Cheeseburgers and Pepsi
by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor
back, if you will, to NBCs "Saturday Night Live" show in the late 1970s.
One of my favorite skits featured the late John Belushi as a recent immigrant whos
running a diner. To every patrons request whether it be for a pastrami on rye
or eggs over easy he offers a simple reply. "Cheeseburger. No pastrami. No
eggs. Just cheeseburger."
Then when the patron orders, say, a Coke or iced tea, he says, "No Coke. No tea.
Pepsi. Pepsi and cheeseburger." Pepsi and cheeseburgers for breakfast, lunch and
dinner. Such a meager menu not only makes good comedy, it also makes a good case for the
benefits of choice. Man and woman cannot live on cheeseburgers alone, or wouldnt
want to, anyway.
A lot has changed since SNL aired that skit a generation ago. As consumers, we have a
lot more choices now, in all areas of life, than we had even 25 years ago. Especially for
banks and phone companies, deregulation in the early 80s led to benefits for
consumers in giving us more choices of all kinds of new services. And by the end of the
1980s, only one regulated monopoly industry remained: electric utilities.
In the early 90s, large commercial and industrial electric users began clamoring
for choice in their electric supplier. And given our love as Americans for freedom of
choice, its only natural that choice is now coming to electric consumers. In more
than two dozen states, consumers either 1) for a couple of years have been, 2) are just
now, or 3) soon will be, able to select the company that provides their electricity.
Please note: In every state, the local utility that delivers the electricity through its
wires to homes and businesses will remain the same. Choice and thus competition
exists only with regard to which company provides the actual electricity flowing
through the wires.
In Virginia, Virginia Power will begin a pilot program on September 1, in which up to
35,000 of its Richmond-area customers will be allowed to select their electricity
supplier. One of Virginias 13 consumer-owned electric cooperatives, Rappahannock,
has asked the State Corporation Commission to allow it to offer a pilot program for its
consumers as well. And out of these two pilots and one thats been proposed by
American Electric Power will come insights that may help utilities, regulators,
legislators, and average Virginians understand more about the who, what, when, where, why
and how that drive a consumers choice of electricity supplier.
The pilots will be relatively short-lived, because real competition will begin just 18
months from now, on January 1, 2002, and be phased in over the succeeding two years, so
that by January 1 of 04, ALL Virginians will be allowed to choose their supplier of
Please know two things about electric cooperatives as customer choice approaches.
First, that cooperatives view competition as a great opportunity to offer the advantages
of the cooperative business model to new and different customers. For 65 years,
Virginias electric cooperatives have combined local presence, stellar service and
reasonable rates in a self-help recipe that has served dozens of Virginia communities
well, and has generated a large and loyal following of folks who are members first, and
customers second. Because of customer choice, there undoubtedly will be opportunities to
offer this "Cooperative Advantage" to thousands of Virginians whove never
been served by a cooperative before.
But secondly (and most importantly), please also know that your electric cooperative
wants to remain as YOUR electricity supplier. Your cooperative was formed two generations
ago to serve your area because no other utility was interested in serving it. Soon, there
may be other utilities interested in providing your electric supply. And while your
cooperative was your supplier of need in the past, it very much wants to be your supplier
of choice in this new competitive environment.
As electric cooperatives, we welcome competition and choice. And we will continue to
work hard to fiercely protect the interests of the residential customers who are so often
forgotten in the discussion of electric choice. Because in almost every one of the two
dozen states where electric choice is unfolding, suppliers are principally, if not solely,
courting the large commercial and industrial customers. Electric suppliers, in state after
state, are not vying to serve the small businessperson or the homeowner.
In fact, Adrienne Hahn, a lawyer for Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer
Reports magazine, said recently that residential customers should consider pooling
themselves to negotiate deals with power suppliers. What shes proposing makes sense:
that is, individuals banding together to do for themselves what none of them could do
alone. What shes proposing, of course, is a cooperative. An electric cooperative.
So no matter how customer choice unfolds, your electric cooperative will be looking out
for your interests. We serve more than just cheeseburgers and Pepsi at this cooperative