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Assembly approves power authority; senators stall plant siting
Updated: April 26, 2001 - 6:45 p.m.
State lawmakers decided Thursday to put California in the business of building power plants and place gasoline refineries at the bottom of the blackout list.
However, another energy-crisis bill to speed up approval of new power plants stalled when Republican senators objected to an amendment allowing workers furloughed during blackouts to collect unemployment insurance.
The Assembly approved a bill that would create a new state power authority that could finance, buy, operate and build electricity generating plants. The new California Consumer Power and Conservation Financing Authority could issue up to $5 billion in revenue bonds to pay for the projects. The bonds would be repaid when the electricity is sold to utilities or consumers.
The new authority would also do long-term planning to "ensure this kind of crisis never happens again," said Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. Hertzberg said the authority would provide no more than 15 percent of the state's power needs.
Republicans refused to vote for the authority bill. Minority Leader Dave Cox of Rancho Cordova called it "socializing the system." The bill was approved 47-28 and returned to the Senate for a vote on amendments added by the Assembly.
The vote was 78-0 for the bill to make petroleum refineries among the last customers affected by rolling blackouts. It also goes to the Senate. The petroleum industry says even brief electricity outages can force a refinery shut down for days, curtailing the state's supplies of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.
In the Senate, the plant-siting bill fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed when Republicans accused Democrats of breaking an agreement that the bill only would deal with the approval of new power plants.
"This is the time for deals to be kept," said Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga. Republicans objected to an amendment, added in the Assembly, that would allow workers to collect unemployment insurance if they are forced to leave work without pay because of blackouts.
The Senate agreed, however, to allow the bill's author, Sen. Byron Sher,D-Stanford, to bring it up again for another vote in the future. The bill would expedite the approval process for a new or remodeled power plant by the California Energy Commission. It would shorten the time that local governments have to review the proposal, and it would make commission decisions subject to review by the state Supreme Court without first going through lower courts.
The bill would also shorten the approval time for "repowering" or remodeling existing plants from 12 months to 180 days. It would require the state Air Resources Board and local air districts to speed up their approval of antismog plans for new and remodeled plants.
AP-WS-04-26-01 1929EDT, Associated Press
On the Net: Read the bill, SB28x by Sen. Byron Sher, D-Stanford,at www.sen.ca.gov.
-- Swissrose (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 26, 2001