Smokestack Lightening

One of our favorite things about utilities is they can make money from situations that would be ruinous for other companies.

That’s because regulators are ultimately political animals. And if electric reliability is compromised in any way, the governors who appointed them will have to answer for it at the polls.

That’s why utilities are quick to cite reliability anytime something comes up that could affect their business. And regulators usually accommodate them.

When major projects go wrong, odds are utilities will be made whole on the costs they incurred even if customers didn’t benefit from it. After all, regulators don’t want a hole in the balance sheet to threaten reliability.

When new technologies encroach upon utilities’ natural monopolies, regulators typically side with utilities in deciding how to address them—again, due to fears of undermining reliability.

And when the feds rolled out sweeping environmental mandates, utilities turned such rules into a highly visible runway for long-term earnings growth. And regulators went along with it.

But the Clean Power Plan is dead, and now the U.S. intends to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

So is that it for this earnings opportunity? In the next Income Without Borders, which will be published on Sunday, we’ll look at whether utilities can still earn green by going green, even though the feds have gone gray.