End power woes or we’ll turn to ballot, consumer group says

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Sacramento Bee

If California lawmakers don’t re-regulate electric rates and create a new statewide public power system, both issues will go to the voters in a 2002 ballot initiative, one consumer group vowed Tuesday.

The law that deregulated electric power generation in 1996 “laid us bare to thieves in the energy industry” and must be scrapped, said Harvey Rosenfield, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Rosenfield, who backed a successful initiative to control auto insurance rates in 1988 and a failed measure to control electric rates in 1998, said he wants to involve environmentalists, business people and other consumer groups in a sweeping overhaul of how power is produced and delivered in California.

He said his group would step aside if the state Legislature and the governor fix the problem first, and he called on lawmakers to refuse political contributions from utility companies while the issue is debated in Sacramento.

His proposal, outlined Tuesday at a Capitol press conference, is the latest in a host of calls for state action to rein in an electric market that has driven today’s wholesale prices more than five times higher than they were one year ago.

Other proposals include creating a publicly owned transmission agency, building state-owned power plants and returning to state-imposed rate regulation. The fate of such proposals could be strongly shaped by the outcome of two looming regulatory battles: Requests by California utilities for large rate increases and federal efforts to mend the state’s electric market.

The idea of a state-run power system was immediately denounced by Southern California Edison and a coalition of power plant owners, and was met with deep skepticism by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

“We don’t believe that creating a new, big bureaucracy is going to solve the problem,” PG&E spokesman Ron Low said.

California’s electricity market can be fixed using “tweezers rather than a chain saw,” said Jan Smutny-Jones, president of the Independent Energy Producers Association.

Consumer Watchdog
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