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Pennsylvania Electric Utilities Allowed to Keep Market Competitiveness Data Secret:
Conceals Impacts of "Default Monopoly"

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has voted to allow that state's ten electric utilities to conceal the number of customers who find an alternative supplier in the competitive market, making it impossible for the public to determine whether that state's deregulation law is serving small businesses and residents.

Former PUC member John Hanger sharply criticized the decision, calling the data crucial to determining whether the state's deregulation law is working or not.

According to the PUC's decision, utilities will only be required to disclose the amount of electricity demand that switches to other suppliers, meaning only deregulated utility executives will know whether any but the largest industrial cutomers are finding alternative suppliers in that state: and even this information will be treated as "proprietary and secret" by the PUC, whose Vice Chairman Robert Bloom said that public disclosure of the data "might not be the right thing to do."

Disclosure is bitterly opposed by the Pennsylvania Electric Association, the electricity industry's state lobbying arm whose president Jim Cunningham said the information is "proprietary," and made the absurd statement that the only valid criterion for judging a market's competitiveness is the number of state residents who are "aware they have the right to choose" their electricity supplier, not how many actually find a new supplier.

"Just because a customer doesn't choose another supplier doesn't mean he hasn't shopped," he said, ludicrously claiming that 95% of Pennsylvanians are aware of this "right to choose."

Cunningham said flatly that the deregulated utilities don't want the public to know that none of their customers have found a new supplier. "The concern we have is that some people are interpreting market share to be synonymous with market power," said Cunningham. "That's not the case, especially in a young market. It's too early to draw conclusions." In California, public disclosure of this data has revealed that only 7/10 of one percent of consumers have found a new supplier in the first year of deregulation, drawing widespread criticism that the new law is "rigged" in favor of the incumbent utilities, creating a "deregulated monopoly."

Unfortunately for that state, public officials who participated in draughting the Pennsylvania law appear eager to avoid this kind of embarassment by agreeing to let deregulated companies keep the critical information secret and "proprietary." Even state Consumer Advocate Irwin Popowsky, who might be expected to raise a red flag on the decision, instead conceded that the data is proprietary, while complaining that "we need to know how many customers overall are shopping and switching."

Copyright (c) 1998 by the American Local Power Project.