Senate Panel’s Resolution Backs Power Plant Seizures


Hoping to pressure out-of-state electricity sellers accused of exploiting California during the long energy emergency, a legislative committee on Monday urged Gov. Gray Davis to begin seizing power plants.

The Senate Rules Committee approved a nonbinding resolution that tells the governor the Senate would support seizures if Davis takes such a step.

All three Democrats on the committee, including Senate leader John Burton of San Francisco, author of the measure, voted to send it to the full Senate, where approval is expected. It does not require passage by the Assembly.

The committee’s two Republican members abstained from the vote. They also did not argue against the resolution.

Burton, who has been eager to commandeer a power plant or two, said Davis did not ask for the resolution. But gubernatorial spokesman Steve Maviglio said the governor is grateful for any support he can get.

Davis, at a ceremony near Yuba City where he marked the opening of a new 540-megawatt power plant, made no mention of the resolution but lashed out at some of his favorite targets--those same out-of-state generators.

“We have been a cash cow for Houston, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, and Oklahoma,” Davis said. “That is going to stop.”

In his State of the State speech in January, Davis warned that he would invoke his emergency powers of eminent domain to seize power plants, if it meant keeping electricity flowing in California.

Taking over power plants, Burton argued, would “stabilize” the sky-high wholesale prices that Californians have been paying for almost a year. The measure notes that some prices have soared as high as $3,900 a megawatt-hour, 50 times higher than just two years ago.

The measure calls the wholesale electricity market in California “grossly dysfunctional” and characterized by the “abuse of market power and the withholding of electricity supply.”

The resolution provides no documentation, however, of the charges. A special Senate committee is looking into whether generators are manipulating the market to drive up profits.

None of the out-of-state wholesalers that might be affected by the governor’s action returned calls seeking a response.

The new gas-fired plant that was activated on Monday will produce enough electricity for 500,000 homes. It was the second major plant start-up in a week.

Standing in front of the giant turbines and cooling stacks of the Calpine Corp. plant, Davis said the state will be bringing more energy online during this two-week period than it had in the preceding 13 years.


Times staff writer Eric Bailey contributed to this story.