Texas Utilities is a big company. Through its subsidiary, TU Electric, it provides electric service to a large chunk of Texas, including the Dallas- Fort Worth metropolitan area. It employs some 10,000 people. Its sales are around $5 billion a year. It has assets near $20 billion. Yet this corporate Goliath was brought to its knees by a single determined woman, a former church secretary named Juanita Ellis. For nearly a decade, Ellis fought Texas Utilities to a standstill in its battle to build the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant. During that time the cost of the plant zoomed from an original estimate of $779 million to nearly $11 billion, with much of the increase attributable, at least indirectly, to Ellis. Company executives, who had at first laughed at the thought of a housewife married to a lawn-mower repairman standing up to their covey of high-priced lawyers and consultants, eventually realized they could go neither around her nor through her. In the end, it took a negotiated one-on-one settlement between Ellis and a TU Electric executive vice president to remove the roadblocks to Comanche Peak and allow it to begin operation. No one was really happy with the outcome. Antinuclear groups denounced the settlement as a sellout and Ellis as a traitor. Texas Utilities bemoaned the years of discord as time wasted on regulatory nit-picking with no real improvement in safety. And the utility’s customers were the most unhappy of all, for they had to pay for the $11 billion plant with large increases in their electric bills. So it was natural to look for someone to blame. The antinuclear groups pointed to the utility. TU Electric, they said, had ignored basic safety precautions and had built a plant that was a threat to public health, and it had misled the public and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The utility, in turn, blamed the antinuclear groups that had intervened in the approval process and a judge who seemed determined to make TU Electric jump through every hoop he could imagine. The ratepayers didn’t know what to believe.
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