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Hard times have hit the power industry Â¿ and the electric utilities are having a difficult time hitting back. Evidence of this is everywhere. Consumer rates are soaring as most utilities and the public service commissions that regulate them engage in a frantic game of leapfrog Â¿ new rate-hike requests following hard on the heels of rate-increase approvals Â¿ sometimes even before the approvals are handed down. Utility issues, once among the bluest of the blue-chip, are today often less attractive than Federal and municipal bonds. And most worrisome of all, a flood of recent utility reports detail massive curtailments of planned capital expansion: according to the most recent data gathered by the National Electric Reliability Council, Princeton, N.J., 72 000 MW have been trimmed from a total of 510 000 MW of new capacity planned in early 1974 by the U.S. utilities for the decade running through 1983.