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Sale of PGE could turn into a game of hot potato

While other players in deal begin to get 'antsy,' Enron sets a target date

Stephen Cooper, chief executive officer of Enron Corp., said Wednesday that he hopes to wind up the sale of Portland General Electric in the next 30 to 45 days.

PGE, an Enron subsidiary, is still in the auction process, Cooper said in a telephone interview from Houston.

'But we have, I can tell you, a number of interested parties we are talking to, and the discussions are continuing,' Cooper said. 'Hopefully, we will have some clarity within the next 30 days or 45 days as to how we'll be moving forward with Portland General.'

When asked if he had any hesitation about selling to the city of Portland, Cooper replied, 'The only hesitation I have is to sell it for less than what we believe is an appropriate value so as to maximize the recovery for the estate.'

City officials reportedly are still in negotiations with Enron on the terms and sales price of PGE, sources say.

Cooper made the statements about PGE during an announcement that Enron would present a plan to its board of directors and the unsecured creditors committee to reorganize a half dozen assets into two entities.

The first company, PipeCo, will oversee Enron's Transwestern, Northern Plains Natural Gas Co. and other pipelines. InternationalCo will retain Enron's energy generation, transmission and transportation assets in Europe, China and the Philippines.

The proposals would have to be approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York and would force Enron to ask for another extension of its April 30 deadline, he said. None of Enron's corporate debt would roll into the new entities, Cooper said.

'You'll see the pace of our recovery continue on a quarter-by- quarter basis,' he said.

The rest of Enron's assets Ñ including PGE, Puerto Rico-based Eco-Electrica and the Quebec, Canada-based paper mill Compagnie Papiers Stadacona Ñ will be sold through the auction process.

Cooper said in his view some of the Enron assets offered for sale have been undervalued, but he would not say if PGE was one of them.

'We were not satisfied that we were getting full value for our properties,' he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has written a letter to Cooper urging that he expedite PGE's sale. Wyden's press secretary, Carol Guthrie, said the letter has not been sent yet.

Wyden met last week with city Commissioner Erik Sten, the leading proponent of a city purchase of the utility, to talk about the pending sale.

'They were really concerned with how long this thing is going to take and the impact on Oregon's economy through this uncertainty,' Sten said. 'I get the feeling he's getting antsy.'

Sten, who also met with staff at the office of Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said he couldn't give either senator any other assurances because the city is bound by a confidentiality agreement with Enron.

Meanwhile, Sten is heading to the state Capitol on Monday to meet with Rep. Betsy Close, R-Albany, whose House Business, Labor and Consumer Affairs Committee considered a bill last week that would block Portland from buying PGE.

Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, who filed the measure, invited Sten to visit Morrow County to visit the electrical cooperatives that would be affected by a PGE sale.

'I told him I'd be delighted to do that,' said Sten, who expects to go there in the next couple of weeks. 'We're in this because we want to do something good for the state and Portland.

'If they want to work through us to make sure public objectives are met, that's great. Any effort to block us should include a good long conversation with ratepayers about why they are being left in the lurch.'

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