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Activists Attack Stranded Utility Costs, Executives' Pay

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.

Ellen Beswick

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