Fortnightly Magazine - November 15 1997

Utilities Must Educate, Again

Seeking to wrest control of public relations for electric competition from private "stakeholders," the California Public Utilities Commission has authorized the state's three largest investor-owned electric utilities (em Pacific Gas and Electric Co., San Diego Gas and Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co. (em to spend $89.3 million for consumer education on electric restructuring, through mass media, mail, local outreach and a toll-free call center.

In a separate order, the PUC authorized PacifiCorp and Sierra Pacific Power Co.

Buyers Don't Want Bundled Services

While some utilities would like to sell customers electricity bundled with local and long-distance telephone and cable television, consumers may not be interested, according to a recent survey.

The RKS National Residential Customer Assessment found that residential customers view bundled service offerings with suspicion.

"These latest findings call into question the concept of cross-functional mergers (em the idea of combining a variety of energy and communications services under a single brand for the residential market," said David J. Reichman, RKS research president.

Utility Retain Control Over "Dispersed" Cogen Plant

A cogeneration project approved by the Virginia State Corporation Commission will allow Virginia Electric and Power Co., the utility sponsor, to lease equipment to Chesapeake Paper Products Co., the project host (which will operate the gas-fired plant), and yet retain contractual rights to control certain aspects of operations and maintenance.

At the same time, however, the commission has nixed VEPCO's idea of organizing an affiliate "as an electric utility" to own and operate a pipeline lateral to supply natural gas to the plant.

Georgia Proposes Gas Rags

The Georgia Public Service Commission has established standards for issuing certificates to marketers to compete under the state's Natural Gas Competition and Deregulation Act.

Under the standards, candidates must show their creditworthiness. To compete, a marketer must prove that its capital base or other financial resources can withstand the business and financial risk and absorb losses that might occur in providing firm gas service to retail customers.

S.B. 215, which was signed into law in April, established a regulatory framework to deregulate the gas industry.

California Accord to Cure Market Power Problems

The California Public Utilities Commission has approved an agreement that will resolve a multifaceted case concerning pricing of services and operation of intrastate natural gas pipeline facilities by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

The agreement, known as the "Gas Accord," also initiated significant changes in the way PG&E operates its business by increasing competition and customer choice. To mitigate the effects of market power held by the company, the commission imposed a series of discounting restrictions on PG&E.

Branding Ensures Brown Isn't Green on Power Products

California-based environmental and consumer groups have launched the nation's first voluntary certification and verification program for environmentally preferred electric products.

The Green-e Renewable Electricity Branding Program aims to help consumers choose environmentally friendly or "green" products. Californians soon will see promotional materials from marketers with the Green-e Program's certification on electric products that contain at least 50-percent renewable electric content.

Off Peak

NOx Joke

EPA Proposal Has IOUs Fuming

Electric utilities single-handedly to reduce smog.

MIDWEST AND OHIO VALLEY STATES ARE EXPECTED to get hit hardest by the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to reduce smog.

Ohio, for example, is home to American Electric Power, one of the biggest contributors of NOx emissions at nearly a half million pounds per year (see chart).

The EPA proposed Oct. 10 that 22 states reduce nitrogen oxide (em a key element of smog (em citing electric utilities as the main source.

California Water Utilities Band, Save $5 Million

Starting January 1998, New Energy Ventures will provide electricity to the first coalition of water agencies to have joined together to purchase and sell the service.

The Association of California Water Agencies Utility Service Agency has agreed to purchase electricity from New Energy for one year. It will allow members to save a minimum of $5 million annually on electric costs, depending on how many members sign up.

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