Fortnightly Magazine - October 1 1997

Scarce Resources, Real Business or Threat to Profitability?

All three may apply, especially if regulators go wrong and let ISOs make the business decisions.

Electricity transmission is a real business. With more than $50 billion of net plant, another $3 billion annually in capital expenditures and yearly operating income that could reach $5 billion per year under normal circumstances, the power grid is roughly twice the size of the natural gas pipeline industry. One would never know that from current events, however. Utility management treats transmission as an inconvenient stepchild.

Gas Pilot Programs Gain Steam

Over the summer, a handful of states approved gas pilot programs that will introduce choice of supplier to residential, and small commercial customers in preparation for the heating season. The decisions welcome the expansion of customer choice to smaller users, but pay careful attention to operational details such as who controls storage and upstream pipeline capacity to performance balancing services.

New Jersey. Finding greater than expected public interest, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has authorized New Jersey Natural Gas Co.

An East Coast View: The Right Price for PJM

Locational marginal pricing, even if "complex," is well worth the benefits.

In two recent issues, PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY featured editorials %n1%n on restructuring of the PJM Pool. Those two articles described proposals by the so-called supporting companies, %n2%n seven members of the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection, to use a "locational marginal pricing" model for congestion pricing for electric transmission and to continue PJM as a "tight" power pool.

States Win Right to Set LEC Interconnection Rates

In a long-awaited opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has ruled that the Federal Communications Commission exceeded its authority in approving pricing regulations to open the telecommunications local exchange market to competition.

The court upheld, however, major portions of the FCC regulations governing the duty owned by incumbent local exchange carriers to provide access to the public switched network for new market entrants.

A West Coast View: The Case for Flow-Based Access Fees

Divide the grid by usage (em local vs. regional. Apportion costs accordingly, to energy customers by fixed charge, and power producers by flow and distance.

Traditionally, utilities have received transmission costs through an average, rolled-in access fee, or postage-stamp approach. In a deregulated environment, that approach will lead to distorted pricing.

And not just because of transmission-line congestion.

Much of the current debate over electric transmission pricing has centered on the various competing methods of congestion pricing, such as zonal vs.

Pennsylvania Electric Restructuring

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has ended the summer with a series of rulings to guide the state's electric utilities as they devise individual restructuring plans. Overall, the rules seek to temper the effect of competition on certain consumer safeguards and social benefit programs.

Public Purpose Programs. Under new PUC guidelines, electric distribution companies must submit comprehensive, multi-year plans for universal service and energy conservation.

They Don't Need Coaching

I sincerely appreciate your covering NARUC and its outlook in the July 15, 1997, issue of PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY (p. 26). I believe your summarization of my conversation with your Associate Editor and his depiction of NARUC sends a clear message about the unmatched resources and capabilities our organization enjoys by virtue of its membership.

Overall, the article generally captures the essence of our conversation. Nevertheless, it missed on my characterization of the NARUC staff's intended role with respect to the revitalized Washington Action Program.

N.C. Sets Fuel Cost Proxy for Purchased Power

Resolving a new issue now arising under fuel cost adjustment clauses, the North Carolina Utilities Commission has ruled that electric utilities who buy wholesale power from marketers should treat 75 percent of the energy price component as a "fuel cost," in those instances where the seller cannot or will not provide actual fuel cost data.

The case involved Duke Power Co., which had purchased power from Enron for resale.

Uncooperative Cooperatives?

Your article in the July 1, 1997 issue of PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY regarding co-ops and competition was very much on target ("Co-ops and Competition: Still a United Front?" p. 16). Our firm spends a significant amount of time providing financial advice to some of the more progressive rural electric cooperatives and have had some association with a few of the organizations mentioned in your article.

We are strongly pro-cooperative. Co-ops continue to provide high-quality electric, gas and other services to significant numbers of Americans, both rural and urban dwellers.

Off Peak

More low-cost states seen joining the move toward electric restructuring.

Six months ago, those states with the highest electric prices appeared the furthest along on the path to electric industry restructuring. That is no longer the case.

Today, even those states that can boast of lower-than-average rates are exploring avenues toward more competition, as shown below. The table groups states into five tiers, by the level of activity to date. These activities include initiatives by legislatures, regulatory commissions, utilities and other parties.