(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.
Calpine buys 5 GW of generating capacity from Pepco Holdings for $1.65 billion; Xcel buys two Calpine plants in Denver for $739 million; Asset acquisitions announced in April by Constellation, Kaukauna Utilities and others totaling $3 billion.
Real-world projects show tangible returns.
Much is riding on successful smart-grid deployments. Experiences at several utilities demonstrate the costs and benefits of today’s automation technologies.
Pre-approvals demand a new approach to managing risks and costs.
Proving the need for new infrastructure construction for energy purchases has become more complicated for utilities. State commissions reserve the right to revisit rate-base investments after the fact, even when they’ve been pre-approved.