Electric "Merger Mania" Threatens Consumers in Coming Deregulation
The coming deregulation of the electric utility industry has small utilities scrambling to expand their market power in a flurry of mergers, forming massive power corporations unheard of since the corporations were restricted by the anti-trust Public Utilities Holding Company Act of 1935. Consumers, who face shopping for power in a brave new world of mega-power companies, are threatened with shrinking market power and meaningless "choice."
Even high volume industrial consumers are concerned that deregulation will not bring real competition."Mergers are starting to cause consumers a lot of trouble," said the Electricity Consumers Resource Council's (ELCON) executive director, John Anderson.The consumers he was talking about are big industrial companies, dependent on cheap electricity, and the mergers were of electric utility companies that supply them. He said that Federal regulators should not allow utilities to devour one another at a time when the industry is supposed to be growing more competitive. "Unfortunately, more competitive does not mean more competition," he added.
The implications are even worse for small businesses and residents, whose market power will be insignificant in the consolidated international markets.
Around the Country, a flurry of mergers have surfaced over the past two weeks:
- MidAmerican, seeking to prevent a combination between its neighboring utilities, IES Industries of Cedar Rapids and Interstate Power Company of Dubuque with Madison, Wisconsin based WPL Holdings Inc., the combination of which would create a $2 billion competitor next door, made a $1.17 billion offer for IES. The offer was 21 percent higher than the WPL deal;
- Houston Industries has agreed to buy NorAm Energy for $2.4 billion in stock and 1.4 billion in debt, forming a company of 4.2 million customers second in size only to San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric;
- Dallas-based Texas Utilities will buy Enserch Corp. for $1.7 billion;
- Atlantic Energy and Delmarva Power & Light agreed to merge in a $2.2 billion deal;
- Kansas City Power & Light agreed to be bought by UtiliCorp United for $1.7 billion, and then Western Resources jumped in with a $1.9 billion hostile bid for KCP&L;
- Enron Corp. said it will buy Portland General for $2.1 billion;
Consolidated market power on the supply side indicates the need for consumers of all ratepayer classes to develop reliable market power on the demand side.
- Cinergy Corp. is involved in separate merger talks with two natural gas pipeline companies.