In electric power, telecommunications, water, and natural gas, the costs of local distribution make up a significant share of the cost of providing services. For any network or system, the cost of distribution facilities is largely or entirely independent on usage; i.e., such costs are largely invariant to the number of phone calls, kilowatts, British thermal units (BTUs), or gallons that customers use.
Fortnightly Magazine - November 15 1995
California regulators and the utilities they oversee have been talking a lot in recent years about competition. But just being able to "talk the talk" isn't enough (em utility companies and the regulators who monitor them have got to "walk the walk." And on that score, they've just barely begun to crawl. Despite all the marketing hype, the monopoly mindset is still very apparent among industry officials and regulators.Take California's energy industry, for example.
The West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) has issued a series of legal rulings favoring Energy America, Inc., developer of a qualifying cogeneration facility (QF), in a complaint proceeding to enforce Wheeling Power Co.'s power-purchase obligation under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA). The PSC ruled that Wheeling should be viewed as a stand-alone company, not a part of the American Electric Power (AEP) system as alleged by the utility.
The costs of providing telephone service to rural America are much higher than for more urban areas of the country. By definition, small rural subscribers are scattered throughout large geographic areas. In rural areas, the average number of subscribers per route mile runs about 6.3; the average number of subscribers per square mile is 4.4.
A U.S. House-Senate conference committee may remove a provision in present law that requires the Department of Defense (DOD) to buy electricity solely from its local distribution company. The House of Representatives has already voted DOD (300 to 126) the right to buy electricity from the most economical source. A first step toward allowing retail wheeling for military bases, the provision is part of the House fiscal year 1996 Defense Authorization bill.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld a Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) ruling permitting Metropolitan Edison Co. to charge current ratepayers approximately $8.3 million a year for a portion of the cost of decommissioning the disabled Three Mile Island Unit 2 (TMI 2) nuclear generating plant. A lower court found the cost recovery improper because the plant was not and would not be "used and useful" in providing service to customers (see Irwin A. Popowsky v. Penn. PUC, 642 A.2d 648, 153 PUR4th 244 (Pa.Commw.Ct.
Twenty-five centuries ago, 300 steadfast Spartans, defending their sacred Greek turf, held up Xerxes's Persian army at the pass at Thermopylae just long enough for the Persians to lose the opportunity to conquer Greece. The world would have been quite different if the Spartans had just "given way."Contemporary state public utility regulators number just about that of those plucky Spartans.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved a comprehensive settlement for Southern Natural Gas Co. (SNG), resolving the company's costs associated with its transition to Order 636. The settlement resolves
23 rate cases, reduces rates, and provides about
$146 million in customer refunds (Docket No. RP89-224-000, et al.). Protesting parties have been severed from the case.
The refunds, plus $9.1 million contributed by SNG, will serve as a credit toward customers' liability for SNG's cost of realigning gas supplies under Order 636.
Concluding an investigation of supply-cost recovery for the Associated Natural Gas Co., a natural gas distribution company (LDC), the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) has found imprudent the LDC's long-term supply contract with an affiliated supplier, SEECO, Inc. The PSC excluded from adjustment clause recovery one-half the premium paid above spot-market prices under the contract for firm fixed-price swing-gas supply. The PSC said the LDC failed to properly evaluate other gas suppliers prior to entering into the contract or to document its gas purchasing practices.
State and federal regulators and the industries we regulate have donned life jackets. It's as if we are boating down the unexplored Grand Canyon with John Wesley Powell1 in 1869. We share a vague vision of what lies at the mouth of the canyon, but the rapids are treacherous and uncharted.
On the river, boatmen and women often scout the tough rapids from the shore. Back on the river, they carefully set themselves up at the proper position and angle, then apply deft, sometimes powerful, strokes at crucial moments.