Ex-governor won’t take blame for power crisis

Published on

Wilson, faulting the PUC, urges Davis to issue an emergency order.

The Orange County Register

Former California Gov. Pete Wilson said Wednesday he deserves credit — not blame — for signing landmark legislation in 1996 sending the state on the path to electricity deregulation, and he urged his successor, Gray Davis, to use emergency powers so that new power plants can be built swiftly.

Wilson, now working for a Beverly Hills investment firm, said environmental rules need to be waived so more generating capacity can be added. It is an idea that has been embraced by GOP legislators and harshly criticized by environmental groups.

I take credit, frankly, for having launched deregulation, for being the first in the nation,” said Wilson in an interview. I was aware at the time I signed the bill that some of the compromises made it less than a perfect piece of free-market legislation. Some mistakes were made, but I signed it because I was convinced we needed to get California launched on deregulation. And I counted on the Legislature and the Public Utilities Commission to remedy whatever flaws that they found.”

Wilson said one of the biggest mistakes was made by his appointees to the PUC, who opposed letting utilities buy power under long-term contracts — the very step the state is now taking to rein in soaring electricity costs. But the former governor says he has few regrets.

His critics are less forgiving.

Pete Wilson spawned this,” said Doug Heller, consumer advocate at the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. His PUC started it. (Sens.) Steve Peace and Jim Brulte did the work in the Capitol, but Pete Wilson signed the bill that has decimated California. Gray Davis has a lot of culpability in the way he has failed to fix Pete Wilson’s problem, but it was Pete Wilson’s creation.”

One way to fix the problem, Wilson said, would be to issue emergency orders that are within the governor’s authority to suspend restrictions and speed permits for new plants. Wilson issued an emergency order after the Northridge earthquake, without legislative action. As a result, quake-damaged freeways that were expected to take two years to rebuild were finished in less than three months. Wilson said he believes power plants could be built in less than two years by waiving rules.

The governor should use emergency powers and truncate the process as much as possible to build plants that add sufficient generating capacity to supply a real remedy,” Wilson said. The situation now simply is intolerable. We can’t wait.”

Davis spokesman Steve Maviglio said the governor has taken more steps than Wilson did to get power plants built.

The truth is that Gov. Wilson had eight years to build power plants, and none were built when he was here,” Maviglio said.

Six power plants are under construction and others are in the pipeline. But none will be ready before summer, when demand is highest. The plants under construction are not enough to meet the state’s needs.

Environmental groups say they are deeply concerned by the prospect of waiving protections.

To suspend environmental rules as a first impulse is simply a mistake,” said V. John White, a Sierra Club lobbyist. There is a great danger that we’re going to allow a lot of dirty things in under the guise of averting an emergency. Public health and the environment will suffer.”

As governor, Wilson was the primary advocate for deregulation in California. As early as 1992, he told high-level aides he wanted the state out of the way and the market open to competition. He handpicked PUC members who defined the debate and oversaw the implementation.

Wilson said he wonders where the naysayers were in 1996, when deregulation passed the Legislature with unanimous support and consumer groups signed off on the deal.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdoghttps://consumerwatchdog.org
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

Latest Videos

Latest Releases

In The News

Latest Report

Support Consumer Watchdog

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news, press releases and special reports.

More Releases