News Digest was compiled by Carl J. Levesque, editorial assistant, Lori A. Burkhart, contributing legal editor, and Bruce W. Radford, editor. For continual news updates, see www.pur.com.Nuclear Power
Transmission & ISOs
Transco Independence. Granting Entergy's request for a declaratory order, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled in a case of first impression that a stand-alone transmission company ("transco") would meet the test in Order 888 for independent system operators despite passive ownership by a power producer or other market participant.
Lori A. Burkhart, Phillip S. Cross, and Carl J. Levesque
Studies and Reports
Natural Gas Retail Choice. Utility affiliates hold large market shares in natural gas customer choice programs, raising questions about the extent of true competition, according to a study released on Dec. 15 by the U.S. General Accounting Office. Participation varies by region, however, according to the report, "Energy Deregulation - Status of Natural Gas Customer Choice Programs."
In Pennsylvania, for example, three out of four programs showed very high shares for utility affiliates. The Equitable Gas Co.
Ohio's proposal for retail marketing areas would give all customers meaningful choice and all suppliers even footing.
When grocery shoppers go looking for a can of tuna fish, they must decide which brand to buy. No particular brand will jump off the shelf into their shopping carts. The same is true with automobiles or any other consumer good. First you choose a make and model. Electricity and other utilities, however, are a special case. In the transition from monopoly to competition, consumers face a different prospect.
Lori M. Rodgers
THE TELECOMMUNICATIONS INDUSTRY HAS OVERtaken the sweepstakes industry for the dubious title as The Most Complained About Industry.
From January through June of this year, the National Fraud Information Center received 2,071 cramming reports, plus hundreds more calls from consumers with a cramming problem but not enough details for the NFIC to file a formal report. The Federal Trade Commission defines cramming as unexplained charges on a consumer's telephone bill for services never ordered, authorized, received or used.
Lori A. Burkhart, Phillip S. Cross and Beth Lewis
GAS PIPELINES. Noting a move toward shorter-term contracts since Order 636, the FERC on July 29 issued an "integrated package" of reform proposals for the natural gas pipeline industry: (1) specific measures in a notice of proposed rulemaking on short-term transportation (transactions shorter than one year); plus (2) an open-ended request for comments in a broader notice of inquiry. RM98-10-000, 84 FERC ¶61,985 [NOPR]; RM98- 12-000, 84FERC ¶61,087 NOI].
THE OLD ADAGE ABOUT INNOVATION STILL HOLDS TRUE: "You can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs." More than 70 municipal utilities have either built or plan to build telecommunications systems with fiber-optic and coaxial cable to compete against local cable television, data communications or telephony providers. Profitability for these ventures has been abysmal, but their customers and regulators are happy. Now large, investor-owned electric utilities are stumbling down the same trail marked with cast-off bandages of these early pioneers.
M. Bryan Little
IF CONGRESS SHOULD CONSIDER LEGISLATION TO MANDATE retail wheeling - and even with a date certain - those states that have already opened their markets will still likely ask for reciprocity to guarantee that any competitor seeking entry will welcome competition in its own home territory. Why? Some states are moving more quickly than others. Second, others have indicated they do not intend to open at all.
Arguably, state lawmakers could enact a reciprocal covenant on their own.
Trevor R. Roycroft, Ph.D.
TWO YEARS HAVE ELAPSED SINCE CONGRESS PASSED THE Telecommunications Act of 1996 to "provide a pro-competitive, de-regulatory national policy framework designed to accelerate rapidly private sector deployment of advanced telecommunications and information technologies and services to all Americans." %n1%n
Today, however, telephone deregulation has reached an impasse. Few customers enjoy competitive alternatives for local exchange service. Concentration in long-distance markets appears to be increasing.
Bernard M. Fox
TODAY THE ELECTRIC UTILITY INDUSTRY HURTLES TOWARD massive restructuring. This fervor is not surprising as it appears society has become convinced that market forces can work better than a centrally planned, regulated environment. This conviction draws strength from deregulation in other industries, such as the airlines, natural gas production and telecommunications.
Lori A. Burkhart, Phillip S. Cross, and Beth Lewis
ELECTRIC RETAIL PRICES. The Energy Information Administration has released a new report finding that the average retail price of electricity has declined for the third year in a row and remained stable for the first nine months of 1997. According to Electric Sales and Revenue 1996, average residential electric prices declined slightly in 1996, the first drop for that consumer class since the EIA began collecting data in 1984.