Fortnightly Magazine - November 2005

Utilities and Regulators: A Search for Harmony

Ratemaking Special Report: Survey respondents weigh in with needed actions.

The utility regulatory process is prone to controversy, given the inherently adversarial roles and varied viewpoints among the utilities, regulators, and other stakeholders. Oft-heard pleas of "why can't you just see this issue my way" or "can't we all just get along" underscore the deep-seated frustrations of utility leaders and regulators in trying to find a common ground for addressing crucial issues surrounding the formulation of business strategies, establishment of responsible financial goals, and setting of operational performance standards for the regulated gas and electric distribution utility segments of the energy industry.

Rate-Base Cleansings: Rolling Over Ratepayers

State PUCs should recognize a refundable regulatory liability for past charges to ratepayers.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board SFAS No.143 identifies an immediate need for state public utilities commissions to recognize a refundable regulatory liability for past charges to ratepayers for non-legal asset retirement costs. Although these prior charges resulted in billions of dollars of regulatory liabilities on utilities' generally accepted accounting principles financial statements, they are almost invisible on the regulatory financial statements of the utilities. Unless the state PUCs specifically recognize the liabilities, the utilities will have the opportunity to institute a rate-base "cleansing" by transferring ratepayer-fronted money into income.

Frontlines

Is the predicted crisis this winter a failure of policy, the market, or both?

Given the free market in natural gas, why haven't prices attracted the needed infrastructure or supply? (LNG imports are actually down from last year.) What policies could have been contemplated ahead of national legislation? Or put more simply, why has supply lagged demand?

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