Subsidiaries grapple with codes of conduct. Did regulators overreact?
PG&E Corp. has threatened to appeal - all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if need be - a $1.68 million California Public Utilities Commission fine, slapped on it for violating affiliate rules.
The fine marked the loudest shot to date in what appears to be part two in the electric and gas restructuring wars:
The Affiliate Rules Wars.
These skirmishes promise to pit independent power marketers and out-of-state utility affiliates against the affiliates of incumbents. For commissions, refereeing the fights won't be easy. Ratepayer advocates and independent marketers, for instance, wouldn't have minded if the PG&E fine - levied for an illegible advertising disclaimer about the affiliate-parent relationship - were 10 times higher.
In Pennsylvania, where 1.8 million consumers began participating in the state's competitive choice program on Jan. 1, PECO Energy Co., PP&L Resources Inc. and other utilities face their own brand of wrangling over rules governing corporate affiliates.
PECO and PP&L were accused of advertising provider of last resort, or PLR, services in a way that encourages customers not to consider alternative energy suppliers. A little over a month after the Mid-Atlantic Power Supply Association filed that complaint, Pennsylvania's utility commission handed incumbents and their affiliates stricter interim guidelines addressing PLR functions (OCT-98-L-104, Docket No. M-00960890F0017, Nov. 19, 1998).
"Messages which discourage consumers from exploring their opportunities [in] the competitive marketplace will be considered deceptive or misleading and will not be tolerated," wrote Nora Mead Brownell, Pennsylvania commissioner, in a statement issued with the guidelines.