Lawmakers scramble to find Edison solution

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The Associated Press

A Senate version of a plan to keep Southern California Edison from going bankrupt won’t work, Gov. Gray Davis said Friday as the Legislature’s time to act was running out.

Lawmakers facing a midnight deadline to pass bills before the Legislature adjourns were also aiming to finish the Edison deal by that time.

Consumer advocate Doug Heller, walking the halls of the Legislature between the two houses, complained that trying to craft a new plan at the late hour was denting the legislative process.

“It’s 9:15 and there’s no bill to read,” said Heller, whose group, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, opposes the bill.

“You don’t rush this through and hope you get it right when you’re dealing with $4 billion.”

In April, Davis cut a deal to pay $2.76 billion for Edison‘s transmission system and let the utility sell consumer-backed bonds to repay the rest of its $3.9 billion debt.

Since then, legislators have created several versions of the plan. By Friday night, the Senate still lacked a new plan to override the Assembly’s. Without a Senate vote on either measure, the rescue plan will die and leave Edison facing bankruptcy.

The Senate’s first version would let the utility issue $2.5 billion in bonds and give the state the option of buying the transmission lines for $2.4 billion.

Last week, the Assembly passed a plan that lets Edison sell $2.9 billion in bonds. It also gives the state an option to buy the power lines for about $2.4 billion and hold development rights on more than 20,000 acres of Edison land.

On Friday, Davis said the Senate’s plan won’t restore Edison‘s financial stability, which he said was the whole point of doing a deal.

“This bill fails to do this and is unacceptable,” Davis said.

The Legislature must approve the deal before it adjourns its special session. The Senate approved a resolution to end the special session, which is devoted to energy issues, when the regular session adjourns at midnight.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the state’s largest utility, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April, after amassing about $8.9 billion due to last year’s sky-high electricity costs. Edison says it has accrued $3.9 billion in debts.

Edison opposed the earlier Senate plan, which passed in July, because it limited the bond sale to $2.5 billion.

Some legislators said a new Senate plan could also change which Edison customers repay the bonds.

The first Senate plan put the burden on Edison‘s 1,500 largest customers, while the Assembly spread the weight over 180,000 customers. Now, senators are looking for something in the middle.

Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, a San Francisco Democrat, has been reluctant to pass any Edison deal.

Just how a Senate plan emerges was anyone’s guess at 10 p.m. Friday. The Senate could amend the Assembly bill it already has or find another vehicle.

Assembly leaders said they think the Senate will ultimately do something.

“It sounds like the Senate does intend to make an attempt to put something together,” said Paul Hefner, the spokesman for Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys.

Other energy-related bills under consideration Friday included the following:

– A Burton bill that would set aside a portion of customer rates to repay $12.5 billion in bonds the state expects to issue in the fall. Burton’s bill, which Davis opposed, would also require the Department of Water Resources to hold public hearings on its long-term energy contracts.

PUC President Loretta Lynch said Burton’s bill would create a “a simpler, cheaper and more efficient bond structure.”

The commission has an alternate plan supported by DWR that it could vote on next week. That plan would allow DWR to raise customer rates without PUC review.

The Assembly approved the bill and sent it to Davis, who promised to veto it.

“It’s dead on arrival,” said Davis spokesman Steve Maviglio.

– A bill also by Burton that would allot $10 million to replacing traffic lights with energy-efficient models that have battery back-ups, in case of power outages. It was approved by the Senate 31-1 and was sent to the governor.

– Bills by Sen. Jackie Speier and Assemblywoman Carole Migden that would expand the PUC‘s authority to include power plants, except renewable energy facilities. Speier, D-Daly City, and Migden, D-San Francisco, say the bills would let the PUC inspect plants that they suspected were shut down to create energy shortages that would drive up prices. Migden’s bill was approved. Speier’s bill was still in the Assembly. The bills were double-joined, so both needed to pass to take effect.

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