Consumer Groups Step Up Opposition to Edison Rescue Bill

Wearing yellow arm bands, consumer activists have hit the lobbying trail in Sacramento last week, hoping to beat back a legislative rescue bill for Southern California Edison and any other new energy legislation that could result in utility rate increases on top of the 4-cent/kwh hikes that took effect in a two-phase process earlier this year.

Part of the onslaught includes Harvey Rosenfield, from the Santa Monica, CA-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights, who led an unsuccessful state ballot initiative campaign in 1998 to undo electricity restructuring. Rosenfield has promised another ballot measure in the November 2002 election if an Edison bill passes.

"Harvey's group has had a significant amount of influence on this issue for a long time," said Jan Smutny-Jones, head of the California Independent Energy Producers (merchant generators). "So, I don't think his presence here now has had any traumatic new effect.

"Everyone has been concerned for some time that he would put a measure on the ballot, and he said he would do that if the legislature did not do what he wanted. He has refused to compromise. So I have viewed that as meaning we're going to have something on the ballot. I believe with 100% certainty that he will try to float an initiative."

Lawmakers have been well aware of Rosenfield's commitment, so it is unlikely his current effort has had any "demonstrably new impact," said Smutny-Jones, adding that the Edison issue is "very controversial and very complicated from both a political and a substantive perspective."

Another long-time active utility consumer group, TURN (The Utility Reform Network) Wednesday warned that utility rates could increase further under the current proposed Edison rescue bills being discussed by the state lawmakers. It was warning consumers that many of the state legislators don't adequately understand the terms or the impact of the proposed bailout bills, similar to what happened five years ago when electricity restructuring was unanimously passed, TURN said in a prepared statement.

Ostensibly, proposed legislation would put most of the rate burden on large businesses, but TURN warns those customers will demand direct access in return and that ultimately will mean the residential customers will get stuck with the bill.

"It is consumers, not Edison, who need guarantees," said Nettie Hoge, TURN executive director. "We need guarantees that our lawmakers won't rush into an ill-advised bailout that they don't fully understand, and guarantees that the legislature won't save Edison from bankruptcy by bankrupting consumers."

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