BY SUSAN STRATTON MORSE, MEG MEAL, AND MELISSA LAVINSON
RATE UNBUNDLING: ARE WE THERE YET?
FEBRUARY 15, 1996BY SUSAN STRATTON MORSE, MEG MEAL, AND MELISSA LAVINSON
J. Michael Parish
One of the iron rules of competition and open markets is that there are winners and losers. Winners tend to win very big; losers tend to lose everything and disappear, through absorption or insolvency. As deregulation takes hold, high-cost producers and less adroit managers may find themselves steamrollered by emerging strongmen and entrepreneurial upstarts. These rivals may usurp segments of their business by bidding the job cheaper and still making money, leaving a rising tide of shareholder suits in their wake.
Lori A. Burkhart
Standard & Poor's (S&P) CreditWeek Municipal notes that municipal electric utilities are resisting the investor-owned utility (IOU) merger trend in favor of competing through internal cost controls and sharing of services. The main reason, according to S&P directors Marla Fox and William Cox, is that municipals are political entities governed by city councils or appointed boards, and mergers would result in less authority for those decisionmakers.
The question I am asked most frequently is "Who will emerge as the 'winners' and 'losers' among today's electric utility companies?" The short answer is painfully simple. The winners will offer the best prices (a.k.a., the low-cost producers). The losers will be unable to cut prices to meet the market (a.k.a., the high-cost producers).
Unfortunately, real-world answers rarely come in black and white. The electric utility industry enjoys less pricing flexibility than one might imagine.
Charles M. Studness
The process of determining how to implement utility competition is often cast as a struggle between two opposing camps: shareholders and ratepayers. There are, of course, two other major players, managements and regulators. The bipolar view tacitly assumes that shareholder and management interests coincide, and that regulators have customer interests at heart. Neither assumption is altogether valid. Shareholder interests deviate from management interests in important ways, just as the interests of the entrenched regulatory bureaucracy diverge from the public interest.