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Earle O'Donnell When Earle O’Donnell brings a matter before energy regulators, the reaction he’s looking for, he says, is a simple “ho-hum.” “I try to anticipate the agency’s policies and need for information,” explains the 56-year-old Dewey Ballantine partner. “I think it’s the cases with difficult issues that are approved quietly that best show a lawyer’s skills. We get the results that clients are looking for with the least fuss and cost.” Best known for his work on behalf of independent power producers and regional transmission organizations, O’Donnell, who heads his firm’s energy markets and regulatory group, has a low-key style that has proved highly effective in handling a wide range of energy matters. John Mathis, associate general counsel of Edison Mission Energy, praises his judgment, thoroughness, and responsiveness. “He’s a tremendously sensitive advocate,” says Mathis. “He knows how to best present a good argument.” One of O’Donnell’s biggest recent arguments was on behalf of Edison Mission Energy’s subsidiary Midwest Generation. Based in Chicago, Midwest Gen owns and operates six electric power generating facilities in Illinois. As a low-cost producer of electricity, the company wanted to sell its power throughout the East Coast and Midwest regions. The problem was how to deliver it. A system of tolls collected en route by each utility meant “low-cost power became high cost,” says O’Donnell. “We wanted a common market.” In 1997, PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in parts of the Midwest and East Coast, was formed. But Ohio-based utility giant American Electric Power Co. (AEP) couldn’t join because of objections from regulators in Virginia and Kentucky, where it also does business. That presented a major obstacle for Midwest Gen. For the company’s power to reach the East Coast markets efficiently, it needed to pass through AEP’s transmission system in Ohio. O’Donnell helped persuade the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to override legislative and regulatory actions in Kentucky and Virginia � a hotly contested and controversial move for the agency. In 2004, FERC allowed AEP to join the PJM network over the objections of those states. In another major case, O’Donnell served as lead regulatory counsel for the PG&E Corp. in connection with the bankruptcy and reorganization of its subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric Co. California’s largest utility, PG&E declared bankruptcy in April 2001. Two years later, debts repaid, it emerged as an investment-grade, creditworthy operating company with its highest stock price in years. “Nobody ended up [getting] a haircut, which is a remarkable thing in a bankruptcy,” O’Donnell notes. O’Donnell has also handled his share of big mergers. He represented the Northern States Power Co. when it merged with New Century Energies Inc. to form Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc. in 2000. The deal created a company serving 3.3 million electricity and 1.8 million natural gas customers. FERC approved the merger in just five months, O’Donnell says, with no conditions imposed other than the ones offered upfront by the companies. He likewise secured speedy approval for Louisville Gas & Electric’s union with Kentucky Utilities in 1997 and for USGen New England Inc.’s purchase of hydroelectric and fossil fuel assets from New England Electric Systems for more than $1 billion in 1999. In fact, O’Donnell says proudly, no merger on which he has worked has required a FERC hearing or had any additional conditions imposed. In addition to his busy caseload, O’Donnell devotes substantial time to pro bono efforts. He serves on the board of, and acts as outside counsel for, the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy, which promotes the clean, efficient use of energy. “I’m like a legal handyman for them,” he says. Last year, according to O’Donnell, Dewey Ballantine contributed more than $150,000 in legal services to the group. O’Donnell received his J.D. from George Washington University Law School in 1975. He joined a now-defunct Bethesda, Md., boutique, Jones & Gerstenfeld, which represented natural gas distributors. A year later, he moved to Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, where he made partner in 1981. He joined the D.C. office of Dewey Ballantine in 1993.

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