With benefits unclear, PUCs will "go slow."
California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont have given customers the right to choose their electric providers.
Other states are considering similar legislation.
In Congress, U.S. representatives Schaefer (R-Colo.), Markey (D-Mass.), DeLay (R-Tex.), and U.S. Sen. Bumpers (D-Ark.) and others have slapped bills on the table that would give choice to electric customers on a national scale. In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal confirmed evidence of looming competition: "The rapidly unfolding deregulation and consolidation of the utility industry is spawning a profusion of takeover deals among retail, wholesale, regional and national power providers." (Mar. 20, 1997).
Yet, despite all this hubbub, competition is less likely today than it was a year ago.
Two factors underlie this paradox. First, any government that contemplates competition will face the near insurmountable task of dealing with the stranded costs and benefits that will follow. Second, these costs and benefits are likely grossly understated or simply unrecognized.
What assets and benefits will lie stranded? How should the write-offs be accomplished? Who should pay? These problems will pit electric customers (em business, residential and commercial (em against their utilities, and even against each other.
Moreover, the costs and benefits of competition will spread unevenly across the country, making some states winners while others lose out. Customers will not gain from competition until we can answer "what," "how" and "who."
The Numbers Are Daunting