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Utility Exposes Enron Greed at Its Core

Exclusive Tapes Portray Lust for Profit, Lack of Concern for Consumers

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2005; Page E01

EVERETT, Wash. -- Utility companies usually don't get fan mail, especially when they have hiked electricity rates 50 percent in the past four years and disconnected record numbers of customers for failure to pay bills.

But the small, publicly owned utility that serves this town north of Seattle has become a West Coast hero by goring the bankrupt carcass of the disgraced Enron Corp. and spilling buckets of deliciously embarrassing blood.

Snohomish County Public Utility District obtained the Enron tapes to aid its case for release from a contract obligation. (Blaine Harden -- The Washington Post)

It has flowed in the form of vulgar and cynical chitchat by Enron energy traders -- thousands of hours of it, all recorded on tape. The taped conservations have added a graphic new dimension to public understanding of the company's record of greed, callousness and complicity in the western power crisis of 2000 and 2001. Traders gloat on one tape about jacking up the electricity bill of "Grandma Millie." On another, they scheme to shut down a Nevada power plant in the midst of rolling blackouts in California.

In the litigious aftermath of Enron's bankruptcy, Snohomish County Public Utility District pushed to obtain the tapes over federal objections, exclusively transcribed them and starting last summer has gleefully fed transcripts of Enron's skulduggery to courts and the news media.

The release of the transcripts is part of a legal and public relations strategy by Snohomish that has deepened Enron's humiliation, put pressure on federal energy regulators (who didn't bother listening to the tapes until after the Snohomish utility released them to the press) and may save about $420 for each of the utility's 295,000 customers.

"I just want to say, 'You guys rock!' " David Roberts, one of those customers who lives here in Everett, wrote this month in an e-mail to the utility's legal department

"Please excuse me for using profanity, but I hope you nail those rat [expletive] to the wall!" wrote Jill Southworth, a customer from nearby Lynnwood, in another recent e-mail.

"Thank you again for your continued battle to expose Enron for the financial terrorists they are," wrote Jillian Johnson from La Crescenta, Calif. "You are our heroes."

A spokeswoman for Enron had no comment, other than to say the company is cooperating with the federal probe.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today will post transcripts on its Web site of thousands of hours of taped conversations by Enron energy traders, according to spokesman Bryan Lee.

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