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Fortnightly Magazine - March 15 1995

Williams to Pump Cash Into Transco

W. Lynn Garner

To further their pending merger, the Williams Companies Inc. has offered to reduce Transco Energy Co.'s cost of capital via a $950-million shot in the arm. The merger will create the second biggest U.S. pipeline company in terms of pipeline miles, but the largest in terms of gas delivered (about 4 trillion British thermal units annu-ally). The recapitalization plan, however, must first be approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Court Reject FCC's Flexible Pricing Again

Phillip S. Cross

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been rebuffed yet again by the courts in its effort to relax tariff filing requirements for nondominant common carriers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit thwarted the FCC's latest attempt, rejecting proposed rules that would permit the nondominant carriers to file a range of rates rather than fixed rates tied to a schedule of charges.

The courts had earlier overturned a series of FCC rulings.

Houston Industries Catches Moody's Eye

W. Lynn Garner

Moody's Investors Service has placed the Baa2 long-term credit rating of Houston Industries Inc. (HII), parent company of Houston Lighting & Power (HL&P), under review for possible upgrade. The main catalyst is HII's January agreement to sell its cable television assets valued at $2.24 billion in exchange for cash and securities to Time Warner Inc. Another factor is HL&P recent settlement with the city of Houston in its rate proceeding. Although it includes a $367-million annual rate reduction, Moody's says the settlement will have "minimal impact" on the utility's credit rating.

Florida Approves Decoupling Mechanisms

Phillip S. Cross

Florida Power Corp. has won approval for a three-year experiment to remove existing disincentives to investment in conservation programs by "decoupling" residential revenues from sales for ratemaking purposes. The mechanism permits customer surcharges and refunds if revenue levels vary from targeted levels.

The new mechanism relies on a per customer revenue target figure based on the allowed revenue and average residential customer count used in the company's last rate case.

IBM Takes on Utility Partner

Lori A. Burkhart

Public Service Co. of Colorado (PSCC) and IBM have announced a strategic alliance. IBM's subsidiary, Integrated Systems Solutions Corp. (ISSC), and a new PSCC subsidiary, e prime, will develop and deliver new information technology applications to improve utility customer service. E prime's first project will be to help IBM develop a natural gas procurement strategy to reduce energy costs and improve the quality and reliability of its energy services. ISSC will manage most of PSCC's information technology systems and network infrastructure.

Court Limits State Review of QF Buyouts

Phillip S. Cross

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has ruled that the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) is preempted under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) from ordering a qualifying facility (QF) and an electric utility to renegotiate or settle on a buy out of a previously approved purchased-power agreement. The QF, Freehold Cogeneration Associates, L.P. had refused to alter its contract with Jersey Central Power & Light Co.

Fitch Releases Competitive Rankings Headlines

Lori A. Burkhart

Fitch Investors Service has assigned competitive rankings to 60 of the nation's largest public power and investor-owned electric utilities (IOUs). The top three IOU slots in the Fitch Competitive Indicator (FCI) go to Duke Power Co., Potomac Edison Co., and Northern States Power Co.

Power Purchase Agreement Inadequate to Justify QF

Phillip S. Cross

The Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board could not rely on a ruling by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to determine project need as part of the construction approval process for a qualifying facility (QF). The Siting Board had found itself unable to determine the need for a 170-megawatt gas-fired cogeneration project proposed by Altresco Lynn, Inc. because it was unclear whether Massachusetts utilities would require surplus power from out-of-state suppliers before 2000.

Unchain TVA, Pleads Cromwell

Lori A. Burkhart

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) chairman Craven Crowell wants TVA to be able to compete with other utilities for customers outside its service territory. Congress established the territorial boundaries in 1959, limiting TVA and distributors of TVA power to the areas they served as of July 1 of that year. Speaking at the American Public Power Association in Washington, DC, on February 1, Crowell said he has commissioned a study by Palmer Bellevue to examine how to remove the "fence" that prevents TVA from expanding.

Discount Tariff Hits Snag

Phillip S. Cross

The Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) has dismissed an application by Consumers Power Co. for authority to implement its controversial "Rate K" competitive tariff for electric service. The utility had claimed that greater pricing flexibility was necessary to meet substantial competition from self-generation, new municipal utilities, and utilities outside the state, but the PSC found that due to numerous objections to the rate plan and subsequent modifications of the proposal by Consumers, the proceeding had become so complex that the docket should be closed.

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