Spread the Costs Of Electricity Fairly

THE opinion-page article ``Innovative States Replace Monopolies With Competition,'' Oct. 31, got ahead of the facts. California regulators did not ``announce landmark rules'' under which retail customers will soon be able to shop anywhere for electricity; rather, they proposed to do so - and have been retreating ever since.

Their proposal, mired in formidable legal and political obstacles, is unlikely to be implemented in any recognizable form soon, if ever. Except for a limited experiment in Michigan, now stalled in court, no state has yet allowed, let alone required, such ``retail wheeling.''

Yet its advocates have created the illusion that this peculiar notion is already a widespread and inevitable trend.

Wholesale competition, where utilities or groups of utilities shop for the cheapest electricity, will save money and is already mandated by Federal law.

But what is called ``retail wheeling'' is really an attempt by a few big industrial customers to grab the cheapest power sources and stick everyone else with the costlier ones, rather than sharing costs equitably and rewarding utilities for reducing them. It is not about reducing costs so much as shifting them to the smaller and weaker customers. Indeed, virtually all its claimed savings would already have been captured by wholesale competition.

Helping all retail customers to use electricity efficiently yields savings that dwarf those from buying wholesale electricity competitively. Rather than sacrificing the bigger benefit in the hope of gaining the smaller one, as California's and other retail-wheeling proposals would do, we should capture both benefits - by fostering vibrant wholesale competition, buying power from our local utilities, and rewarding them for cutting our bills.

That way, the interests of utility shareholders and customers will be identical, not opposite; everyone will win as net savings from electric efficiency will grow from the $5 billion a year achieved in California so far to well over $100 billion a year nationwide; costly old (mainly nuclear) plants will die in peace; promises will be kept; and fairness, not greed, will govern a stable, clean, farsighted, and economically efficient power system. Amory B. Lovins Snowmass, Colo. Director of Research Rocky Mountain Institute

The environment: a serious issue

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, I saw the looming disaster in the El Cajon dam watershed described in the article ``Trees Down, Lights Out in Honduras,'' Nov. 15. However, the loss of electricity is only one of many serious consequences from environmental degradation.

Watershed destruction has also contaminated much of Honduras's water supply; thousands of children die each year because of illnesses springing directly from the contaminated water.

The message for us is clear: We must take environmental protection in the US very seriously. It is not a luxury, nor is it an airy plot hatched by tree-hugging loonies. Perhaps dire consequences from environmental destruction seem distant to us. That is what many Hondurans thought. Steve Bovingdon Chelan, Wash.

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