Tags: Bush | Offers | California | Energy | Lifeline

Bush Offers California an Energy Lifeline

Tuesday, 29 May 2001 12:00 AM

"Energy debates sometimes throw off some sparks, but this is no time for harsh rhetoric. It's certainly no time for name calling. It's time for leadership. It's time for results. It's time to put politics aside and focus on the best interests of the people," Bush said during his speech to military personnel at Camp Pendleton.

Bush and Gov. Gray Davis were expected to talk later about the state's escalating energy crunch, which has left millions of residents paying higher utility costs and suffering through unpredictable rolling blackouts.

The three-day trip to California is significant politically. Bush lost the state to presidential candidate Al Gore in the 2000 elections by more than 1 million votes, and a loss of Republican congressional seats there in the midterm elections could mean a turnover of the House of Representatives to Democrats.

Davis is expected to try to blame the Bush administration for what many see as a self-induced crisis caused by decades of anti-energy environmental policies and bungled partial deregulation. Davis is expected to claim that federal inattention to the state's power shortage could result in an economic recession that would damage the nation's financial health.

Davis has tried to fault Texas oil companies for "price gouging," a claim that Vice President Dick Cheney on a Sunday talk show called "goofy." Davis says the state's power costs rose from $7 billion in 1999 to between $50 billion and $60 billion this year.

The unpopular Davis, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, wants the White House to impose price controls on wholesale energy rates, a move Bush opposes. Cheney has said that the free market should be allowed to lower prices and that increasing energy supplies across the country would provide long-term relief to California and the rest of the nation.

Bush praised the military personnel for their strides in conserving energy in the wake of his executive order earlier this month that federal agencies reduce power consumption, estimating the plan would save California 76 megawatts an hour during peak use periods. That, he said, would provide power for 140,000 people - about the size of the city of Pasadena. And he proposed $150 million in additional energy assistance for low-income power consumers struggling to pay their energy bills.

On Monday, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham ordered the Western Area Power Administration, an agency responsible for marketing electricity from federal water projects in 15 states, to finish planning for building extra transmission capabilities.

At issue here is what is called "Path 15," the 85-mile network of transmission lines connecting the power grids of Northern and Southern California, which lacks the ability to adequately transfer the necessary power load between the two regions. Abraham directed the Western Area Power Administration to determine whether there were investors interested in financing a new transmission line.

"For almost 20 years Path 15 ... needed to be expanded and modernized, and now we're taking action to get the job done. Energy Secretary Spence Abraham is speeding approval of the necessary permits and easements to unplug the Path 15 bottleneck. We're advancing toward an interstate electric grid to match our interstate highways and our interstate phone systems," Bush said.

Rising prices for wholesale electricity hit private power plant companies in California hard after they were burdened by state deregulation laws that froze consumer rates at a rate well below current wholesale prices and dry conditions in the Pacific Northwest this winter reduced the amount of surplus hydroelectric power available for sale into California.

The state's largest privately owned utilities have been hammered by skyrocketing wholesale electricity prices and the state's 1996 electric deregulation law. Wholesale electric prices are roughly 10 times higher than last year, but deregulation limited rate increases to consumers. The largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, filed for bankruptcy protection in April.

Democrats have accused Bush of playing partisan politics with California, claiming that if the state's government were led by Republicans, the administration would be more aggressive in seeking solutions to the energy problems.

Conservatives, in turn, have accused environmentalist liberals of pushing California into disaster by refusing to build needed power plants and by otherwise failing to plan for the state's growing energy needs.

Earlier this month the Bush administration released a comprehensive energy blueprint that called for an additional 38,000 miles of natural-gas pipelines and 25,000 miles of electrical transmission lines. The report recommended the construction of nuclear power plants, between 1,300 and 1,900 new electrical plants, and greater use of coal and hydroelectric technology.

In the report, 42 recommendations relate to conservation and environmental protections; 35 deal with increasing energy resources and 25 focus on international issues such as increasing oil and gas imports from Mexico and Canada. The plan would tack on about $6.3 billion to the White House's proposed budget for next year. Congress would have to approve 20 of the proposals, while 73 are under the jurisdiction of various federal agencies. About a dozen can be implemented through executive orders by the president.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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Energy debates sometimes throw off some sparks, but this is no time for harsh rhetoric. It's certainly no time for name calling. It's time for leadership. It's time for results. It's time to put politics aside and focus on the best interests of the people, Bush said during...
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2001-00-29
Tuesday, 29 May 2001 12:00 AM
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