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California Electric Utilities Get Easier Access to Gas

Times Staff Writer

The state Public Utilities Commission on Thursday made it easier for electrical utilities to obtain cleaner burning natural gas to make electricity during peak smog months, which should ease air quality problems that result when utilities are forced to burn oil, the PUC said.

In a 5-0 vote in San Francisco, the commission relaxed a rule that had prohibited Southern California Gas Co. from earmarking natural gas stored in its vast underground fields for electrical utilities.

Before Thursday’s ruling, such gas could be stored only for residential and other high-priority customers, leaving utilities to rely on short-term gas supplies. Last summer, gas shortages forced Southern California Edison Co. to burn dirtier oil instead.

The request for a rule change came from Southern California Gas. The PUC’s ruling is good only for this year and is meant as a stop-gap while the commission considers long-term solutions to problems with natural gas supplies.

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The ruling should have no effect on either rates or supplies of gas for residential customers, gas company officials said.

“We’re very pleased that the CPUC has recognized the necessity of making gas available during the summer months,” said Becky Sordelet, a spokeswoman for Southern California Edison Co.

The gas company normally stockpiles gas during spring and summer months for use by residential customers during the winter, said Roy Rawlings, vice president of regulatory affairs with the company.

This year, the gas company can afford to earmark some of its stored gas for electrical utilities because its stockpiles already meet a quota of 70 billion cubic feet, Rawlings said.

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On Wednesday, when temperatures reached into the 90s in downtown Los Angeles, the gas company provided 1.7 million cubic feet of gas to electrical utilities, compared to 500,000 cubic feet used on a typical day, Rawlings said.


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