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Fortnightly Magazine - May 15 1997

States Review Winter Gas Hikes

Phillip S. Cross

Two states have decided to review the high cost of gas this past winter and the effect the price hike has had on the states' gas utilities.

Florida. While granting requested rate relief on an "expedited basis" to Florida Public Utilities Co., the Florida Public Service Commission said it would conduct a prudence review of the purchased gas costs during its next scheduled PGA audit proceeding.

Pa. Commissioner Disagrees

Lori A. Burkhart

According to Robert Bloom, a commissioner at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding the release of the 1996 report card on Pennsylvania utilities contained "misinformation" and was "distorted."

That article reported the PUC refused to issue the 1996 report card because the commissioners disagreed on the amount of performance information that should be released in the new competitive environment (see "Headlines," FORTNIGHTLY, 3/15/97).

Nevada Proposes Recovery of Stranded Costs

Phillip S. Cross

The Nevada Public Service Commission has issued a policy statement on recovery of "past costs" incurred by electric utilities in the state, asking for comments in its ongoing investigation of restructuring in the electric industry.

In the policy statement, the commission proposes to set up a "rebuttable presumption" favoring full recovery of all costs maintained on the books by Nevada utilities.

Virginia Power Proposes Freeze

Lori A. Burkhart

Virginia Power Co. has asked the Virginia Corporation Commission to freeze its base electric rates through 2002, which would set the average residential electric bill in 2002 at virtually the same as it was in 1992.

The base rate freeze is part of an alternative regulation plan submitted to the commission on March 24, which is designed to ensure stability for electric customers and shareholders during the move toward more competitive markets.

Utility to Invite Bidding on Its Discounted Rate Contracts

Phillip S. Cross

Central Maine Power Co. has agreed to allow other providers of wholesale electric power to bid for the right to supply energy to the utility for resale to utility customers who enjoy special discounted rate contracts.

It would carry out its agreement if and when the state of Maine should decide to open its retail electric market to competition.

The utility's promise to allow competitive suppliers to bid the special-rate contract load paved the way for the Maine Public Service Commission to approve new multi-year contracts offered by the utility to two large customers.

Half-Hearted Competition Christopher Seiple & Barbara O'Neill

Christopher Seiple, and Barbara O'Neill

With the implementation of the Energy Policy Act and the FERC's Orders 888 and 889, competition has been introduced into wholesale power markets. It is limited in scope, however, as utilities are still able to recover their fixed generation costs and embedded cost of capital from their captive retail markets. This limited competition impedes progress towards the development of a more efficient generation system in the U.S. and provides only modest benefits to retail customers.

Currently, generators compete only in wholesale markets and not in retail power markets.

Divestiture Moves Forward

Lori A. Burkhart

New England Electric System has received preliminary proposals from 25 potential buyers for the purchase of its generation business.

The proposals, which were due March 25, are from utility affiliates, independent power producers, and energy companies.

New England Electric System noted that buyers would gain an immediate presence in the regional energy market, which opens to competition in mid-1997 for some Rhode Island customers, and in January 1998 for Massachusetts and New Hampshire customers.

Local Telco Must Continue Centrex Offerings

Phillip S. Cross

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has rejected a proposal by U S WEST Communications Inc. to discontinue offering its Centrex family of business services to new customers.

According to the commission, the local-exchange carrier's plan would make it much harder for new resellers to enter the local telephone market and seriously hamper the development of competition in the state.

U S WEST had claimed that misapplication of "Centron/Centrex" offerings by smaller users had resulted in significant "tariff arbitrage" of basic business service.

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