Public Power: An Inexpensive Insurance Policy Against Consolidation

An Editorial Response:

Some critics wants PMAs out of the electric business. But that could leave market power to a few, large monopolies.

Department of Energy Secretary Federico Peña observed in an address at the recent annual meeting of the Edison Electric Institute: "The [electric utility] industry is incredibly diverse, with investor-owned utilities, municipalities, cooperatives, the federal power system, independent power producers, marketers and others.


Does a monopolist aim to maximize profit, or simply to hide from the antitrust laws?

AT&T's absolute monopoly in the switched long-distance telephone market ended in 1976 when MCI rolled out its Execunet service. Twenty years later economists still question whether AT&T can influence the market price of long-distance services.

Recent empirical studies are split on the question, sometimes finding AT&T has considerable market power, and sometimes finding it has none.

It appears that economists studying the long-distance industry may be misinterpreting the historical record.


When I took this job three years ago, I posed the question, "Price or Service?" in the title of my first frontlines column.I suggested that natural gas utilities appeared willing to sell on price, but not electrics. The CEOs all claim that electricity has become a commodity. But I'll bet the franchise that electric utilities haven't yet figured out whether they are selling electrons (a commodity) or comfort and peace of find (a niche service).

Does Activity-Based Cost Management Have Any Relevance for Electricity?

When viewed as serving market segments, utilities differ little from manufacturing companies, where most costs are shared among products and processes.

Activity-based cost management has had a tremendous impact on manufacturing enterprises; and its use has spread to some service industries such as banking, insurance and health care. ABCM encompasses two well-known management concepts: activity-based costing and activity-based management. Now that electric utilities are gearing up for competition, it is time to ask if ABCM has any relevance in the public utility industry.

States Set Rates for LEC Interconnection Services

Signaling victory over one of the more complex issues in the move to competition in the local telephone market, regulators in Connecticut and New York have adopted rate plans for unbundled interconnection services offered by incumbent local exchange carriers.

Both states also recently approved the wholesale discount rate that the LECs must apply to existing services when offering them for resale by competitive companies. See Re AT&T Communications of New York, Inc., 173 PUR4th 274 (N.Y.P.S.C. 1996); Re So. New England Tel. Co., Docket No. 95-06-17, March 25, 1997 (Conn.D.P.U.C.).

Marketing and Competing

Identifying a core competency is not as easy as it seems.

Utilities have developed a "Gold Rush" mentality. That is, they have begun to chase after the latest (em and sometimes fleeting (em opportunities, often abandoning their roots and their long-held strengths in the process. Supposedly, this first-in-market race will allow traditional utilities to remain competitive. Yet, all this racing has caused strong regional players to enter markets blindly, without the competitive knowledge or strategic underpinnings that will allow them to succeed in the long term.

Optional Two-Part Tariffs: Toward More Effective Price Discounting

By unbundling usage from access, utilities can maximize contribution to margin and yet still retain load.

With deregulation and industry restructuring, energy utilities face price competition from marketers, brokers, independent producers and even other utilities. To succeed in this environment, utilities will need to develop innovative pricing strategies that better meet customer needs and respond more effectively to competition. The common response by utilities to competition calls for price discounting to retain "at risk"

customers by meeting the competition head-on.

Stranded Utilities: How Demographics, Not Management, Caused High Costs and Rates

And why policy on

stranded costs defies

a traditional legal or

economic analysis.

There are sound economic reasons why policymakers should allow electric utilities to recover stranded costs through a competitively neutral network access charge, or some similar fee. First, differences in the quality of utility management appear to have contributed little to differences in electricity rates among states.

In Brief...

Sound bites from state and federal regulators.

Pole Attachment Rates. Michigan PSC adopts new costing method to set utility pole attachment rates, aimed at developing competition in telecommunications services and discouraging investment in duplicate facilities by new market entrants. It cautions that changes in markets or regulatory environment might prompt a reconsideration. Case Nos. U-10741 et al., Feb. 11, 1997 (Mich.P.S.C.).

Internet Tariff Posting. New York PSC authorizes New York State Electric and Gas Corp.

Why Special Contract Discounts are Good For Electric Competition

Professor Shepherd sees selective price cutting as anti-competitive, but even a monopolist should be allowed to compete on price.

As the electric industry deregulates, state public utility commissions are asked increasingly to allow the local utility to offer price discounts to large-load customers who might otherwise turn to other sellers. So far, nearly all the PUCs faced with this issue have agreed that such discounts are beneficial: They help retain large-load customers, who help pay the utility's fixed costs.