Utilities

Power companies are producing lots of cash, and regulators are treating them gently. But the public may cry foul

For all the talk of turmoil caused by deregulation, the $210 billion U.S. electric-utility industry should generate healthy profits again in 1997. With competition still mainly theoretical, many power companies will continue charging more for electricity than a free market would bear. Most can pass along higher fuel costs to customers. And utilities have declared a near moratorium on new generating plants and transmission lines. That means they have plenty of free cash flow to repurchase debt and equity or snap up other electric and gas companies at home and abroad.

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