The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has concluded almost a month of testimony on the proposed Utah Power & Light Co./PacifiCorp merger.
Both the companies and public power agencies who oppose the merger or certain aspects of it said they felt confident they had made their points during the sessions that concluded Tuesday.UP&L Senior Vice President Verl Topham, who has been on the witness stand for much of the last month, told the Deseret News, "We feel it has gone very well. It has been a lengthy and full hearing and we feel that we've made a good case for the merger."
It has been a general assumption by all of the parties here that the opponents hope to get concessions from the companies if the merger is approved.
David Davidson, representing the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the American Public Power Association, who intervened in the case, said "We're confident the merger won't go through without substantial conditioning."
Donald Allen, legal counsel for the Colorado River Energy Distribution Association,said he was pleased with the hearing and confident that the merger has been stopped.
CREDA is opposed to the combination, Allen said, because of what he called "the adverse effects on Utah customers."
During the hearings most of the opposition centered on the increased competition the merged companies might offer public power groups.
UP&L and PacifiCorp have promised to lower consumers' power rates by 2 percent within 60 days of the merger and an additional 5 to 10 percent over the next four to five years. Allen said Tuesday he doubted the rate reductions would materialize.
"There will be less competition as a result of the merger and it hurts everyone because monopolies drive up costs," Allen said. "We have presented a case that adequately proved the merger would create a monopoly with no benefits to consumers."
CREDA, which represents the cities of Provo, Spanish Fork, Salem, Manti, Nephi and Levan, argued that UP&L's policy on wheeling or transmitting public power over its lines was too restrictive and too expensive. The public power groups want the companies to carry power generated by federal dams on the Colorado River at cost, while UP&L insists on charging cost plus the loss of profits it would suffer by not being able to carry its own power for sale.
Allen and Davidson said they felt they had successfully challenged the testimony of John Landon, a UP&L consultant, who said he was not familiar with the company's wheeling policy. The opponents said they had memos suggesting Landon did know of UP&L's wheeling policies.
Frederic Reed, senior vice-president for Pacific Power and Light Co., the utility division of PacifiCorp, defended Landon as "a good solid witness."
"It is interesting," Reed said, "That the major opposition is coming from the competition rather than from consumers. It's an indication to me that it makes common sense."
The companies have argued that the merger will sharply reduce costs and will enable them to manage their power grid and generation facilities more efficiently.
The federal hearings are the sixth to be completed. Two more state proceedings are pending, one in Oregon and one in Utah scheduled to begin May 2.
"It has been grueling," Reed said. "But it will be a boost to the economies of the areas served by PP&L and UP&L. It will attract new industries to the area because of the price decreases."
"I am confident because we made a strong showing of larger merger benefits and made an adequate showing that we're not creating a regulatory burden."
Allen retorted that Utah customers will not benefit from the merger. He alleged that "rates will be higher in Utah."
Attorneys for the two companies and those opposed to the merger or certain aspects of the plan will return to FERC Wednesday and Thursday to make motions before Administrative Law Judge George Lewnes, who is scheduled to issue his proposed order by June 15.
The five-man commission will then make its own decision and may accept, modify or reject Lewnes' recommendations.