Time running out on Edison deal

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The Associated Press

Gov. Gray Davis said Friday he’s concerned that a version of his deal to save Southern California Edison that’s currently under consideration by the Senate won’t keep the utility from bankruptcy.

As state lawmakers prepared to rush through hundreds of measures on the remaining day of the legislative session, that one massive issue remained unsolved – if and how the state will help Edison avoid bankruptcy.

The governor negotiated a plan in April to buy the utility’s transmission system for $2.76 billion and allow the utility to issue bonds back by customer rates to repay the rest of its $3.9 billion debts.

Since then, the Legislature has reworked the plan several times. By Friday morning, the Senate had done little to consider the Assembly’s revision of a plan the Senate passed in July. Without a Senate vote, the rescue plan will die and leave Edison faced with bankruptcy.

The Senate Energy Committee was working Friday on yet another version, which 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.

Davis said Friday the Senate’s current plan won’t restore the utility to financial stability.

“The whole purpose of this exercise is to allow Edison to become creditworthy, allowing the state to get out of the power-buying business,” Davis said. “This bill fails to do this and is unacceptable.”

The Legislature must approve the deal by the time it adjourns Friday.

Lawmakers are also in a special session devoted to energy issues, which could last longer than the regular session.

The Assembly approved a plan last week that let Edison issue $2.9 billion in bonds. It also gives the state an option to buy the utility’s transmission grid for about $2.4 billion and hold development rights on more than 20,000 acres of Edison land.

That bill was sent to the Senate, which appears unlikely to pass it.

Without a rescue, “we have every indication from Edison that they’ll file for bankruptcy,” said Steve Maviglio, Davis’ spokesman.

The state’s other large utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy 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 deal that also limited the bonds to $2.5 billion, saying it would not return them to financial solvency.

The new plan under consideration by the Senate could also change which Edison customers repay the bonds.

The Senate’s earlier version burdened 1,500 of Edison‘s largest industrial customers with the bond repayment, those who use 500 kilowatt hours during peak times.

The Assembly’s plan spread that out among about 180,000 business customers with peak loads of 20 kilowatt hours. Under both plans, rates would not be increased for any customers.

Senators are now considering a threshold for energy use that would be somewhere in between those two plans, perhaps 125 kilowatt hours.

Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, a San Francisco Democrat, has been reluctant to pass an Edison deal. Maviglio said the governor’s staff was trying to work with Burton’s to come up with something.

“We’re ready and willing to meet when he is,” Maviglio said.

The Senate Energy Committee is tentatively set to meet Friday afternoon.

Once they have the new plan, the committee is considering amending it into an Assembly bill already in their house. That bill would have to be approved by the energy and fiscal committees, then sent to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.

If that happens, “there’s nothing we can do,” said Assembly Republican spokeswoman Dana O’Donnell. “It’s coming back for concurrence. That means we can’t amend it, we can only either vote on it or not vote on it.”

Consumer groups opposed the bill approved by the Assembly last week.

“We’re working pretty hard to prevent them from doing anything,” said consumer advocate Doug Heller with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. That organization has promised to mount a ballot measure to reverse any Edison rescue deal approved by the Legislature.

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