Charles W. Thurston
PURRED BY FLAT POWER DEMAND AT HOME IN RESIDENTIAL and industrial markets, U.S. utilities are taking huge risks in Latin America. Why? They are enticed by the promise of high-yield returns on generation, distribution and transmission deals.
Yet only some of the companies getting in on the ground floor of privatization or winning concessions in the Latin American energy market stand to make huge profits. Others, too slow to beat competitors, or not savvy enough to skirt political and regulatory land mines, could lose their shirts.
Lori A. Burkhart, Phillip S. Cross and Beth Lewis
CALIFORNIA ELECTRIC RESTRUCTURING. California Assemblywoman Diane Martinez, chairwoman of the Utilities and Commerce Committee, has introduced two new bills aimed at protecting consumers in a competitive market. But the measures already have been put on hold for this year. The first bill, AB 579, would cut rates for residential and small-volume commercial customers by 20 percent, rather than by 10 percent as promised in the state's restructuring act, AB 1890.
Lori A. Burkhart, Phillip S. Cross and Beth Lewis
UTILITY HOUSE CALLS. Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) signed into law a bill making it a felony to impersonate a utility employee to enter private property for criminal purposes. The new law calls for those convicted to be imprisoned for not more than two years and to pay a maximum fine of $1,000, or both.
ELECTRIC RESTRUCTURING. Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar (R) signed into law an electric restructuring bill for the state. Edgar noted that concerns over the bill were addressed by the state's two largest utilities, Commonwealth Edison and Illinois Power Co.
Steven P. Schneider
THREE FACTORS (em RESTRUCTURING, TECHNOLOGY AND environmental controls (em now create both reason and opportunity for electric utilities to lower their property taxes, which often make up a substantial cost of doing business.
Property tax valuation is fairly straightforward. Most states compute property taxes on fair market value, or what a hypothetical buyer and seller would agree the property is worth, with both parties having knowledge of the relevant facts and neither compelled to buy or sell.
THE CALIFORNIA DEBATE OVER ELECTRIC RESTRUCTURING IS now nearly four years old. And though it is nearing its final stages (the opening is now set for March 31), some of the most important questions as to how this will work in practice are just emerging.
The original bargain had called for the state's three large investor-owned utilities to vest basic control of their transmission networks in the new independent system operator in exchange for maintaining combined ownership of generation and transmission assets (and for a good level of assured stranded cost recovery).
AMID WORRIES THAT RESIDENTIAL CONSUMERS MAY NOT benefit from competition comes a study that shows at least one industry will: metering. This market is expected to grow an average of 5 percent per year through 2002.
By 2002, the metering industry is expected to be worth $3.1 billion, up from $2.4 billion last year, says Metering for Utilities: Riding the Wave of Deregulation, a new book from Business Communications Co.
Overall, meter reading systems are expected to log the highest average annual growth rate, about 16 percent each year over the next five years.
Lori A. Burkhart, and Phillip S. Cross
POWER PLANT SALE. Central Maine Power Co. has agreed to
sell its hydroelectric, fossil and biomass power plants totaling 1,185-MW of generating capacity to FPL Group, the holding company of Florida Power and Light. The sale price of $846 million exceeds book value and could permit up to a 10-percent rate cut for customers by the end of the year.
OHIO/TEXAS DEAL. Ohio-based American Electric Power
Co. and Texas-based Central and South West Corp. on Dec.
THE RESIDENTIAL MARKET STANDS AS THE NEXT FRONTIER for natural gas unbundling. In California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, states have introduced pilot programs and other unbundling efforts to target residential gas consumers. %n1%n
These efforts are hardly surprising. The residential market, presently dominated by the regulated local distribution companies, appears lucrative. In 1995, the residential sector of the U.S.
Lori A. Burkhart, Phillip S. Cross, and Beth Lewis
CONSUMER FRAUD. The National Association of Attorneys
General, meeting Nov. 18 in Washington, D.C., to discuss electric restructuring, issued a warning to electric consumers on fraudulent schemes and abusive practices by scam artists. The warning encourages consumers to check their electric bills for unusual provider names or charges, and to avoid participating in contests that require a signature that can be used to switch an account.
RATE REDUCTION BONDS.
Lori M. Rodgers
IN THE EARLY 1970s, WHEN THE "ENERGY CRISIS" DAWNED, New York told electric utilities to stop advertising to promote electric use. State judges deemed such promotion as lacking in "any beneficial content," or even "detrimental to society." It took an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for utilities to win the right to tout their product.
Today's questions target the bottom line: Can advertising boost sales for energy suppliers? If so, what does it take?