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Loud and Clear Witch hunt against generators won't ease crunch
Jan Smutny-Jones Assigning blame for the state's energy crisis has become a blood sport in Sacramento.
But finger-pointing won't keep the lights on. It's going to take cooperation. To get California out of this mess, we all have important roles to play:
First, we need to recognize that the state's current energy crunch is largely the result of reduced supply and higher demand. For this reason, any solution put forward, no matter how politically charged, should be held to the same common standard: Does it increase supply or decrease consumption? If the proposed solution fails this simple test, it should be abandoned.
Second, we need to get all of California's "qualified facilities" (QFs) back on line immediately. Many of these small generators have been forced to stop producing power because they weren't paid for months. California's 688 QF energy producers use clean or renewable technologies like wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and cogeneration to generate electricity. They produce about 30 percent of the state's power, enough to power 8 million homes.
Third, we need a statewide plan to tap into the emergency generators found in many local hospitals, law enforcement facilities and private companies. By coordinating their operation when supplies are tight, these emergency generators could provide an estimated 3,000 additional megawatts of power this summer. Since most of them use higher-emitting diesel fuel, this will require a balancing of energy demand and air quality policies, along with an effort to retrofit them with clean-air technology.
Fourth, we need to do more to streamline the siting process for new power plants. Several "peaker" plants that provide power when demand is high have already been approved, but several others are bogged down in the siting process. Cutting red tape to get these lost peakers on line quickly should be a top priority.
Fifth, more action is needed to decrease and manage demand. While Californians are among the nation's most efficient and conservative energy users, consuming 37 percent less than the national average, we can do more.
For example, the state should work with building managers, retailers and public institutions to develop a plan to turn off air conditioning and control lighting during peak hours. Similarly, load management by manufacturers and other businesses can also help prevent supply interruptions by taking power off the grid during peak times. Companies should be encouraged to shift production away from the late afternoon peak, reschedule production periods, or agree to planned down times.
And, sixth, stop accusing generators: Generators have been operating under the rules California established for its electricity market. They did not create the market, nor did they write the rules.
In fact, many generators didn't come to California until deregulation invited them into the state, where they have since invested billions of dollars buying, building and modernizing power plants.
Last summer, generators were offering California utilities long-term, fixed-price contracts at a stable price. But the contracts were rejected because of policies by the state's Public Utilities Commission. If the contracts had been accepted, the energy crisis could have been prevented or its severity dramatically reduced.
Witch hunts and political theater won't end the crisis or solve California's long-term energy problems. Only decisive action and knowing that we're all in this together can keep the lights on.
Jan Smutny-Jones is the executive director of Independent Energy Producers, a California trade association.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 02, 2001