Fortnightly Magazine - June 15 1996
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has reversed a series of earlier rulings and has now allowed U S WEST Communications, Inc. to sell certain rural telephone exchanges to small independent local telephone carriers. Putting aside prior concerns that excessive sales prices would impose higher rates, the PUC found that projections of the ratio of purchase price to net book value had been overstated. It said the ratio had improved with recent increases in plant investment, as well as from a plan by U S WEST to contribute funds to replace switches in the sale exchanges.
Dwindling economic competitiveness has plagued the nuclear power industry for
some years. In the industry's early years, some reactors were completed for less than $100 million. Experience gained overseas (often in projects with American partners) provides sobering evidence that nuclear reactors can still be built at low cost in short periods of time.
Power marketing administrations (PMAs) suffered a setback on May 2 when the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water and Power Resources held an oversight hearing on the Pick-Sloan Eastern Division of the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA). According to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report issued that morning, about $454 million of the Division's irrigation and flood control investment in hydropower facilities will not be recoverable, because the irrigation projects will not be completed.
Regulators in Minnesota and Pennsylvania have approved electric service tariffs with real-time pricing (RTP). In Minnesota, the PUC directed Otter Tail Power Co. to offer large-volume customers: 1) a customer-specific baseline load priced at a standard rate, with deviations priced hourly at the spot market, reflecting a profit margin plus marginal operating and outage costs; and 2) a simplified offer that eliminates the baseline calculation, increases fixed charges, and bills all energy use at the real-time incremental rate.
The movement to introduce competition in the electricity industry comes at a time when many utilities are already ailing or underperforming. In fact, since 1990, half of U.S. investor-owned utilities (IOUs) have failed to consistently grow their dividends, or have cut or eliminated them altogether. According to a new study by Resource Data International, U.S. Electric Utility Industry Merger and Acquisitions, 1996, the current trend toward mergers and acquisitions is fueled by a desire to improve shareholder returns.
LG&E Energy Corp. and subsidiary Louisville Gas and Electric Co. (LGE) have withdrawn from the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) over the issue of electric restructuring.
In a letter to EEI president Thomas Kuhn, LG&E chairman and CEO Roger Hale said that LG&E advocates competition and retail access at the earliest possible date through federal legislation.
Long-distance telephone rates for U.S. businesses dropped 7.9 percent from February 1995 to February 1996, according to the International Telecommunications Price Survey, released by National Utility Service, Inc. on April 16. At the same time, local calling rates decreased by only 1.5 percent.