CROSS THE COUNTRY, CRITICISM RISES FROM INVESTOR-owned utilities as public power agencies are drawn into regional or national markets through power pools and the geographic expansion of power marketing activities. Whether these agencies are seen as federally funded or just indirectly subsidized, the complaints remain the same: tax advantages, no reciprocity, exemptions from regulation.
Who really has power over the power? Do public power agencies enjoy an advantage, as private industry claims? Can they offer cheaper rates on different terms, and could those rates destabilize spot markets or power pools?
These questions are heating up in three of the country's major regions. The stand-offs involve the Northwest and Bonneville Power Administration, the Southeast with the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Southwest with the Salt River Project. Two recent rulings highlight the nature of the conflict. First a federal district judge was asked to interpret the meaning of the TVA "fence." Second, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission faced allegations of BPA market power in the California Power Exchange. Now comes a letter to the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget, complaining about an alleged diversion of electricity from federal projects to private coffers.
At the same time, special advisory committees have emerged, such as the Bonneville Cost Management Committee (created by the Northwest Power Planning Council), and the Tennessee Valley Electric System Advisory Committee (created by the Department of Energy). Their reports, issued this spring, examine both internal cost management and larger questions of overall mission.