Davis warns of spring problems, urges conservation incentives
SACRAMENTO (AP) – Gov. Gray Davis urged lawmakers Tuesday to quickly approve $1.12 billion in energy conservation incentives to ease a warm-weather power crunch he said could hit as early as next month.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee approved one conservation bill after changing it, over the author’s objections, to limit how much agricultural customers could have power shut off during rolling blackouts.
The chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee put off a vote on another conservation measure at least until Wednesday, saying senators needed more time to study the legislation.
Davis met for about two hours with Senate Democrats and urged them to pass the conservation bills this week so the programs start working as soon as possible. The two bills have been moving slowly through the Legislature for the last month.
The governor’s office announced later in the day that Davis had requested time from television stations for a five-minute statement Thursday evening on the energy situation. Aides said Davis would make an ”important annoucement.”
Meanwhile, Davis also launched a public relations effort Tuesday, sending national and state media an update on his efforts to solve the energy crisis. The two-page debut explained that the state has entered into 19 long-term contracts with power suppliers.
The governor said the state could face its biggest power shortage in May or June because new power plants capable of producing 4,000 megawatts of electricity won’t be coming online until late in the summer.
”Usually, the challenge is in August and September,” he said in a dimly lit hallway outside the Senate lounge. ”This year it may well come in May or June.”
He said he hoped to avoid more rolling blackouts, but he added, ”We are hoping for the best and planning for the worst.”
One of the conservation bills, by Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, would allocate $408 million for energy efficiency and conservation programs, including $50 million for rebates for consumers who buy new, more energy-efficient refrigerators.
The bill also would includes:
– $60 million to distribute subcompact fluorescent lights and other energy-saving devices through community organizations.
– $50 million for grants or loans to low-income residents or small businesses to make buildings more energy efficient.
– $50 million for large businesses that install electricity meters that charge the customer more for power during peak demand periods.
The Senate Appropriations Committee discussed the bill for more than an hour Tuesday but put off a vote at least until Wednesday.
The other measure, by Sen. Byron Sher, D-Stanford, was sent to the Assembly floor Tuesday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
It would allot $710 million for conservation and efficiency efforts, including $240 million to help low-income Californians weatherize their homes and pay their natural gas and electricity bills.
It also includes $50 million for incentives for agri-businesses to buy energy-efficient equipment and $50 million to install energy-saving technology in state buildings.
Sher objected to an amendment added by the committee to allow officials to cut off power to agricultural customers no more than four hours a day and 20 hours a month during power emergencies.
Sher said the amendment had no place in a conservation bill.
The committee’s chairwoman, Assemblywoman Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, said the amendment was pushed by Assembly leaders and refused to change it.
The meeting with Senate Democrats was the second that Davis has talked behind closed doors with lawmakers to discuss the state’s energy crisis. He met with Assembly Democrats last week and plans to sit down with Assembly Republicans on Wednesday.
In a speech Saturday to the state Democratic Party convention, Davis said Republicans caused the state’s power problems by pushing for utility deregulation. He also complained they had not offered a ”constructive, comprehensive solution to the problem.”
Asked what he would tell GOP lawmakers Wednesday, the Democratic governor said he would ”explain the challenge and just tell them they can be part of the solution or part of the problem.”
Although there were some raised voices during Tuesday’s meeting, Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Martinez, said the session with Davis was ”very positive” and that he was ”much more confident” about how the state is dealing with its power problems.
”We got some good information we had not had before,” he said.
But Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Daly City, said Davis and his aides didn’t know if the state’s two biggest utilities had followed a Public Utilities Commission order to set aside money to repay the state for its power purchases.
She said if the utilities go bankrupt ”that money could be sucked up” by other creditors.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Associated Press Writer Jennifer Coleman in Sacramento contributed to this report.
On the Net: Read the bills, SB5X by Sher and AB29X by Kehoe, at http://www.sen.ca.gov
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.