Bruce W. Radford
Having now passed a rule that takes very few chances, the FERC must decide what's in store for investors.
Whatever happened to the Sunshine Act - the law that tells government officials to hold their meetings in the open?
That's what all of us in the trade press wanted to know on Dec. 15, when Chairman James Hoecker kept us waiting all morning and well into the afternoon, while he and his cohorts at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission debated in secret on the ninth floor over the future of the electric utility industry.
Gas Retail Rate Design. In a move toward equalizing rates of return between customer classes, the Oregon PUC authorized Northwest Natural Gas Co. to increase base rates by nearly $246,000, at the same time boosting residential rates by 1.3 percent but lowering rates for large commercial and industrial users. It set return on equity at 10.25 percent, finding the rate "consistent with the downward trend of ROEs authorized by other regulatory commissions." Order No. 99-697, Nov. 12, 1999 (Ore.P.U.C.).
Phillip S. Cross
But the lower returns on equity don't necessarily result from gen selloffs or moves toward stand-alone distribution.
A survey of utility rate decisions affecting authorized rates of return on common equity (ROE), as issued by state public utility commissions (PUCs) during the period Sept. 30, 1998 to Sept. 30, 1999, indicates a small but discernible trend toward lower returns.
S.R. Rajan, Ph.D.
An alternative measure of performance - not based on dividends, earnings growth or P/E ratios.
How to place a value on a utility company? That is the question.
The traditional models no longer work very well. Dividend discount models will not work well if utilities cut dividends and buy back stock to return capital to the shareholders. Earnings growth offers no reliable performance gauge either, as utilities acquire or divest large amounts of capital. Restructuring charges often become necessary to shift resources to their best use.
A line-by-line case study of two high-priced portfolios, comparing fixed, variable and capital costs against forecasts of regional market prices.
A multi-billion-dollar wave of utility divestiture and power plant auctions has taken place during the last 18 months. Table 1 details some of these transactions, including the purchase price on a dollar-per-kilowatt basis and as a multiple of net book value. These measures frequently are cited as indications that buyers paid too much.
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.
Bruce W. Radford
MIT professor Paul Joskow asks the FERC how its rulemaking will help consumers.
By Aug. 23, the electric industry had filed over 150 separate comments - nearly 4,000 pages - telling the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission what it thinks about regional transmission organizations.
All other stories pale in comparison. The commission's proposed rulemaking on RTOs would reinvent the electric transmission business. The case gives economists a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to instruct a government agency how to design and build a market from the ground up.
Bruce W. Radford
Tales of bad faith, cold feet and price manipulation.
Lollipops"/fn1/ and "loopholes." "Islands" and "peninsulas." Utilities have invented a colorful new lexicon to explain what's happening at power pools and regional transmission groups. Yet the basic issue remains familiar: How to gain a competitive advantage.
Phillip S. Cross
States continue to set ROE in price cap plans, stranded cost hearings, and some merger reviews.
In spite of a decline in the frequency of traditional utility rate cases, regulators at the state public utility commissions still have occasion to fix a target rate of return on common equity (em or ROE (em as a benchmark to determine what level of earnings is appropriate in a given setting.
Lori A. Burkhart, Phillip S. Cross and Beth Lewis
Electric Retail Choice. The Arkansas Public Service Commission has issued its final report on electric restructuring, citing a "broad" consensus favoring competition. It predicts immediate benefits for industrial customers, but warns that residential users likely will not see any quick rate cut. The PSC saw competition as consistent with action in neighboring states:
• Oklahoma. State law mandates retail choice by July 1, 2002.
• Mississippi. PSC plan would phase-in competition from 2001 to 2004.