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There are sound economic reasons why policymakers should allow electric...
Did you see Enron's new TV ad when it aired last month during the Super Bowl? What a dud. I had heard about Enron's big pitch (em in fact, I was watching carefully for the ad when, early during the first quarter, here comes this scene of an electric utility power plant control room with a hamster running in place on a wheel inside a cage, trying to reach a bottle of beer standing on a pedestal a few inches away.
Whoa now! Can this be true?
Then the grid goes down, and a utility crew (one lone worker) rushes in and saves the day with fresh bottle of Budweiser, and I realize that I've been spoofed. Unless I missed something, I didn't see Enron's ad run until the fourth quarter, just a few minutes before Desmond Howard told us he was going to Disney World. I guess that tells you what Madison Avenue sees as the relative importance of an iced long-neck versus electric utility restructuring.
But maybe that's a good thing. You'll recall that before AT&T could break up, we (baby boomers) laughed ourselves silly with Lily Tomlin and her "Ernestine" sketch on Saturday Night Live: "We don't have to. We're the phone company." Today, when Jay Leno starts telling utility jokes, you will know at last that America is ready for customer choice.
Which reminds me. Believe it or not, I hear that Viacom Consumer Products, the licensing division for Paramount Pictures, is making inquires quietly around the country to see if any electric utilities would be interested in buying the rights to use the Star Trek franchise in consumer branding campaigns for new energy services. You know the drill: "To go where no man has gone before." When I talked with an executive from Viacom, he told me he thought that utilities might make a good match with Captain Kirk, Spock, Scotty, et al.
"It's futuristic," he said. "It brings people together. The Star Trek brand is already familiar to 99 percent of the public."
"The FERC Doesn't Know"
No doubt by now you have seen one of those "leaked" copies of the latest draft of the Clinton Administration's bill on electric utility restructuring, now under development at the U.S. Department of Energy. Among other changes from current law, the bill would require prior approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of any merger between electric or gas utility holding companies. (For more on the DOE bill, turn to Inside Washington and Joe Schuler's latest report.)
This new rule on holding company mergers appears directed at mergers like the proposed deal between Enova and Pacific Enterprises, one of the many gas-electric combinations now pending. Others include TU + ENSERCH, Houston Industries + NorAm, Enron + Portland General, Duke Power + PanEnergy, and LILCO + Brooklyn Union.
When I read the DOE draft, I recalled a presentation by former FERC commissioner Mike Naeve given at last year's DOE-NARUC natural gas conference in St. Louis. In so many words (em and this was last spring, before many of the recent