Crony Capitalism and Obama's Anti-Coal CrusadeBy Ed Lasky
Consumers could see their electricity bills jump an estimated 40 to 60 percent in the next few years.
The reason: Pending environmental regulations will make coal-fired generating plants, which produce about half the nation's electricity, more expensive to operate. Many are expected to be shuttered.The increases are expected to begin to appear in 2014, and policymakers already are scrambling to find cheap and reliable alternative power sources. If they are unsuccessful, consumers can expect further increases as more expensive forms of generation take on a greater share of the electricity load.
One company that expects to benefit from the changes is Chicago-based Exelon Corp., which has a large fleet of nuclear power plants that have low emissions and are cheap to run compared with coal plants.
"The upside to Exelon is unmistakable," CEO John Rowe said last year. "Every $50 per megawatt-day as a change in capacity prices, translates to almost $350 million of additional capacity revenue for Exelon in 2014 and subsequent years."
Rowe said energy prices are also expected to rise if coal plants are retired and replaced with other energy sources, like natural gas. "These changes add up quickly," he said. "A $5 per megawatt-hour increase in energy prices would be $700 million to $800 million of incremental annual revenue to Exelon on an open basis. We expect that at least some of that upside will be realized in the next two to four years."
ASK's predilection for operating in the shadows shows up in its work. On behalf of ComEd and Comcast, the firm set up front organizations that were listed as sponsors of public-issue ads...ASK's relationship with ComEd goes back much further: The Chicago-based utility says ASK has been an adviser since at least 2002. ASK's workload picked up in 2005, as the Exelon subsidiary was nearing the end of a 10-year rate freeze and preparing to ask state regulators for higher electricity prices. Based on ASK's advice, ComEd formed Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity (CORE) to win support.
Rowe, 64, the longest-serving utility executive in the industry and chief executive of Exelon, the country's most valuable utility by market value, is indeed in the catbird seat. While Exelon and the rest of the utility industry has been battered by a weak economy and suddenly low electricity demand and prices, Exelon has a lot to look forward to. Soon after Rowe created Exelon in 2000 with the merger of the Chicago utility Unicom (parent of Commonwealth Edison) and the Philadelphia utility Peco, he sold off most of the company's coal plants and focused the company on nuclear. He created a generation subsidiary that sells the power produced by 17 reactors, by far the largest nuclear fleet in the nation and the third biggest in the world.
Exelon has very deep ties to the Obama Administration. Frank M. Clark, who runs ComEd, helped advise Obama before he ran for President and is one of Obama's largest fundraisers. Obama's chief political strategist, David Axelrod, worked as a consultant to Exelon. Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, helped create Exelon. Emanuel was hired by Rowe to help broker the $8.2 billion deal between Unicom and Peco when Emanuel was at the investment bank Wasserstein Perella (now Dresdner Kleinwort). In his two-year career there Emanuel earned $16.2 million, according to congressional disclosures. His biggest deal was the Exelon merger.