No one argues that the debt incurred by utilities in power generation facilities, power lines, transformers, even lawn mowers and service trucks, is substantial. The costs of providing these items are included in residential, commercial and business power rates. Many large utilities claim that someone, perhaps the taxpayer, should shoulder the ``stranded costs.'' Those are the costs of maintaining parts of the power grid that would be open to all power generators under utilities deregulation law. Chris Seiple, senior consultant with Resource Data International Inc. of Boulder, Colo., specializes in the study of the transition of electric power from its production by monopolies to its production under the free market system.
Under the current deregulation measures, utilities eventually will be required to share the use of their major transmission lines - lines these same utilities went into debt to build and maintain.
Utilities, especially those owned by investors, are moving cautiously. Some attempts to bolster stock value in past years - such as large forays into power production with nuclear plants - have been unsuccessful. Some of these utilities, including Long Island Lighting Co. in New York, Commonwealth Edison in Chica-go and the Tennessee Valley Authority, went into debt to build massive nuclear plants in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Although a number of nuclear power plants were planned, not all were built, but the debt for their planning and construction remains. For example, of nine planned plants, TVA abandoned plans for two, canceled five during construction, has one operating and one is slated to go on line.
Deregulation proponents such as the Washington-based Elec-tricity Consumers Resource Council contend there are no clearly defined or accepted legal or economic rules for the treatment of stranded costs.
``Whether it is fair to or not to allow full, partial, or no recovery is in the eyes of the beholder,'' according to Elcon's ``Blueprint for Customer Choice: An Outline of Congressional Reforms Neces-sary to Promote a Competitive Electric Industry.''
Elcon, according to the blueprint, considers stranded costs as uneconomic costs that utilities either can minimize or eliminate by charges against earnings, or through the use of more modern technologies.