Monday, October 17, 2005

Energy Initiative going under radar

Californians will be asked whether to change the rules of the State's electricity markets in a few weeks...but there is confusion about what they're being asked to vote for in Proposition 80.

The consumer advocates who got Proposition 80 on the November special election ballot have a simple message for voters: Don't get fooled again.

They contend that the measure would prevent a repeat of the energy crisis of 2000-01 by removing the last vestiges of retail competition from the state's system for generating and selling electricity and by leaving traditional utilities such as Southern California Edison Co. as the dominant providers of power.

"California learned that deregulation in the electricity industry is a disaster, and Proposition 80 says never again," said Bob Finkelstein, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, referring to the state's failed 1996 deregulation law.

But opponents — mainly businesses, independent power producers and alternative-energy advocates — say there's nothing simple about the issue.

They contend that the initiative is rife with inconsistent language and legal contradictions that could create enough uncertainty in the state's electricity market to stall investment in badly needed power plants. Passage could destabilize California's still-fragile energy industry for years, the proposition's critics say, leaving the state susceptible to power shortages.

"This is going to create chaos in [the electricity market] because of uncertainty and litigation," said V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies in Sacramento, who fears the measure could make it harder for the state to require utilities to buy more solar, wind and geothermal energy. "This is a backward-looking initiative that does not solve any problems we now face."