Fortnightly Magazine - April 15 1996

LECs in Oregon to See Competition

The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) has authorized three new telecommunications companies to provide local exchange service in competition with existing carriers U S WEST Communications, Inc. and GTE Northwest, Inc.

ComEd Saves Taxes on Byron Plant

The Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board has decided to cut taxes for Commonwealth Edison Co.'s (ComEd) Byron nuclear power plant. ComEd currently pays about $40 million in real estate taxes on the plant to Ogle County; the decision would lower the payments to $13.3 million. Ogle County will most likely appeal the decision, because certain local tax districts had planned on the revenue, and some have already spent the funds.

PSC Scales Back Residential Subsidy

The Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) has directed Consumers Power Co. to scale back any residential rate subsidies. The order appeared during a review of a proposed settlement in a series of applications to increase rates, revise depreciation methods, and offer discounts to industrial customers.

The PSC added, however, that the company should not try to eliminate the entire subsidy in a single step.

Raytheon Benefits From "Secret" Contract

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has approved a discount electric rate contract for defense contractor Raytheon Co., a customer of Massachusetts Electric Co. (ME). But the secrecy surrounding the contract has created an uproar.

Although the terms of the contract are confidential, Raytheon said the three-year contract would yield "significant savings" on its $20-million annual electric bill. ME called the discount an "economic development" contract, which would keep Raytheon and its 17,500 employees from leaving the state.

Yellow Pages Ruling Reversed

According to the Arizona Court of Appeals, the state Corporation Commission has violated an agreement with U S WEST Communications, Inc., governing the spinoff of the company's Yellow Pages publishing business as an unregulated enterprise.

The court agreed with U S WEST that the commission erred when it imputed $60.684 million in directory publishing profits to the carrier's regulated operations (em a move that had captured all profits earned by the publishing company above the rate of return of 11.4 percent authorized for regulated services.

Boston Edison Proposes Real-Time Pilot

Boston Edison has proposed a unique pilot program that would allow 10 large customers to test hour-by-hour pricing. Although the one-year pilot is not a rate discount program, it would offer participants 10 percent off their demand charge (em in effect, a 4-percent discount. The pilot simulates a market price using a computer model that relays an hourly breakdown of costs to the customers. If the customers are able to respond and move their load around, they may save; if not, their electric bill may remain the same, or perhaps rise.

Rival Wins Gas Franchise in N.C.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) has granted a final certificate to Frontier Utilities of North Carolina, Inc., to provide natural gas local distribution service to four previously unserved counties. It found Frontier's proposed rates reasonable when compared to alternate energy sources in the four-county area, though somewhat higher than those proposed by Piedmont Natural Gas Co., Inc., an established LDC that had also applied for the franchise.

Frontier is a new company formed specifically to serve the four counties.

Perspective

Ah, the wonders of competition! Out with waste, in with efficiency. The prospects are exciting. So why look back wistfully?

If there is anything more abhorrent than wife-beating and drug abuse, surely it must be monopoly. Monopoly is un-American: To the economist it represents the very state of original sin. To the courts it ranks with conspiracy. Monopoly promises economic waste, throttled production, obscene profits, and naked power (em all rolled into one. Consider what used to be called the "public utilities." In that sphere, regulated monopoly flourished for many years.

Gas Restructuring Leaves Doubts About IRP

In a case reviewing standards for integrated resource planning (IRP) set out in the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct), the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has recognized that changes in the natural gas industry, combined with an evolution toward competition (both upstream and inside the city gate), "will make gas IRP a less-necessary commission function in order to insure least-cost gas service."

The PUC said most of its existing regulations were consistent with the federal standards; however, it rejected the EPAct standards regarding guaranteed profitability an

Energy Service Companies: No More Mr. Niche Guy

The larger companies are winning more business. But how will

they fit into a restructured industry?

Put 45 energy service companies (ESCos) into a $1-billion market, and they easily average over $20 million each. That's almost four dozen companies exploiting a niche an eighth the size of the microprocessor industry.

So it's easy to understand why new ESCos, half with utility roots, enter the fray weekly.

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