To paraphrase 19th-century literary icon Charles
Dickens, now really is “the best
of times and the worst of times.” It’s an age of high-tech
marvels, and low-tech terror. Of smart bombs and dumb human beings. Of
medical miracles and ethical dilemmas. Of heart-warming charity and
heart-rending cruelty. It’s an age that could usher in unprecedented
global cooperation, or unimaginable global catastrophe. The stakes are
higher than ever, and so is the potential jackpot when the U.S. has fully
won the war on terrorism.
This is also
an age of colossal corporate successes, and spectacular failures.
Imagine, if you will, a gas-and-electric utility so huge that it reached
number seven on the list of Fortune 500 companies. That does business in
virtually every state and has $50 billion in total assets. That was one of
the most remarkable success stories in U.S. corporate history. Its
Houston, Texas-based executives mixed cowboy bravado with energy expertise
to create a company that pushed early, hard — and with some success —
for deregulation of the electric utility industry.
This company began life in the natural gas business,
later added electricity to its portfolio and became the largest energy
trader in the country. Share prices for its stock soared, to nearly $85 a
share just over a year ago. At that
time, you could have cashed in one share of its stock and bought two
box-seat tickets to see a Houston Astros baseball game at Enron Field,
whose naming rights the company had bought. As of late November, cashing
in a share of Enron stock would have generated only enough money — about
26 cents — to buy a glass of lemonade from a neighborhood child on a hot
That glass of lemonade would keep you or me going on
a sultry August day. Whether and
how Enron will keep going at all is an open question, as the company filed
for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early December. Its filing
marks one of the largest corporate bankruptcies in U.S. history, and
surely one of the fastest falls ever from corporate titan to penny stock.
Government agencies are investigating, and lawsuits have been filed both
by investors and by Enron employees. It will likely take a good while
before anyone can determine the company’s long-term prospects.
miles away as the crow flies and light years away in business philosophy,
there’s another breed of utility. One that has no desire to be the
biggest, only the best. One that prides itself on its local presence, not
its national or international reach. One that doesn’t have to balance
the demands of shareholders against the interests of customers, because
the customers are the shareholders. These member-owners each own an equal
share of the utility, and thus have an equal vote in electing board
members or adopting policy. This other breed of utility, of course, is an electric cooperative.
In an era of great change and great challenge,
Virginia’s 13 member-owned electric cooperatives are proud to be a
stable, reliable presence in communities across the Commonwealth, serving
some 350,000 homes and businesses in rural areas, small towns and suburbs.
We’ve been around for three generations, having been formed in the 1930s
by local citizens who wanted to provide themselves with a service that no
one else was willing to provide. We
hope to continue serving your community for many generations to
We’re responsive because we’re local. We’re
competitively priced because we sell our power at cost to our
member-owners. Our most important “balance sheet” is what you think of
us. Our “long-range business plan” is to be your utility of choice in
a changing electric utility environment.
move among the heady circle of Fortune 500 giants. But then, we don’t
want to. We just want to stay right here, in this community, and
continue serving you.