Energy Secretary Donald P. Hodel is so pleased with press coverage of his department these days that he recently threw a coffee-and-donut get-together for Washington's energy reporters to tell them so.
"I want to thank you for keeping the coverage of energy so substantive. You helped me keep my low profile," Hodel said wryly. Deputy Energy Secretary Danny Boggs explained it differently: "We're feeding the hand that bites us."
Despite that low profile, Hodel has known life on the hot seat, too. As head of the Bonneville Power Administration in the Pacific Northwest, he called for massive expansion of nuclear power and later took much of the blame for the ill-fated building spree of the Washington Public Power Supply System(WPPSS, better known since its collapse as Whoops.)
At the recent session, Hodel said he was concerned that the Treasury Department's tax revision package, if adopted, could discourage construction of new coal or nuclear plants, which he said are essential to meet electricity demand in the 1990s.
As he pressed this point, Hodel suddenly realized the parallel with his Whoops-era call for more nuclear plants, and added with a smile: "Of course, I've been burned on load growth curves in my career before. [The curves are used to predict future electricity demand.] The only thing I know with confidence about load forecasts is that they're wrong."
Hodel also moved to quash speculation that he would resign and return to Oregon. "I'm going home, it's absolutely true," he said. "But I have a round-trip ticket originating here."
HELP FOR THE TRULY CHILLY . . . With large numbers of poor families finding it impossible to pay their heating bills, the Edison Electric Institute has determined that, on the whole, the needy might rather be in Philadelphia. Of 102 utilities surveyed by EEI, the Philadelphia Electric Co. provided the most assistance to its needy customers -- $351 to $400 per family in the first full year.
This compares with $300 or less contributed by 86 of the utilities. EEI found that 57 of the 102 utilities have assistance programs, reaching a total of 108,300 low-income families.
DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE . . . Those who follow the nuclear industry might think 1984 was a bad year for the atom: no new nuclear plants ordered for the sixth year in a row; at least four nuclear utilities threatened with bankruptcy from the exorbitant costs of their plants (Seabrook in New Hampshire, Midland in Michigan, Marble Hill in Indiana and Shoreham on Long Island); four reactors canceled at once by the Tennessee Valley Authority; and more.
But the Atomic Industrial Forum, the nuclear industry group, is looking on the bright side in a report by its president, Carl Walske.
Noting that six new nuclear plants received federal licenses in 1984, Walske said, "The atom will account for a record 325 billion kilowatt hours or more this year," about 14 percent of the nation's electricity.
AFTER DECONTROL . . . When the new year arrives, the federal government will lift price controls on about half the natural gas sold in the country, in compliance with the 1978 Natural Gas Policy Act. Raymond J. O'Connor, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said the FERC will conduct an extensive review of its responsibilities in the half-regulated, half-free market. All interested parties are invited to participate. This means consumers, industry execs, state and local officials and, of course, lawyers. Keep the letters and postcards flowing.