Fortnightly Magazine - December 1999

Fuel for Thought: Some Questions on the Future of Gas-Fired Generation

An industry booster looks at the forecasts for price and technology and sees some big "ifs" for modular, on-site and distributed applications.

I'm a believer from way back in using natural gas for modular, on-site and distributed generation. But I worry that we might be overselling it.

Certainly, the idea of a natural gas fuel cell in every home basement needs careful examination. Add to that the notion that we can replace much of our commercial power demand with gas-fired systems such as fuel cells and microturbines.

Turning Capital to Wealth: A Ranking of U. S. Utilities

An alternative measure of performance - not based on dividends, earnings growth or P/E ratios.

How to place a value on a utility company? That is the question.

The traditional models no longer work very well. Dividend discount models will not work well if utilities cut dividends and buy back stock to return capital to the shareholders. Earnings growth offers no reliable performance gauge either, as utilities acquire or divest large amounts of capital. Restructuring charges often become necessary to shift resources to their best use.


State regulators turn to telecom to salvage the clout they've lost in energy.

State public utility commissions now seem to spend more time on telecommunications than electricity or natural gas. That's their new power base. The telephone local loop marks the one place where state regulators still have clout.

To test that notion, let's see who attended last month's annual meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, held in San Antonio. By my count, out of the first 500 registered attendees, over 120 (24 percent) came from telecommunications firms.


Cinergy Corp. named Sherrie N. Rutherford vice president of special projects for Cinergy Services Inc. Rutherford formerly served as vice president and general counsel for the pipeline group and trading operations, and associate general counsel for Reliant Energy Wholesale Group.

Philip R. Sharp, a former Indiana Congressman, will serve as advisor on consumer choice and energy deregulation at Columbia Energy Group. Sharp is a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a member of the U.S. Secretary of Energy's Advisory Board.

News Digest

Mergers & Acquisitions

Joint Ventures. The Federal Trade Commission, in consultation with the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, issued draft antitrust guidelines for "collaborations among competitors" that will apply to a wide range of joint ventures and strategic alliances other than actual mergers.

Such collaborations would include R&D efforts, information sharing and joint efforts in marketing, distribution, sales or purchasing, plus various types of trade association activities. File No. 971201, Oct. 1, 1999 (F.T.C.), published at 64 Fed. Reg.

Wisconsin Forges Grid Model

Transco law opens the door to munis and co-ops.

As the electric industry awaits a final rule from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on regional transmission organizations, Wisconsin has moved to create its own stand-alone transmission company, or transco.

In the process, Wisconsin will allow grid-dependent utilities to get a piece of the action.

The Legislation. On Oct. 27, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson signed Assembly Bill 133, an omnibus budget bill that incorporated original Assembly Bill 389.


Green power beats a renewables mandate, says SoCalEd exec, while a consultant questions assumptions about distributed generation.

I have to agree with the lead sentence in Bruce W. Radford's Oct. 1 Frontlines editorial ("We Got Green?" p. 4). You really "don't quite get it about green power."

Frankly, after reading [reams] of Fortnightly editorials touting the benefits of the new free markets in electricity, I was astounded to see you disparaging the business of satisfying clearly revealed consumer preferences.

1999 ROE Rate Case Survey

(December 1999) A survey of utility rate decisions affecting authorized rates of return on common equity (ROE), as issued by state public utility commissions (PUCs) during the period Sept. 30, 1998 to Sept. 30, 1999, indicates a small but discernible trend toward lower returns. There is no clear evidence, however, that PUCs are rethinking their assessment of utility investment risk to reflect divestitures of generation assets or a retrenchment of utility functions toward the model of a stand-alone wires or distribution company.

Off Peak

What we're not arguing about is important too.

More than 200 organizations and individuals have staked out positions in comments filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in response to its proposed rulemaking on regional transmission organizations (RTOs).

The major debate in the reply briefs is on three issues.

Mandatory vs. Voluntary Participation? The FERC's proposed rulemaking relies on strong RTOs rising spontaneously from the primeval murk of the conflicting interests of the states and industry participants.