Forty years ago, Director Stanley Kramer made one of
the great comedies of all time, It’s
a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, starring a who’s-who of stand-up
comedians, pranksters, punsters and comic actors. Sadly, most of the cast
members, from Spencer Tracy to Milton Berle, Phil Silvers to Ethel Merman,
and Jimmy Durante to Jim Backus, have exited life’s stage.
But in watching the movie recently on home video, I
was struck by several things: the movie’s length (almost 3 hours, twice
that of an average movie comedy); its dizzying, nonstop array of sight
gags and clever wordplay; and, most of all, its uncomfortably right-on-target depiction of how we humans spend so much of our time and
energy chasing the wrong things, in this case the supposed
“fortune” buried under “the big W” at a nearby park. Alas, in real life each of us tends to blindly chase a big W — whether
it’s wealth, wins, wit, work or what-not — that ultimately proves
illusory, unsatisfying, fleeting, fake.
Such panting pursuit of personal fortune is nothing
new, of course. Unbridled greed is recounted in excruciating detail in
accounts as old as the Old Testament and as new as today’s newspapers.
And speaking of newspapers, recent headlines about
electric utilities include the following, troubling trio: “NRG Executives Press for Bankruptcy”; “Dynegy Downgraded for
5th Time”; and “Williams Cut to B1; Third Downgrade This Year.”
Now, you may never have heard of NRG, Dynegy, or Williams, but all three
are large companies that have been major players on the national scene in
power production and energy trading. And all three, as the headlines
state, are in trouble.
And trouble is, these headlines are not the Alpha to
Omega of negative headlines about electric utilities. These are merely one day’s store of stories documenting a sad tale
that’s been unfolding over the last couple of years. This tale of
woe has included fraud and corruption (Enron), questionable political
decisions by California’s legislature (leading Pacific Gas &
Electric to file for bankruptcy, and Southern California Edison to the
brink of it), and questionable business decisions (all of the utilities
My headlines summing up the lessons learned? How
about “Bigger Isn’t Always
Better.” Or, “National
Reach Can’t Touch Local Control.” Or even, “A
Company’s Balance Sheet Isn’t Balanced When Money’s the Only Bottom
Your electric utility isn’t large. We’re not
national in scope or aspirations. Our goal is not to generate profits for
stockholders. As an electric
cooperative, we’re fairly small in the world of electric utilities.
Also, we’re local, owned by you and all the other member-customers, who
control us through an elected board of local people. And, of course,
our only goal is to provide you with reliable electric service at the
lowest possible cost.
may not generate big headlines. But that’s OK with us. There’s only one thing we want to generate: your loyalty, based on our
performance. That’s been our bottom line for over 60 years, through
wars and political shifts and cultural revolutions and corporate comings
and goings. It’s a bottom line we
intend to protect, in this Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.