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Fortnightly Magazine - March 15 1997

The Next Convergence: Energy, Telecommunications and Internal Infrastructure

Vinod K. Dar

s The technology is digital.

s The medium is cyberspace. The product is a strategic system for billing, collection and customer services (BCCS) that integrates knowledge and choice through an automated customer interface.

The impending obliteration of the business boundaries between the gas, electric and other energy industries will launch a series of convergent waves of change. Executives, regulators, legislators, investors and, naturally, consumers must ride this wave over the next 10 to 15 years.

Perspective

Sidney L. Spencer

As I leave the electric utility business after 28 years as an engineer and analyst I would like to relate some thoughts on what makes this business special, even as it gives way to competition. Let me offer some advice to "local" electric utilities on how to keep at bay the "Mega Marketers" and "PanElectrics" of the world, who will soon appear to romance away their customers. Keep your "home-field advantage." Capitalize on your traditional strengths and enduring relationships. These bonds represent a wealth of goodwill earned over years of working with customer communities.

Off Peak

N.H. Discovers What Residents Really Want (em And Don't

While electricity consumers are interested in lower bills, they're unlikely to change suppliers even though they could save money.

That's one of the seemingly conflicting results of a survey of 400 people who participated in the New Hampshire electric pilot program. The program, started in late May 1996, targeted 17,000 customers, and still is under way.

Key Electric Restructuring Bills

Introduced in the 105th Congress

• H.R. 296, sponsored by John Shadegg (R-Ariz.). Would privatize the federal Power Marketing Administrations, splitting them into regional corporations to market and maintain generation and transmission services. Stock would be sold to recover outstanding federal debt; holding companies could invest in the corporations.

• H.R. 338, sponsored by Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.). Would repeal Section 210 of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978, but would force utilities to honor QF contracts entered prior to Jan.

FERC Revisits Order 888

Lori A. Burkhart

Tightens postings rules for transmission discounts; expands jurisdiction on stranded costs in municipal annexations.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Feb. 26 revisited its Order 888 open-access transmission decision, reaffirming its core framework but making changes by granting rehearing on two key issues.

Stranded-cost recovery associated with municipal annexation was revisited. In addition, the FERC updated the discounting of transmission services (See, Order 888-A, Docket Nos. RM95-8-001, RM94-7-001, and RM95-9-001).

Do Lifeline Programs Promote Universal Telephone Service for the Pool?

Christopher Garbacz, and Herbert G. Thompson, Jr.

Hardly at all. In fact, they do little more than reapportion income (em a task that lies outside the FCC's mandate.

The Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service recently proposed to expand subsidy programs for Lifeline telephone service. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Joint Board seeks to add more low-income households to the telephone network.

Will such a strategy work? Our recent findings suggest not. They indicate that simple continuance of such programs, much less expansion, is a highly questionable proposition.

High Court Upholds Dichotomy in Tax Case

Lori A. Burkhart

The U.S. Supreme Court in late February ruled that it is constitutional for Ohio to impose a 5-percent use tax on purchases of natural gas from an out-of-state natural gas marketer, when the same purchases would have been exempt from tax had the purchaser bought the gas from an in-state local distribution company.

Nicholas Bush, Natural Gas Supply Association president, expressed disappointment with the decision and called it a setback for development of a national, competitive natural gas marketplace.

Frontlines

Bruce W. Radford

Two months ago in this space, I interviewed a power marketer and an independent power producer who sit on the operating and engineering committees of the North American Electric Reliability Council. What did they think of NERC, a group formed to prevent large-scale power outages and made up largely of volunteers from investor-owned electric utilities? Were they treated fairly? Did they have a chance to influence policy?

In general, my two "outsiders" felt satisfied with their status on the committees, though some skepticism emerged about NERC's internal decision-making process.

Growing Nuclear Safety Problems Expand NRC's Watch List

Lori A. Burkhart

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has placed 14 nuclear reactors on its watch list(emthe highest number in about 10 years(emdue to safety problems. The plant were placed on the watch list by senior NRC managers at their semi-annual performance review of operating nuclear plants and fuel-cycle facilities.

The NRC also sent a letter to Commonwealth Edison asking the utility to explain why it should be allowed to operate six nuclear units at three of its nuclear plants that are on the list. Commonwealth is improving performance at each site.

People

Former Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) has joined the PacifiCorp board of directors. Simpson retired from the Senate earlier this year after serving three terms. Also at PacifiCorp, Dennis Steinberg, a senior v.p., was named head of global energy sales, marketing and trading. John Bohling, another senior v.p., will direct customer service, among other activities. Mike Henderson will head a new group for international business, technology and planning.

John M. Deutch has returned as a member of the CMS Energy Corp. Board of Directors. Deutch served on the board from 1986 to 1993.

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