Calif. governor says electricity rate increase needed

`The more you use, the more you pay'

April 06, 2001|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - After spending months voicing opposition to rate hikes, California Gov. Gray Davis acknowledged to a statewide television audience last night the need for an electricity rate increase that would average 26.5 percent.

For the first time calling it an "energy crisis," Davis enumerated steps he has taken, then said he has fought "tooth and nail against raising rates." But saying increases were needed, the Democratic governor called for a tiered system in which people who use the most electricity pay the most - as much as 37 percent if they use more than twice their minimum allotment.

"Here's the point: The more you use, the more you pay," Davis said. "The more you conserve, the more you save. Conservation is our best short-term weapon against blackouts and price gouging."

The governor took the unusual step of reserving air time on statewide television at a time when he is slipping in the polls and surveys show that the public is increasingly concerned about the energy crisis.

The speech took on greater urgency as the California Independent System Operator, the entity that oversees power distribution, warned yesterday that the state will face 34 days of rotating blackouts if consumers and businesses use the same amount of electricity they did last summer. The blackouts could be extensive enough to darken 5 million homes at once.

The governor's speech came hours after the California Legislature approved a record $1.1 billion in energy conservation measures designed to provide consumers with incentives to reduce electricity consumption.

In his speech, Davis renewed his call on Californians to curtail electricity use by at least 10 percent.

"We are 34 million strong, and if each of us does our part, we can minimize disruptions and get through the summer," Davis said.

Davis blamed the rate hikes on rising natural gas prices, a lack of adequate generators, and the federal government's failure to act to cap wholesale power prices.

Several recent private polls show a majority of Californians would not vote to re-elect Davis if he were on the ballot today, although Davis does not face voters in a general election for 19 months, giving him plenty of time to recover.

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