County in Talks With Houston Power Utility

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County supervisors are in talks with a Texas utility to consider bypassing Southern California Edison and buying power from the Houston-based company, which operates two plants locally.

Supervisor Frank Schillo said Friday he and Supervisor John Flynn have had several telephone conversations with Reliant Energy Inc. executives in recent months as the state's energy crisis heated up. The two supervisors and lawyers for the county are scheduled to meet with a Reliant official at Schillo's office next month to discuss options in greater detail.

While the details are still sketchy, Schillo said the talks involve an arrangement in which the county would become the collective buyer and power supplier to its own facilities, as well as local businesses and homes.

"If we can negotiate a price with Reliant that's less than Edison or the state, we can protect ourselves from higher rates and blackouts," Schillo said. "We haven't come to any agreement on this, but they're interested and we're interested."

Officials at Reliant did not return calls for comment.

Throughout the state, many local governments that get their power through financially troubled utilities are interested in similar opportunities. Simi Valley officials also have expressed interest in creating or joining a local power consortium.

But these local agencies are unlikely to act until the Legislature signs off on measures needed to make such agreements more feasible. Conversely, state regulators could act to block such arrangements until the state's financial situation stabilizes.

Mike Montoya, regional manager for Southern California Edison in Ventura County, said he was unaware of the county's discussions with Reliant. "Obviously, we want to keep them as a customer," he said of the county.

Should lawmakers approve a bill that paves the way for what Schillo wants, Montoya said he would understand why the county would choose to consider its options. He cautioned, however, that Edison's finances will eventually be back in order, and it too will be able to sell at competitive prices.

Supervisor Steve Bennett said he is open to the idea Schillo and Flynn are exploring but agreed the county should proceed with caution.

"The fundamental question is, can you actually create this whole system?" he said.

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