Energy markets prepare for change By Tim Wake Imagine this: The year is 2010 and you are ordering your next batch of energy by simply pushing a few keys on the remote control of your interactive TV. Sound like science fiction? It may be closer to reality than you think. This very scenario was outlined in some detail by Art Willms, president and chief operating officer of Westcoast Energy, at a national forum on Markets, Regulation and the Future for Canadian Energy Utilities hosted this week by the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts. Recent deregulation and competition have dramatically changed the way telephone companies, airlines and trucking companies deliver their services in North America. Now the trend towards deregulation in the energy sector will change the face of the energy services that are delivered to our homes and businesses, according to the experts from the Canadian Energy Utility industry. What are "energy services?" Traditionally our energy, in the form of electricity, propane, natural gas or heating oil, has been delivered to us by suppliers who handled the commodity from its source to its use by us. An energy service delivered to us in the future will consist of a variety of ways to meet our need for energy. This may include technologies that actually reduce or even replace our demand for the traditional energy commodity. The central issue at this week's forum was deregulation in Canadian electricity markets. Panelists debated whether or not deregulation was desirable, whether it was inevitable, and what form it would take. Under our current system in British Columbia, electricity is provided by BC Hydro, under the watchful eye of the B.C. Utilities Commission. Hydro controls generation, transmission and distribution. In a deregulated market the generation and distribution functions could be provided by any number of suppliers in a competitive framework. The potential benefit to the customer would be the option to choose the supplier, or change suppliers if dissatisfied with the price or the service. Do we need these options? Are we going to get them whether we want them or not? While there was little consensus on the answers to these questions, it was generally acknowledged that we are moving in the direction of deregulation. It is also clear that there are lessons to be learned from natural gas markets in and electricity deregulation in the U.K. and California. Where do we go from here? The future of energy deregulation may unfold more quickly than we expect. When the Canadian Energy Utility industry reconvenes here next year to compare notes some of the changes could already be emerging. Tim Wake is a community energy planner living in Whistler.