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March 12th, 2003 The Nose | The Nose
 

PGE: A royal pain in the pocketbook.

     
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King Fred and Queen Peggy want you to pay for their campaign to protect their assets.
The Nose loves his local utilities. He loves the feeling when his furnace clicks on in the morning. He thrills at how his electric company sends power to his Mr. Coffee. He quivers at all the "research" opportunities his high-speed Internet line affords.

So it is with deep regret that the Nose confesses he is as mad as a wet cat at Portland General Electric. You see, that company is scheming--as we speak--to spend a pile of your money. Not on new generation, poles or wires. Not on "green" energy. Nope, PGE is going to give your dough to the propaganda whizzes at the ad firm Gard & Gerber, who will attempt to sweet-talk you into voting against the public takeover of PGE's assets.

Did PGE ask you if it could spend the money? Didn't think so.

Just how much of your money are Portland's power players going to need? As much as it takes to protect themselves. "We'll spend a million between us," says PGE executive vice president Fred Miller, who expects to get crosstown rival PacifiCorp to split the tab.

Miller, of course, is part of the management group that sold PGE to Enron six years ago (netting Miller and other top execs millions of dollars: PGE chairman Ken Harrison, for example, received $75 million for helping to engineer the sale).

Remember Enron?

That's the little Texas company that collected hundreds of millions of dollars from ratepayers like the Nose, for the purpose of paying state and federal taxes, but never paid them. The same company that regulators say used PGE to illegally manipulate energy prices in the West.

Now, of course, Enron is bankrupt and PGE is on the block. Last month, a bunch of consumer-minded folks called the Oregon Public Power Coalition turned in enough signatures to put a measure on the September ballot that would create a People's Utility District in Multnomah County to take over PGE assets.

Their goal is twofold. First, the threat of condemnation from a PUD could make PGE a less attractive asset, which, in turn, would increase the likelihood of the city of Portland emerging as the only viable buyer. Second, should Portland decide not to buy the local power company, the PUD could step in and do so.

But the kings and queens at PGE, the very same people who sold the utility to Enron and earned huge bonuses for doing so, are now mounting a campaign against the measure. And using ratepayers' cash to do so.

"Customers should feel uncomfortable about this," says Bob Jenks of the Citizens' Utility
Board of Oregon. "Anybody who cares about democracy should
be concerned."

National studies show that
public power, which accounts for about 25 percent of the electricity sold in the U.S., is competitive and often cheaper than power produced by investor-owned utilities. So why the rush to spend millions to crush the proposed People's Utility District?

Could it be that the pay scale at a government-owned utility is a tad different than what Miller, his boss Peggy Fowler and other private power brokers are used to? Could it be that Miller (2001 compensation: $394,000) and Fowler (2001 compensation: $767,000) want to preserve their paychecks?

Nah. They just want to ensure that the Nose's coffee is hot and his aching bones stay comfortably warm.

 
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