Electric power group seeks a new spark

The Electric Power Supply Association (EPSA), which has seen its membership dwindle as so-called competitive electricity producers faltered financially, has parted company with Lynne Church, the only president the group has had since its creation in 1997. Church, a former energy lawyer and executive at Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., will remain at EPSA until April 15. A search has begun for a replacement to represent an association created by the merger of the National Independent Energy Producers and the Electric Generation Association.

The Electric Power Supply Association (EPSA), which has seen its membership dwindle as so-called competitive electricity producers faltered financially, has parted company with Lynne Church, the only president the group has had since its creation in 1997.

Church, a former energy lawyer and executive at Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., will remain at EPSA until April 15. A search has begun for a replacement to represent an association created by the merger of the National Independent Energy Producers and the Electric Generation Association.

Sources said discussions between Church and members of the association’s executive committee have been ongoing for several weeks and reached resolution this week.

“The executive committee decided that it was time for a change,” one lobbyist familiar with the decision said. “It wasn’t anything she did or didn’t do. The idea was the group just needed some different leadership.”

At its height, EPSA had 36 members, but a glut of electricity supply caused power prices to plummet and several of its member companies did not have the financial wherewithal to continue.

Calpine, a large San Jose, Calif.-based independent producer, did. But the power company decided to leave EPSA anyway this year to concentrate on its own in-house federal and state lobbying efforts.

EPSA earlier lost four members as companies concentrated on the segments of their businesses that see steady profits from regulator-set electricity prices. American Electric Power, Dominion, Allegheny Energy and Duke Energy all declined to continue with their EPSA memberships.

Another former member is Enron, the once high-flying Houston-based energy trader, now bankrupt, that along with EPSA helped push regulators and lawmakers on the state and federal levels to deregulate electricity markets to allow independent producers and electricity traders to compete with entrenched investor-owned utilities.

That put EPSA sometimes at odds with much larger organizations such as the Edison Electric Institute, which represents the monopoly utilities that favored a much slower progression to competitive electricity markets. Several companies belonged to both groups.

The debate over how quickly to proceed with deregulation has complicated efforts to pass an energy bill.

Lawmakers in the last Congress eventually included in the bill a provision that would prevent federal regulators from implementing a proposed rule designed to advance electricity-market competition after intense lobbying from utilities and states in the Southeast and Northwest that favor the current, regulated system.

The bill passed the House but died in the Senate on a matter unrelated to the electricity-market dispute.

Two weeks ago, in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, Church criticized that delay. The association also opposed a provision that places a higher financial burden for new transmission construction costs on competitive power suppliers.

EPSA, which tends to be supported in its legislative goals by members from the Northeast, where competitive power markets have taken root, was still able to get language that it favors attached to the energy bill.

The association successfully pushed for language to expand federal oversight over transmission-line siting, for example, although that provision had the support of the utilities as well.

EPSA’s political fortunes began to change after electricity traders and others were found to have manipulated California’s free-wheeling, deregulated energy market. The manipulation helped create a crisis that led to rolling blackouts in the state.

But Church told the subcommittee members that deregulated markets have proved worthwhile.

“We have seen the savings to consumers which competitive wholesale power markets and regional power markets can deliver,” she said.

There are now 18 board members of EPSA, one source said.

In addition to board-level members, EPSA has three associate members and several other supporting members that pay less in membership dues and have less say in the association’s direction.

Membership dues run as high as $185,000.