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Industry News

Oversight Board Tells ISO Not to Buy Peaking Power

LCG, Oct. 31, 2000--The California Independent System Operators yesterday called a late afternoon emergency meeting following receipt of a letter from the state's Electricity Oversight Board asking the ISO to hold off on its plans to buy peaking power in anticipation of next summer's electricity squeeze.

Last month, Cal-ISO asked independent companies to submit proposals for new peaking generators that could be in place by the time high demand rolls around next year. The ISO is at present selecting the most efficient and economical from among proposals received at the end of September.

The Oversight Board said it wants the California Public Utilities Commission to get additional proposals from the state's three regulated utilities. The panel may have missed the news that, as a result of electric restructuring in the state, the utilities are no longer in the business of operating conventional power plants.

In its letter, the board said "The Electricity Oversight Board is concerned that the CAISO intends to sign these contracts without providing the EOB with any review of final terms and conditions of the contracts and their costs."

"We make a move and they come back and nail us," groaned Patrick Dorinson, spokesman for Cal-ISO. "What do they want us to do, hold off or go forward? We need some guidance at this point."

Terry Winter, chief executive of Cal-ISO responded to the Oversight Board's letter and also asked the Public Utilities Commission to provide by noon yesterday the specific megawatts amount of new, low-cost peaking capacity the PUC can "assure" will be available on June 1, 2001.

"We have an emergency," Winter said. "To do nothing to finalize contracts for added capacity in the immediate future increases the likelihood of blackouts next summer."

There was no information available this morning on the results of Cal-ISO's emergency meeting. It is safe to assume that misgivings were expressed about California's regulatory structure. In the past few days, the ISO has been "hammered," to use Dorinson's allusion, by the Oversight Board, the PUC and its own Board of Governors. A fourth state agency, the California Energy Commission, will get into the act when real estate is selected for the new peaking units.

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