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Fortnightly Magazine - January 15 1998

Railroad Congestion Drives Up Energy Prices

Chris Leshock

THE RECENT SLOW-DOWN IN RAIL SHIPMENTS OF WESTERN coal has begun to claim victims in the electric utility industry. One of the largest in recent years, the current fuel "shortage" has hit big investor-owned utilities, small municipalities and co-ops. Increased alternative fuel and replacement purchased power cost utilities more than $150 million in 1997.

Union Pacific rail system is the source of most of the slow-down in western coal deliveries. As the company works to integrate recently acquired Southern Pacific railroad into its operations, it has encountered many difficulties.

Reliability in Power Delivery: Where Technology and Politics Meet

Karl Stahlkopf and Philip R. Sharp

POWER DISTURBANCES COST U.S. ELECTRIC CUSTOMERS about $26 billion each year: nearly three times the anticipated annual saving from deregulation.

Competition and restructuring will only turn up the pressure, as the grid carries more low-cost power over longer distances to a wider variety of customers.

Already we are seeing a rapid rise in wholesale power transactions. Some utilities now complete as many such transactions in one day as they previously made in one week. Overall, the value of wholesale transactions has increased fourfold over the last decade.

California's Scheduling Coordinator: Market-Maker with Advantage

Eric Charles Woychik

AFTER A FOUR-YEAR DEBATE ON ELECTRICITY REFORM, CALIfornia's powerful industry players have carved out a unique and broad new role for "scheduling coordinators." SCs have the central role in offering fully unbundled generation, transmission and retail-access services. But could these SCs, by controlling the market, also become the new monopolists?

California's highly complex scheme for markets, while said to be laissez faire, maintains several artificial constraints and market protocols that create advantages for SCs.

Scheduling Coordinators: Market Fears and Profit Margins

Joseph F. Schuler, Jr.

WHAT IS A SCHEDULING COORDINATOR?

At least 33 organizations know the answer to that question in California because by late last year that's how many SCs had filed to act as go-betweens to the independent system operator.

Although the definition varies depending on who's asked, an SC is simply a preschedule and dispatch office. An SC puts a power schedule together for itself or for energy service providers a day ahead or hour ahead.

Advertising & Branding: Are Utilities Getting It Right?

Lori M. Rodgers

IN THE EARLY 1970s, WHEN THE "ENERGY CRISIS" DAWNED, New York told electric utilities to stop advertising to promote electric use. State judges deemed such promotion as lacking in "any beneficial content," or even "detrimental to society." It took an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for utilities to win the right to tout their product.

Today's questions target the bottom line: Can advertising boost sales for energy suppliers? If so, what does it take?

Frontlines

Bruce W. Radford

THERE ARE NO FUNDAMENTAL FLAWS. Our systems are functional."

So said CEO Dennis Loughridge, of the California Power Exchange, in announcing nevertheless on Dec. 22 that the opening of the state's day-ahead electricity market, planned originally for Jan. 1, would be delayed because software and systems testing could not be completed satisfactorily.

"California's electron highway is the fifth largest in the world. We need to take the time to make the transfer¼ seamless," added Gary Heath, executive director for the state's electricity oversight board.

People

CNG Energy Service Corp. appointed Jeff Johnson senior vice president of integrated energy management. Jerome H. Dortmans was appointed vice president of financial trading and risk management.

Alan Wells was named senior vice president of finance and CFO for MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. and its subsidiary MidAmerican Energy. Wells replaces Phil Lindner who announced his retirement. Wells also will continue to serve as president of the company's nonutility subsidiaries.

Fred D. Hafer assumed office as chairman of the Pennsylvania Electric Association.

News Digest

Lori A. Burkhart, Phillip S. Cross, and Beth Lewis

CONSUMER FRAUD. The National Association of Attorneys

General, meeting Nov. 18 in Washington, D.C., to discuss electric restructuring, issued a warning to electric consumers on fraudulent schemes and abusive practices by scam artists. The warning encourages consumers to check their electric bills for unusual provider names or charges, and to avoid participating in contests that require a signature that can be used to switch an account.

RATE REDUCTION BONDS.

News Analysis

Phillip S. Cross

THE RECENT INCREASE IN MERGER ACTIVITY IN THE energy and telecommunications industries has concerned state regulators for some time. Such concern reveals how the practical or "local" aspects of business deals often clash with broader national issues reviewed by federal authorities in merger cases.

In electric utility mergers, for instance, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will address effects on competition, rates and regulation.

Off Peak

IF YOU HAD TAKEN A JOB ON A STATE PUBLIC UTILITY commission back in 1928, at the average pay scale for regulators, and still held that position today, how would you have fared?

The answer: It depends on which state you worked for.

In 1928 Public Utilities Fortnightly reported an average annual salary for state PUC members of $5,092.64 ("Your State Public Service Commissioners," Feb. 23, 1928, p. 9). Salaries ranged from as low as $2,000 and $2,200 (Vermont and Mississippi), to as high as $10,000 (Pennsylvania), $12,000 (New Jersey) and $15,000 (New York).

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