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Industry News

California Power Bonds Will Miss Deadline

LCG, Sept. 28, 2001--California will not meet its October 31 deadline for bringing a $12.5 billion electric power bond issue to market and may be hard pressed to sell the bonds before the end of the fiscal year next June, state Treasurer Phil Angelides said yesterday.

Angelides said in a telephone news conference that there was at present no schedule to issue the bonds. "There can't and won't be a schedule until the Public Utilities Commission undertakes the actions as required by law and that are necessary to enable this office to market and sell bonds at investment-grade ratings," he said.

Sale of the bonds was originally planned for May of this year, but regulatory and legislative foot-dragging has repeatedly caused the deadline for the issue to be put off. The latest October 31 deadline coincided with the date that interest rates will jump by more than 50 percent on a $4.3 billion bridge loan the state took out in anticipation of the bond sale.

Angelides is anxious to get the bonds sold so the state's general fund can be repaid more than $7 billion borrowed from it by the California Department of Water Resources to purchase wholesale power on behalf of the state's cash-strapped investor-owned utilities.

The California Public Utilities Commission must issue two controversial orders before the bonds can be brought to market. One would allow the water agency to recover the cost of power purchases without regulatory review. The second would establish the water agency's "revenue requirement," the amount of money the agency must receive from electricity customers to cover its power costs and the additional expenses associated with being a middleman in the electricity business.

The rates each of the three utilities charge their customers would be based on the revenue requirement.

The state's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has vowed to challenge the revenue requirement order in court, which could delay the bond issue by months, if not years.

Angelides warned of a "budget meltdown" if the CPUC does not act quickly on the two orders. "The rate agreement has had public comment, it's been out there more than three months," he said. "There's going to be litigation no matter what. Therefore, let's get it on."

Even if the water agency repays the general fund the money it borrowed to purchase power, the state faces in this fiscal year a budget deficit of more than $3 billion. If the general fund isn't repaid, the deficit would approach $10 billion.

"People don't see the freight train of fiscal problems ahead," Angelides lamented. He said programs for children, the elderly and the poor would all suffer if the general fund is not repaid in a timely manner.

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