Calif. power crisis may become national mess- : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Calif. power crisis may become national mess-lawmakers Thursday February 15, 12:36 PM EST By Patrick Connole

WASHINGTON, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Members of a U.S. House Energy panel on Thursday warned that California's chronic electricity shortage crisis could become a national economic mess unless action is taken to revamp aging transmission lines and build more power generators.

Cries of "transmission, transmission, transmission" were mentioned time and again by lawmakers as the true problem facing not only California, but the entire nation.

A growing population and greater use of computers are increasing demand for electricity and threaten to strangle an antiquated power grid, the lawmakers said.

House Republicans promised to lead a charge for a national energy policy promoted by the Bush administration, and prevent a repeat of California's problems. They also criticized the previous Clinton administration for not having an energy policy at all.

"We're facing, incredibly, another energy crisis," said Rep. Billy Tauzin, the newly-installed Louisiana Republican who chairs the full House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"We cannot have a crisis in California that is not a national concern," Tauzin said.

The country, he said, has an "insatiable thirst for energy," and the new e-economy is a "gas guzzler" requiring constant flows of electricity to keep computers and other equipment running, notably in high-technology centers in California.

California's economy represents 12 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product, Tauzin said. Its power trouble "could be just the first sign of what could be problems all over America," he added.

The next electricity crisis is most likely in New York, Chicago or Boston, because those areas have some of the same supply bottlenecks and demand surges as California, lawmakers said.

Thursday marked the 31st day of an electricity shortage in California.

The crisis is blamed on a faulty deregulation scheme approved by the state in 1996, extremely high natural gas prices, the lack of new power plants due to strict state siting rules, and high demand.

California has suffered from potential rolling blackouts at the same time its two largest investor-owned utilities -- Edison International's (EIX) Southern California Edison and PG&E Corp's (PCG) Pacific Gas & Electric -- teeter near bankruptcy.

Some Democrats at the House hearing had warnings of their own, telling Republicans while they were willing to work on a bipartisan approach to the California crisis, it was wrong to blame environmental laws for the power shortfalls.

"Some want to blame the Clean Air Act for California's problems," said Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, noting such talk was intended to cover the Bush administration's plans to rollback environmental protections.

"If air pollution laws are causing the problem, then why is Los Angeles not having a problem," Waxman said.

Los Angeles is not part of the state's deregulation system. The city is supplied by a publicly-owned municipal concern, which has not suffered during the crisis and has actually exported excess power, all while meeting the toughest air rules in the state, Waxman said.

Other participants at the Thursday hearing represented states which are called deregulation successes, like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Officials from those states said a more relaxed approach to siting new power generation, a diverse energy source base and competitive market systems have prevented them from suffering the same fate as California.

-- Martin Thompson (, February 15, 2001


Isn't it a strange coincidence that, since the last "Y2K+1" variant of the Leap Year Date Y2K Computer Bug hit, the entire Nation's electrical grid has suddenly become "antiquated" and full of "supply bottlenecks". No one was talking about this in 1998. Yes, there were warnings in 1999, probably to prepare us for foreseeable Y2K problems. The Y2K Computer bugs are indeed starting to "bite" the infrastructure; although milder, later, and slower than anticipated by Y2K pessimists in 1999.

-- Robert Riggs (, February 15, 2001.

Ditto for the nation's sewer and water systems.

-- Doris (, February 15, 2001.

Strange indeed. In the fall of '99 all was well. CA had plenty of generation and a grid to trnsmit power around where needed. In less than 12 months generation wquipment became old and worn, succumbing to unexplained wear and mechanical failures. The misnamed "deregulation" mantra is trotted out on every conceivable occasion as one of, if not THE, cause of power shortages. How did utilities divesting themselves of generation facilities, being forced to buy power with no price caps on the open market and sell it at a fixed price cause a shortage of power? There isn't enough power because too many plants are down, not because the utilities are losing their shirts. Two separate problems. The power supply is on the ragged edge because there may not have been sufficient reserve to begin with and the unplanned plant shutdowns equal or exceed the planned. That does not seem like an ordinary situation. For some reason, it isn't getting the attention it deserves.

-- Warren Ketler (, February 15, 2001.

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