Wallace Roberts

Wallace Roberts writes from Vermont about utility issues. This article was written with the assistance of a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Recent Articles

Power Play

The deregulation of the electric utility industry has been billed as a boon for consumers, because competition is supposed to lower prices. But utility companies are using the opportunity to pass the cost of abandoned nuclear reactors to customers. Big business may save, but consumers will pay more and the environment may suffer. 

D eregulation of the nation's electric power industry gets underway this year. Electric power is being deregulated for a number of reasons: it has become technologically possible; deregulation generally is fashionable; and some analysts believe that under carefully crafted policies, competition in electricity generation and wholesale trading can drive rates down for all customers. But there are important policy questions to consider: How will deregulation affect existing energy conservation programs? Will it lead to increased air and water pollution? And will it significantly benefit consumers and small businesses or simply be a windfall to the utilities and other large corporations? Just as the development of microwave transmission of telephone signals forced competition on the long-distance telephone industry, de reg u lation of electric power is said to be warranted by the development of more efficient gas turbines. The economies of scale that dictated construction of large...

The Dimming Down of America

E lectricity became more valuable than gold this summer--or at least more valuable than finished aluminum ingots. At the beginning of June, 270 workers at Ormet Corporation aluminum plant in Hannibal, Ohio, were laid off for the summer when the company concluded that it was more profitable to sell the electric power normally used in its smelting operations than to manufacture aluminum. And that was true even after the company paid its workers benefits and supplemented their unemployment checks so that they took home 70 percent of their base pay. They were the lucky ones. A few weeks later, Kaiser Aluminum , Georgia-Pacific , and a handful of other companies in Montana and Washington that use large amounts of electric power suspended operations, some for a week and some indefinitely. They laid off more than 2,500 workers when the wholesale price of electricity in the region jumped from 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to 90 cents. Those companies did not supplement their workers'...