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Lessons Learned in California
Heralded as a national model for retail choice in the electric utility industry, California became the first state in the nation to fully open its electric market to competition on March 31, 1998. Retail choice was scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 1998. Implementation was postponed three months to allow personnel further training and adjustments on the software that links the new system operating the state’s transmission and distribution networks.
The response among consumers has been tepid during the first 60 days of deregulation. Fewer than 60,000 of the state’s nearly 10 million eligible residential customers, and fewer than 40,000 of the state’s 900,000 non-residential customers, have switched from their incumbent suppliers - that’s less that 1 percent of residential customers and 3 percent of commercial and industrial customers.
This lack of response has been attributed in part to the delay in implementation, which made customers feel uneasy about the new market. According to a recent survey conducted by The Second Opinion, another contributing factor was conflicting marketing messages communicated by energy service providers. Survey results reveal that their communications left consumers feeling confused and uninformed about the coming competitive electricity environment. To help educate customers about deregulation, the state launched a $73 million information program.
Free Market – Not Just About Price
In the competitive electricity environment, energy suppliers are competing for customers on price and service. Competition also is fostering other products and services, including meters that let customers know how much energy they are using at any time of day, customized pricing and supply options, and even mini-power plants that can meet the electric needs of a broad range of customers. For instance, one company with multiple facilities or chains can now receive one bill instead of several separate invoices. The bills are bundled and sent by the supplier to the company’s headquarters via the Internet, enabling the company to track usage by facility, by hour and day, and pay the bill electronically.
(Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1998)
Power Exchange to Post Prices Daily
After intervention by State Sen. Steve Peace, the California Power Exchange (PX) has reversed its decision to sell one publisher early access to Power Exchange market-clearing prices and volumes each day. The PX is posting prices for its day-ahead auction on the Internet. The decision has been made to provide free access to market-clearing price information early in the business day for everyone interested in following California’s electric market. The PX had agreed to give Dow Jones earlier access for publication in The Wall Street Journal.
(Electric Power Daily, April 15, 1998)
APX Receives Scheduling Certification
The Automated Power Exchange (APX) of California has obtained certification from the independent system operator (ISO) to become one of two scheduling coordinators in California. In addition to the PX, the APX develops, operates and maintains energy exchanges that provide forward markets for the purchase and sale of electricity. APX provides automated scheduling services to electric service providers, generators, in-state and out-of-state utilities, and energy marketers that do business in California. Companies that sell power or produce electricity in California are required to arrange for delivery using a certified scheduling coordinator.
(Competitive Energy, April 13, 1998)
The Name Game for Affiliates
In the deregulated environment, investor-owned utilities (IOUs) will be required to carry out retail sales under the auspices of a separate entity. Rules established by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) require unregulated affiliates of the state’s IOUs to maintain strict separation between various entities in competitive activities such as advertising and marketing.
(Associated Press, April 10, 1998)
Rules to Reign in Marketers
Just before California implemented retail choice, the CPUC issued broad regulations intended to prevent fraud and market abuses. The rules required electricity service providers to:
Finally, the regulations protect customers against "slamming" by stating that a customer cannot be switched to a new electricity provider without written permission that has been verified by an independent third party.
(Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1998)
How Significant Are the Savings?
To date, savings in California have been minimal at best. Customers with a peak demand of less that 20 kilowatts are receiving a 10 percent rate reduction. The market is structured so that local distribution companies and energy service providers have to buy power from the PX. They are finding it difficult to beat the PX’s rate because the competitive transition charge (CTC) is offsetting any price savings.
Customers who are leaving their incumbent IOU are most often signing "guaranteed savings" contracts. This guarantees the amount customers pay will be less than their current bill or less than the market price.
A less popular pricing option is the "unguaranteed shared savings," in which providers will pass on savings to customers as they occur, but will not make any guarantees. Finally, the fixed rate option only guarantees a specific rate for electricity generation. It doesn’t guarantee bottom-line savings.
The typical length of such a contract is one to four years. After four years, utilities’ stranded costs will be recovered and the CTC will no longer be an issue.
Scaling Back Power Sales
Three weeks after direct access started in California, Enron Corp. has stopped its efforts to secure new residential customers.
Many other energy service providers are following suit. Before the implementation of retail choice, more than 200 companies had registered to provide energy and energy related services in California. Currently, there are fewer than 60 energy service providers in California, and less than 20 of those are actively marketing their services.
(The Wall Street Journal, April 22, 1998)
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