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Maryland faces Duke in power struggle

March 29, 2001

Maryland faces Duke in power struggle



Wow, Maryland vs. Duke. As Dick Vitale would say, it doesn't get any batter than that, bay-bee.

On one side we have all the fame, all the positive reviews in the press, the tradition and as always, some of the top players in the business.

On the other side is the upstart, the new kid on the block, less known to the nation at large, but a solid program that should not be underestimated.

So what if they have to go all the way out to California to prove themselves by standing up to the giants? So what if it is their first time among the elite? Maryland is out to show the nation it belongs.

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And now they meet in a final showdown.

Duke Energy Corp. vs. Allegheny Energy Inc. of Hagerstown, Maryland, as they race to see who can sell the most electricity to the Californians.

(I want to thank all you women who stayed with me this far thinking I was going to talk about something boring and irrelevant like sports, when actually I am going to talk about something exciting and vibrant like public utilities.)

I thought the West had all the energy, but here are two East Coast corporations battling to keep Silicon Valley's computers humming.

Last week, Allegheny announced that one of its subsidiaries has contracted to sell California $4.5 billion worth of juice over 10 years. Allegheny is also building a generating plant in Arizona, which eventually will come to the state's assistance.

Duke, meanwhile, has been supplying California with electricity for some time and has recently come under fire for suspected price gouging, which has significantly added to the state's energy woes.

Everyone blames these problems on deregulation. Not me. I blame Thomas Edison. There's no way that he couldn't have known that his little "electric light" Ponzi scheme would lead to massive amounts of vapor pulled from the bowels of the Earth, to be burned in massive machines to produce massive amounts of heat that would be shipped on wire ropes balanced up on massive numbers of poles to massive amounts of homes where year-round it flows into air conditioners and refrigerators.

Got that? You're burning one invisible product to produce another invisible product - burning it in furnaces that make things hot only to be transported to machines that make things cold. Very smart. Don't tell me you couldn't have seen this coming, "Tom," if that was your real name.

I've never understood this whole concept of burning natural gas to produce electricity. Isn't this like growing mushrooms by planting mushroom spores in the caps of existing mushrooms? Or using a pair of pliers to hold your toothbrush?

You have this energy, natural gas, that you could burn to heat your home. But do you use natural gas to heat your home? No. Instead you send it to a $47 jillion plant where you burn it up to produce steam, which you could use to heat your home. But do you use steam to heat your home? No. Instead you pipe it into some turbines that produce electricity which, finally, you use to heat your home.

But it gets weirder.

You would think that plain old unprocessed natural gas would be a cheaper source of energy than natural gas that has been transformed into electricity by means of a $47 jillion plant, right?

Wrong. In fact, this gas-turned-electricity can be as cheap or cheaper than gas itself. How do you explain that? Heck, if you could turn gas into electricity and then somehow turn the electricity back into natural gas again, your utilities would probably be cheaper than your monthly allotment of Snickers bars.

There's just so much I don't understand about thermodynamics. But I do understand how to back a home team. So I'm rooting for Maryland.

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