Richardson says legislation delay may mean blackouts : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Richardson says legislation delay may mean blackouts Filed: 04/12/2000

By Jonathan Berr c.2000 Bloomberg News

Washington, April 11 (Bloomberg)  U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said he is concerned that delays in passing electricity deregulation legislation will place the nation's power system at risk for blackouts.

In testimony prepared for the Senate Energy Committee, Richardson said electric companies are not making needed repairs because of uncertainties about whether regulators will let them recoup their investments.

"The construction of new major transmission facilities is almost nonexistent, and existing transmission capacity is tightly constrained in certain regions," Richardson said. "If Congress fails to act soon, development of competitive electricity markets will be stunted."

Billionare investor Warren Buffett is one utility investor who wants Congress to take action on utility deregulation, Richardson said.

"He wanted to offer his help," said Richardson, who recently spoke with Buffett, who led a group of investors that took Omaha utility owner MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. private last month for $9 billion.

Chicago Lights

Utilities also are facing increasing pressure from regulators and political leaders to make sure that they keep their customers' lights on this summer.

Unicom Corp., the owner of Chicago's electric utility, is spending $900 million this year to fix its electric transmission system, which was faulted for a series of embarrassing blackouts last summer.

Still, Senator Frank Murkowski, chairman of the committee, said he is concerned about the government making too many changes in laws affecting the electric power industry. "I do not intend to break it with bad legislation," he said.

Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, who introduced one of the eight deregulation bills pending in the Senate, said Congress needs to make sure that state regulators continue to be able to direct the deregulation of their electricity markets.

Committee members said Congress needs to take some action to clarify the role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and to repeal the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act and the Public Utilities Holding Company Act, two laws that industry officials have long complained stifle their profitability.

"I think we need to go ahead this year," with the deregulation bill, Murkowski said. "The process is going to be difficult."

-- Martin Thompson (, April 13, 2000

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