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.
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.
The crazy quilt emerging in restructured markets only impedes competition.
The enthusiasm among energy retailers has become infectious. It grows as each successive state opens its market to competition. Yet behind the promise lies a grim reality.
Retailers struggle against a tide of thin margins, high customer-acquisition costs, inconsistent rules and regulatory prescriptions for the unregulated market. With all the rulemakings and workshops, the dollars budgeted by utilities to implement retail choice rise above even the level of spending to eradicate the Y2K millennium bug.
Carl J. Levesque, Lori A. Burkhart, Phillip S. Cross and Beth Lewis
Studies & Reports
Year 2000 Readiness. On Jan. 11 the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) predicted a minimal effect on electric system operations from Y2K software problems. The Department of Energy, which had asked NERC to run the electric industry assessment, added that 98 percent of U.S.
PUCs turn their attention to what they can still control.
The battleground has shifted. Utilities that last year worried about winning customers in pilot programs for retail choice now face public audits on the reliability of transmission and distribution.
With rate cases in remission, no nukes on order and generation planning left to the market, public utility commissions are turning their attention to what they can still regulate. That means service quality. Nor are PUCs the only ones involved.
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.
Dean Maschoff, James Pardikes, David Thompson, Michael Rutkowski, and Nainish Gupta
Sales prices for power generation assets in the United States during the past two years have climbed to unprecedented levels. This trend should continue. More than 20,000 megawatts of generation assets have been sold, with another 20,000 MW announced. During the next five years, it is expected that 70,000 to 140,000 MW will change hands. We have seen only the beginning of a massive redistribution of generation assets - from regulated utilities to unregulated marketers and plant operators.
In fact, the prices we've seen for generation assets may turn out to be bargains.
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.
Bruce W. Radford
Some see utilities fixing prices under competition. Really? I'm shocked.
Did you hear the one about the 10,000 percent rate increase? Ask FERC chairman James Hoecker or his colleague, Curt Hébert. They'd be happy to tell you. They don't even need their own joke writers. This story, you see, is absolutely true.
It seems that Virginia Electric & Power Co. wanted to squeeze just a little more profit from its Kerr-Henderson transmission line.
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.