Peace hits ‘myths’ on energy law

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Sacramento Bee

Steve Peace, the legislator who led efforts to craft a 1996 bill deregulating California’s electricity market, has posted a video on his state Senate Web site that argues he was never a fan of deregulation in the first place.

The 12-minute documentary-style piece points out eight what it calls “myths” surrounding deregulation, focusing heavily on elements that contend the El Cajon Democrat is not to blame for its failings.

Snippets of tape show Peace, chairman of the committee that approved deregulation plans in 1996, telling fellow lawmakers that proposals to end the regulated energy market are a bad idea.

“I’m not a supporter of going to competition. I’m in favor of maintaining a regulated environment,” he says during a committee hearing highlighted in “Myth No. 2: Sen. Steve Peace was the ‘architect of deregulation.’ ”

Peace declined to comment Thursday about the videotape. But his chief of staff, Dan Howle, said the office put the tape on Peace’s Web site in December to answer questions about how and why the new electricity market was created.

Observers say Peace was a key leader who brought together utilities, consumer groups and other lawmakers to sign off on the bill that was supposed to lower electricity rates for residential and business customers. Members of both the state Senate and Assembly unanimously approved the legislation, which was signed into law by then-Gov. Pete Wilson.

Four years into the new system, the state’s utilities have racked up $12 billion in debt, consumers are threatened with long-term increases in their electricity bills, and lawmakers are considering a major overhaul of the restructuring plan. Critics say the troubles threaten Peace’s potential bid for secretary of state in 2002.

In the videotape, a narrator notes that the state Public Utilities Commission already had moved to deregulate the market and suggests the situation would be even worse if not for ratepayer protections Peace wove into the bill. But consumer activists say the senator’s efforts to distance himself from the 1996 legislation are laughable.

“When Steve Peace, the utilities and the politicians get through with it, deregulation will have been caused by a virus that somebody put in the water supply,” said Harvey Rosenfield, founder of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

The videotape was put together by a production company partially owned by Peace, Howle said. He said he did not know the cost, adding that he thought it was financed by a campaign fund set up for Peace’s possible run for secretary of state.

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