Edison Rescue Legislation Looking Dim as Lawmakers Rush to Adjourn

An eleventh-and-a-half-hour attempt to enact state legislation to rescue Southern California Edison Co. from the jaws of bankruptcy seemed headed for failure at mid-afternoon Friday when the California lawmakers were attempting their rush toward adjournment for the year by midnight.

As a revised state senate bill was being redrawn, both Edison officials and the governor indicated the direction of the last-minute changes would make the legislation "unacceptable."

"The language is still in flux, but as currently written the senate version will not make the utility creditworthy," Gov. Gray Davis said in a prepared statement released by his press office at mid-day. "The whole purpose of this exercise is to allow Edison to become creditworthy, allowing the state to get out of the power buying business. This bill fails to do this and is unacceptable."

Edison International CFO Ted Craver said on a conference call with debtholders Friday afternoon that there is "a lot of work that needs to get finished up real soon; we're certainly running out of time, literally down to the last few minutes."

In reference to various deals with small qualifying facility (QF) generators, the governor said a failure to get an acceptable Edison rescue plan "puts at risk 3,000 MW, including renewable sources of energy that the administration worked long and hard to bring back online."

An Edison utility attorney, however, indicated the deals with the QFs are not voided by a failure of the legislature to act. They run through December, and are pegged to having some solution worked out between now and Dec. 31.

Two major stumbling blocks being proposed in senate versions of the Edison bill are: (1) lowering the amount of bond funds to $2.5 billion from $2.9 billion that was put in the assembly proposal, and (2) the size of the customer group that would be expected to pay for the proposal in their retail electric rates would be smaller, using a 100 to 500-kW level, compared to the assembly version that says customers using 20-kW or more would be assessed with the bond repayment charges in their utility bills.

Earlier in the day, California legislative insiders were predicting the fate of Edison's rescue plan could linger late into the night Friday as lawmakers pass a flurry of legislation before adjourning.

Friday morning it looked doubtful that the revised legislation the state senate is likely to send back to the lassembly will gain passage, unless, as one legislative adviser said, Davis "cracks heads."

A political litmus test in the form of a workers compensation bill the head of the state senate personally wants passed was sent to Gov. Davis for signature earlier in the week, and it was speculated if he signed the bill, it would be an indication the state legislature would give the governor an Edison bill he can accept. That legislation, however, Friday morning was sitting on the governor's desk unsigned.

"The chances are about one-in-four that we'll pass an Edison bill," said the state legislative source.

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