1994 Meeting Summary: Natural Gas for Electricity Generation

At the request of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) Foundation, The Keystone Center facilitated a meeting of high level representatives from the electric and gas industries in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on March 1 6- 1 8, 1994. The roundtable discussions were an opportunity for a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss the current and future role of natural gas in electricity generation. The participants represented all sectors of the gas and electric industries, including producers, pipelines, utilities that are currently relying on natural gas and those utilities that plan to increase their use of gas, state regulatory utility commissioners, a power equipment supplier, and a project financier.

Over the past several years, various factors have led to expectations for increased use of gas as a fuel in generating electricity, including the Acid Rain Provisions of the Clean Air Act, potential global climate change legislation, continued evolution of the structure of the electric utility industry, domestic availability, and attractive prices. Yet real and perceived barriers to increased gas use for electricity generation still exist. This stems primarily from the nature of the electric utility industry itself. Utilities have an obligation to serve all customers in their service territory at reasonable prices, in exchange for a guaranteed territory and rate of return on investment. Therefore, the fuel choice decisions made must ensure that service obligations are met and prices are reasonable, exposing neither the ratepayers to excessive costs or shareholders to uncompensated risk.

The purpose of this meeting was to build upon previous meetings and foster discussions between executives from the gas and electric power industries, as well as other relevant stakeholders. Two years ago, a group of executives from the natural gas industry sought to initiate a dialogue between relevant sectors to address perceived and actual barriers to increased gas use in electricity generation. That process identified a number of barriers and potential solutions to overcome them.

In 1994, the participants focused on whether the impediments, identified two years ago, are still relevant today and whether the potential solutions to overcoming those barriers are effective. In addition, the agenda afforded participants the opportunity to discuss new barriers, whether real or perceived, to natural gas use in light of recent restructuring of both industries.

Process for a Dialogue
This project was initiated by a group of individuals with direct interests in the natural gas industry who sought a frank and open dialogue with their counterparts in the electricity generation sector. In order to ensure neutrality in the process, the meeting was facilitated by the staff of The Keystone Center. The Keystone Center is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) institution headquartered in Keystone, Colorado. The Center brings together leaders from the public and private sectors to discuss contentious public policy issues.

The participants followed a two important ground rules in order to foster open and honest discussions: (1) people engaged in the discussions as individuals, not as formal representatives of their organizations; and (2) all of the conversations were off-the-record and not for attribution. The ground rules were intended to foster more open communication and allow participants, which have not traditionally met, to speak freely knowing their comments and opinions will be kept confidential. The format of the dialogue was a roundtable discussion with a few brief presentations at certain points to spur discussion on an issue.