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Governor Calls for 10% Cut In Usage
On national TV, Davis increases goal on energy
Tanya Schevitz, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, February 26, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle
Signaling a greater urgency in California's power crisis, Gov. Gray Davis said yesterday that keeping the lights and air conditioners running this summer will require every Californian to reduce electricity usage by about 10 percent.
In addition, he said, the state must get more electrical power online by then.
His call for a 10 percent cut is a significant jump from the 7 percent he was asking for during his State of the State speech last month, and it may be a difficult stretch for consumers. Davis made his remarks on NBC's news show "Meet the Press."
State Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, praised the governor's statement on national television. "The most important thing right now is that the governor said that, because there has been general skepticism statewide, reflected both in anecdotes and public opinion polls, that we are in fact facing a crisis," Perata said. "If you don't believe, you won't conform, you won't respond."
But, he said, Davis will not get the conservation he wants unless consumers are given financial incentives. Perata said he will propose legislation today to give $1 billion to customers who cut down on their electricity use during the summer months.
Severin Borenstein, director of the Energy Institute at the University of California at Berkeley, said if temperatures soar this summer, it will take a "huge effort" to keep the state at safe electricity levels.
NEED FOR CONSERVATION
"We are in big trouble," Borenstein said. "That doesn't mean we can't avoid blackouts -- that means we will have to take serious measures."
The needed steps include instituting variable prices for commercial and industrial users that reflect the supply and demand at any given hour and hooking up air conditioners to cycling systems, he said. For residential users, he said, it will mean increases for use above a certain level.
Forecasters predict a shortfall of at least 5,000 megawatts this summer, but the state got some good news Thursday when the California Independent System Operator, which coordinates the flow of electricity through the state's power grid, removed all power alerts for the first time in more than a month.
Lorie O'Donley, a spokeswoman for the California ISO, said that she does not expect any changes today but that it is too early to make any predictions about the summer power situation.
"We still need to check the snowpack and the hills and the hydro situation in the state," O'Donley said. "Conservation is a big part of it, and whatever people can do to step up their conservation efforts will be a huge factor in avoiding blackouts."
GOVERNOR DODGES BLAME
Davis appeared on "Meet the Press" while visiting Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the National Governors Association and a concurrent meeting of the Democratic Governors Association, which he chairs. With him on the program were Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.
Davis took the opportunity of the high-profile television show to tell East Coast decisionmakers and Wall Street analysts that the blame for the state's energy crisis does not lie with him and to reassure them that he is taking solid steps to resolve the problem.
"Both President Bush and I inherited California, a flawed deregulation system," he said during the broadcast. "Secondly, no major plant has been built in California prior to my governorship for 12 years."
He outlined some solutions, including the approval of nine new power plants, with six under construction and three expected to be online this summer, and 14 more in the pipeline. In a slip of the tongue, Davis said on yesterday morning's broadcast that consumers would need to cut electricity use to only 10 percent of last year.
"It will require every Californian using about 10 percent of the electricity than they did the year before and a little luck in getting some extra megawatts on line this summer," Davis said. What he meant, a spokesman said, was they had to cut use by 10 percent. Still, that will require significant sacrifice.
In addition, Davis has said that he wants to add 5,000 megawatts of power -- enough for 5 million homes -- by summer. He has promised to speed up the approval process and provide bonuses to builders who finish before July.
The state also established an $800 million conservation program this year. But Borenstein said that many of the ideas floating around for spending the conservation money are for efforts that would not help for about another three years.
ON NATIONAL MATTERS
During yesterday's show, Davis also weighed in on President Bush's tax-cut proposal and former President Bill Clinton's controversial last-minute pardons. The administration should wait for a tax cut until the money is available, he said.
"All of us who have been in government for a while have seen the roller- coaster ride of surpluses and then shortages and surpluses and shortages," he said. "Clearly, people need tax relief, but it should be moderated to the point where we don't kill the golden goose, which is a strong, growing economy. "
Although he received a significant campaign donation from the father of Carlos Vignali, the Los Angeles drug kingpin, Davis told show host Tim Russert that he never spoke with the family about the presidential pardon Vignali received on Clinton's last day in office.
Davis said he did not have enough information to know whether the pardon was a mistake, but, he said, "there's something about them in general that doesn't ring right."
"However," he said, "people expect us to focus on things that matter to them, and they really want to see progress on education, the environment, tax relief, health care." Asked by Russert whether he is going to run for president in 2004, Davis did not rule it out but said that only re-election to the governorship in 2002 is on his horizon.
"I'm focused on keeping the lights on and making our schools better," he said.
E-mail Tanya Schevitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle Page A1
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