Peco lobbies against proposed Philadelphia energy panel

By Jeff Shields
The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 21, 2010

The passage last week of City Councilman Darrell L. Clarke's bill to create a municipal energy authority - ostensibly to help the city develop alternative energy sources for government use and to give it greater buying power - gave a rare public glimpse of a full behind-the-scenes lobbying blitz.

Peco Energy Co. and its parent company, Exelon Corp., did not testify against the bill at a May 5 public hearing, and Council originally passed the bill in a 17-0 vote June 3.

On June 10, Council took the bill back for reconsideration for technical changes at the request of the Nutter administration. It was then that Exelon lobbyists - led by longtime Peco external-affairs manager Ed McBride, as familiar a face as you will find at Council meetings - moved in.

McBride tried to convince Council members they should amend the bill, which would mean holding it over the summer for a final vote in September.

Clarke said holding the bill any longer would only give Exelon the chance "to continue to create mischief."

"Peco has been knocking on doors, causing confusion," Clarke told fellow Council members in caucus before Thursday's regular meeting.

In a remarkable public exchange, Council members allowed McBride to address them in caucus even though Peco and Exelon had not testified in public. McBride said the "bean counters" at his company were concerned that the potential of the authority's becoming a competitor to Peco would hurt the utility's bond rating. That would lead to higher borrowing costs and higher electric rates.

McBride said company lawyers "feel that the way the legislation reads, the city can get into the energy generating business."

Council members eventually dismissed McBride's argument because state law prevents such an authority from doing that. They passed the bill, 17-0. But Clarke was still shaking his head hours later at his odd debate with a lobbyist before the full Council.

"It was not the normal process - I'll say that.