The staff of the Bureau of Economics and of Policy Planning of the Federal Trade Commission has submitted comments to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) concerning EIA's proposal to expand confidential treatment of data that it collects pursuant to its statutory mandate to manage a centralized, comprehensive, and unified energy information program. The affected information, which is collected on a plant-level basis, includes fuel consumption, quantity, quality, and cost; sales at retail and wholesale; retail sales revenue and number of customers; financial data; thermal output; and cost of purchased power. EIA proposes to now treat as confidential certain additional operational data that it collects from fossil-fueled steam-electric power plants.
EIA is concerned that with the increase in competition in wholesale markets, there is a corresponding need for protection from disclosure of commercially sensitive information.
The comment noted that the FTC has a longstanding interest in regulation and competition in energy markets, including proposals to reform regulation of the electric power and natural gas industries. The staff has submitted numerous comments concerning these issues at both the federal and state levels, and the FTC has reviewed proposed mergers involving electric power generators and companies that supply fuel for electric generators.
According to the comment, FTC staff's concern about the EIA proposal to treat additional categories of information as confidential is that it may be premature and may reduce the effectiveness of regulatory reform planning and market monitoring efforts of state and Federal regulatory and law enforcement agencies during the critical, early stages of the transition from regulation to competition. In particular, the staff comment says, the ability of state and Federal regulators and competition agencies to understand the complexities of the existing electric transmission system, and proposed changes to the system, may depend upon computer simulations and other analytical techniques that rely on comprehensive, plant-level EIA data. For example, the staff comment noted that antitrust and regulatory agencies often use these computer simulation models of the electric power grid in designing regulatory reform proposals and evaluating prospective mergers
In the event that EIA does opt for confidential treatment of the plant-level data as proposed, some of the harm to effective regulatory and law-enforcement oversight might be alleviated by developing a system for selective access to the data for state as well as Federal agencies, the staff comment suggested. The Commission encourages EIA to assess the costs and benefits of the EIA proposals and of alternative approaches before reaching a final determination on expanding confidential treatment of EIA survey data.
This comment represents the views of the staff of the Bureau of Economics and of Policy Planning of the Federal Trade Commission. They are not necessarily the views of the Federal Trade Commission or any individual Commissioner. The Commission vote authorizing staff to submit the comment to DOE was 5-0.
Copies of the staff comment are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; toll-free: 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC Matter No: V010007)
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Michael S. Wroblewski