Longform

Power Play

Page 5 of 5

Although Methner complains about the executives' package deal, there isn't much he and the other stockholders can do about it. In fact, at the January meeting stock-owners approved the merger. Public utility commissioners in both Texas and Colorado have already given the deal tentative approval; final approval is expected later this fall. And although the Colorado Public Utilities Commission has been holding hearings on the plan this summer, most of the complaints have come from environmentalists (see sidebar, page 15). Even consumer advocates, including the state Office of Consumer Counsel, endorsed the merger after Public Service promised to slash electric rates by $18 million per year--out of $1.4 billion in annual sales of electricity.

The two utilities are so confident the deal will go down that they've already carefully choreographed a round of musical chairs in the executive suite. While lower-level employees worry about the future, at the top it's already set. Hock will retire next spring, after the merger goes through, his multimillion-dollar parachute lashed firmly in place. Southwestern's current chairman and CEO, Bill Helton, will then step into the position of chairman of New Century Energies. He'll stay there until his own retirement on May 31, 2001, when he'll pocket whatever bonuses he has coming and move aside so that current Public Service president Wayne Brunetti can take the helm.

All this maneuvering has longtime stockholders shaking their heads. "Utilities are always above the call of the people," says Gerald Armstrong. "If I had the bucks, I'd drape a golden parachute off the Public Service building.

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers