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Public-Power Group Urges Takeover Feasibility Study

Times Staff Writer

A Washington-based public-power advocate suggested Thursday that the San Diego County Water Authority spend whatever is necessary to determine if a government takeover of San Diego Gas & Electric Co. makes economic sense.

“A feasibility study is an essential ingredient” in any proposed government takeover of a private utility, according to Larry Hobart, executive director of the American Public Power Assn., which represents more than 1,750 publicly owned utilities in the United States.

A serious study would “counteract the self-serving policy positions” that SDG&E; and Southern California Edison are likely to unveil as they mount their defense against a government takeover, Hobart said.

“The public is clearly entitled to an objective study,” said Hobart, who was invited to San Diego by the water authority. “We’re talking about a small sum of money measured in thousands of dollars. . . . That’s equivalent to one-third or one-half of the annual salary now being paid to (SDG&E; Chairman) Tom Page.”

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The water authority has concluded that a feasibility study would cost $200,000 to $300,000, Dale Mason, the agency’s chairman, said Thursday. The water authority’s 35-member board of directors will vote on funding the study during a regularly scheduled meeting Feb. 9.

Hobart claimed the study cost would “be money well spent” if it helped voters make an informed and well-reasoned decision on a takeover.

Hobart also dismissed fears that San Diegans would prefer a privately run gas and electric company. An SDG&E; poll that found little support for a publicly run utility was invalid because “there can be no real test of public opinion” until after the feasibility study is completed, Hobart maintained.

SDG&E;'s poll was “designed as a political tool” that the privately owned utilities will use to promote their stock-swap merger, he said.

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Hobart echoed complaints made by local SDG&E; critics who questioned the poll’s validity because it failed to measure public opposition to the proposed merger between SDG&E; and SCEcorp, Edison’s Rosemead-based parent company.

Hobart also cautioned that proponents of a government takeover should brace themselves for a “massive influx of manpower and money” by the utilities “to obtain their corporate objectives.”


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