Southern California Edison (SoCalEd) has unveiled a plan to slash its electric rates 25 percent by 2000, in anticipation of increased competition. The goal is a "real" price decrease (that is, adjusted for inflation), which translates into a system average price reduction from the present 10.7 cents per kilowatt-hour to below 10 cents. SoCalEd will consider a broad range of initiatives, most of which will require the approval of the California Public Utilites Commission. Included is an immediate rate freeze for residential and small business customers through 1996.
Fortnightly Magazine - May 15 1995
Electric utilities now face the risk that existing assets, costs, or contract commitments may be "stranded" by increased competition, leaving shareholders rather than customers to bear the costs. Have shareholders already been compensated for this risk?
Some argue that shareholders have automatically been compensated for this risk by an allowed rate of return equal to the cost of equity capital determined in efficient capital markets.1 If so, forcing shareholders to bear stranded costs may seem fair.
The Independent Power Producers of New York, Inc. (IPPNY) has released an initial white paper on restructuring the electric industry in New York State. The paper concludes that electric rates in New York are too high and suggests paramount objectives: 1) all customers should enjoy direct access and choice among electric suppliers, and 2) disaggregation of vertically integrated utilities must occur in such a way that the surviving natural monopolies (em the wires businesses (em remain financially indifferent to customer choice of supply.
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.
The New York Public Service Commission (PSC) has frozen 1995 electric rates for Long Island Lighting Co. (LILCO) and for Consolidated Edison Co. (CE), emphasizing the need for both utilities to control costs. CE had asked the PSC to approve a three-year rate plan that includes a $223-million (3.6-percent) increase the first year. According to Fitch Investors Service, both orders offer constructive and clear signals that the PSC will attempt to strike a reasonable balance between investor and consumer interests.
Real-time Pricing, Not Restructuring
Richard Abdoo's article, "Wisconsin Electric's View of a More Competitive Industry," (Feb. 15, 1995), brought this quote to mind: "We trained
hard. . . . But it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization" (Petronius (em 256 BC).
The bankrupt El Paso Electric Co. (EPE) has asked the New Mexico Public Utilities Commission for permission to issue securities as part of its proposed acquisition by Central and South West Corp. (CSW) (em a necessary step in consummating the merger. Under EPE's third amended plan of reorganization, the utility would recapitalize by issuing new debt securities and preferred stock. CSW also would infuse additional common equity into EPE. The new securities, along with cash payments and shares of CSW common stock, would be used to settle the outstanding claims of EPE's creditors.
For better or worse, deregulation is now a factor in the electric utility industry. As a general proposition, deregulation makes for increased competition, which in turn will trim costs for consumers. Deregulation of the electric industry means that utilities face the prospect of freezing or reducing rates to retain market share. Stranded investments and the burdens of above-market supply contracts and construction and development contracts (especially nuclear-related contracts) will place additional pressure on these utilities and further reduce their revenue.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana has declared portions of the Indiana Environmental Compliance Plans Act unconstitutional, striking down those sections that favor use of Indiana coal. The Act authorized Indiana to preapprove compliance plans files by electric utilities in response to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 (CAAA), requiring the plans to favor coal mined in the state. The district court ruled that the Act violates the commerce clause, finding that the challenged portions sought to eliminate or limit use of western coal.
a comparable cost. But what, exactly, are those "different uses"?