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Industry News

Iowa Electric Deregulation Unlikely Any Time Soon

LCG, Aug. 16, 2000--Iowa utilities that pushed hard for electric industry restructuring in the last session of the state General Assembly are unlikely to be as aggressive when the lawmakers convene again next January.

Despite intense lobbying this year, legislators were unable to reach consensus on many of the restructuring issues involved, and the utilities say they wont be lobbying next year.

Keith Hartje, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., said that in the session concluded earlier this year "both the House and the Senate chose not to bring that legislation to a vote. That sent a strong signal to us and other members of our coalition that Iowa is not yet ready for a competitive retail electric system. Since nothing has changed, we have no plans for electric-choice legislation in Iowa next January."

Mark Douglas, president of the Iowa Utility Association, chimed in "I dont think there is a complete understanding (of deregulation). We have had legislators and legislative leaders tell us they just really dont have an interest in this until some things change."

If the utilities, which favor electric industry restructuring, are taking to the sidelines, consumer activists who oppose it are taking to their soap boxes. The problems in California, where San Diego Gas & Electric Co. customers have seen their rates double and where the transmission grid has been under strain almost every day this summer have provided them with the raw material for their brand of information.

"If peoples electric bills were jumping 50 to 60 percent, in addition to the 10 to 15 to 20 percent that prescription drugs are going up, it doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out the impact on the elderly," said Bruce Koeppl, state director of the American Association of Retired Persons.

MidAmericans Hartje pointed out that California was not Iowa. "The California problem was caused by the fact that no new transmission lines or new power plants have been built in California for more than a decade," he said. "As a result, California was relying upon neighboring states to help meet its electric needs."

Alliant Energy Co.s John Ruff said his company was going to focus on the U.S. Congress. "We want to ensure that if something is pushed at the federal level, Iowas interests are heard at that level," he said. "I would tend to agree that the outlook for this bill popping up in the Iowa Legislature again is slim, but its not impossible. So we are ready if the opportunity presents itself in Iowa to get behind it again."

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