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Industry News

Virginia First in 'Old South' to Move on Dereg

LCG, Nov. 14, 2001--The Old Dominion state of Virginia, bordered on the north by Mid-Atlantic states that have deregulated their electric industries and surrounded otherwise by states of the old south that have made the move, is getting ready to begin retail power competition on January 1.

"Virginia is really at the crossroads between the upper Mid-Atlantic or Northeast states -- many of which have moved to competitive markets -- and states to our south who are doing nothing," Ken Shrad, spokesman for the Virginia State Corporation Commission, told Reuters news agency.

Other southern states have held back, feeling they have nothing to gain because their electricity prices are already among the lowest in the nation. Moreover, they have been deterred by the debacle in California, which was planned to lower power prices but actually resulted in rolling blackouts and a huge electricity rate increase.

Higher power prices in New York, which occurred after that state restructured its electric industry, have also made the deep South wary of change.

Tom Kazas, a spokesman for Virginia Electric & Power Co., a subsidiary of Dominion Resources Inc., said "We have some things in place that are going to help avoid the kinds of problems that they had in California," and Shrad noted that California "was the first state to try all of this, and every state that follows is trying to avoid whatever led to California's particular situation."

Under Virginia's plan, retail electric prices will be capped through 2007, though the controls could be phased out earlier if competition develops. "If a competitor can beat that capped-rate price, the price to compare, then (the customers) are going to save money," Shrad said.

The Corporation Commission has not yet determined what the price cap will be for next year, and observers are concerned that it may be too low to allow alternative electricity suppliers to compete.

"Virginia is one of the states that is at or below the national average (power price), so whether or not competitive suppliers can come in with a better rate is still to be seen," Shrad said. "During the transition period rates are capped and consumers might stay with their incumbent utility."

The key will be whether wholesale power prices will be allowed to move freely. If competitive power suppliers fail to enter the market, customers will stay with their local utilities. If those utilities are forced to pay high wholesale prices for electricity, and then sell it for less at the capped retail prices, it could be California all over again.

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