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News Digest

Fortnightly Magazine - February 15 1999

kilowatt-hours sold within the service territory of its affiliated distribution utility. Further, the utility must make its regulated products and services available to all customers and competitive electricity providers "simultaneously and without ¼ discrimination." Docket No. 98-457, Dec. 7, 1998 (Me.P.U.C.).

Stranded Costs; Indian Tribes. The New York PSC ruled that the St. Regis Mohawk Nation would be required to pay stranded costs to Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. if it should leave the utility's system, as long as some "appropriate jurisdictional body" determines that electric service to the Indian Nation is governed by its utility's tariff.

The issue arose when Akwesasne Power Authority, a tribal organization, sought to purchase the electric lines and poles from NiMo that were located on the tribal land of the St. Regis Tribe. Case No. 98-E-1155, Dec. 16, 1998 (N.Y.P.S.C.).

Storm Damage. Reviewing an ice storm from last winter, the Maine PUC said it will ask the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners to seek amendment to the National Electric Safety Code to add a new ice loading category for pole and line design. It also recommends that all public utilities develop contingency plans for loss of utility-provided power and for loss of telecommunications for customer contact. Electric utilities should develop new programs where possible to assess root causes of pole failures during major storms. For water utilities, the commission recommended installing and maintaining backup power for supply, treatment and booster stations. Docket No. 98-026, Dec. 29, 1998 (Me.P.U.C.).

Courts

Electric Monopolies. Reversing a trial court decision, Alabama's Supreme Court ruled that the state law guaranteeing monopoly rights for electric utilities is constitutional, as it prevents "wasteful duplication" of facilities.

The trial court had found the law unconstitutional on six counts. Among other points, it said the act violated Section 108 of the Alabama Constitution and bars any suspension of law for the benefit of private companies. The trial court also had found the act violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because the Alabama law set the amount of compensation for a taking of property, instead of allowing the judiciary to do so. Ala. Pwr. Co. v. Alabama, No. 1961087, 1998 WL 854800, Dec. 11, 1998 (Ala.).

Competitive Checklists. A federal appeals court upheld the competitive checklist in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as a test for whether the regional Bell System carriers have opened their local calling networks to competition and can enter the long-distance calling market.

It rejected arguments that the checklist represented an unconstitutional bill of attainder, inflicting punishment on incumbent carriers. BellSouth Corp. v. FCC, No. 98-1019, 1998 WL 886764, Dec. 22, 1998 (D.C. Cir.).

Land-Use Rights. Acknowledging the possible environmental ramifications, West Virginia's high court affirmed that the state PSC lacked authority to review or block a sale of land in the Blackwater River Canyon by West Virginia Power and Transmission Co., a real estate holding company affiliated with Allegheny Power, despite arguments that regulators should "pierce the corporate veil" and recognize the real estate affiliate as part of a public utility system subject to PSC jurisdiction.

Justice Starcher dissented,