The California Public Utilities Commission February 28 unanimously agreed to consider lifting the suspension of direct access if certain legal requirements are met. It acknowledged in its rulemaking, however, that it currently lacks authority to lift the freeze on direct access, which allows consumers to buy power from providers other than investor-owned utilities. \u201cWhile we conclude that the commission does not have the authority to unilaterally lift the suspension of direct access imposed by AB 1X, at this time we can and should consider how DWR can extricate itself from the power supply business, which it wishes to do,\u201d states the regulators\u2019 rulemaking. \u201cCalifornia\u2019s rates are among the highest in the country. We\u2019ve lost about 400,000 manufacturing jobs in California in the past six or seven years,\u201d California Manufacturers and Technology Association spokesman Gino DeCaro said. \u201cThe ability to go out and procure electricity contracts and shop around would go a long way in helping business in California.\u201d AB 1X--a relic of the 2000-01 energy crisis--mandated the suspension of direct access. Regulators thought deals between consumers and non-utility providers could provide electricity at prices below regulated utility rates. It also was thought that allowing cheaper arrangements would help keep large businesses from heading to states with cheaper electricity. However, the crisis plunged utilities into financial chaos and customers dumping utility service exacerbated the problem. AB 1X was meant to stop the financial hemorrhaging of investor-owned utilities by keeping customers under the utilities\u2019 realm. It specified that the ban on direct access would continue until the California Department of Water Resources no longer supplied power. Before the CPUC considers lifting the direct access ban, it has to consider strategies to remove DWR from its role as a power supplier. As long as DWR holds legal title to power that it sells to retail customers, it is deemed to be supplying power under the statute. The commission\u2019s action generated a negative response from utility watchdog group The Utility Reform Network. TURN likened the decision to opening the door for the \u201cEnrons\u201d of the world. Many state politicians blame Enron for saddling ratepayers with billions of dollars of costs due to alleged market manipulation during the energy crisis. \u201cThe CPUC\u2019s action \u2026 clearly contravenes the Legislature\u2019s desire to protect consumers from high prices and rolling blackouts,\u201d TURN executive director Mark Toney stated. \u201dWhy would we invite Enron and its ilk back to California?\u201d Surprisingly, at least one utility did not oppose the move. In a statement, Southern California Edison noted, "The specific electric service in question \u2014 power procurement \u2014 is provided by SCE at actual cost. Therefore, the utility\u2019s concern in this proceeding is not preventing competition but ensuring that any new state policies do not saddle utility customers with unfair costs." Commission president Mike Peevey said that Thursday\u2019s decision was just the first phase of a three-phased decision on whether direct access may be lifted. Future phases, he said, will deal with satisfying the legal requirements of AB 1X. They also are to focus on deciding whether the direct access program should be revived and expanded and, if so, how to best to do so. Also at the meeting, the commission approved a San Diego Gas & Electric motion to adopt an all-party settlement addressing revenue allocation and rate design issues for the utility\u2019s electric revenue requirement for 2008 through 2010. \u201cThe decision approved time-of-use meters languishing in the utility\u2019s inventory at no cost to customers that install solar energy systems, as well as adopting a new energy rate for customers with solar generation,\u201d said commissioner John Bohn. A new tariff was also established for customers with other forms of distributed generation less than 2 MW in capacity. \u201cPerhaps most importantly, this decision includes a new default time of use rate with critical peak pricing for all large commercial and industrial customers of SDG&E,\u201d Bohn said. Customers of the utility would have a year of bill protection and the ability to opt out of the critical peak pricing program. Small commercial customers and residential customers will not be placed on the default time of use and critical peak pricing rates. Instead, they\u2019ll continue to have flat rates, but with an additional feature called peak time rebates. This allows customers that use less than typical amounts of energy during periods when electricity is in short supply to earn rebates. Although commissioner Rachelle Chong said she was disappointed that small commercial customers would be kept on the flat rate plan, it proved to not be a deal breaker. The commission approved the decision on a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Tim Simon missed the meeting because he was in Sacramento before the California state Senate, which confirmed his CPUC post.