Fortnightly Magazine - April 1 1996

The Economics and Politics of Western Coal

Wyoming and Montana

are cracking Midwest coal markets,

despite local protectionism.

As pressures build steadily toward deregulation and increased competition between electric power generators, Western low-sulfur coal is emerging as the most economical fuel option for an increasing number of companies. The low cost of delivered fuel and avoidance of capital outlays offer attractive savings.

Pipelines Gain Rate Flexibility

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved a policy statement, Alternatives to Traditional Cost of Service Ratemaking for Natural Gas Pipelines, giving pipelines greater flexibility to use market-based, negotiated/ recourse, incentive, and other alternative rates (Docket Nos. RM95-6-000 and RM96-7-000). Pipelines may negotiate new rates with customers, but may not negotiate services that might degrade open-access service under Order 636. The FERC is still considering what type of service flexibility it should allow.

Industry Reorg. Prompts Same at Corporate Level

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has approved a corporate reorganization plan making San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E) a wholly-owned subsidiary of a holding company structure formed by the utility. The utility said the reorganization would provide the separation of lines of business necessary to insulate regulated utility cash flows from the volatility and risk of competitive markets.

Blowing the Whistle on the Coal Train

Before the express train leaves the station, it's worth taking a look at the facts about new electric generating capacity in the United States.

Natural gas has become the primary energy source, accounting for about two-thirds of new capacity during the 1990. In contrast, market share for coal-which currently accounts for over 40 percent of all online capacity, and about 55 percent of online fossil-fuel capacity-is expected to grow only 10 to 15 percent in this decade.

FERC Begins Inquiry, Gives Guidance in "Primergy" Order

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has announced that it will revisit its 30-year old electric utility merger policy (Docket No. RM96-6-000). The Notice of Inquiry (NOI), Merger Policy Under the Federal Power Act, also orders an expedited hearing on the proposed merger between Wisconsin Electric Power Co. (WEPCO) and Northern States Power Co. (NSP) to form "Primergy" (Docket Nos.

Wisconsin Uses Bidding Threat as DSM Incentive

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) has decided to add a "performance mechanism" to its regulations governing demand-side management (DSM) efforts. The PSC found that some utilities were no longer meeting the DSM goals set in their rate cases.


On a bookshelf behind my desk I've stacked up a few older issues of PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY. Some of them go back more than a half-century. Every so often I pull down a copy to see if I can learn anything from history.

Yes, the advertisements appear quaint (Royal typewriters; IBM punch-card machines; Ditto-brand duplicators). But some of the ideas still have legs, with lively quotations from the likes of Louis Brandeis, Harold Ickes, Walter Lippmann, and Fiorello La Guardia.

In Brief...

Sound bites from state and federal regulators.

Gas System Acquisitions. Alabama Gas Corp. can proceed to acquire gas distribution system of City of LaFayette, AL, and apply systemwide rates to all new customers. Order affirms capitalized income method to set fair-market value for the acquisition, rejects proposal by the Attorney General to switch to a discounted cash-flow method. Dkt. U-3644, Jan. 8, 1996 (Ala.P.S.C.).

Low-income Discounts.

LDC Acts to Retain Large Customers

The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has authorized Northern Utilities Co., a natural gas local distribution company (LDC), to offer a special rate to extra-large firm sales customers. The new offering is designed to enable large customers with flat loads to obtain gas service at a rate that better reflects the lower nongas cost of service for such customers. Unusually large customers

wishing to take service under the new rate must demonstrate that their load is largely flat and, thus, maximizes the nongas costs of serving their needs.


Ann R. Chamberlain will manage rates and regulations, and plan and procure gas supplies in her new v.p. position with Virginia Natural Gas, Inc. She steps up from assistant v.p.

Boston Pacific Co., Inc. has added John T. Chang to the company's international power project development practice. He comes from Iroquois Gas Transmission System. Jonathan d'E. Coony was promoted to consultant and will continue work on financial evaluation of power projects in Indonesia, Pakistan, and other countries.