Almost everyone in America has heard of Cal Ripken, Jr. But have you ever wondered what you and the utility industry have in common with him?There are at least three things. Let me tell you how I know.
On September 6, 1995, Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive baseball games played. I was privileged to attend that special game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with my son Michael. It was a profoundly moving and electrifying experience. Just like Cal's number (eight), my son is eight years old. He idolizes Cal as I'm sure many of you idolized certain sport figures in your youth.
When the game became official in the fifth inning, thunderous applause, an outpouring of emotion, and a sublime sense of history swept throughout the stadium. At the height of the 22-minute ovation for Cal, I turned to my wildly cheering son and asked, "What makes Cal Ripken so special to you?"
Michael: "If you ask him to do something, you can count on him to do it. And if he has a cold, he just shuts up and plays."
Dad: "You mean he's reliable?"
Michael: "That's right, he's reliable."
Dad: "What else?"
Michael: "He always plays his best and he likes to win."
Dad: "You mean he's got a competitive spirit?"
Michael: "You bet!"
Dad: What else makes Cal so special?
Michael: "He's real nice to the fans, signs lots of autographs, and I'm sure he thinks that without them there'd be no reason to play the game."
Dad: "You mean that fans and customers are real important to him?"
Michael: "I guess that's it."
Dad: "Could there possibly be anything more?"
Michael: "He makes money like you couldn't believe!"
Dad: "You mean all ballplayers make too much money?"
Michael: "Yeah and, in fact, baseball is so much fun they should play it for nothing. By the way Dad, why do ballplayers make so much and teachers make so little?"
Dad: "I'm sure there's a good answer to that one, but I haven't figured it out yet."
I was a Yankee fan growing up in New York. The stories and images of Yankee heroes (em Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle (em still resonate from the past. Joe DiMaggio was at the game on September 6. During the long ovation for Cal Ripken, I turned my eyes to the image of Joe Dimaggio on the monitor. It seemed to me that tears were welling in his eyes, as they were in the eyes of so many people in the crowd. Then I remembered that DiMaggio played with Lou Gehrig in 1939 and was probably the only person in the ballpark with such a direct link to that heroic time in baseball history. I realized how big a Ripken fan I had become and the things that we, in the utility industry, have in common with Cal Ripken, Jr.
First and foremost is reliability. Day in and day out, the utility industry provides reliable service to its customers. Second, there is fierce competition in our industry. And third, customers and fans are all important. Without them, there's no real game to play (em and many of them think that utilities make too much money!
The restructuring of the electric and gas industries brings many factors in play, but these three (em reliability, competition, and customers (em are the critical ones that need to be weighed and balanced.
Reliable electric and gas service has been a bedrock for the economic growth and development that has occurred and will continue to flourish in our towns, cities, and regions. Baseball has been a constant in the American phenomenon for over a century. How did millions of Americans feel when baseball was on strike? How do customers feel when they don't have power or the gas stove won't light? Numerous gas companies, industry regulators, customers, and suppliers continue to struggle with the questions of appropriate level of reliability and the nature of the obligation to serve that can be afforded today. As electric restructuring evolves, utilities, regulators, customers, and alternative suppliers are asking similar questions.
After the baseball strike, Cal Ripken was, to many, everything that was right about game. The reliability that the utility industry strives for (em and achieves (em is what's right about our industry. Without reliability, there would have been no streak for Cal Ripken. Someday Cal will hang up his spikes forever. The utility industry also has a "streak" going (em far longer than 2,130 days (em that cannot and should not end.
There is an intense level of competition in the utility industry. On the gas side (em with the deregulation of the wellhead market, Order 636 restructuring firmly in place, and the maturation of the local unbundling process (em aggressive marketing and sales forces are seeking to capture end-use markets. On the electric side, the pace of change is intensifying due to a variety of legislative, regulatory, and market factors. The structure of the industry is evolving; new business combinations are a natural response to the changed and charged environment.
For example, a spate of mergers and acquisitions is creating larger gas and electric companies. As of this writing, the latest announcement is the planned merger and strategic business combination of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Potomac Electric Power Co. Joint ventures and other new business arrangements are springing up between gas and electric companies and various industry players. Further, a focus on the energy business, broadly speaking, will spur competition among any fuels that are a source of energy. New market entrants, such as power marketers, are attempting to fuel the competitive fires. But through it all, reliability of service must be maintained as companies rethink what it takes to be successful, and regulators struggle to maintain the appropriate balance between ratepayer and shareholder interests.
Playing the Game
All utilities hope that their customers will become their best fans. Unfortunately, many think we make too much money. Many customers want lower rates at the same or an increased level of reliable service, especially larger customers. Certain customers, or new market entrants hoping to serve certain customers, want even more choices from energy companies as to rates, products, and services.
Customers and others want more information to make informed choices. The "democratization" of information and access to relevant and necessary information are key considerations as restructuring evolves in the gas and electric industries. For example, the gas industry has electronic bulletin boards, the Gas Industry Standards Board, and an
increased focus on standards of conduct and
information-sharing at the state level. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is promoting
real-time information networks as part of its electric Mega-NOPR initiative. Utilities are pursuing a wide range of telecommunications activities, directly or indirectly, in recognition of the opportunities created by a strong customer desire for access to information.
So there are three things that you have in common with Cal Ripken. But instead of hearing it from the lips of an excited eight-year-old, let's go back to the post-game celebration and ceremony when Cal Ripken was at center stage. What did he say?
On reliability (em "Whether your name is Gehrig or Ripken, DiMaggio or Robinson, or that of some youngster who picks up his bat or puts on his glove, you are challenged by the game of baseball to do your very best day in and day out. And that's all that I've ever tried to do."
On competition (em "I believe in my heart that [my] true link [with Lou Gehrig] is a common
motivation (em a love of the game of baseball, a passion for our team, and a desire to compete on the very highest level."
On customers/fans (em "I want to thank you, the fans of Baltimore, from the bottom of my heart. . . . I give my thanks to baseball fans everywhere."
On how much money he makes (em well, Cal had nothing to say, but on that special night, no one really cared.
These factors, and others, need to be balanced as the industry moves forward with restructuring. But it should not, and cannot, be a "winner takes all" situation. Sen. Bill Bradley (D-NJ), who recently announced that he would be leaving the U.S. Senate, was reported by the New Republic to have said: "Instead of working together to improve our collective situation, we fight with each other over who has superior rights." I recommend that utilities, regulators, customers, and other industry participants ponder these thoughts as the restructuring of our industry continues.
So now you know about Ripken, restructuring... and you. t
Robert S. Fleishman is an associate general counsel at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. He is responsible for gas, environmental, nuclear, and telecommunications regulatory matters and involved in various restructuring and strategic initiatives at BGE. Prior to joining BGE in 1985, Mr. Fleishman was at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for six years, and worked in various capacities in the Office of General Counsel. Mr. Fleishman has a BA (cum laude) from Georgetown University and a JD from Boston University School of Law.
Articles found on this page are available to Internet subscribers only. For more information about obtaining a username and password, please call our Customer Service Department at 1-800-368-5001.