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Fortnightly Magazine - November 2005

Commission Watch

FERC mulls rival plans at the last minute, while on the West Coast, California gets into the game.

Bruce W. Radford

FERC, the ISO, and many other parties had seen no reason for further debate over the need for a location-specific capacity market. By limiting debate, FERC had foreclosed a raft of competing ideas. When the moment finally arrived for the oral argument at FERC, attorneys and witnesses attempted valiantly in the precious few minutes allotted each speaker to flesh out new ideas, and the commissioners struggled as well to keep up. This highly unusual situation made for a helter-skelter hearing, with new topics seeming to come out of the woodwork.

Business & Money

Presenting a new management model.

Jim Morris

Utility companies are at a crossroads when it comes to managing their pension plans. They must determine the best ways to continue to offer this benefit while controlling the impact these plans have on the overall financial health of the organization.

Technology Corridor

The nation's critical electric infrastructure is still too vulnerable to outages.

Greg Aliff and Branko Terzic

The Sept. 12, 2005, electricity blackout of most of the city of Los Angeles demonstrates the continuing vulnerability of the nation's electric infrastructure. Although the cause of the Los Angeles outage was accidental, it exposed a glaring weakness: cable line breaks are an attractive, easy target for terrorists, because the U.S. electric network has thousands of miles of unguarded transmission and distribution lines.

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?

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