Five commission chairs from states in all phases of deregulation ponder their changing roles. Will market success make them obsolete?
As most state electric competition plans are implemented within the next few years, regulators face an uncertain future. And they're already reflecting on their role in a changing industry.
Regulatory commissions in both Illinois and California have created panels to discuss the issue and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has held closed-door sessions on the subject.
Mergers & Acquisitions
CP&L + Florida Progress. Carolina Power & Light announced Aug. 23 that it would purchase Florida Progress Corp. for $5.3 billion in a combination that would create the nation's ninth-largest utility in terms of generating capacity, with $6.7 billion in annual revenues and 2.5 million customers in three states. CP&L would pay a premium (between 16.5 percent and 21 percent) over the pre-announcement share price of FP stock.
Lessons learned from Cinergy's losses in commodity markets.
After a second summer of extreme weather, contract defaults and consequent financial losses to energy companies, the financial community and shareholders are holding utilities ever more accountable when it comes to managing risk, say analysts. Moreover, they're showing zero tolerance for failure.
They see utilities responding, but fear outlying areas are overlooked.
Despite reports of year 2000-readiness from virtually all electric utilities, and a promise from the U.S. Department of Energy to pressure the laggards, some customers still fear being left in the dark on Jan. 1, 2000. That view may surprise some, but it emerged clearly from the conference held in Chicago August 5-6 by the North American Electric Reliability Council, to update utilities and their customers on electric industry progress in Y2K problem mitigation.
Bruce W. Radford
Micro maverick Bill Althouse sees a grand conspiracy to blot out customer-owned generation.
Distributed generation is out of the box. It's time for regulators to wake up. The paradigm has already shifted."
That's Bill Althouse talking, president of Althouse Inc. of Albuquerque, N.M., a seat-of-the pants business (he says he's near bankruptcy) that helps homeowners and businesses install on-site generation. I met him via email as I researched why, on Jan.
Lori A. Burkhart, Phillip S. Cross and Beth Lewis
Distributed Generation. California opened a rulemaking proceeding to consider regulatory reforms in electricity distribution service, with a possible focus on distributed generation. The commission emphasized that its intent was not to define new policies, but to gather information. Comments are due March 17, and the commission intends to consider a proposal from the assigned commissioner this summer. Rulemaking 98-12-015, Dec. 17, 1998 (Calif. P.U.C.).
Gas Transportation Rates.
Robert J. Michaels and Jerry Ellig
The post-mortems on last summer's price spikes in the Midwest are in. At least three studies of the event diverge in their conclusions:
First, on Sept. 24 of last year, the staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found the root cause of the spikes in extreme weather and unexpected outages. It observed no direct evidence of market manipulation and concluded that the events were unlikely to recur.
Bruce W. Radford
As utility takeovers break new ground, the FERC ponders proposed rules, perhaps already out of date.
A year ago, when U.S. Antitrust Czar Joel Klein talked of a "window of opportunity" for electric utility mergers, he didn't predict when it would close.
And it hasn't yet.
In the 12 months leading up to January 1998, when Klein had addressed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission through its "Distinguished Speakers" series, only the ill-timed Primergy deal had been turned down. The next year, 1998, would prove no different.
Bruce W. Radford
Shaky merger policy finds the FERC at war with itself.
"IN HIS DELIGHTFUL ARTICLE, "THE FOLKLORE OF Deregulation," published this summer in the Yale Journal on Regulation, federal judge Richard Cudahy notes the ethereal nature of "virtual electricity." This new product, he explains,"exists only as a blip on a computer screen and will never give one a shock." "Reality," he notes, has "retreated to the money part of the system."
We could use a dose of that reality in looking at electric utility mergers.
Bruce W. Radford
ON TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, THREE WEEKS AFTER I wrote this column, California voters narrowly defeated Proposition 9. In case you missed it, that was the ballot initiative that would have cut off funding for nuclear power in California through securitization or any other fancy financing for stranded costs. A "yes" vote would have told utilities, in effect, to "take these bonds and shove it."
But the voters said "no," however, and I'll tell you why - even before the first ballot was cast.
In the end, Prop 9 failed for the same reason that George McGovern lost to Richard Nixon in 1972.