HarvardWatch Links Professor to Enron

Student-run monitoring group HarvardWatch released a report yesterday claiming the Harvard Electricity Policy Group (HEPG) has faced conflicts of interest due to their partial funding by Enron and calling for HEPG’s research director to step down.

The report focuses on Enron’s membership in HEPG, which is a Kennedy School of Government group that serves as a forum for discussing energy policy and trends toward energy deregulation.

It goes on to question whether Enron’s funding contributed to the opinions of HEPG’s leaders in these debates, particularly in California in the mid 1990s—allegations an HEPG spokesperson refuted yesterday.

The report details the work of Littauer Professor of Public Policy and Administration William W. Hogan, who is the research director for HEPG and claims that Hogan’s opinions were influenced by former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling.

“The information contained [in the aren’t particularly well-known areas of the University but ones which may affect more people across the country than others.”

Hogan was unavailable for comment yesterday, but HEPG Executive Director Ashley Brown said that Enron had no influence over Hogan or HEPG.

“There are a large number of members of our group,” Brown said. “Enron is one, and it’s true that they’ve given us some support, but it’s a fraction of our support.”

Brown estimated that Enron, which gave $50,000 to HEPG last year, has contributed under five percent of HEPG’s total donations since it was founded in 1993.

He also said that Enron is just one of many members of HEPG—a group that includes others who do not support energy deregulation.

The report goes on to make a number of specific claims about Hogan and HEPG’s involvement in the debates over California energy deregulation during the mid 1990s.

The report says that in 1994 Hogan urged the California Public Utilities Commission to deregulate the state’s electricity market, according to “the ‘Enron model’—the deregulation scheme that Enron had already used to deregulate and manipulate the gas market.”

“The Harvard name is getting used here to advance agendas that were quite destructive,” said McKean.

But Brown said that HEPG is a forum for different ideas and Hogan was giving his own personal opinion, not that of the group.

“There is nothing Enron could do to affect our position, because we don’t have one,” said Brown. “It’s not our job.”

Brown also said there was no basis for HarvardWatch’s claims that there was unethical collaboration between Skilling and Hogan.

She said Hogan and Skilling actually had opposing viewpoints on the debate over electricity deregulation.

“The main poles in the California debate were Bill Hogan and Jeff Skilling,” said Brown. “It was almost legendary the clashes they had on the subject, so to suggest that somehow Bill was in cahoots with Enron is a laughable position.”

Brown said that Skilling eventually became so angry with Hogan that he pulled Enron out of HEPG and did not rejoin until about two years ago.

Brown also said that reports authored by Hogan also did not aim to cover up any problems with California’s deregulated market—as HarvardWatch’s report claimed.

According to Brown, Hogan has argued exactly the opposite.

“He argued that the market was not sufficiently transparent” Brown said.

“This report is breathtakingly dishonest or breathtakingly incompetent...or both.”

—Staff writer Joseph P. Flood can be reached at flood@fas.harvard.edu.