Regulated Utilities Take Earnings Hit

By Published On: August 10, 2012

For the last few years, utilities’ quarterly reports told financial analysts about their plans to spend billions of dollars in new transmission, distribution, power plants, meters and other assets that qualify for a rate of return determined by the California Public Utilities Commission. This quarter, those boasts were distinctly absent. Instead, utilities noted pending commission rate cases, cost-of-capital proceedings, investigations, and other regulatory moves that may impede profits. Adding to those financial unknowns is the undetermined length of nuclear outages and unregulated affiliate losses. Utilities’ second quarter earnings highlights include: Edison International--With financial woes stemming from the shut-down San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and the portent of one of its subsidiaries entering into bankruptcy protection, the parent company of Southern California Edison reported a loss of $7 million for the second quarter this year. That’s compared to a loss of $4 million in the second quarter 2011. The breadwinner for the company continues to be the regulated utility, Southern California Edison. It brought in a net income for the quarter of $191 million, although that’s down from $211 million at this time last year. The biggest financial drag on the parent company is Edison Mission Group. With a quarterly loss of $81 million, compared to a loss of $25 million in the second quarter 2011, the subsidiary doesn’t have “sufficient liquidity” to pay off a $500 million debt that comes due next year, according to the company. Primary to its losing streak is its Homer City coal-fired plant in Pennsylvania. The plant requires emissions mitigations. The company also owns merchant cogeneration plants in California. Dragging down the cash cow utility is its ongoing nuclear plant closure. The company faces the possibility that the $1.2 billion that its customers are paying for San Onofre over time in the CPUC’s authorized ratebase could be snatched away because the power plant is not providing power. Regulators have that option under their “used and useful” doctrine. If a facility is neither, the theory is that ratepayers should not have to pay for what they’re not receiving. The commission announced it plans to open an investigation into the shuttered nuke Nov. 1. After the earnings report, commission president Mike Peevey said that the utility could bear the entire cost of the shutdown, with none shared by ratepayers (see It’s the Capitol on page 7). Edison owns 78 percent of the nuclear plant, SDG&E 20 percent, and Riverside 2 percent. Edison operates the facility. Edison’s share of inspection and repair costs for the facility since shutdown are $48 million, said Jim Scilacci, Edison chief financial officer. The steam generators’ manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and an insurance fund could help with the shuttered units’ mounting bills, said Ted Craver, Edison chief executive officer. The manufacturer is contractually obligated up to $137 million though, while the steam generators cost $670 million. If, and when, San Onofre could restart is unknown, Craver noted. The utility must first petition the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for restart. PG&E Corp.--Pacific Gas & Electric’s parent company posted net income for the quarter at $235 million, down from last year at this time at $362 million. Of that, the utility contributed $233 million. In the second quarter 2011, it was $355 million. Gas-related costs for PG&E were $183 million for the quarter, mostly for validating operating procedures and testing. The utility’s gas pipeline-related costs so far this year are $455 million, with $80 million in settlements resulting from the September 2010 explosion in San Bruno. “Our objective is to wrap up [gas] issues in settlements by the end of the year,” Tony Earley, PG&E Corp. chief executive officer, said. He noted that the number of parties--such as the state attorney general and San Mateo County--and their differing stakes in the settlement, make it unwieldy. Commission president Mike Peevey also said that he “hopes to get conclusion” on the San Bruno-related actions by the end of the year. Sempra--The parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric and SoCal Gas posted net income at $74 million for the second quarter 2012. Last year at this time, the parent company reported a $494 million profit. Sempra noted the downturn was largely attributable to an impairment loss of $300 million on its Rockies Express natural gas pipeline through its merchant natural gas subsidiary. Of that, SDG&E reported $95 million in net income for the quarter, compared to $71 million in the second quarter 2011. The increase was attributed to putting the $1.4 billion Sunrise Powerlink transmission facility in rates, as well as reduced obligations for fire insurance. SoCal Gas posted profits of $53 million for the quarter. Last year at this time it was $59 million. Because SDG&E owns 20 percent of the San Onofre nuclear plant, its costs so far due to the outage total $25 million. The utility’s ratebase for the plant is $228 million--its potential exposure to loss if the commission excludes the facility from rates.

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