State electricity laws need power police
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Gov. Gray Davis’ emergency order requiring retailers to sharply trim after-hours energy use will have little effect when the state needs power most – during daylight peak periods.
Davis’ order debuts Thursday night, with $1,000 fines as a last resort for retailers who refuse to substantially reduce their outdoor lighting after they close for the night.
Law enforcement agencies across the state have told Davis they have no intention of becoming power police, and instead will work with businesses to encourage voluntary compliance.
”To be honest, it probably won’t be aggressively enforced by our department, if at all,” said Sgt. Dave Brown of the Hemet Police Department in Riverside County.
Whatever the compliance rate, state grid officials say electricity saved after dark cannot be stored until it is most needed: the next day’s afternoon peak.
That’s the time of day when people return home from work and turn on their lights and appliances.
This summer, air conditioners will further strap the state’s tight power supply during that period, making a repeat of the rolling blackouts that hit the state twice in January a strong possibility.
”It does get people to continue thinking about conservation and makes it a part of daily life, as it should be. But it is off-peak,” said Patrick Dorinson, spokesman for the Independent System Operator that oversees California’s power grid.
Davis acknowledged the problem this week as he announced 20 percent rebates for businesses and residents who cut their power use 20 percent this summer. Large businesses will have to cut their use during peak power periods to get the rebates.
On Wednesday, Davis told law enforcement officials he hopes for a voluntary 50 percent reduction in power used for after-hours outdoor retail lighting.
”It’s also an important symbolic message to everybody driving by that, yes, we do have a real challenge and that everyone has to do their part,” Davis said. ”I don’t think we’re going to have need for writing tickets or citations. I think this all will be done on a cooperative, voluntary basis.”
Law enforcement officials demonstrated their political clout and independence last month when they said they would seek businesses’ voluntary compliance with Davis’ order.
The program would accomplish more if it paired penalties with energy-efficiency incentives, said Susannah Churchill of the California Public Interest Research Group, an environmental and consumer group.
”He should actually require those penalties to be administered if businesses don’t cut back on their lights,” she said.
Winston Hickox, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said Davis’ administration adopted ”a more cooperative tone because the idea of having ‘light cops’ wasn’t terribly appealing to everyone concerned.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is encouraging businesses to file an ”energy conservation plan” saying how they will comply.
”Truly, the enforcement is going to be held off as a last resort for the egregious violators,” said Investigator Steve Doan.
”We’re not going to be on light patrol,” said Los Angeles County Deputy Valentine Rosario. However, each of the department’s stations will develop a plan to identify businesses that don’t comply.
Jay Gorman, executive vice president of the California Motor Car Dealers Association, said most dealers were complying, with some hiring security guards to compensate for lower lighting.
”The big concern with auto dealers, as opposed to department stores, is all dealers’ inventories sit out in the open,” Gorman said.
Miller Toyota and Honda in Culver City is shutting off its parking lot lights at 11 p.m.
”We used to leave them on all night, but we’re not doing that anymore,” said David Hutton, the dealership’s chief operating officer.
After-dark cutbacks could save some hydroelectric resources, which could be used later during times of high demands, the ISO’s Dorinson said.
However, neither the California Energy Commission nor Davis’ Office of Emergency Services, which is running the program, could say how much power they hope to save.
Davis’ rebate program will apply to about 85 percent of the state’s consumers, including Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric ratepayers.
Those utilities were hit hard by climbing energy costs that the state’s 1996 deregulation law prevents them from passing on to consumers.
Associated Press writer Andrew Bridges in Los Angeles contributed to this story.
On the Net:
Read Davis’ Feb. 1 executive order at http://www.governor.ca.gov
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