A new Standard & Poor's (S&P) report, Direct Access Threatens Utility Revenues, predicts that electric utility revenues would decline 6 to 16 percent ($10 to $26 billion) if retail direct access is implemented. S&P bases its findings on two scenarios: In the severe case, direct access occurs immediately for all customer classes and no surcharge mechanism recovers lost revenues. The more reasonable scenario assumes that only large commercial and industrial (C/I) users will exercise their right to choose direct access and that 50 percent of C/I lost revenues will be recovered in rates.
RATE UNBUNDLING: ARE WE THERE YET?
FEBRUARY 15, 1996
One of the iron rules of competition and open markets is that there are winners and losers. Winners tend to win very big; losers tend to lose everything and disappear, through absorption or insolvency. As deregulation takes hold, high-cost producers and less adroit managers may find themselves steamrollered by emerging strongmen and entrepreneurial upstarts. These rivals may usurp segments of their business by bidding the job cheaper and still making money, leaving a rising tide of shareholder suits in their wake.
Standard & Poor's (S&P) CreditWeek Municipal notes that municipal electric utilities are resisting the investor-owned utility (IOU) merger trend in favor of competing through internal cost controls and sharing of services. The main reason, according to S&P directors Marla Fox and William Cox, is that municipals are political entities governed by city councils or appointed boards, and mergers would result in less authority for those decisionmakers.
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.
The process of determining how to implement utility competition is often cast as a struggle between two opposing camps: shareholders and ratepayers. There are, of course, two other major players, managements and regulators. The bipolar view tacitly assumes that shareholder and management interests coincide, and that regulators have customer interests at heart. Neither assumption is altogether valid. Shareholder interests deviate from management interests in important ways, just as the interests of the entrenched regulatory bureaucracy diverge from the public interest.