FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Fight the Power (Companies)!

On August 14th, 2003, while George Bush was on a fundraising trip in California, the lights went out on the east coast. When they came back on, I decided to try and figure out who was responsible for the chaos that ensued. Initial reports from CNN stated that the Niagara Mohawk power grid had failed due to “an act of God.” Much of its failure can be blamed on two men as well. Their names are William E. Davis and Rick Sergel.

In January 2002, a British company called National Grid merged with regional power provider Niagara Mohawk. A little over a year later, National Grid “announced the retirement of [Niagara Mohawk] Chairman William E. Davis.” National Grid’s President and CEO Rick Sergel is quoted on the company website as saying that “With his commitment to assist the companies during the transition now complete, Bill has decided that this is the right time for him to retire.” Davis’ “assistance” came in the form of massive layoffs at Niagara Mohawk, setting up Niagara Mohawk shareholders with an inflated stock price around the time of the National Grid merger.

After National Grid assumed control of the Niagara Mohawk power grid, they apparently decided to make it even more “cost efficient,” and we got a blackout in return. In the deregulated market, the main concern for companies like National Grid is profit, even at the expense of service and quality. In fact, National Grid made $1.25 billion dollars in profit in 2002 according to their Annual Report (up $135.2 million from the previous year), but lowered their operating expenses by $200 million dollars from 2001, to $505 million (their lowest in five years, even before the acquisition of Niagara Mohawk). After all, who else’s electricity distribution infrastructure are you going to use? The Niagara Mohawk website lauds the merger in crypto-economic terms: “National Grid’s 11 years of experience in operating a transmission system in a deregulated environment gives it a unique market advantage.”

That unique market advantage is a monopoly. Despite National Grid’s claim that “Our transmission and distribution businesses are efficiently and effectively operated to assure a reliable, constant, high-quality supply of power to our customers,” August 14th proved that assertion entirely inaccurate. Wonder why the phones weren’t working that day? National Grid owns that infrastructure too. Again, straight from the company’s website: “we have a subsidiary in the U.S. that is engaged in the non-rate-regulated business of construction and leasing of telecommunications infrastructure.” Can you hear me now?

This is the inherent danger in the kind of corporate resource consolidation the Bush oligarchy seems so eager to see become the industry standard. According to the details of the merger on Niagara Mohawk’s website, “As National Grid’s third and largest acquisition in the U.S., Niagara Mohawk will double the size of National Grid USA.” Give one company the keys to the kingdom, and a little mistake like over-juicing a few power lines becomes a catastrophe that can only be measured in biblical proportion. Lucky for us, Rick Sergel, the aforementioned President and CEO of National Grid, was appointed in 2002 to the Department of Energy Transmission Grid Solutions Subcommittee by Secretary of Energy Spencer “Deregulation Is Working” Abraham. Sergel’s appointment was no doubt a reward for National Grid’s major contributions to the Republican cause, which included heavy donations to block Campaign Finance Reform ballot initiatives in California and Massachusetts that same year. Apparently, the more money they spend on buying politicians, the less they have to spend on maintaining the power grid.

MICHAEL KIMAID teaches history at Bowling Green State Unversity in Ohio. He can be reached at: mkimaid@bgnet.bgsu.edu

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
December 09, 2019
Jefferson Morley
Trump’s Hand-Picked Prosecutor John Durham Cleared the CIA Once, Will He Again?
Kirkpatrick Sale
Political Collapse: The Center Cannot Hold
Ishmael Reed
Bloomberg Condoned Sexual Assault by NYPD 
W. T. Whitney
Hitting at Cuban Doctors and at Human Solidarity
Louisa Willcox
The Grizzly Cost of Coexistence
Thomas Knapp
Meet Virgil Griffith: America’s Newest Political Prisoner
John Feffer
How the New Right Went Global — and How to Stop It
Ralph Nader
Why Not Also Go With “The Kitchen Table” Impeachable Offenses for Removal?
M. K. Bhadrakumar
Sri Lanka Continues Its Delicate Dance With India
Robert Fisk
Meet the Controversial Actor and Businessman Standing Up Against Egypt’s el-Sisi
Dahr Jamail
Savoring What Remains: Dealing With Climate PTSD
George Wuerthner
Bison Slaughter in Yellowstone…Again
Scott Tucker
Premature Democratic Socialists: Reasons for Hope and Change
Julian Rose
Polish Minister of Health Proposes Carcinogenic 5G Emission Levels as National Norm
Dean Baker
Coal and the Regions Left Behind
Robert Koehler
Envisioning a United World
Weekend Edition
December 06, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Eat an Impeachment
Matthew Hoh
Authorizations for Madness; The Effects and Consequences of Congress’ Endless Permissions for War
Jefferson Morley
Why the Douma Chemical Attack Wasn’t a ‘Managed Massacre’
Andrew Levine
Whatever Happened to the Obama Coalition?
Paul Street
The Dismal Dollar Dems and the Subversion of Democracy
Dave Lindorff
Conviction and Removal Aren’t the Issue; It’s Impeachment of Trump That is Essential
Ron Jacobs
Law Seminar in the Hearing Room: Impeachment Day Six
Linda Pentz Gunter
Why Do We Punish the Peacemakers?
Louis Proyect
Michael Bloomberg and Me
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Hits a Grim Threshold
Joseph Natoli
What We Must Do
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Global Poison Spring
Robert Fantina
Is Kashmir India’s Palestine?
Charles McKelvey
A Theory of Truth From the South
Walden Bello
How the Battle of Seattle Made the Truth About Globalization True
Evan Jones
BNP Before a French Court
Norman Solomon
Kerry’s Endorsement of Biden Fits: Two Deceptive Supporters of the Iraq War
Torsten Bewernitz – Gabriel Kuhn
Syndicalism for the Twenty-First Century: From Unionism to Class-Struggle Militancy
Matthew Stevenson
Across the Balkans: From Banja Luka to Sarajevo
Thomas Knapp
NATO is a Brain Dead, Obsolete, Rabid Dog. Euthanize It.
Forrest Hylton
Bolivia’s Coup Government: a Far-Right Horror Show
M. G. Piety
A Lesson From the Danes on Immigration
Ellen Isaacs
The Audacity of Hypocrisy
Monika Zgustova
Chernobyl, Lies and Messianism in Russia
Manuel García, Jr.
From Caesar’s Last Breath to Ours
Binoy Kampmark
Going to the ICJ: Myanmar, Genocide and Aung San Suu Kyi’s Gamble
Jill Richardson
Marijuana and the Myth of the “Gateway Drug”
Muzamil Bhat
Srinagar’s Shikaras: Still Waters Run Deep Losses
Gaither Stewart
War and Betrayal: Change and Transformation
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail