California to Deregulate Power

ELECTRICITY customers would be able to shop around for a better deal under a proposal by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to partially deregulate the state's electric industries.

The proposal, approved Wednesday, would allow market forces to set the price of electricity. But consumer groups fear small residential users would end up paying more than their fair share.

For the first time, consumers could bypass their local electric company and buy their energy from alternative suppliers, said PUC Commissioner P. Gregory Conlon. Local utilities would, for a fee, transmit and distribute the power provided by independent suppliers. Beginning in 1996, large industrial consumers could buy power from competing electricity producers. It would apply to all consumers by 2002.

The plan, which the PUC has been developing for two years, would allow California's investor-owned utilities to compete for customers, including those beyond their franchise territory.

PUC Commissioner Norman Shumway said the plan would allow those who want wind or solar energy to purchase it. ``On their own [customers would] sign up for it and pay a premium for it,'' he said.

Consumer groups say residential users will have to buy more expensive electricity because companies would snap up the cheapest power.

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