From the Voluminous Secret Files of VDB: In Stunning Corporate Tour de Force, Entergy Rebrands Incompetence as Equity
In April of 2008, Entergy announced an ambitious new project: they would form a pair of limited liability corporations to acquire their interest in, and responsibilities for, Vermont Yankee and other unregulated nuclear assets. We called it a shell game, at the time; since then, more powerful voices have picked up the refrain, most notably Howard Dean, who refined the idea to “a Wall Street shell game” in a recent VPR interview. Which is some pretty good refining, at least to our way of thinking.
Just two weeks ago, Entergy announced that they would sweeten the deal, in an effort to get regulators and legislators to sign off on the transfer of the assets to Enexus, which had been widely criticized as under-capitalized. But make no mistake: the new offer is still a brazen attempt to off-load responsibility onto an essentially collapsible legal fiction. Here, from the files of VDB, is the original April post on Enexus, just to keep everyone up to speed. And because we love the phrase “cologne-scented hands.”
April 29, 2008:
In Stunning Corporate Tour de Force,
Entergy Rebrands Incompetence as Equity
Back in the day, Philip Morris really had it working: they produced the world’s most profitable brands of tobacco, the nicotine levels of which they were secretly manipulating, and they owned half the US Congress, which made it difficult for anyone to complain. But after decades of anti-smoking activism, the words “Philip Morris” became synonymous with death and wasting disease. Ouch.
Their support in Congress collapsed not long thereafter. Activists beat the brand, in other words.
And so the two words “Philip Morris,” like a blackened pair of lungs, were exchanged for something new and minty-fresh: Philip Morris became Altria.
Suddenly no one cared a whit that the maker of Marlboro cigarettes also marketed Jell-O and Kool-Aid.
Those of you in marketing (a staggeringly high percentage of the VDB demographic, actually) know this move well: bring in a neutral created term, built from partial syllables with vaguely positive connotations.
Which brings us to Entergy, owner/operator of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant, the safety record of which has become something of a running joke over the last year.
As we’ve reported at various points over that same year, Entergy is involved in a multi-stage attempt to transfer corporate responsibility away from the parent company, and in so doing, to rebrand the entire effort, moving away from the whiff of incompetence and mendacity that now drifts in when the name “Entergy” surfaces in conversation.
That effort is now seriously upon us.
In a press release last week, Entergy announced the creation of not one, but two new companies: “Enexus Energy Corporation,” which will eventually own Entergy’s six unregulated nuclear reactors, including Yankee, and “EquaGen LLC,” a joint venture between Entergy and Enexus which will operate those same plants.
Confused yet? That is, of course, the point.
Under the new dispensation, Entergy will be removed not once, but twice from the activities and liabilities of Vermont Yankee. Activists will need, perforce, to concentrate on EquaGen to influence daily practice, and Enexus to press long-term issues like transparency and decommissioning.
Corporate spokesman Rob Williams, according to industry scuttlebut, will be known henceforth as “Equabob.”
To take EquaGen as a case in point, we should offer the industry explanation of the created term first:
“The goal for the joint venture naming was to capture an identity that would stress the company’s track record of safe nuclear operations and its expertise in leading the industry in a new direction. EquaGen (ekwa-jen) gets its origins from the words ‘equity’ and ‘generation.’ EquaGen stands for a company focused on providing world-class safety, operations, security and productivity.”
The stunning 2007 cooling tower collapse
It’s worth noting that this mass of gibberish comes from the very high-priced shop of an “international brand architect” based in California, the RiechesBaird Company.
We don’t know about you, but if we were looking for someone to rebrand our rapidly aging nuclear operation, we might select a catchier bidder than “RiechesBaird.”
But be that as it may, the new brand names would seem to fit Entergy’s pressing linguistic needs: they are vague, they are built of positive partial syllables, and best of all, neither of them is “Entergy.”
It’s interesting, though, to consider the lengths to which RiechesBaird has gone to control the pronunciation of Equagen, which might well be pronounced “EEK-wa-gen,” if the corporate press release hadn’t specifically instructed otherwise. This fixed pronunciation, of course, is designed to enshrine the word “equity” in the minds of those who find themselves using the new word.
And “equity,” for a progressive state like Vermont, is all good.
But you have to wonder how it figures, in any way, shape or form, into the corporate planning of any of the three E-themed shells now encompassing Vermont Yankee. Yes, everyone has an equal right to purchase the power produced by the plant. But equity exhausts its usefulness as a concept at that point.
But that’s the genius of RiechesBaird. A wave of their cologne-scented hands, and suddenly “equity” is all we talk about when we talk about Yankee.