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DOE Electric Bill Destined For Congress in March

DOE Electric Bill Destined For Congress in March

The Department of Energy (DOE) said last week that it plans to send the long-awaited Clinton administration's legislation on retail choice for electricity customers to Capitol Hill in the latter half of March.

The measure is expected to be similar in many respects to the Comprehensive Electricity Competition Plan that the administration released last year, which called for states to switch to retail choice by Jan. 1, 2003, endorsed the principles of stranded-cost recovery and promoted the use of renewable fuels.

Speaking to an Edison Electric Institute (EEI) conference last month, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said there wouldn't be any "major" surprises in the legislation, but it "will do a better job on several key points." It will provide consensus recommendations to establish an independent organization to ensure the reliability of the electric grid, develop incentives to promote efficient distributed generation, and revise federal statutes to promote competitive markets in regions served by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the federal power marketing administrations.

The natural gas industry already is anticipating problems with the DOE bill, especially with the provisions that would mandate that utilities use a certain percentage of renewable fuels each year in their generation of electricity. "We think there's several provisions...that are unfortunate and not in sync with [with the administration's] pro-natural gas position," said John Sharp, vice president of federal and state affairs and counsel for the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA). Also, he noted, "it's a very cumbersome bill."

Sharp believes that if the Energy Department had been able to write the legislation itself, as opposed to it being part of an inter-agency effort, it probably would be a "very different bill" - one that would be more acceptable to the gas industry.

Instead, he likes the restructuring measure proposed by Rep. Steve Largent (R-OK). "My personal feeling is I think the Largent bill will be the mover on the House side. Largent's taken a very good approach in his bill...He's done a very good background survey and polling of the members to determine what is the type of vehicle that could get through Congress."

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the new chairman of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, has said that restructuring legislation could be approved in 12-15 months. Sharp noted that both the Senate Energy Committee and House Commerce Committee, which have jurisdiction over customer-choice legislation, have put the issue at the "top of their agendas" this year. That's a "very good signal that it is very likely that we'll see some very significant electric restructuring legislation moving in both houses."

Susan Parker

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