Written by: Commissioner Scott Rupp, Missouri Public Service Commission
One of today’s most popular TV shows is HBO’s Game of Thrones, based on George R.R. Martin’s best-selling series “A Song of Ice and Fire.” The show takes place in the fictitious continent of Westeros, a land with many powerful factions who position themselves to all sit atop the Iron Throne. Each episode displays exciting scenes of power, influence, strategy and dominance.
After binge watching all 6 seasons, I’ve come to the realization that we in the energy industry are the living embodiment of the Game of Thrones. The similarities and correlations between the characters in Westeros and the current energy issues facing Americans are eerily similar. Allow me to explain.
In the energy industry, the train of thought is that traditional ratemaking is supreme; however, in recent years we have seen more challenges to that stalwart line of thought.
The Lannister Family, or in this analogy traditional ratemaking, used to rule, but now the patriarch is dead, thereby leaving it up to the children to continue the dynasty. The younger generation, guided by self-interest, doesn’t honor tradition like their ancestors. Some feel they don’t fit in and that they were never part of the Lannister Family, and hence are embracing new ideas. It seems that all around Westeros, people are gathering forces to challenge their supremacy, all the while the cost of ruling is rising and the pressure of finances is quietly creeping up.
The Stark Family is the coal industry; the White Walkers are EPA bureaucrats; and the Night’s Watch is the Public Service/Utility Commissions (PSC/PUC).
The coal industry was the first casualty of this growing conflict. They were once well-respected, and strong in dominance and influence, and in a short time they were decimated by forces outside of their control. It all started when the Nights Watchman ran away from the White Walker on guard duty, and Ned Stark carried out the law. The PSC/PUC’s reacted to the EPA bureaucrats, and the coal industry was directly affected – and now things were set in motion.
Like the Stark Family, the coal industry was once thought to be dead; however, it has re-emerged and is ready to fight and reclaim dominance. Coal continues to play a big role in energy, and the hope is that it will regain its past glory, but that will never be the case. All the while others are rushing to fill the void left by the industry.
The White Walkers (EPA bureaucrats), were created by the tree elves to save the environment from man, now they are run amok. Those who were loyal to coal, along with the PSC/PUC, are the first to be attacked with the introduction of the Clean Power Plan (think Winter is Coming).
The Nights Watch (PSC/PUC) are secluded, with little interaction from outside influences. They are the front line to guard the wall against and protect the people (the ratepayers) against perceived threats. Respected and traditional, there is a level of honor to be chosen to serve.
The House Tyrell is Wall Street. They have all the money and funds the whole operation of the Lannister’s rule (traditional ratemaking). They have been keeping the Lannisters afloat, but are now disgruntled by inaction to protect their interests/family. Wall Street is looking at regulatory lag, and is frustrated with inaction and is instead starting to reward companies that are allowed to innovate. Once cozy, the relationship between the Lannisters and Tyrells seems to be crumbling.
No story would be complete without an outsider who is hell-bent on disrupting the status quo. Enter Daenerys Targaryen “Mother of Dragons”, aka the Solar Industry. The Mother of Dragons is traveling from area to area, giving the oppressed people freedom, much like solar and deregulation is giving people freedom to choose their energy provider. Harnessing the power of heat from the sky, Targaryen uses her dragons to breathe fire from above, liberating each area she encounters. Despite some pushback from the elite and those who favor the status quo, she keeps moving on, gaining interesting allies along the way.
Speaking of Targaryen’s interesting allies, you can now see that Petyr Baelish or “Littlefinger” is represented by Elon Musk. You never quite know what Littlefinger is up to, and yet he always comes out on top. His influence is strong, and now he has teamed up with the Mother of Dragons (Tesla and Solar City). He moves quickly to disrupt the status quo and brings change while getting richer in the process.
Then you have Lord Varys. He has “little birds” everywhere, and tries hard to quietly subvert political bodies into action or inaction. You never know what his end game is, or if he can be trusted, so he’s always kept at an arms-length. However, when you need him, he’ll gladly use his contacts to promote a common agenda. Lord Varys is the utility/energy lobbyists who quietly whisper in legislators’ ears, using their network to promote their agenda. Allegiances may come and go, but their goal remains the same.
Whether or not you watch the show, the Game of Thrones is happening all around you. The stage is set, and disruption and change is everywhere. There are only two seasons left, and the ending has yet to be written. How will it all turn out?