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Fortnightly Magazine - June 15 1997

Selling Off Your Nuclear? Here's What the NRC Has in Store

George A. Avery

Too many rules can make any plant uncompetitive.

Now, more than ever, the commission must weigh

the costs when it looks at health and safety, decommissioning and antitrust impacts. Nuclear assets seem to pop to the surface wherever one looks for causes behind the current upheaval in the U.S. electric utility industry. The nuclear experience (em with its costly prudence reviews so prevalent during the 1980s (em has helped fuel a major shift in attitude.

Senior utility managers have now come to accept fundamental changes in the electric industry.

Courts, Tunnel Completion Pave the Way for Nuclear Disposal

Lori A. Burkhart

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on April 30 ruled that petitions filed in the nuclear waste storage lawsuit against the Department of Energy will be treated as petitions to compel the department to comply with a July 1996 court decision ordering the DOE to store nuclear waste beginning Jan. 31, 1998.

Meanwhile, a tunnel boring machine broke through the earth's surface at Yucca Mountain, Nevada (em the proposed storage site for the spent nuclear waste (em completing a five-mile dig that went as deep as 1,400 feet beneath the crest of the mountain.

Frontlines

Bruce W. Radford

"People are starting to talk about ISOs on the gas side." So says Jerry Pfeffer, lay advisor on energy industries for Skadden, Arps, Meagher & Flom, the New York law firm well known for its work in mergers and acquisitions.

Pfeffer's comment alludes to events now unfolding in Southern California, that fount of fashion, where each round of "deregulation" only doubles the ante in billable hours. This time it's natural gas pipelines. Do they have market power too?

"It Would Not Surprise Me"

Southern California Edison Co. has now alleged that Southern California Gas Co.

Murkowski to IRS: Hands Off Tax-Exempt Bonds

Lori A. Burkhart

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska) has written a letter to Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin regarding regulation changes the Internal Revenue Service is considering, which would allow publicly owned utilities to expand use of tax-exempt bonds to compete against privately owned utilities.

Murkowski asked the IRS not to issue new regulations giving publicly owned utilities a "special competitive advantage" by allowing the companies to issue tax-exempt bonds.

People

The California Public Utilities Commission elected members to two boards overseeing energy efficiency and low-income programs. The board for energy efficiency programs members are: Acting Chair Sara Steck Myers, CEERT; Dave Gamson, CPUC commissioner advisor; Michael Messenger, California Energy Commission; Peter Miller, Natural Resources Defense Council; Mark Thayer, San Diego State University; Ortensia Lopez, Greenlining Institute; Charles Goldman, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory; Michael Shame, UCAN; and Don Schultz, CPUC Office of Ratepayer Advocates.

Moody's Looks at Plant Divestiture

Lori A. Burkhart

Moody's Investors Service has released a report that finds the most significant long-term implication of Order 888 for investors is for potential divestiture of transmission assets by investor-owned utilities.

The Moody's study, FERC Order 888 and Wholesale Competition: Catalyst for a New Market Model, also finds that divestiture by a vertically integrated utility may leave bondholders secured by a lien on relatively risky generating assets of often questionable market value, as opposed to the presently more diverse and balanced asset portfolio.

Mailbag

Authors lost their case. The bright line is preserved.

Unfortunately, PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY did not caution its readers that a recent article ("Gas Pipelines and the Hinshaw Amendment: Conflicts Loom as the 'Bright Line' Fades Between Federal and State Jurisdiction," April 1, 1997, p. 36) is actually a thinly disguised brief for claims that a series of tribunals has rejected, including the U.S. Supreme Court. A warning from the editors would have saved valuable time for readers searching for more substantive coverage of the utility industry.

In Brief...

Sound bites from state and federal regulators.

IntraLATA Toll Calling. North Carolina says newly certified competitive local exchange telephone carriers must apply for separate authority to provide intraLATA toll services, even though incumbent local carriers need not do so. Docket No. P-100, SUB 133, March 31, 1997 (N.C.U.C.).

Dialing Parity. Oregon PUC adopts policies on telephone dialing parity to allow all telephone users who choose alternate carriers to make calls without dialing extra numbers. Order No. 97-107, March 18, 1997 (Ore.P.U.C.).

Payphone Subsidies.

Trends

Christopher Seiple

In the electric industry restructuring debate lurks an important issue: If utilities recover some level of stranded costs, how do you design a cost recovery mechanism that minimizes stranded costs? This issue is important because, among other things, it will affect total customer savings.

One way to encourage utilities to mitigate stranded costs is to allow recovery of only a portion of costs. For instance, the California stranded cost recovery mechanism provides utilities with a "fair opportunity" to recover all of their stranded costs.

Electric Transmission: Jury Still Out on Flow-Based Pricing

Bruce W. Radford

Dominion Resources touts its "impacted" method, but opponents call it a "stalking horse" (em a scheme to avoid full review at FERC.

Is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission prepared to accept true marginal-cost pricing for electric transmission?

With all the criticism leveled at the traditional "contract path," one would think that the FERC would consider a new approach to transmission pricing.

In fact, last year in its final Order No.

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