GAO: CA Assessment Hampered by Lack of Data

Efforts by the General Accounting Office (GAO) to assess the outlook for California's electricity supplies this summer were stymied by a lack of key information and data limitations, the government agency recently told Congress. Among other things, the GAO said that several requests to look at electric power purchase contracts in the state were rebuffed by officials with the office of Gov. Gray Davis on the grounds that if such information was handed over, there was a risk that contract details could wind up in the public domain, threatening future contract negotiations.

The GAO was tasked with providing an analysis of the outlook for California's electricity supplies this summer by Rep. Steve Horn (R-CA), who serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations.

"In summary, due to lack of timely direct access to key information and limitations in other data, we are not able to provide our own assessment of the likely conditions in California this summer," the GAO wrote to Horn in a recent letter. The government agency said that during the course of its work, it was unable to obtain detailed supply and demand information and thus could not assess the likely summer 2001 conditions for California. The GAO requested this information from entities including Davis' office, the California Energy Commission, the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) and the California Public Utilities Commission.

In its letter to Horn, the GAO points out that power plant outages in the state have increased fourfold over the past year compared with historic averages and were as high as 11,000 MW in December 2000. This represents roughly 25% of California's peak electricity demand of about 48,000 MW. In order to assess available supply, the GAO asked Cal-ISO for detailed information about these outages, but only general information was provided because the information was considered proprietary.

The GAO also noted that California is now the primary purchaser of electricity for the state's customers. Since January 2001, the state has been in the process of signing multi-year contracts to purchase electricity. To help the GAO conduct an assessment for this summer, the agency made several requests for these contracts to help it determine the proportion of summer demand that the state has under contract and under what terms and conditions. But officials with the governor's office did not provide the requested information to the GAO. "Despite our assurances of confidentiality, these officials express concerns that if such information was made publicly available, it could jeopardize future contract negotiations."

Also, the GAO said that it was unable to develop an assessment of how electricity imports from other states could affect the situation in California due to limitations with the scope of data that is collected and maintained by states. "State agency officials in several neighboring states told us they believe they have a good understanding of their respective overall electricity situation." However, these same officials said that they generally do not maintain readily available details or databases on certain aspects of their electricity situation, such as the amount of imports and exports of electricity transmitted into and out of the state.

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