Our Opinion: Investigate geothermals fairly

April 26, 2001

The California Public Utilities Commission has voted to investigate the battle between the state's largest utility companies and renewable energy providers, some of which are here in our Imperial Valley.

If the investigation is done fairly, it could lead to a resolution of the power debate between the renewables and the utilities. That is a big if, and it is a matter with which we are concerned.

The PUC investigation, according to documents from the commission, will look at why some renewable energy providers have stopped operations. The investigation also will look at the CalEnergy lawsuit against Southern California Edison that resulted in CalEnergy suspending its contract with Edison and selling its power on the open market.

From the sound of it, the investigation is designed to be one-sided, with the focus on renewable energy providers. Carl Wood, the PUC commissioner who called for the investigation, said recently that is not the case. He said the investigation will not simply focus on renewables but will look at the role of those utilities that failed to make payments or only made partial payments to the renewables for a period of five months.


Edison failed to pay Imperial Valley-based CalEnergy some $120 million for power received for a five-month period dating back to November. Edison has said as of this month it will pay for power on a "going forward" basis, but it has not addressed the issue of back payments.

CalEnergy officials have chosen not to accept any checks from Edison on a "going forward" basis. They said they won the right in court to suspend the contract and sell on the open market and they are going to continue to do so until the back payment issue is addressed.

The PUC can play an important role in the power debate. To do so it needs to analyze the total issue in reaching a fair conclusion. We think the PUC should order the utilities to make the back payments. Maybe payments can be spread out over time, but they should be made.

If the back payment issue were addressed by the PUC, there likely may be no more reason for the courts to be involved. The utilities and the renewable energy providers could then go back to the business of generating power to meet California's needs. As Wood stated, the summer is coming soon and the demand for energy is going to become great. The state is going to need all the power it can get and the renewables play an important role in meeting that need.

Unfortunately, as long as the debate and court battles continue, the state's energy needs may not be met. While we in the Imperial Valley may be immune to blackouts for now, the longer problems linger the more chances there are that the Valley could be affected in some way. We cannot afford for that to happen.

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles