Reregulation Ballot Measure Filed

By Published On: January 29, 2005

A ballot initiative sponsored by The Utility Reform Network would reregulate the state?s electric industry. The proposed initiative, filed with the state attorney general January 25, would put all electricity providers?other than municipal power agencies?under California Public Utilities Commission regulation. It would, however, still require competitive bidding for new generation from third-party producers. The initiative would also ban direct access and would restore utilities? ?obligation to serve? at ?just and reasonable rates.? It also includes language promoting distributed generation but would prevent customers using less than 1,000 kWh/month from having to subscribe to a time-of-use schedule. TURN last ventured into initiative politics prior to the energy crisis with Proposition 9. That 1998 initiative would have repealed much of the deregulation law, and aimed to reduce residential and small commercial customers? rates by 20 percent. It also would have prohibited paying off utilities? stranded costs through bonds or bill assessments. The proposition was defeated, with PG&E spending approximately $50 million against it, compared to $1 million spent by proponents. Prop. 9 was also opposed by then-governor Gray Davis, the California Chamber of Commerce, utilities, large energy consumers, unions, the Independent Energy Producers, and some environmentalists, including the Natural Resources Defense Council. Mindy Spatt, TURN spokesperson, said unlike the ballot debate over Prop. 9, this time the public ?will know better.? She added, ?The difference is that the public lived through the rolling blackouts and rising prices that Prop. 9 would have prevented.? Some of the Prop. 9 opponents dismissed the new initiative. Dorothy Rothrock, California Manufacturers & Technology Association vice-president of government relations, derisively called it the ?cherry on top? of dozens of just-filed initiatives. ?Only fools would agree to it,? sniffed Gary Ackerman, Western Power Trading Forum executive director. TURN?s sister consumer advocate organization, the Utility Consumers? Action Network, has not yet had a board meeting to vote on it. Executive director Michael Shames said he did not know what the board would do. UCAN did not endorse Proposition 9. Another potential supporter, Southern California Edison, would make no comment on the proposed ballot measure. Edison sponsored a form of reregulation legislation last year through AB 2006. That bill was vetoed by the governor last September (<i>Circuit</i>, Sept. 17, 2004). Spatt said the initiative was in the early stages and the consumer group had not yet teamed up with anyone. ?We filed in order to make sure we could do the initiative if we wanted to and if there is a special election,? she said. TURN has not yet lined up any funding to launch a signature-gathering drive, she added. The governor might call a special election this year to allow a vote on the state?s budget. If the Legislature goes along with a special election, it could be as early as June, according to Rothrock. If not, it could be called in November. Meanwhile, those with initiatives are faced with the expensive task of gathering signatures in order to qualify for the ballot. TURN filed two versions of the initiative with the state. If the organization proceeds with the initiative, it will use one or the other for the ballot. The differences between the two initiatives are minor, including their titles. One is named the Re-Regulation of Electricity Act and the other the Repeal of Electricity Deregulation and Blackout Prevention Act. The former would require the utilities to reach the renewables portfolio standard goals by 2017, the latter by 2010.

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