unlikely of places. To wit: there’s a Keith-branded “I Love This Bar” franchise in the entertainment complex around the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium. Doesn’t get much more blue-state than that.

So yes, Mr. Keith has an impressive catalogue, but arguably his best hit might be “A Little Less Talk And A Lot More Action.” You’ve probably heard it, even if you’re sure you haven’t. It’s one of those catchy, upbeat, zero-offense tunes that get heavy rotation in places that cultivate a “fun-but-family-friendly” image.

Perhaps PJM should add it to the musical interludes in its stakeholder meetings. Amongst the Grid 20/20’s three panels, while very few solutions or success stories were mentioned, there were multiple references to more conversations, more discussions, more talk.

In fact, Bill Berg, the Eastern RTO director for Exelon Generation, said that was his “only firm, concrete solution” for ensuring reliability. Direct quote: “The only way we can ensure reliability is through conversations like this: What’s happening, how do we need to change, how do we need to adapt and are we comfortable with where things are going?”

Perhaps Berg was being careful to specifically not mention markets in his solution because his employer has repeatedly bypassed organized markets to secure ratepayer funding for resources those markets deemed uneconomic. The precedent set in Illinois and New York is now being copied by others in New Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In that way, it’s fair to wonder if maybe Exelon has been playing Toby Keith in its collective headphones because it is doing just as he recommends: less talk; more action. What that means for the authenticity of Berg’s comments is up for debate, but this much is true: Exelon has defined what it needs and acted to secure it.

Perhaps it’s time for the rest of the stakeholders and PJM itself to do the same.

P.S.: Thanks for reading this far. If you like this article, please get the hashtag #NotMyProphet trending on Twitter.

All the best,