Election Section

Senate approves state oversight of power plant maintenance

By Don Thompson, The Associated Press
Saturday April 13, 2002

SACRAMENTO — The state could monitor power plants’ maintenance and operation to make sure plants aren’t being deliberately pulled off-line, under legislation sent to Gov. Gray Davis Thursday. 

Often a third of the state’s plants were down for scheduled or unscheduled maintenance during last year’s power crisis, said the author, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco. 

“Much of it, we believe, was off ...(because) if you can decrease the supply you can increase the demand,” Burton said. 

Several studies and whistle-blowers accused power companies of choking supply to raise prices, helping spark a series of rolling blackouts a year ago. 

Such manipulation cost Californians $6 billion in overcharges the last two years, alleged a report by the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid. Attorney General Bill Lockyer has filed eight lawsuits accusing power companies of overcharges. 

Power companies deny deliberate shutdowns. The Independent Energy Producers, a trade group, said plants ran at an unprecedented rate to keep up with soaring demand, often forcing shutdowns for unscheduled repairs. 

An opponent of the bill, state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Northridge, said the problem was more a result of the state’s year’s long failure to approve sufficient power plants to keep up with demand. 

The bill is contingent on passage of a companion Assembly bill creating a new state program to assure reliable power will in the future be available from California-based plants. 

The Assembly-approved measure was approved by senators on a 23-13 vote. 

It authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to establish and enforce maintenance and operation standards for power plants to ensure their reliable operation. 

The PUC already has some such powers, which power companies said is sufficient. But proponents said their bill is needed to clarify and enhance that authority in conjunction with the Independent System Operator.