Fortnightly Magazine - January 15 1997

Water Utility Escapes Acquisition Adjustment

While approving the transfer of certain water utility assets and certificates between two utility companies, the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) has decided against applying a negative acquisition adjustment to rate base in setting rates for the acquiring utility, even though the buyer paid "substantially less" than original cost for the facilities ($545,000 versus $2.845 million).

The PSC ruled that without extraordinary circumstances, its policy requires that a purchase of utility assets at a premium or discount should not affect the rate base calculation.

Trends

Wholesale power transactions continue to grow. During 1995, utilities spent more than $58 billion on bulk power and, for the first time, investor-owned utilities spent more for electricity ($30 billion) than for fuel ($29 billion) to generate it. The reasons for the expansion can be traced to more aggressive marketing strategies by electric utilities, an increasingly competitive group of independent power providers, and the presence of power marketers as a formidable and growing group of power traders.

Expansion in wholesale markets is hardly new.

Pa. Looks at Gas Marketers

In two recent actions concerning natural gas marketers and brokers, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has proposed new policy to define its authority over marketing by the state's local distribution companies (LDCs) and their affiliates, plus a new rule requiring LDCs to set tariffed guidelines to ensure that marketers and brokers possess the financial and technical fitness necessary "to meet their contractual obligations" in transporting gas through LDC systems.

It stressed that it would not permit unreasonable discrimination in retail offerings (em whether by the LDC

Joules

Southern Communications Services, Inc., which recently entered the wireless communications market, has begun to market products and services under the name of its parent, Southern Company. Southern also is parent to Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power, Mississippi Power, and Savannah Electric.

Gulf Power, meanwhile, signed a contract with Scientific-Atlanta, Inc. for two-way energy management applications. Some 40,000 homes will be fitted with the interactive systems over eight years.

Study Points Out M&A Difficulties

Utilities that participate in a merger are just a likely to find revenues shrinking as growing, according to a recent study of completed and pending M&A activity among U.S. utility and energy companies.

The study, "Energy Utility Perspectives (em Creating Value Through Mergers and Acquisitions," conducted by Mercer Management Consulting, examines 43 completed and 53 pending U.S. utility deals conducted between 1985 and 1995.

INGAA Sees Renewed Interest in LNG

A study procured by the INGAA Foundation (Interstate Natural Gas Association of America) finds a resurgence in use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a peak-shaving alternative for local distribution companies (LDCs).

The study, "The Use of Liquefied Natural Gas For Peaking Service," conducted by Stone & Webster Management Consultants, Inc., attributed a rise in the use of LNG plants for peak shaving to a deregulated environment (FERC Order 636, plus use of the "straight fixed-variable" rate design for gas pipeline capacity), which forces LDCs to assess their true capacity needs.

New Mexico To Write Off PUC

Voters in New Mexico have decided to abolish the New Mexico Public Utility Commission, as well as the New Mexico Corporation Commission.

The two agencies would be replaced by a five-member, Public Regulatory Commission, which would regulate electric, water, telephone, and insurance companies, plus natural gas and oil pipelines. t

Lori A. Burkhart is an associate legal editor of PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY.

Perspective

An oft-heard argument these days says that states with low-cost power should refrain from restructuring their electric utilities. This argument has gained credence in some states, where protectionists have used it to slow down the liberalization of electricity markets. The rationale is simple: Because the state would export its low-cost power, local consumers would lose. They would face higher electric prices than if their state had somehow confined its low-cost resources within its boundaries.

FERC Issues Long-Awaited Merger

More than a year and a half after commissioners Hoecker and Massey first raised eyebrows in various concurring and dissenting opinions by suggesting changes in the merger approval process for electric utilities, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on December 18 issued Order 592, a "policy statement" designed to "update and clarify" the criteria it will use to ensure that mergers remain consistent with the public interest.

Backing away from the historical six-part merger approval test established in 1966 in the Commonwealth Edison case, the FERC announced that it would ap

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