For every utility, it’s crucial to track and compare across peers. How to build resilient grids? How to deal with rising costs? How does my company stack up in this new day and age? These questions are only becoming more pressing as government policies set targets to improve transmission infrastructure, encourage building of DERs and still keep customer costs low amidst unprecedented inflationary pressures. Added to all this, data that can help decision makers navigate these tough issues are locked away in archaic documents that really haven't improved past the invention of the internet.
Until only a few months ago, the FERC’s annual and quarterly reports were documents, and not data - meaning comparisons and insights across regulated industries were hard to come by. This isn’t sustainable, especially as companies keep receiving pressure from regulators and customers to improve their transparency and deliver actionable insights, let alone compare those insights against utilities across the country. Utilities that engage in rate cases know this pain all too well.
The only way to make responsible decisions in these areas is to understand how everyone else is doing. Without peer analysis, you make decisions in a vacuum. The FERC recognized this and began work in 2015 to modernize the way it collects and manages the information in annual and quarterly reports. On June 20, 2019, the FERC officially replaced unstructured, non-searchable PDFs with structured and searchable data, using a format called XBRL, the same format used by the Securities and Exchange Commission to view, access and explore the contextual information of the underlying company data reported in filings.
The FERC’s vision: energy regulatory data should be easy to slice and dice, using software. According to the FERC announcement: “The use of XBRL will make the information in these forms easier for filers to submit and data users to analyze, and assist in automating regulatory filings.”
In October 2021, the FERC began requiring every electric utility, midstream oil pipeline and natural gas company to report in the new XBRL format. The FERC also retroactively translated all annual and quarterly forms from the last 10 years into the new format and made all those forms available at once - the “decade drop.”
The FERC’s big change opens up a whole new world of energy regulatory data analytics. For utilities, the peer analysis process has gone from hard to easy–and, increasingly, essential.
The biggest pain our customers see in working with state and federal energy regulators is presenting data to answer their toughest questions. Massive spreadsheets serve as the central source of truth for multi-billion dollar utilities sending information to regulators. Take the example below:
Until recently, manually calculating such comparisons was the sad reality for hundreds of utilities across the country: time-consuming effort to answer the simplest questions.
That was then. This is now:
Peer group analyses, rate base comparisons, key-performance indicators–thanks to the FERC’s change and new analytics platforms, all are now instantaneous and standardized across all FERC-regulated utilities. HData Explorer provides easy access to data-driven understanding, backed by drill-down to the actual FERC Form 1 itself. HData has built the nation’s first database automatically extracting the FERC’s new data to feed purpose-built solutions that deliver the analytics that the regulated energy industry needs. (You can even access the visualization featured above for yourself; it’s digitally shareable.)
What the FERC did to energy data, the federal government is expanding to other agencies, and state governments are taking note. The Financial Transparency Act, a bill intended to extend this level of data transparency and accessibility to all federal agencies, is making its way through the Senate. It will take the FERC transformation and apply it across the entire federal government. This means states are not far behind.
Having access to these disparate datasets is the next step to develop a full data revolution in the public-private sector relationship. Tools can now be built on top of the XBRL foundation to take utility insights into the 21st century and target specific problems in the energy industry. For example, as focus and scrutiny come down on electric utilities to be efficient and consumer-centric, but also advance our environmental goals, tools need to be developed to measure progress. This is especially true for transmission and distribution infrastructure.
Recent changes by the FERC and the Department of Energy are pushing companies to invest more in large voltage transmission with the expectation of increasing the size of the country's transmission infrastructure by 60% by 2030, and even triple it by 2050. This means monitoring how much companies spend to operate and maintain these lines will become crucial to understanding the overall financial health of a utility. Total O&M won’t cut it. You need quick and granular access to the various expenses that make up O&M for distribution and transmission such as Customer Installation, Meters, Load Dispatching and Station Expenses, to name only a few.
Being able to pull this information quickly, compare against other companies and then show that to interested regulators and customers is the key to staying transparent and showing how your company is meeting the energy goals of your state and the country.