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Fortnightly Magazine - March 15 1997

Bipartisan Energy Politics? 105th Congress Takes on Electric Restructuring in Earnest

Joseph F. Schuler, Jr.

"It's going to take a lost of time to understand all the pies."

It's almost spring. There's a new energy secretary(emisn't there? And at least for new electric restructuring bills in Congress. Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska) is chairing "workshops" on deregulation at the Energy and Natural Resources committee.

Everyone's wondering: Which bill take hold? Where will it be and how will it look by the end of the legislative session: dead, alive, or limp?

"Primergy" Merger in Limbo

Lori A. Burkhart

Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann has been appointed to investigate allegations that Wisconsin PSC member Dan Eastman acted improperly by talking with Wisconsin Energy Chairman Richard Abdoo and others about the proposed "Primergy" merger between WE and Northern States Power Co., prompting sources to speculate that too many delays could kill the merger.

The Minnesota PUC reportedly is also investigating ex parte allegations, but Minnesota DPU Administrative Law Judge Allan Klein has ruled that the merger would not be harmful or anti-competitive.

PG&E Must Honor Multi-year Rate Plan

Phillip S. Cross

The California Public Utilities Commission has rejected a request by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., for a waiver from scheduled rate reductions mandated under a three-year base-rate plan approved in December 1995.

The court said the company has shown no "extraordinary circumstances" to support breaking the three-year rate contract.

The utility had claimed it would incur greater-than-expected maintenance and service expenses in areas such as tree trimming, meter reading and meter repair.

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.

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