The 40 Best Energy Companies

(September 2011) Our annual ranking tracks the publicly traded electric and gas companies that produce the greatest value for shareholders. Despite the year’s topsy-turvy financial markets, perennial performers like DPL, PPL and Exelon return to the top of the list. Others face looming cap-ex burdens as regulators impose new mandates and requirements. Leading companies are positioning for growth, despite a challenging landscape.

Navigating in the Age of Uncertainty

Business models are evolving to suit a shifting industry landscape.

The next decade will bring serious disruption to the utility industry. But with cooperation from regulators and legislators, utility companies will be able to shift their business models to capture significant value—both in existing businesses and emerging ones.

Rethinking ROE

Rational estimates lead to reasonable valuations.

When regulators grant changes to utility rates of return, they estimate growth on the basis of gross domestic product (GDP). But do utilities have any chance of growing at the same pace as GDP? The answer is no — with huge consequences for utilities and their consumers. With equity costs outpacing allowed rates of return, utilities aren’t being valued correctly. As a result, the industry risks falling behind other sectors in terms of infrastructure investments and technology innovation.

Zone of Reasonableness

Coping with rising profitability, a decade after restructuring.

With a recent flurry of gas pipeline rate investigations at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), many pipeline owners face the prospect of having their profits scrutinized to ensure their rates are just and reasonable. Understanding FERC’s approach will help companies ensure they’re not falling outside the zone of reasonableness.

A Prescription for Regulatory Lag

Depreciation accounting methods can trim revenue shortfalls.

Utilities and regulators are stuck in a rut, treating rate-base assets in a traditional way and depreciating their value according to a straight-line calculation. But alternative accounting methods might provide a more accurate and financially justifiable way to treat depreciation of utility capital assets.

Baked-In or Decoupled?

Rate case risk in a climate of declining sales.

(November 2010) Data from 2010 ROE Survey documents the industry’s struggle to reconcile rate trackers and decoupling provisions in utility rate cases.

Main Street Gold Mine

Funds collected for cost-of-removal liabilities could finance capital spending.

The industry might be overlooking a source of capital for smart-grid and similar investments. Funds collected in depreciation accounts for cost-of-removal liabilities could finance capital spending projects.

Autopilot Error

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.

Regulation by Formula

Tools to facilitate changing utility economics.

These are challenging times for the electric and gas utilities. Reliability projects, renewable portfolio standards, greenhouse-gas emissions control, AMI, smart-grid investments, and conservation programs—all these things add to costs, but might bring in no additional revenue. Moreover, there will be unprecedented capital investment in transmission, renewable generation projects, and replacement of old facilities from the 1950s and 1960s. Thus, earnings likely will be more closely watched and traditional general rate cases might not be able to keep up.