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Prop 80 to change regulation for CA electricity

Power producers and state regulators are lobbying to defeat the measure, but consumer advocates say Prop 80 is good for California. KPBS Reporter Erik Anderson has details.

California voters get a chance to reshape the state's energy marketplace when they go to the polls next week. Proposition 80 asks voters to essentially re-regulate key portions of the state's electricity industry. Power producers and state regulators are lobbying to defeat the measure, but consumer advocates say Prop 80 is good for California. KPBS Reporter Erik Anderson has details.

A coalition of California consumer groups and labor advocates say its time to give voters a chance to fix what's wrong with the state's electricity marketplace. The Utility Reform Network wrote proposition 80 as a way to end key tenets of California's disastrous plan to restructure the energy marketplace nine years ago. Spokeswoman Mindy Spatt says the goal is simple

Spatt: Proposition 80 would keep the lights on and the electric bills affordable by dumping deregulation for good.


Spatt says prop 80 addresses the state's two most pressing energy problems high electricity prices and potential energy shortages. She says the initiative allows for public oversight of energy companies that gouged the state's consumers during the energy crisis of 2000 and 2001. She says it also changes a few other rules.

Spatt: ...allowing California to use more renewable energy sooner. It would limit the amount of dirty power plants we build and it would level the playing field for small businesses by preventing special deals for big businesses.

Utility Consumer Action Network spokesman Michael Shames says prop 80 returns accountability to the electricity market. He says it requires residents and businesses to buy power from California utilities. He says its no surprise that the majority of the people lining up against the proposal are firms that want to sell power in California.

Shames: The energy companies like Sempra who want to try to make a buck by building power plants and selling that power directly to the customers and bypassing the utilities, they're the ones who are squawking.

Sempra has donated money to the NO on Prop 80 campaign but chose NOT to comment. Meanwhile, Shames says Proposition 80 supporters are hoping voter read and understand the complex ballot arguments.


Shames: This is an initiative that will pass if voters take the time to read the pro and con discussion in the booklets they receive. There are not going to be a lot of TV ads, there are not going to be a lot of radio ads, so they're essentially going to have to make up their minds based on the text of what's written in those ballot statements.

Proposition 80 opponents ARE using the airwaves to get their message out. In the only TV ad produced by opponents, a woman in her kitchen speaks to the camera. AD: Its anti consumer. It eliminates competition and consumer choice. And 80's anti-environment. It discourages clean green energy. The people behind this one are in the dark.

The commercial is only airing in three markets: San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles. And No on 80 spokesman Dan Pellecier says that message could get lost in the clutter of all the other political ads on the air. Pellecier says opposition to prop-80 is NOT just coming from energy companies.

Pellecier: It starts with the Public Utilities Commission that voted five to zero to oppose proposition 80. Then you move to the environmental community, the clean power campaign who's helping us build the clean power plants we need for our future.

Pellecier says Proposition 80 will likely face an immediate court hearing if it passes. He says the state's supreme court is allowing voters to have their say before deciding if the courts need to intervene. San Diego Regional Energy Office president Irene Stillings says the measure will NOT help fix linger problems borne in during the energy crisis.

Stillings: "But, this proposition is not the way to get ourselves out of this mess. The way we get ourselves out of this mess is to push hard on energy efficiency, to push hard on changing people's behavior, and to create a market for renewable energy products.

Stillings says proposition 80 moves the state backward when the focus needs to be preparing for the future. She says the ballot box is NOT the place to determine California energy policy.

Stillings: These are issues that need to be talked about by reasonable people. That need to be discussed, where an opportunity to understand various issues involved get a public airing.

California's legislative analyst says it'll cost up to four million dollars to make the rule changes called for in the initiative. However, the real financial impact of the initiative remains unclear. The legislative analyst says that'll be determined by proposition 80's impact on electricity prices which is impossible to predict. Erik Anderson KPBS News