Portland General Electric (PGE, not to be confused with Pacific Gas & Electric, a Northern California company) is the largest utility in Oregon, serving over 1.5 million customers in 52 cities over 4,000 square mile area. The operation dates back to 1888, when two local entrepreneurs built a hydroelectric generator at Willamette Falls near Oregon City. Eventually, the company became Portland Electric Power in 1932, and PGE in 1948.
The infamous Texas-based Enron Corporation purchased PGE in July of 1997. PGE management has claimed that the company was not involved in the subsequent scandals that eventually led to the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. Indeed, many PGE employees suffered when Enron, attempting to cover up its machinations and market manipulations, froze their 401(k) retirement plans. As the scheme fell apart and Enron stock plunged, these employees lost nearly everything.
Several attempts have been made by Oregon citizens to convert PGE into a publicly owned utility. The only time this succeeded was in 1999, when residents of three small towns northwest of Portland voted to join the West Oregon Public Utility District. Electricity rates dropped immediately; to this day, customers of what is now the Columbia River PUD enjoy significantly lower rates than those of PGE.
The City of Portland attempted to purchase PGE through the sale of bonds in 2005, but refused to pay a $50 million deposit on the sale; Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski eventually vetoed a bill that would have created a public corporation for the purchase. PGE today remains a for-profit corporation, but is now independent and locally owned and operated.
Asbestos and Power Plants
Because of the fire risk, power plants have long used asbsetos as insulation for boilers, generators and turbines. In addition, the miles of piping and conduits that exist in gas or coal-fired and hydroelectric plants were sprayed with asbestos-containing material (ACM). This was often in the form of ACM cement that was marketed by the W.R. Grace Company of Libby, Montana, known as Monokote.
Moving parts were liable to release asbestos fibers into the air, particularly as this insulation aged and became brittle. At this stage, asbestos is called friable as it begins to crumble and flake into dust, the time when it is most likely to be inhaled – which, in turn, can lead to the development of several major illnesses, including asbestosis, pleural plaques, and a number of deadly forms of asbestos cancer, including both lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
Most power plants across the U.S. have engaged in asbestos abatement and containment programs for the past several years. Encapsulation is the usual method, which is also being used on sea-going vessels. It involves covering surfaces of mechanical equipment with resin and a catalyst, similar to epoxy. This resin eventually hardens to the consistency of glass.
The U.S. government has had safety standards for asbestos workers in place since 1943; however, these were not seriously enforced until the late 1970s. Those who were employed in a power generation plant prior to that time should have regular check-ups if they have not yet experienced symptoms. Those who have symptoms of malignant mesothelioma should make sure they are diagnosed by a qualified oncologist. Afterwards, it is important to gather as much information as possible about the site at which they were exposed.