The University of Florida’s Public Utility Research Council is known internationally as an academic center dedicated to utility research, training in utility regulation and strategy, and the development of leadership in infrastructure policy.
PURC is located in the Warrington College of Business Administration – though it has no salary lines from the state since it is a 100-percent soft-money center that generates revenue through education and outreach programs – and was founded in 1972 by former Warrington Dean Robert Lanzilotti and founding director Eugene Brigham in response to changes in energy availability and telecommunications technology.
The council strives to enhance the understanding of issues confronting public utilities and regulatory agencies through conferences, seminars and training programs; through research covering the energy, telecommunications and water sectors; and by preparing students for careers in infrastructure industries.
Ted Kury, the director of energy studies for PURC, said that the council’s overarching mission is to help governments and utility runners make informed policy decisions. There are lots of tradeoffs that operators make, he said. A higher quality of service means a higher cost, so PURC helps operators find that balance. PURC also advises on environmentally responsible energy production – like wind and solar power – and the costs associated with those.
In one example, Florida was in the middle of a Cap & Trade discussion in 2009 when a study by PURC and Florida State University found that Florida wouldn’t have a carbon price until 2016, contrary to the general knowledge of legislators, so the proposals had to be looked over again.
“We make sure that when they’re deciding on that trade off that they’re doing it with all of the information available and not just making decisions because they think it’s the right way to do it.”
PURC educates utility runners by offering courses in subjects like energy pricing, benchmarking infrastructure operations, and utility regulation and strategy. PURC also provides PDFs of previous research on topics like efficiency in the Brazilian sanitation sector and improving infrastructure performance.
Kury said that PURC’s second unsung half is its administrative staff, who make sure that programs and courses go smoothly. PURC is able to host a conference twice a year at the UF Hilton and smaller, more focused courses, Kury said, because PURC’s support staff make sure that 80 people are fed, housed and entertained for a week so that researchers can focus on teaching.
When they’re not teaching, PURC’s researchers work together or alone, depending on the project, and in 2013 published 13 papers. PURC performs mostly sponsored research, he said, but rarely any for private firms because any research it does immediately goes into the public record and PURC retains final editorial control.
PURC gathers the data for its studies in a variety of ways, including interviewing utility operators and customers, and almost all of it is publicly available, though they sometimes get proprietary data from partners on campus.
PURC also performs research overseas in places like Nigeria, Rwanda and the Caribbean because they have severe deficiencies in their utility production and management, and more than 90 percent of PURC’s business is international, Kury said.
“I’ve been here a little over five years, and you hear people talk about wanting to change the world all the time,” he said. “The people here show you how to do it every day.”