When PURC was founded in 1972, Richard Nixon was president and Reuben Askew was Florida’s governor. In the words of Dr. Sanford V. Berg, “inflation was severe, consumer unrest was on the rise, and both regulators and utility managers faced difficult decisions. After years of stable prices in the utility industry, developments in energy availability and telecommunications technology signaled the need for change.”
In this uncertain environment, Dr. Robert Lanzillotti, then-Dean of the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, and Dr. Eugene Brigham, PURC’s founding director, garnered support from the Florida Public Service Commission and state utility executives for the formation of the Public Utility Research Center. In the spring of 1971, PURC Founding Sponsors included Florida Power Corporation (now Duke Energy); Florida Power & Light Company; Gulf Power Company (now part of NextEra Energy); Tampa Electric Company; Florida Gas Company; General Telephone Company (GTE, now Verizon); Southern Bell Telephone & Telegraph Company (now AT&T); and Florida Municipal Utilities Association (now FMEA). Since the 70s, PURC has grown from a small group hosting a single conference each year to an interdisciplinary center with expanded training and development programs and internationally recognized research.
The 1980s brought additional concerns to the fore. PURC received funding by the Department of Energy through the FPSC to study electricity rate design. This study was a large-scale, interdisciplinary project involving researchers in Economics, Electrical Engineering, Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Management and Marketing. The findings were published in a series of articles and in Innovative Electric Rates: Issues in Cost Benefit Analysis.
Corporate culture changed drastically with the breakup of AT&T, which had been the largest company in the world before its massive divestiture effective January 1, 1984. Companies and utilities suddenly faced new competitive pressures. There was a general move toward international markets and technological innovation as mergers, joint ventures, restructuring, and acquisitions became common. During the Reagan/Thatcher era, deregulation and privatization were promoted.
During this period PURC’s focus became more interdisciplinary, and collaboration with academics, utilities, and regulatory agencies became more common.
As the pace and pattern of innovations, particularly in telecommunications, disrupted traditional regulation, PURC received funding from the FPSC for a series of workshops to assist staff in addressing technical issues. The first series, completed in 1991, provided technical education regarding telecom costing and pricing. The second series in 1992-93 concerned the implications of new telecom technologies.
Globalization was the watchword of the Clinton years, and PURC became increasingly involved with international activities as infrastructure investment and policy initiatives spread from developed to developing nations. In 1996, PURC collaborated with the World Bank in designing the curriculum for an intensive two-week program that would promote the economic, technical, and policy skills required to create and manage sustainable regulatory systems for infrastructure sectors. Mark Jamison joined PURC from Sprint in 1996 to help design the program and coordinate deliveries. After an initial grant from The World Bank for the first program in 1997, the PURC/World Bank International Training Program on Utility Regulation and Strategy has been self-sustaining to this day. In 2002, PURC received the World Bank President’s Award for Excellence for outstanding support and partnership provided to supporting infrastructure regulators.
PURC has engaged in numerous other projects leveraging Dr. Jamison’s expertise. The World Bank funded PURC to develop the Body of Knowledge on Infrastructure Regulation for utility professionals. PURC is the lead institution for this project; other universities involved have been the University of Toulouse and Catholic University—Lima. PURC worked with several universities in Africa and the US in NetTel, a project to develop a curriculum in telecommunications policy for universities in southern Africa.
Closer to home, Dr. Jamison has been active at the national and state level. For example, he has served as president of the Transportation and Utilities Group of the American Economic Association (2003-04), directed workshops at the Federal Communications Commission, participated in workshops at the Department of Justice, and testified several times before the Florida Legislature and the United States Congress. He served on the President-elect transition team in 2016-17, conducted workshops for congressional staff, and conducted events for the American Enterprise Institute.
Ted Kury joined PURC as director of Energy Studies in 2008. He previously served as a senior pricing and structuring analyst at the Energy Authority in Jacksonville, where he developed proprietary models for the management of system-wide cash flow risk, among other duties. At PURC, Dr. Kury delivers regulatory training seminars in electricity for the PURC/World Bank program and provides training and consultation for energy regulators around the world and in Florida. He is frequently interviewed by the media regarding power issues and provides some of the most popular blogs on energy in The Conversation.
As utility and technology issues became more complex and controversial over the years, it became clear that getting the analyses right wasn’t sufficient for having successful regulatory policies. It was also important to get the people right. Araceli Castaneda became PURC’s director of leadership studies to address this issue. She is a regular speaker on leadership in regulation at international events and has conducted leadership courses and advising for hundreds of professionals around the world.
With PURC now entering its sixth decade, the challenges are many. PURC continues to emphasize developing expertise in itself and in others, respecting people’s differences, having integrity in its work, and being effective in serving the needs of its clients.