I felt as if I were trapped in an electric version of Waiting for Godot.

Taking part in a panel discussion at a Gulf Coast Power Association conference last week, I was struck by how much of the discussion focused on the coming innovation that smart meters would bring to the deregulated electricity market.

We have, of course, been hearing promises of innovation for a decade now. They have yet to arrive.

While the benefits of deregulation may remain elusive for consumers, talking about the coming innovation has become a cottage industry. Just last week, the Chronicle ran an op/ed piece by Federico Peñ a, who served as secretary of energy and transportation during the Clinton administration. Peña was extolling the virtues of electric deregulation, and he began by comparing it with the choices he has in selecting air travel and cellphone service providers.