Activists Attack Stranded Utility Costs, Executives' Pay
A group of about 20 consumer activists, complaining of high
compensation for utility executives and excessive bail-out costs of
their companies, attempted to disrupt the annual meeting of the
Edison Electric Institute in Chicago last week.
Waving posters with large dollar signs, the group demanded to
meet with utility executives and to attend a scheduled closed-door
session on executive compensation.
"Analysts estimate that electric utility stranded costs will
range from $246 to $350 billion, which works out to $1000 for every
man, woman and child in the country," said John Cameron of Citizen
Action of Illinois. "If the utility industry gets its way,
deregulation could mean the largest federal bailout in history."
The group said Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison recently paid
its retiring chairman and president $3 million and $2 million
respectively and gave its incoming CEO a $2.6 million signing
bonus. The EEI attendees were welcomed by Commonwealth's outgoing
CEO James O'Connor, who "presided over ComEd's accumulation of $10
billion in bad investments and then led the charge in the Illinois
legislature to stick ComEd customers with the tab," said Cameron.
Speaking mainly for TV cameras and a small crowd that gathered
in a fringe area of the 1,100 delegate conference, Wenonah Hauter
of Public Citizens Critical Mass Energy Project charged the
assembled electric utility executives were "plotting to win full
recovery of their stranded costs through federal law." EEI
officials offered to meet privately with the group without the
press, but the consumer group declined, and having made their point
for the TV cameras, decamped without incident.
The utility executives, however, sustained a more subtle hit
from FERC Commissioner Vicky Bailey, speaking to a general session,
who suggested competition was nearly non-existent in the electric
utility industry. The theme of most sessions at the three-day
conference at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago centered on the
transition to competition. Bailey said FERC's own transition to
meet the competitive challenge would include more reliance on an
upgraded complaint procedure.
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