Black & Veatch has released the results of its third annual "Strategic Directions in the Electric Utility Industry" survey showing system reliability, aging workforce and infrastructure among the top concerns.

The 2008 report identifies issues and concerns on the minds of U.S. power industry leaders. Also, this year's survey includes a detailed look at the acceptance and implementation plans for demand-side management and energy-efficiency programs.

"The survey results reflect the realities and concerns within today's electric utilities industry," said Richard Rudden, senior vice president in Black & Veatch's Enterprise Management Solutions Division, and the executive sponsor for the survey. "The results show that the industry continues to be most concerned about system reliability, the aging work force and infrastructure, environment, and fuel policy."

In this year's survey, fuel policy rose into the top five as a concern, up from eighth place last year. Also, this year's results demonstrated a rapidly growing degree of emphasis on renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar.

"The survey was conducted this summer, just before the credit crisis. If we had conducted it a month or two later, I'm reasonably sure that 'long-term investment' would have been high on the rankings, particularly among our municipal utility respondents," said Rudden. "At the time of this year's survey, respondents ranked financing number seven out of ten in level of concern."

This year, as in past surveys, nuclear power was regarded as the preferred technology for meeting future base load power needs. "Coal gasification seems to have lost the most ground according to the survey," said Rudden. "Decreasing government interest in this technology and escalating capital costs could be the reasons."

"Some of the most interesting results pertained to climate change and related legislation," Rudden added. "In 2008, respondents were more reserved than in 2007 about the likelihood of greenhouse gas legislation being passed by 2011 or 2012."

Last year, 72 percent of respondents believed that legislation would be passed by 2011 or 2012. This year, only 58 percent believed this would occur. The survey also found that only a third of all respondents had a significant degree of confidence in the science underlying climate change policy.

"Part of this may be related to concerns over implementation and compliance costs, while another aspect could be concerns about the economy and federal deficit," Rudden observed. "Not only were more respondents concerned about the level of costs, but also skeptical these costs could be readily recovered in utility rates."