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News Analysis

Fortnightly Magazine - November 15 1998

The past year saw the implementation of two pilot programs in Oregon (em one by Portland General Electric Co., the other by PacifiCorp. PGE opted to let its program end on schedule on Dec. 3, stating it learned what it set out to learn from the project, which achieved a 15 percent participation rate. Meanwhile, PacifiCorp won authority from the Public Utilities Commission in August to extend its program through September 1999, with changes to encourage greater participation. Previously, no schools or industrial customers had participated in its plan, which had attracted a 6 percent participation rate.

PUC spokesman Ron Karten notes that the pilot programs were created to find out whether customer choice is safe and reliable and, secondly, if it's economically feasible. The answer to the first question is yes, according to Karten, but the jury is still out on the second. As Commission Chairman Ron Eachus states, "The pilot was never intended to mirror full customer choice of electricity providers, but it did enable us to test how systems would work and what customer response to direct access to other electricity providers might be."

At press time, the PUC was considering a move by PGE to open all of its territory to customer choice. A decision was expected later in 1998.

Washington (em Waiting for Results. Washington Water Power Co. launched its customer choice pilot program (More Options for Power Service II) on July 1. Under the program, customers may choose from among different "portfolios" of electricity service: monthly or annual market rates, renewable resource rates, traditional energy service, or a standard rate offer for customers who select one of the market rates but desire to return to a more stable energy service rate.

The More Options II program is being closely monitored for its key feature of allowing customers to choose among energy service alternatives without having to change service providers (em an approach considered to be a possible model for state-wide restructuring. Nevertheless, the plan was delayed from its original May 1 start date in hopes of attracting greater participation.

In legislature activity this year, a bill was passed calling for the utilities to submit studies on unbundling their costs, although the legislation was partially vetoed by the Governor on April 2. %n16%n The bill would also require most utilities to prepare a cost, service, quality and reliability report to be presented to the legislature. Each investor-owned utility was to file a report with the state auditor by Oct. 1. By Dec.1, the Commission and the state auditor are to submit to the legislature a joint report on study results.

Carl J. Levesque is an editorial assistant for Public Utilities Fortnightly.

1 Docket No. RE-00000-C-94-0165, Decision No. 61071, filed Aug. 10, 1998 (Ariz.Corp.Comm'n).

2 Docket No. E-01933A-0772 (Ariz.Corp.Comm'n).

3 Docket No. 017734-97-0742 (Ariz.Corp.Comm'n).

4 Docket Nos. 97-451-U, 97-452-U, 97-453-U (Ark.P.S.C.). See also,

5 Docket No. 7313-U, Jan. 28, 1998 (Ga.P.S.C.).

6 Docket No. 9355-U (Ga.P.S.C.).

7 Case No. 8738, Order No. 7456, Sept. 10, 1998 (Md.P.S.C.).

8 Case No. 8738, Order No. 73834, Dec. 3,