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Frontlines

Fortnightly Magazine - May 15 1996

I don't know about you, but the Internet is driving me carzy. Every week I discover a half-dozen new home pages to add to my reading list. Some may view NetscapeÔ as an investment play. I see it as drama.

As a magazine editor (em someone who gets paid to follow the news (em I feel guilty if I don't click on every link and download every file. I call it the "obligation to surf." And the problem grows worse as more government agencies post their decisions online. My vote for worst offender goes to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). At the same time, however, the CPUC attracts a lot of attention with its online electric restructuring forum ( http://www.cpuc.ca.gov). By providing "virtual direct access" to policymaking, it turns regulation into vaudeville.

Take my bookmarks, please.

Off the Roadmap

As the battle heats up over the fate of stranded costs, you can watch it play out, right on your computer screen. But first, take a moment to download a few documents from the CPUC's Internet home page:

s The CPUC's March 13 "Roadmap" order (Decision 96-03-02), which plots the timeline for electric restructuring

s PG&E's emergency motion for relief on stranded costs, accusing the competition of "sham" attempts to "launder" power and thus "bleed" investor-owned utilities (IOUs)

s The CPUC's surprising April 10 order (Decision 96-04-054) to convene a three-day collaboration to define a "competitive" transition charge" (CTC) and head off trouble

s Commissioner Jesse J. Knight, Jr.'s dissenting opinion, chiding the CPUC for abandoning its principles.

It seems that, in California, electric customers may not be content to sit quietly and wait for their first CTC invoice for stranded costs. According to PG&E, Destec Power Services, Inc. was attempting in January to help some PG&E retail customers bypass the supposedly nonbypassable CTC by teaming up with the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts and other public power entities.

As alleged, Destec would supply generation to former PG&E customers through duplicate transmission lines (owned or built by Modesto or Turlock) connected to private, customer-owned substations. In that way, certain PG&E customers could obtain "sham" wholesale service from Destec, "laundered" through Modesto and Turlock, thus bypassing any investor-owned transmission or distribution plant subject to CPUC jurisdiction.

The CPUC denied PG&E's plea for a lump-sum advance payment of the CTC, but saw enough of a problem to ask the IOUs to collaborate on an interim solution. But Commissioner Knight warned of attempts to "goldplate" stranded costs, and accused the CPUC of "abandoning our roadmap decision in the first month of its engagement."

Said Knight: "I am concerned that removal of these competitive options will remove the competitive pressure to mitigate and minimize stranded costs as we move forward."

The $1.25-Billion Download

The Ohio Public Utilities Commission was not so forbearing, however, in its April 11 rate case order for Toledo Edison Co. and the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co., posted the same day in full text on the Ohio PUC home page ( http://mabel.puc.ohio.gov).

On one hand, the PUC granted a combined $119-million

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