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Fortnightly Magazine - November 2005

Regulators Forum: Shifting Winds, Shifting Strategies

State regulators grapple with investments, supply planning, and structural issues.

Michael T. Burr

The opposing challenges of higher gas prices and rising environmental concerns have put utility regulators in a difficult position: How can they bring rate stability while minimizing environmental impacts? At the same time, they are grappling with trends in consolidation, competition, transmission planning, and distribution service quality. Each state brings a different view of the changing utility landscape. For insight, Fortnightly brought together regulators from several states to discuss their plans and priorities for today and the future.

Focus on LNG Siting: A State Perspective

Congress revamps LNG and storage, giving broad new powers to FERC. Why the Feds still must consult with local authorities.

Ken Costello

A major objective of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT) is to counter the worsened conditions in the natural-gas market that began in 2000 and are expected to continue over the next several years—namely, tight natural-gas supplies and high, volatile gas prices caused by a distinct shift in the supply-demand balance. Any noticeable reductions in gas prices that might be effectuated by the act will have little impact on natural-gas prices for a number of years.

The Gas Storage Conundrum

Congress allows market-based rates. How will FERC respond?

J. Michel Marcoux

As a rare amendment to a venerable statute, EPACT05 § 312, New Natural Gas Storage Facilities, made headlines, adding an option for interstate, market-based storage rate making. It would encourage new storage facilities by permitting FERC to authorize market-based storage rates, even when the applicant is unable to demonstrate it lacks market power. After authorizing such rates, FERC periodically must review them.The problem with the new law is that it does not specify those review periods.

Return on Equity: Gen Sector Issues

Ratemaking Special: A survey of recent retail rate cases for electric and gas utilities.

Phillip S. Cross

The results of annual survey of rates of return on equity authorized for major electric and natural-gas utilities—based on a sample of the retail rate cases conducted by state public utility commissions—show a vibrant and perhaps growing interest in traditional rate-of-return regulation.

Utilities and Regulators: A Search for Harmony

Ratemaking Special Report: Survey respondents weigh in with needed actions.

Russell A. Feingold

The utility regulatory process is prone to controversy, given the inherently adversarial roles and varied viewpoints among the utilities, regulators, and other stakeholders. Oft-heard pleas of "why can't you just see this issue my way" or "can't we all just get along" underscore the deep-seated frustrations of utility leaders and regulators in trying to find a common ground for addressing crucial issues surrounding the formulation of business strategies, establishment of responsible financial goals, and setting of operational performance standards for the regulated gas and electric distribution utility segments of the energy industry.

Rate-Base Cleansings: Rolling Over Ratepayers

State PUCs should recognize a refundable regulatory liability for past charges to ratepayers.

Michael J. Majoros Jr.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board SFAS No.143 identifies an immediate need for state public utilities commissions to recognize a refundable regulatory liability for past charges to ratepayers for non-legal asset retirement costs. Although these prior charges resulted in billions of dollars of regulatory liabilities on utilities' generally accepted accounting principles financial statements, they are almost invisible on the regulatory financial statements of the utilities. Unless the state PUCs specifically recognize the liabilities, the utilities will have the opportunity to institute a rate-base "cleansing" by transferring ratepayer-fronted money into income.

Frontlines

Is the predicted crisis this winter a failure of policy, the market, or both?

Richard Stavros

Given the free market in natural gas, why haven't prices attracted the needed infrastructure or supply? (LNG imports are actually down from last year.) What policies could have been contemplated ahead of national legislation? Or put more simply, why has supply lagged demand?

People

PPL Corp. named C. Joseph Hopf, vice president of energy trading for Goldman Sachs in New York, as PPL's lead energy marketing executive. PG&E Corp. elected President and CEO Peter A. Darbee to the additional position of chairman of the boards of directors for the corporation and its utility unit, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Executive Vice President and COO Thomas B. King was elected the utility's president and CEO, as well as a member of the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. board of directors. Also, PG&E Corp. and its utility unit, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., made seven new appointments at the officer level. And others...

Power Measurements

The new Clean Air Interstate Rule is having an unexpected impact on power generation asset values.

Gary L. Hunt

With compliance costs estimated at $50 billion to $60 billion during the next 15 years, the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) affects just about every market participant in the electric power industry.

New England: A Critical Look at Competition

Seven years after restructuring, challenges remain. Should the region stay the course?

Gordon van Welie

Electric restructuring—identified in some quarters with Enron, California, and the August 2003 blackout—has brought significant, measurable benefits to us in New England. Seven years after restructuring began, it's a good time to assess the challenges that remain and gauge whether to stay the course toward continued restructuring.

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