Unexpected price increases for natural gas during the past winter heating season have stimulated action by state regulators across the country. Most recently, North Carolina and New Mexico have...
Utilities and Regulators: A Search for Harmony
Ratemaking Special Report: Survey respondents weigh in with needed actions.
In fall 2004, Navigant Consulting conducted a comprehensive survey 1 to solicit the insights of utility leaders into the key challenges surrounding regulatory uncertainty, and the implications on the rate-case and ratemaking activities of gas and electric distribution utilities. The message, heard loud and clear, was that regulatory uncertainty is real and remains one of the most critical issues in the North American energy industry. It must be better managed.
For this year's survey, cognizant that state and provincial utility regulators keenly are aware of industry concerns surrounding regulatory uncertainty and have important perspectives to share on various issues, Navigant Consulting solicited perspectives from both utility executives and state or provincial regulators who oversee the operations of these utilities. 2 Our objective was to compare and contrast the perspectives, priorities, and actions of utility executives and regulators in an effort to promote a better understanding of regulatory uncertainty between both groups, and to provide an issues-oriented platform to identify possible industry-wide solutions to minimize future regulatory uncertainty.
Survey respondents were asked to identify: (1) the major causes of regulatory uncertainty; (2) the key regulatory objectives that utilities and regulators desire to achieve; (3) the challenges to the regulatory process and the various actions that, if taken, could enhance the process; and (4) the challenges to the rate-case process and the various actions that can enhance the process.
Major Causes of Regulatory Uncertainty
Utility leaders and regulators exhibited their divergent views as to the major causes of regulatory uncertainty as shown in Figure 1. Interestingly, 80 percent of utility leaders indicated that the most important cause was "the potential for cost disallowances in after-the-fact prudence reviews," while regulators overwhelmingly (100 percent) stated that it was the "changing perspectives of regulators over time in addressing customer and shareholder issues." Despite their differences in ranking the causes of regulatory uncertainty, both groups agreed in other causal areas, most notably "not knowing the longer-term direction and progression of regulatory decisions" and "not being able to secure from regulators pre-approval of major infrastructure investments."
Approximately 90 percent of survey respondents either "strongly agreed" or "agreed" with the proposition that regulatory uncertainty is caused by "changing regulatory standards and expectations for the operational and financial performance of utilities." This may be indicative of the recent experiences of utilities, regulators, and other stakeholders related to the pronounced increase in rate-case activity during the last 12 months.
Survey respondents also provided their own comments regarding