Wsj Reports “Incentives Prove Powerful”

Michael Giberson

Rebecca Smith has an article on demand response in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal with all the surprise of “dog bites man” headline: “Incentives Prove Powerful.” Reporters don’t generally write headlines, so I guess she’s not to blame. (Oh, I get it, it is supposed to be a clever play on words. You see, the headline is “Incentives prove powerful“, and because article is about electric power… oh, never mind.)

The story gathers a few current numbers, mentions a few different programs, tosses out a few quotes, but overall doesn’t contribute much. Maybe I expect too much from a newspaper story, but we seem to bounce back and forth from retail topics to wholesale topics, from conservation to efficiency to reliability to prices, with little sense that the reporter understands the difference and no hope that the article will help the reader make much sense of these disparate efforts. (Of course we’ve been discussing Smith articles from the WSJ for some time here at Knowledge Problem, and we know she can deliver a good, sharp story. Just not this time, in my view.)

For example, she writes, “The clear trend in many areas is to pay companies and other consumers sums pegged to what it would cost utilities or grid officials to acquire equivalent amounts of power on the open market or to build and operate new power plants.” I’m not sure that there is any such “clear trend”, and certainly the story doesn’t support that assertion. Rather, lots of different things are being tried – some oriented toward grid reliability, some toward environmental results, some toward retail consumer energy management, and so on.

In fact, as Smith reports later in the article, “Grid officials are finding that it pays to have a variety of programs in the field.”

Yes, a variety of programs is just what is called for. And fortunately, grid officials generally do a much better job of keeping their programs organized than reporters do.