Fortnightly Magazine - August 1995

Death by Taxes: Gas Utilities Face a Crippling Disadvantage in Energy Marketing

Genuine competition - with greater efficiency and bona fide service improvements - is not unwelcome at most utilities. But spurious competition, with inconsistencies among players in the rules of the game, is a cause of frustration for utilities and customers alike.

Regulation in the natural gas industry is evolving rapidly. And on the electric side, the current flurry of activity is likely to draw on recent gas industry experience and move even faster.


Efforts to site new facilities for the disposal of hazardous waste (HW) and radioactive waste have met with utter paralysis. HW disposal companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to site new landfills and incinerators for this waste, but most of this money has gone down the drain. Since the enactment of the chief federal law on HW, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA), only one new HW landfill has opened on a new site in the United States (in prophetically named Last Chance, CO).

Green Pricing: Removing the Guesswork

"Green pricing," at typical rates of customer participation, could expand demand for renewable energy beyond current levels by more than an order of magnitude, pushing down production costs for energy resources preferred by environmental advocates. And just as important, that expanded demand would occur outside of the regulatory framework (em matching capacity to customer needs and wants.In practice, the utility asks customers to pay rate premiums to fund the production or purchase of renewable resources.

Marketing & Competing

New business opportunities, improved internal communications, and energy information services: three solid reasons electric utilities should form a telecommunications strategy (if they haven't already). Yet, while these motivations are compelling, none really demands utility participation.

Utility R&D: The Cutting Edge of Competition

As electric utilities move ever closer to all-out competition, senior executives are streamlining their organizations, reducing spending, and developing strategic plans to ensure their company's future success. Organizations that cannot substantiate their contribution to the company's financial bottom line risk major budget cuts.

FERC Denies Partnership Income Tax Allowance

For the first time, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued opinions disallowing income tax allowances in the cost of service with respect to income from limited partnership interests held by individuals. In Lakehead Pipe Line Co., Ltd. Partnership, the FERC found that allowing a tax allowance for limited partnerships made up of individuals would give the investors an after-tax return on equity higher than they are entitled to (Docket Nos. IS92-27-000, et al.).

Technology's Strategic Role

The electric utility industry is undergoing its most profound change since Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse battled over whether the American power system should be AC or DC. In essence, that technological choice shaped the industry we know today. Edison's low-voltage, DC system would have required many small generating stations and short distribution lines. The high-voltage Westinghouse AC system promoted development

of long-distance transmission networks that deliver electricity efficiently from large, remote power plants.

Nuke Decommissioning Funds Get Investment Flexibility

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has adopted a final rule for nuclear plant decommissioning trust funds that will allow greater investment flexibility and enable funds to take advantage of changing market conditions (Docket No. RM94-14-000). The rule aims to improve the returns earned on funds contributed through wholesale electric rates, thereby decreasing the amount collected from ratepayers.

Promoting Industrial Evolution

This country's 350,000 manufacturers must add cutting-edge technologies to their processes to stay competitive. Yet most are small- to medium-sized companies leery of investing in new technology without first

confirming its effect on their

products.Some utilities previously had no option but to run local technology-demonstration facilities on their own (see sidebar on p.

Columbia Gas Bankruptcy Moves Forward

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved an uncontested settlement for bankrupt Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. (CGT), resolving over 100 FERC proceedings and over 40 court appeals (Docket Nos. GP94-2-003 et al.). The settlement addresses CGT's recovery of costs associated with its former merchant function. It also settles customer claims in CGT's bankruptcy proceeding, subject to bankruptcy court approval.