The new year is still young, but Dr. Snarky Sparks is wrung out. Snowstorms, mud slides, and bipartisan swinging and flinging at the state Capitol haven?t delayed checking up on her many patients. But the energy scene at the Capitol is pretty much in a deep freeze. A thaw is not expected anytime soon. The Senate and Assembly energy committees are lying low while everyone else wrangles over the budget. And, in stark contrast to the electricity crisis days, energy bills are only trickling in. The doctor and others are, however, expecting a little action just east of the Capitol. As you know, months have passed since the grid operator?s former chief executive officer was pushed out the door. Many await word on the new pick, which could come any day. There have been few leaks, but Snarky knows that a number of candidates have been interviewed. She also learned that not too many utility muckety-mucks are clamoring for the job because the salary ain?t what it used to be. Given all the brouhaha over Terry Winter?s hefty salary?around $600,000, plus some very nice perks?the new CEO spot will not come with such a generous package. So it is no surprise that a fun-loving capitalist would not give up a big salary, bonuses, and stock options in exchange for a new job that includes a summer that would make a trapeze artist wince. Even with the old parameters, the grid operator?s salary and perks look paltry compared to some others. PG&E?s Bob Glynn was reported to have made $22.5 million last year. PG&E?s new CEO, Peter Darbee, reaped $6.88 million, while Calpine?s Peter Cartwright made $6.95 million. And you can bet the other utility execs are not far behind. As of press time, the one name most often heard in the rumor mill regarding a new grid operator CEO is Yakout Mansour. He runs the grid up in British Columbia, and before becoming senior VP of grid operations at BC Transmission Corp., he was in charge of BC?s hydro transmission and distribution. Another candidate?said to be briefly considered?was the head of the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas. But it seems that a Lone Star State credential was not a plus. Other holes to fill at CAISO include the spot that will be vacated by board president Michael Kahn, who failed to defeat the recall of the man who appointed him?Gray Davis. In addition, after nine years of blood, sweat, and tears, survivor Mike Florio may also be moving on. ?I was not asked if I wanted to be reappointed, but I wasn?t campaigning for it either,? he said. Snarky hates to see him go and will never forget him showing up at one of the long, dry meetings in a loud Hawaiian shirt. Lest you forget, Florio was on the original stakeholder board that surfed the deregulation storm, and was one of the five Gov. Davis picks who weathered the battle between Gray and FERC over who gets to pick (and pick on) board members. Speaking of FERC, earlier this month?and just before one of its biweekly Wednesday meetings?the federal agency?s building in D.C. was evacuated because of a bomb scare. There has been much speculation about possible suspects, including a brief thought of the departing Mr. Kahn. Gary Ackerman, Western Power Trading Forum director, shook his head and wondered whether the culprit was one of the opponents to FERC?s market redesign. Another meeting?actually, press conference?was also recently thwarted. This week, consumer advocates pushing to ensure that energy-efficiency funds are not limited to private utilities held a press conference (or tried to) at 505 Van Ness. Ralph Nader was the main draw for the January 25 event. According to one of the follow-up speakers-to-be, Barbara George, head of Women?s Energy Matters, the commission?s security chased her and others out of the cafeteria before the press conference. She said she was told by the CPUC that the group could hold a press conference, but apparently the word didn?t trickle down. While in the courtyard, and before Nader opened his mouth, he and others were chased out to the steps by security. Guess security had been drinking too much coffee in the cafeteria and needed some action. Upstairs at the CPUC, the executive offices buzzed over former commissioner Henry Duque?s $18,000 fine by the Fair Political Practices Commission for conflict of interest. You may recall that Duque got himself in hot water in 2000 for holding stock in Nextel Communications?and voting on matters involving the company. The odd thing is, the stock he owned was not worth a whole lot, but it was enough to fall within the FPPC?s radar. The FPPC concluded, ?Duque?s conduct in the case was not an isolated event.? He cast votes nine times on issues affecting the telecom company. Duque told the <i>San Francisco Chronicle<\/i> that he didn?t know the