For years, utility commissions have allowed electric utilities to pass on almost all Edison Electric Institute membership dues to ratepayers, according to the National Association of State Utility Regulators.

The money the trade group collects from utilities is used for three different purposes: dues; specific advertising, promotional and legislative activities; and on behalf of the Electric Power Research Institute in California.

Although dues have been passed on to ratepayers for years by most commissions, money collected separately for EEI's media communication fund and other affiliated groups may or may not be passed on to ratepayers depending on each state's commission, the association said. Money contributed to the Electric Power Research Institute is usually paid for entirely by ratepayers.

Recently, however, commissions around the country have started to rule that portions of EEI membership dues should not be paid for by ratepayers. Instead, they have said, a portion must be paid for by stockholders, in whose interest the money is used.

Idaho, Missouri, Washington, Maine, Oregon and Texas have said no EEI dues can be paid for by consumers. California, Colorado, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York have disallowed a substantial portion of the dues.

In the Washington area, the D.C. Public Service Commission decided last year it will no longer allow any portion of EEI dues to be paid for by ratepayers in future cases. "Membership dues are not considered proper to pass on to ratepayers," said Howard Davenport, the PSC's general counsel.

The PSC also has decided that only 25 percent of the money paid to EEI for the Electric Power Research Institute benefits ratepayers directly. The Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) must prove the benefits to ratepayers to pass on 25 percent or more of the cost, the PSC said. The same rule applies to Washington Gas Light Co. and its contributions to the Gas Research Institute.

In Virginia, the corporation commission staff has proposed having ratepayers pay for only half the EEI membership dues. In Maryland, the PSC traditionally has passed virtually all dues on to ratepayers.

Last year, Pepco paid about $400,000 to the Edison Electric Institute in dues and for other EEI-funded activities, Virginia Power paid $500,000, and Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. paid $900,000.