Thursday, June 29, 2006

RWE's problems with the water business--a personal perspective

In a Monday article (link), the Wall Street Journal wrote about the problems German utility conglomerate RWE has had with its private water-supply business, particularly in the US. The company plans to IPO its US water subsidiary, American Water, as part of its plan to divest itself of its worldwide water business.

In a related event, our area is in the fourth day of a boil advisory because our water has become contaminated (read a local news report here), ostensibly because of the heavy rains we experienced earlier in the week. Our provider? Pennsylvania-American Water, a unit of American Water.

This is the second such advisory we've had in the past six months. The WSJ article states:

Laurel Prussing, the mayor of Urbana, Ill., became interested in a municipal buyout after a growing number of "boil orders," when people are told they must boil their water to make it safe to drink. When she tried to investigate a boil order in February, she says she was put on hold for 25 minutes before being connected to a call center in another city. An American Water spokesman disputed that boil orders have risen in Urbana and said the company distributes special telephone numbers that municipal officials can call in an emergency.

Meanwhile, here in central Pennsylvania, no word from the company, on its web site or customer service hotline, of when this problem will be remedied.

When I tried to check RWE's web site today, I received the following message: "Our InterNet offer is not attainable at present due to technical maintenance work." Not attainable, indeed.

Clearly, to this observer, RWE is making the right decision to get out of the water business.

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