Ever since word hit the street last July that Portland General Electric Co. (PGE) would merge with gas industry giant Enron, the news has been rather one-sided. It's been "Enron this" and "Enron that." From reading the papers one might think Enron, with its strong reputation as a commodities trader, was buying an entire electric utility simply to take a bigger position on the NYMEX futures market. Going "long" on electricity, you might say.
So it came as no surprise the other day when I picked up the first-ever issue of Portland General's brand-new company newsletter (Energy Access, Vol. 1 No. 1, Nov/Dec 1996), and discovered that PGE had devoted its cover story entirely to commodities trading. PGE had even thrown in a attractive photo of a trading floor, showing a roomful of traders surrounded by a battery of telephones and computer screens.
Being a skeptical sort, I questioned who was behind the story. Heck, I figured the photo was faked, that Enron was already taking over to manipulate public relations. I suspected that the photo actually showed Enron's trading floor, filled with Enron employees.
So I picked up the phone and called Elaine Donaldson, public relations director at Portland General. She told me that Portland General indeed managed its own trading floor, and in fact was the first electric utility in the nation to do so. She also directed me to Paul Koehler, PGE's manager of wholesale markets, who proved kind enough to stay a few more minutes in the office at the trading floor on a December evening to talk about commodities trading at PGE, when he probably needed to be out finishing up his holiday shopping.