Are regulators managing market manipulation?
Election politics almost killed a great idea.
Beacon Power filed bankruptcy last fall, amid a political firestorm sparked by Solyndra’s demise. But should the company have received a bailout, so it could continue operating until FERC’s new pay-for-performance rules take effect?
Recent years have seen fundamental changes in the supply and competitive landscape of the North American natural gas market. In response to high natural gas prices that prevailed during most of the last decade, gas producers in the lower 48 now have developed new sources of supply and technology, particularly to access new shale gas formations. These new supplies have encouraged a substantial expansion of the natural gas pipeline network in North America to allow the producers to reach end-use markets.
In the past few years, hype over electric vehicles reached a crescendo in the media and in political circles. The good news is that this hype spurred major investments -- both private and public -- toward R&D and commercialization that’s already starting to show results (See “The Hundred-Dollar Race” - left). The bad news, however, is those results haven’t yet translated into dramatically better or cheaper cars in showrooms, leaving first-generation EVs to compete against mature gas-powered cars with much lower sticker prices.
Fukushima shockwaves hit America’s nuclear renaissance.
In the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, questions are arising about the safety and survivability of reactors located in geologically active areas. Major changes might be required, and as a result the U.S. nuclear industry might face an existential challenge on the order of the Three Mile Island accident.
(September 2010) Capital spending and commodity prices are driving changes in financial performance. The 2010 Fortnightly 40 report shows growing success for companies with substantial unregulated assets. As the industry resumes its Big Build, regulatory relationships will determine the long-term strength of utility shareholder returns.
Ring-fencing after the subprime meltdown.
When Électricité de France stepped in to buy Constellation Energy’s nuclear assets and help the company avoid bankruptcy, the Maryland Public Service Commission conditioned the sale on a set of ring-fencing provisions. The industry has been using such structures to protect ratepayers in complex and high-risk M&A transactions since the 1990s. The protection isn’t foolproof, however—and it can bring problematic regulatory trade-offs.
Why similar U.S and Canadian risk profiles yield varied rate-making results.
Cost of capital is often a contentious issue in utility ratemaking. This is due, in part, to the inexact nature of the tools available to financial analysts and the considerable room for divergent opinions on key inputs to cost-of-capital estimation. Perhaps for this very reason, and to achieve regulatory efficiency, Canadian regulators widely adopted a formulaic approach to setting return on equity (ROE). However, an unusual degree of rancor has evolved north of the border as allowed ROEs in Canada, once at parity, have fallen near 200-basis points below their U.S. peers.
Structuring renewable agreements to survive change.
The potential for a federal renewable energy standard (RES) and carbon regulation, considered with the effect of state-imposed renewable energy standards, is fueling a strong, but challenging, market for renewable energy. Utilities are competing to sign up the best new projects, the types of renewable technologies available are increasing, and there are various government stimulus programs for energy; yet, the financial markets still are hesitant. Against this backdrop, how should contracts for power from new renewable resources be shaped so that those deals will look as good five, 10 and 15 years after execution as on the day the ink dries?
The capital markets have recovered … or have they?
One year ago, in the midst of the financial crisis, one industry—energy utilities—continued accessing the capital markets. Since then, interest rates and terms have improved dramatically, inviting utilities to refinance billions of dollars in debt that won’t mature for another year. Despite the current rosy picture, however, economic trends might cast a shadow over the industry’s capital-investment plans.