The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana has declared portions of the Indiana Environmental Compliance Plans Act unconstitutional, striking down those sections that favor use of Indiana coal. The Act authorized Indiana to preapprove compliance plans files by electric utilities in response to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 (CAAA), requiring the plans to favor coal mined in the state. The district court ruled that the Act violates the commerce clause, finding that the challenged portions sought to eliminate or limit use of western coal.
The question I am asked most frequently is "Who will emerge as the 'winners' and 'losers' among today's electric utility companies?" The short answer is painfully simple. The winners will offer the best prices (a.k.a., the low-cost producers). The losers will be unable to cut prices to meet the market (a.k.a., the high-cost producers).
Unfortunately, real-world answers rarely come in black and white. The electric utility industry enjoys less pricing flexibility than one might imagine.
Electric utilities now face the risk that existing assets, costs, or contract commitments may be "stranded" by increased competition, leaving shareholders rather than customers to bear the costs. Have shareholders already been compensated for this risk?
Some argue that shareholders have automatically been compensated for this risk by an allowed rate of return equal to the cost of equity capital determined in efficient capital markets.1 If so, forcing shareholders to bear stranded costs may seem fair.
While reconsidering an earlier rate case order for New England Telephone & Telegraph Co., a telecommunications local exchange carrier (LEC), the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) has approved an incentive regulation plan for the LEC and set out a series of recommendations to guide the development of a full price-cap regulation plan. Nevertheless, the PSB noted that a problem had developed in the case as a result of combining the revenue requirement aspect of the rate proceeding with consideration of the LEC's price-cap plan.
The financial community's focus on utility competition has been riveted on the proceedings now in progress at state regulatory commissions. The fear that something immediately damaging will come out of these proceedings seems to have diminished in recent months, and the stock market has reacted favorably. However, regulatory developments are only one of four paths leading to competition; the others are the marketplace, the legislatures, and the courts.
As required under a conditional approval order issued in October, the Western Regional Transmission Association (WRTA) has filed its compliance agreement at the FERC (Docket No. ER94-1288-000). WRTA agrees to provide comparable transmission service, and has filed a transmission plan that gives individual members the right to make the final decisions on whether transmission facilities are built. WRTA has 31 members (em utilities, state agencies, and independent power producers (IPPs) (em that represent 70 percent of the transmission capabilities in the western United States.
Sierra Pacific Resources and The Washington Water Power Co. have filed a report at the Nevada Public Service Commission on their proposed merger to form Resources West Energy (RWE), estimating a combined savings of $449 million over the next 10 years. As a result, the utilities propose to freeze rates until at least 2000, except for one limited price increase in Nevada in 1997 and selected adjustments for energy supplies or extenuating circumstances.
About 42 percent of the savings will result from consolidation of duplicate functions and reductions in the workforce.
Sherrie Rutherford was named v.p. and general counsel of NorAm Gas Transmission, the pipeline and gas marketing subsidiary of NorAm Energy Corp. She succeeds Dale Earwood, who was promoted to president, NorAm Field Services.
MCN Corp. named Thomas J. Connelly director, investor relations. He previously was director, project finance.
Michael R. Weber was named manager, environmental affairs, for CMS Generation Co., the independent power subsidiary of CMS Energy Corp.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has denied applications for rehearing and a request for a stay of its recent decision to expand intraLATA competition and redesign rates for local exchange carriers to prevent revenue losses and ensure the proper pricing of bundled competitive services. Re Alternative Regulatory Frameworks for Local Exchange Carriers, I.87-11-033; Application Nos. 85-01-034 et al., Decision 95-01-047, Jan 24., 1995 (Cal.P.U.C.). t
Phillip S. Cross is an associate legal editor of PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY.
There is a price to pay for becoming a lean, mean fighting machine, and utilities paid the price in 1994.
A number of electric utilities saw revenues increase last year on the strength of higher sales, but the costs associated with laying off hundreds of employees and downsizing company operations took a significant bite out of earnings.
A PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY survey of the nation's top 20 electric utilities shows an increase in their combined 1994 revenues to $107 billion, a healthy 3.6-percent rise over the previous year.