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.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has completed a long-awaited rate plan for New England Telephone and Telegraph Co. (dba NYNEX), adopting price-cap regulation without earnings sharing, but with strong measures to protect ratepayers from monopoly pricing, investment risk, and subsidies of utility ventures. The plan also includes price floors and separates competitive and monopoly services for pricing purposes. The DPU also approved a rate freeze for basic residential service until 2001, but rejected a claim that rates should fall during that time.
Commission (CPUC) moved a tortured step closer to deciding how it will reform its regulation of the
state's electric utilities when it
adopted a Proposed Policy Decision in its proceeding on competition by a 3-to-1 vote on May 24. The Proposed Decision retreats from the free-market approach the CPUC took when it presented its "Blue Book" proposal in April 1994.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved the proposed merger of Midwest Power Systems, Inc. and Iowa-Illinois Gas and Electric Co. to form MidAmerican Energy Co. as consistent with the public interest (Docket No. EC95-4-000).
The City of Independence, MO, asked the FERC to condition the merger on MidAmerican providing some form of protection against merger-related rate increases, but the FERC found no evidence that costs would increase as a result of the merger.
On a purely intellectual level, it is difficult to justify the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 (PUHCA). Sixty years after passage, PUHCA has become an anachronism (em a fact well articulated in comments filed in response to the Concept Release on the modernization of the Act issued last November by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).1 More recently, the SEC's Division of Investment Management actually recommended a conditional repeal (see sidebar).
The Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) will allow MFS Intelenet of Michigan to compete with Ameritech Michigan in the Detroit and Ann Arbor area exchanges. The PSC said state telecommunications law supports competition and that the applicant was qualified to enter the business. It rejected claims that the certificate should be denied due to concerns over possible cross-subsidization between the applicant and its holding company, MFS Communications Co. According to the PSC, consumers were well protected from such abuses under existing regulations.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has upheld its February 22 ruling that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) violated federal law by not considering all electric power sources in determining the avoided costs of electric utilities (Docket Nos. EL95-16-001 and EL95-19-001). A unanimous FERC had found the CPUC's Biennial Resource Plan Update auction in violation of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA).
Central and South West Corp. (CSW) has notified El Paso Electric Co. (EPE) that it has breached the companies' merger agreement by participating in discussions about and spending large sums on a possible stand-alone reorganization plan. CSW said it was not terminating the merger, but merely protecting its rights. On May 22, CSW received a request from EPE to extend the merger agreement for six months, until December 8, 1995.
Interesting times. Challenging times. Confusing times. The electricity industry and its regulators are now inextricably meshed in a tangle of interconnected reforms. With 50 states as laboratories, the process is accelerating. There is no going back. But which way is forward?
The old model of a closed system of vertically integrated electric utilities offering bundled service has been discarded in theory, and is being dismantled in practice.