Lesson 2: Energy Access and Costs


  • You will learn the history behind the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO), one of the oldest and largest utility companies in the United States.
  • Power can be provided to cities by several different types of companies, including those from both the private sector and the public sector. All have advantages and disadvantages, and you will consider whether it’s better for Philadelphia to have utilities provided by a for-profit private sector or government-owned company in the public sector.

Time to Complete

1 to 2 hours


  1. Read this history of the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO). As you read, use the Notes tool to record at least three important historical events in PECO’s history from three different decades.
  2. Match the numbers with the facts they represent in the quiz below.

    Read the article on this history of PECO and match the numbers with the facts they represent.

Let’s Get Started

There are many different kinds of businesses. Some businesses are owned by a small group of people who run the business themselves, much like smaller retail stores in your neighborhood or local restaurants. These are usually “privately-owned” businesses, meaning that not anyone can become an investor or own the company. Then there are larger companies where hundreds or thousands of people work. These are often “publicly-owned” companies where anyone can buy stock and own just a little bit of the company. Both of these types of businesses earn profits. Their goal is to make money. Collectively, they are part of what is called the “private sector.”

Some businesses, however, are owned and run by the government, either nationally or locally. These are called government-owned or municipal-owned businesses. In these businesses, the owners are really all taxpayers. These companies generally are not run for profit and are part of what is called the “public sector.” Their goal is to provide an important service to the community. You can read and watch a video about public and private sectors on Investopedia.

PECO is a for-profit company in the private sector the services Philadelpha and southeast Pennsylvania. Like Philadelphia, many cities in America are considering having their utilities provided by a government-owned company in the public sector.

Read Cities Weigh Taking Over From Private Utilities, and use the worksheet below to list all the positive reasons for your city to have a for-profit company providing power, and then all the positive reasons to have a government-owned company. At the end, add up how many items you have on both your lists, and note which you think would be the best option for Philadelphia. Upload your work when you have finished.


Let’s Get to Work

If possible, join with others using a collaboration tool such as Google Docs, a class message board, a video conferencing tool, etc., and discuss the following quotes from the article as they relate to Philadelphia. If working independently, speak to someone at home about the significance of the quotes. You can also use the chart below. Upload when you have finished.


Ursula Schryver, director of education and customer programs at the American Public Power Association, said:

“Right now, a lot of the communities are looking at [government-run utilities] for climate reasons. The biggest benefit about public power is the local control.”

James P. Fama, vice president of energy delivery at the Edison Electric Institute, which represents private utilities, said:

“Very few utilities can really maintain the full complement of crews and equipment that they may need — it’s not economic. Municipal budgets are under pressure, just as investor-owned utility budgets are under pressure because state commissions are hesitant to pass through rate increases.”

Identify the key problems brought up by the people being quoted, and identify one way in which the mayor of Philadelphia, or PECO, could help mitigate each problem. Record your ideas in the chart. If working in a collaboration group, work together to complete the chart.

Let’s Wrap Up

Considering what you have read and discussed, what is your overall opinion on whether Philadelphia’s utilities should be provided by a government-owned or for-profit company? Answer in the Notes tool, and keep your idea in mind as you move on to considering alternative power sources in the next lesson.

Be sure to upload all of your completed PDFs before moving on to your next lesson.