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At 65, Marshall Magruder has earned the right to kick back. Retired from the Navy, where he designed aircraft carriers, and as a Raytheon systems engineer, he's already wrapped up a satisfying career. But rather than relax, the Tubac resident has become a headache for Tucson Electric Power. He's fought buyout deals and battled the utility's proposed power line from Sahuarita into Mexico. Magruder has drawn snickers for arriving at Arizona Corporation Commission hearings with towering stacks of personal research. But over the last five years, both the ACC and Tucson Electric officials have been forced to take him seriously: Today, his so-called "Marshall Plan," proposing a drastically scaled-back TEP power line project, is under ACC consideration.

How did you become a full-time TEP watchdog?

My neighbor said she was going to rent a bulldozer and knock down the Tucson Electric Power lines if they were built. And I told her, 'There's another way, and I'll go find it.' I made a commitment to her. And when I make a commitment, I make a commitment. Boy, am I sorry now (chuckle).

When was that?

February 2000.

Picked up any pointers since then?

I've discovered that the system actually works. I can stand up against TEP, and I still haven't had my electricity turned off. I don't think Tucson Electric likes me very much. But it's a business-like relationship. And we don't scream and shout--normally.

Normally?

Well, there was one time when TEP was very rude to me. It was September 2003. I was before the Chamber of Commerce in Nogales, on behalf of the mayor of Nogales. Somebody in the audience asked a technical question, and I stood up to answer it. Then-TEP Vice President Steve Lynn grabbed the microphone away from me and wouldn't let me talk. I mean, he physically took it away from me. It was very embarrassing and very rude. After all, I wasn't there representing Marshall Magruder. I was there representing the mayor of Nogales, Marco Lopez.

Does a technical background help you understand these projects?

All the time. But it's not rocket science. It's the same electricity you have in your home, just on a larger scale. Really, the hardest part has just been getting information from TEP.

How so?

The first thing I learned is that utility companies don't want to share information. They'll also only put out partial facts and obscure the facts. They make it really hard to understand what's happening. But luckily, TEP has had to file (information) with Corporation Commission. So through the years, I'm slowly getting this stuff.

What stuff?

Well, for example, just last spring, I got information dating back to 1999 that answered a lot of questions.

Why the secrecy?

Because TEP wants to be the center of all knowledge. Therefore, anyone knowing about what they do is interfering with their business.

Five years in, have you developed new skills?

Yeah, I've learned stuff that goes way beyond transmission lines. Now I'm into effluent, air pollution. The list goes on and on.

And you've become a multi-faceted pain to TEP?

Right. Such as recently, when the Corporation Commission rejected the $3 billion buyout offer of TEP (by investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.). I was an intervener, because that particular deal was going to add $600 to $800 millions in debt to TEP. And Santa Cruz County customers were going to pay for it. That's not right.

Were you there when commissioners dunked the deal?

Yes, and (TEP chief) Jim Pignatelli was really upset. He was personally going to walk away with $11.2 million if his company was bought out.

The little guy can win a few.

Right. If you devote time to it, you can. You have to be on the ball all the time. ... I (recently) briefed (the Santa Cruz County) Board of Supervisors. And there was a man in the audience who was a former Nogales mayor, and now runs the Chamber of Commerce. He said, "Hey, we don't have a speaker for the Lion's Club at noon. How's about joining us?" So I run home, make copies of my stuff, bring my flipcharts, and by noon, I'm down there talking to the Lion's Club. ... That's how I'm getting my base, getting my support. Because if you don't have a lot of people on board, you're not going to make it.

Sounds like you're obsessed.

Yeah, it's become an obsession

Why?

Because TEP is so stuck in the mud and so stubborn.

And?

And I still, I want to solve the problem for my neighbor.

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