company was regulated by the CPUC. Guess he also wasn?t aware that ignorance of his portfolio is no defense. CPUC prez Mike Peevey also is caught up in some potential legal difficulties. He sold his energy business for a cool $10 million a few years ago and was told by his accountant that he could avoid paying taxes. Arthur Andersen, Enron?s former accountant, set up a convoluted tax shelter for Peevey and his wife to avoid paying one-third of the profit in taxes to Uncle Sam and California. The IRS, however, started knocking on the Peeveys? door saying it?s owed its due. In turn, Peevey sued his accountant for about 10 times the amount he could owe in taxes. ?I was assured the transaction was low risk,? Peevey told the <i>Los Angeles Times<\/i>. It is one thing to get hit with a whopping tax bill thanks to questionable, pricey advice from an accountant but quite another to find that you may not own the land slated for your LNG terminal. You see, it appears that Sempra might not own the Costa Azul site on which it plans to build an import gas terminal, at least according to a suit filed in Mexican court. It alleges that Sempra owns land about five miles south of the parcel on which it received permits for the LNG project. Needless to say, Sempra was not amused. ?We believe this lawsuit has no merit, that it?s factually defective,? Sempra spokesperson Jennifer Andrews told the San Diego Tribune. You may remember that Marathon Oil was forced to abandon its LNG project last year because of a land dispute. The first indictment came down in the pay-to-play investigation at the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power. John Stodder, bygone vice-president of the department?s former public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard, was indicted for 11 counts of wire fraud in which he allegedly sent $250,000 of faked bills to his corporate headquarters in St. Louis for submission to the department. Former LADWP general manager S. David Freeman blamed Los Angeles mayor James Hahn for allowing the payment of the invoices. ?In my view, he?s completely responsible,? Freeman told the L.A. Weekly. Hahn turned around and blamed the city controller?s office and department staff who were supposed to be overseeing the contract. ?That?s who should do the job,? said Hahn. Stay tuned for who is next in line in the blame game. The indictment came in the course of an investigation by the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles into allegations that contractors to the LADWP and other city departments were forced to make political campaign contributions to elected officials in order to obtain contract awards. Earlier this month, Los Angeles City Council member Tony Cardenas cut short a committee hearing immediately before an agenda item that was to feature a dozen LADWP contractors gathered to testify that they allegedly had been abused and threatened by the muni?s purchasing office. Cardenas promised to reschedule the item for the January 25 meeting of his Commerce, Energy, and Natural Resources Committee but then canceled that meeting without explanation. There was recently yet another love fest among federal environmental officials, Republican lawmakers, and big business. One critic, Frank O?Donnell of Clean Air Watch, labeled the confab a polluters? forum to buy access. Interior Secretary Gale Norton was a featured speaker. The event, which took place in Phoenix the first week of January, was sponsored by the Western Business Roundtable, whose motto is ?economic growth, opportunity and freedom of enterprise??theirs, of course. The roundtable executive director Jim Sims, who worked with VP Dick Cheney, told the Associated Press, ?Any group that opposes that commonsense approach is, by definition, an extremist group.? Meanwhile, back at the Capitol, a burning question is whether the senators will actually have voice mail now that Senate president pro tem John Burton is gone. He hated the mechanized service and objected to its installation. Snarky understands that the Senate?s voice mail will be installed by March. She dearly hopes those calling their senators will not be subjected to a menu of options that lead to an infuriating mechanical loop ?for your convenience.? As the Dr. was about to sign off for the week, she got this email from Nigeria: ?I am extending this proposal to you in my capacity as Chief Accountant and in full agreement with the Auditor-General of this company (Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas). After the third quarter internal audit carried on all records and accounts of awarded and executed contracts of this company (NLNG) since inception of democracy in Nigeria, a whopping sum of US$52.3M was uncovered to be floating . . .? You know the rest.