Under a proposal unveiled by the Clinton administration Wednesday, all Americans within five years would be able to choose which company they buy their electricity from, saving an average family of four about $232 a year.
The plan, which White House officials said will serve as a blueprint for legislation to open the $200-billion national electricity market to competition, would allow states such as California--which will deregulate its retail market Tuesday--to opt out of the federal plan.
"This proposal will provide incentives for increased efficiency in the electricity market, saving American consumers $20 billion a year and reducing greenhouse gas emissions," President Clinton said in a statement.
The proposal, which combines a free-market approach with protections for the environment, was applauded by utilities, independent power producers and electricity resellers as an endorsement of competition in the retail market. But some environmentalists expressed disappointment.
The White House is trying to jump-start efforts in Congress to move legislation that must contend with a number of competing regional and local interests.
Key members of Congress have said they could not move until the White House offered its plan, which has been stalled for months in an interagency dispute over whether it should contain strong measures to reduce power plant emissions of heat-trapping carbon gases.
The White House finally decided against trying to regulate such emissions of carbon, the main gas blamed for heating the atmosphere and changing the world's climate. It said market incentives for more efficient plants should cut carbon emissions by 25 million to 40 million metric tons by 2010, a claim some environmental groups called ludicrous.
The plan calls for more use of renewable energy sources such as wind and biomass--to 5.5% of electricity generation by 2010. It also requires a $3-billion-a-year fund for public benefits programs such as low-income energy assistance.