The Department of Energy (DOE) said last week that it plans tosend the long-awaited Clinton administration’s legislation onretail choice for electricity customers to Capitol Hill in thelatter half of March.

The measure is expected to be similar in many respects to theComprehensive Electricity Competition Plan that the administrationreleased last year, which called for states to switch to retailchoice by Jan. 1, 2003, endorsed the principles of stranded-costrecovery and promoted the use of renewable fuels.

Speaking to an Edison Electric Institute (EEI) conference lastmonth, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said there wouldn’t be any”major” surprises in the legislation, but it “will do a better jobon several key points.” It will provide consensus recommendationsto establish an independent organization to ensure the reliabilityof the electric grid, develop incentives to promote efficientdistributed generation, and revise federal statutes to promotecompetitive markets in regions served by the Tennessee ValleyAuthority and the federal power marketing administrations.

The natural gas industry already is anticipating problems withthe DOE bill, especially with the provisions that would mandatethat utilities use a certain percentage of renewable fuels eachyear in their generation of electricity. “We think there’s severalprovisions…that are unfortunate and not in sync with [with theadministration’s] pro-natural gas position,” said John Sharp, vicepresident of federal and state affairs and counsel for the NaturalGas Supply Association (NGSA). Also, he noted, “it’s a verycumbersome bill.”

Sharp believes that if the Energy Department had been able towrite the legislation itself, as opposed to it being part of aninter-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 Largentbill will be the mover on the House side. Largent’s taken a verygood approach in his bill…He’s done a very good background surveyand polling of the members to determine what is the type of vehiclethat could get through Congress.”

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the new chairman of the House Energy andPower Subcommittee, has said that restructuring legislation couldbe approved in 12-15 months. Sharp noted that both the SenateEnergy Committee and House Commerce Committee, which havejurisdiction over customer-choice legislation, have put the issueat the “top of their agendas” this year. That’s a “very good signalthat it is very likely that we’ll see some very significantelectric restructuring legislation moving in both houses.”

Susan Parker

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