California officials say FERC resignation beneficial to state |

California officials say FERC resignation beneficial to state


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – With the nation’s top energy regulator on his way out of office, California officials and consumer advocates hope his replacement will be more responsive to price caps and other ways to pull down power prices in California.

Curtis Hebert, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, announced Monday he would resign his post by the end of the month. FERC Commissioner Patrick Wood III is the man Vice President Cheney named months ago as Hebert’s likely successor.

Neither Hebert nor Wood could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Wood is former chairman of Texas’ Public Utilities Commission who shepherded the state toward deregulating both its electrical and local phone service markets.

He won praise Tuesday from Loretta Lynch, president of California’s PUC, for backing limited electricity price caps throughout the West – a move which Hebert had staunchly opposed.

Lynch said, however, that she hoped that was only the start of California’s electrical market, which FERC has in the past called ”broken.”

”If that means that Pat Wood is going to be chair I think that’s good news for California because Pat’s been chair of a state commission and he’s had a similar relationship with the federal government,” Lynch said, referring to Hebert’s resignation.

”Hopefully he’ll clean up the backlog of all the pending California cases, make some decisions and move forward,” Lynch said.

FERC has not finalized more than 20 California-related decisions, leaving the state ”in limboland” and unable to appeal decisions in court if it disagrees, Lynch said.

Bill Highlander, a spokesman for San Jose-based energy producer Calpine Corp., said the company thinks Wood would serve the country well as chairman.

”I think that he understands the need for a comprehensive energy policy. I think that he is forward-looking as to what needs to be done to build more generation, to improve transmission lines, to oversee the FERC’s responsibility,” Highlander said.

Hebert had come under fire from Gov. Gray Davis and others for his unflinching belief that the government should not regulate the actions of electricity producers and marketers. Price caps were not the answer, he repeatedly said, because they would drive away investment.

Wood has a more flexible approach to the energy industry. Though a free-market supporter, Wood has paid attention to the needs of low-income utility customers, said Janee Briesemeister, a senior policy advocate with Consumers Union in Austin.

”From our perspective as consumer advocates, (Wood) didn’t always agree with us,” Briesemeister said. ”But he always had an open door to listen to our concerns and, I believe, to listen to us legitimately.”

”FERC … has been very much focused on the industry and the industry’s needs when the California situation makes it very clear that what they do has a very clear impact on consumers,” she said.

”I think that shows that Pat Wood is not the type of free market thinker who’s just so blinded by theory that he can’t se the reality around him that the market is just not working and something just needs to do be done,” Briesemeister said.

The governor issued a statement Tuesday, saying he is ”looking forward to the president appointing a new FERC commissioner who will be more responsive to the needs of California, which has been overcharged by greedy out-of-state generators.”

A new chairman won’t entirely revolutionize FERC, Lynch said. But it could shift things in California’s favor.

”Certainly the chairman sets the agenda, what is looked at, the hearings process,” Lynch said.

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