Tags: California | Turns | Saving | Energy

California Turns to Saving Energy

Monday, 14 May 2001 12:00 AM

Gov. Gray Davis' choice for the Golden State's "energy czar" is S. David Freeman, an engineer and attorney in his 76th year, who enjoys a parade of successes running electrical generating and distribution systems not only in California but elsewhere in the country.

This move by the Democratic governor, whose political future hangs in the balance of how well his state manages to get through the summer without extensive brownouts, amid high residential and commercial power bills, comes at the same time Vice President Dick Cheney is outlining the Republican administration's long-range energy plan for the entire country.

While the Bush-Cheney energy plan makes some concessions to greater conservation, its focus is on creating nearly one power plant every week for the next 20 years and then using the federal power of eminent domain to construct a nationwide grid of power lines.

There is little in that federal formula to offer shorter-term – let alone immediate – relief for energy-starved California. And because the state cannot construct enough new power plants in time, either, that leaves but one option for Gray to embrace: conservation.

Even though the California Assembly created the state's energy mess by imposing an ersatz form of deregulation that resulted in power shortages, California already enjoys the second-best energy-conservation rate of any state, behind only that of Rhode Island.

So it was natural for Davis to take to television interviews Sunday with a new set of talking points, which added up to: California will do everything it can within its legal authority, and it's up to the feds to do the rest.

In Davis' view, "the rest" means a Bush-Cheney administration cap on the price out-of-state producers may charge in-state utilities.

But Davis has been told price-fixing is a no-no in this GOP administration's free-market book.

That's why Davis is putting such importance on even-greater energy conservation within California. His unspoken threat to Bush and Cheney is: If California is doing all it can, and an energy disaster still erupts this summer, then it's Washington's fault.

In that ploy, Davis is counting on Freeman to make a noticeable improvement in conservation in a very quick time.

Freeman's immediate assignment in the state capital: Reduce electric consumption statewide by 20 percent no later than September.

The governor and the state assembly have put at Freeman's disposal $850 million for programs to lower the usage of electric power in agriculture and encourage householders to use energy-efficient appliances and occupants of commercial buildings to use more-efficient lighting and cooling.

Freeman goes to Sacramento with a superb reputation for what he was able to accomplish managing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for the past four years.

During that time he in effect made that sprawling city an oasis in the state's energy Sahara, avoiding power shortages by initiating effective conservation practices, increasing generation by natural-gas, solar- and wind-powered plants while holding rates in line and at the same time reducing the city generating system's $4.1 billion debt to $1.2 billion.

This will be a return visit to Sacramento for Freeman, who is still remembered favorably from when he managed its utility district, 1990 to 1994.

Before taking on the Los Angeles assignment four years ago, considered then by many to be like leaping into the La Brea tar pits, Freeman managed power systems in New York and in Texas.

He is perhaps known best for his chairmanship of the gigantic Tennessee Valley Authority generating and distribution system, 1977-1984.

Freeman is looking at that experience as something of a model for tackling his California challenge.

"It's going to take a lot of old-fashion conservation similar to what we did at the TVA in the late '70s [when] we reached a million homes with our energy-efficiency program," he told the Knoxville News-Sentinel recently.

The effect of those energy savings, Freeman said, was "the equivalent of a nuclear power plant, except ... it was cheaper and worked all the time."

This time, though, Freeman has a far-shorter deadline: less than four months.

Whether he can pull off the near-miracle of cutting California's energy consumption by 20 percent in such a short time is a stretch.

It illustrates why the Bush-Cheney administration is deliberately avoiding politically precarious short-term "fixes" and concentrating on long-term remedies, even though they may take decades to pay off.

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Gov. Gray Davis' choice for the Golden State's energy czar is S. David Freeman, an engineer and attorney in his 76th year, who enjoys a parade of successes running electrical generating and distribution systems not only in California but elsewhere in the country. This...
Monday, 14 May 2001 12:00 AM
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