Change was the operative word this year in New Orleans at the annual gathering the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. Bob Anderson, Montana commissioner and outgoing president of NARUC, cited global competitiveness, technology and a political swing toward state's rights in his opening address. "State commissions have to respond to these powerful forces," he warned. "We don't have a choice."
Adding to the mood was the announcement, two days earlier, of a merger between IES Industries Inc., Interstate Power Co., and WPL Holdings, Inc. Interstate Energy Corp., the new parent, will serve more than 1.2 million gas and electric customers in Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin. After shareholder and regulatory approvals, the corporation will rank 34th among U.S. utility holding companies.
Such mergers are the future, said Robert P. Wason, chief financial analyst at the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC's) Office of Public Utility Regulation. By the end of 1996, 35 states will likely be affected by registered holding company operations, up from 26 states now (see sidebar). If the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA) escapes Congressional repeal or reform, registered holding companies could double to 30. Potentially, a third of the top 30 investor-owned utilities (IOUs) would become registered holding companies, Wason said. These IOUs are "major players" in acquisitions overseas.
Wason said the SEC wasn't taking sides in the PUHCA debate, although it wants to ensure that states have access to holding company books and records. The SEC also wants to be able to audit companies and affiliate transactions. "Competition is here to stay, and there needs to be a balance of monitoring and measuring the effects of that competition upon investors and consumers," Wason urged.