Differences of opinion make for good horse races and bad jokes about economists, and those who are studying the recent wave of electric utility merger announcements have not let us down. Some of these economists optimistically believe that the mergers act as forces for competition, since they will combine corporate assets and staffs to bolster operating efficiency and market acumen at the merged companies. Other economists, who see transmission as the root of monopoly power, are more pessimistic.
Energy Policy Act of 1992
A U.S. House-Senate conference committee may remove a provision in present law that requires the Department of Defense (DOD) to buy electricity solely from its local distribution company. The House of Representatives has already voted DOD (300 to 126) the right to buy electricity from the most economical source. A first step toward allowing retail wheeling for military bases, the provision is part of the House fiscal year 1996 Defense Authorization bill.
Electric industry restructuring is progressing at a rapid pace. Across the country, states are moving ahead to encourage retail competition. Two states have allowed retail wheeling experiments (Michigan and New Hampshire), utilities are proposing them, and over 20 states are studying the issue. Back in Washington, Congress is examining legislation to amend the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA).
The restructuring of electric utilities is fundamentally a matter of national policy (em not a regulatory issue. Regulators are ill-suited to make national policy because they are conditioned to act within the limits of authority specifically granted by legislation, rather than to seek a fresh statutory mandate in response to changed conditions. Policymakers must assess political, social, economic, technological, regional, and national factors to measure the need for reform.
In its recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) on wholesale competition and open-access transmission,1 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has outlined a plan to revolutionize the electricity industry.
The Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) has decided not to adopt federal standards for natural gas integrated resource planning (IRP) and demand-side management (DSM) contained in section 115 of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct), concluding that current information did not support establishing formal standards in those areas. The PSC explained that the expected costs of future commission involvement in the matter outweigh the benefits that might reasonably be expected at this time. Re Section 115, Energy Policy Act of 1992, Order No. 5861, Docket No. 94.9.42, Aug.
has allowed Potomac Electric Power Co. rate recovery of costs associated with the development of electric vehicles for fleet use under alternate-fuel vehicle requirements imposed under the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The PSC rejected a request by the Greater Washington Petroleum Committee, an oil industry trade group, to deny funding because electric vehicle technology had not evolved to a point that promotes consumer acceptance of a competitively priced vehicle.
For almost a decade now, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has pursued the goal of promoting competition in bulk-power markets, focusing on access to transmission as its primary tool to achieve that end. This trend first emerged in the 1987 PacifiCorp merger case. It gained momentum with the strong message sent by the Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct).
On the morning after Labor Day, back from one last beach fling, Wall Street Journal assistant features editor Max Boot published an editorial castigating California Gov. Pete Wilson for his alleged failure to "take a stand" on electric deregulation in the Golden State ("California's Governor isn't Plugged into Deregulation Debate," Sept. 5, 1995, p. A15). "There's a leadership vacuum here," writes Boot. "Governor Wilson is partly responsible for the problem ... he appointed Mr. Fessler and the other PUC members.