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Business feels heat of electricity crisis
Industries warn blackouts may cause layoffs
By Seth Hettena Associated Press
SAN DIEGO - Businesses warned a congressional panel Thursday that they will be forced to lay off employees if California's power crisis continues.
"Our industry is gravely threatened by the specter of rolling blackouts," said Sam Hardage, president of Woodfin Suite Hotels.
Hardage said electricity bills for his hotels have risen more than 300 percent in California, forcing him to impose a surcharge of $4 a night.
But he cautioned that the future was bleaker and "can only have a chilling effect" on business.
"Tourists would rather not run the risk of being stuck in a hotel elevator," he said.
Hardage spoke at the third and final hearing of the House government oversight committee's look into the California power problem.
Douglas Barnhart, who runs a local construction firm, said his industry was also starting to be affected.
"We can definitely see the beginning of a construction slowdown based on energy problems around the state," he said.
The panel also heard from Paul Conlon, a former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission under former Gov. Pete Wilson. Conlon defended the state's 1998 electric deregulation law which has been widely blamed for precipitating the current crisis.
Conlon said that in the 1990s the state was eyeing a 30 percent excess capacity of electricity and low growth rates that would have meant a stable power supply for 15 years.
"With 30 percent excess capacity we never dreamed there was a supply problem," he said.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), April 13, 2001