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Big changes in energy market

Sally J. Taylor

Who and what is going to light up your life? Beginning today, California electric customers will have the responsibility to chose both the source of power that enters their community and the companies that provide it.

Electric service, which until now has been controlled from the generator to the home power lines by one company, is now divided into several stages – generation, transmission and distribution.

“It’s up to the customer to make sure they know what they are buying,” said Rick Madrid, Sierra Pacific’s customer account representative.

One thing that won’t change is the company responsible for the power lines in the community. Sierra Pacific will continue to supply power to homes and businesses in the Tahoe Basin and its crews will still repair downed lines in the area.

The new companies come into play between the power generators and the local power lines.

Customers will have the option of buying power from various sources including more environmentally friendly sources or just the cheapest source available.

Customers also will choose the electric service provider, or ESP, responsible to get that power from the source into the Sierra Pacific system where it joins the pool of energy flowing through the local lines.

Bills are already itemized to show the various categories. Customers who contract with other companies will begin to receive separate bills for each service.

Despite the ferocious marketing campaigns that have been running for months throughout the state, as of Monday, only one alternative company is ready to supply power in the Tahoe Basin, Natural Energy Choice of Boston.

“Any company that is going to (be an electric service provider) has to have an agreement with Sierra Pacific Power,” Madrid said.

Customers need to be sure new companies contacting them have a contract with the local supplier, he said.

Because Sierra Pacific is headquartered in Nevada, new companies face extra complications to reach customers in the Tahoe Basin.

Green Mountain Energy Resources, which focuses on generating power from renewable energy sources such as wind and geothermal, is one such company.

There are interface issues with out-of-state companies, according to Julie Blunden, the regional director of Green Mountain. Because Sierra Pacific’s power lines originate in Nevada, they are not part of the independent system operator, or ISO.

The ISO ensures that owners of the transmission system cannot favor their own generation facilities over non-utility facilities when providing access to the transmission lines.

Blunden hopes to see the entire west opened to deregulation which would create a western power grid.

“It’s my expectation that by the end of this year we’ll be supplying power to as many places as possible and hopefully the whole state,” Blunden said.

By increasing competition, the California Public Utilities Commission hopes to see electric prices decrease starting with a mandatory 10-percent cutback that went into effect in January.

Another expected benefit of deregulation and allowing consumers to choose their power sources is expected to stimulate natural alternatives to power generation.

If customers choose to pay a little more for power that is more environmentally friendly, those companies will be able to expand.

The Public Utilities Commission has set up a hotline to help electric customers understand the changes at (800) 253-0500. Customers can also call Sierra Pacific at (888) 274-1655.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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