Taking their case to the court of public opinion on the steps of the state capitol in Sacramento, California’s leading utility consumer group, TURN (The Utility Reform Network) scheduled a rally for a “Sane Energy Future for California” Wednesday. The event brought together small community and business organizations with Fabian Nunez, the speaker of the state Assembly and author of the electric industry reform bill (AB 2006) that was set for a key legislative committee vote.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s major energy/environmental advisers last week issued an ultimatum of sorts that if AB 2006 isn’t heavily amended, he likely would veto any bill passed by the legislature. Big business and various community/environmental groups have sided with the governor.

Legislative committee action on AB 2006 was postponed twice last week, prompting speculation on what role, if any, Schwarzenegger will play in getting a comprehensive electricity bill passed in the remaining time left this month before the lawmakers adjourn Aug. 31. The state Senate Appropriations Committee now is expected to vote on the amended AB 2006 legislation this week, a Senate energy committee staff member told NGI.

“Gov. Schwarzenegger has threatened to veto a bill that would ensure that California has the stability and certainty necessary to build and purchase adequate energy supplies in the future,” said a TURN spokesperson organizing Wednesday’s rally.

The governor’s top energy adviser last week clarified the governor’s “oppose-unless-amended” position on AB 2006 as it stood then. “We still remain open to engaging in open, productive dialogue with the speaker about what is important and necessary [in a comprehensive electricity bill]. I think many people recognize these are complex issues and we have a very tight time frame, so we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Speculation is that if Schwarzenegger does not weigh into negotiations — and so far he has not, according to legislative sources — then whatever is passed is likely to be vetoed, and this is what TURN’s planned rally Wednesday was designed to pressure against. What was proposed by the state administration last week is “radically different” than what is on the table right now, and it’s a “non-starter” from Senate majority’s standpoint, said a legislative staff member following the bill, who added that it was “pretty likely” there will be a bill, but it is doubtful at this point that the governor would sign it.

The legislature likely will pass a version of AB 2006, which currently has no provisions for a core/non-core market structure or resumption of direct access and only gives the utilities more assurances of cost recovery.

The governor signaled in a letter last April to the state’ chief energy regulator that new legislation is not necessarily needed this year. When his energy adviser was asked if the governor thought a bill was needed this year, the adviser avoided answering the question directly, preferring to reiterate that Schwarzenegger is always open to working with the Speaker of the Assembly, “if there is an opportunity to craft legislation that reflects his (the governor’s) priorities.”

“The proposal by Resource Secretary Mike Chrisman is a radical departure from what is in the bill now, but what the cover letter (to his proposal) doesn’t say is how much getting anything passed is a priority for the governor,” said the legislative staff member tied to Sen. Debra Bowen, the Senate energy committee chairperson who wants a revised version of AB 2006 passed. “We don’t know how much the governor is willing to negotiate. If that (Chrisman proposal) represents his final offer, then it’s a non-starter.”

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