A rash of rate hikes around the country could have utilities facing a public-relations disaster.
Richard Stavros is Fortnightly's Executive Editor.
It wasn’t that long ago: Some utility executives can still remember the protesters, the picket lines, and the verbal abuse they sometimes received on a daily basis for building nuclear or coal power plants, for forcing rate hikes, or for just being the environmental lobby’s favorite target.
Paul Bonavia, president of Xcel Energy’s Utilities Group, at a 2005 M&A conference remembered being shocked during the 1980s by busloads of protesters on the front lawn of a home of a Florida utility CEO with whom he once worked. Not only did they know where the poor man lived, Bonavia recalled, but he was constantly harassed through crank calls, in public, and in the mainstream media.
For anyone who remembers the 1980s, and has been watching the trials and tribulations of Baltimore Gas & Electric (a subsidiary of Constellation Energy) and its efforts to push through a 72 percent rate hike in Maryland, well, it’s déjà vu all over again.
Constellation Energy CEO Mayo Shattuck has complained that he and the utility have unfairly been demonized in the public and in the press. In one interview with a Maryland paper, Shattuck showed distress over the verbal abuse his executives had received from angry ratepayers.
And who can blame him? Utility executives have done a lot in the last two decades to cultivate an image as caring, responsible members of the community, providing a vital service.