Czar David

The “brain power doesn’t exist” in Sacramento to figure out how to truly end California’s energy crisis, with its blackouts, price hikes and blame passing—at least that’s what San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown told those of us who gathered a few weeks ago in his city for a newspaper conference. We don’t need politics and posturing from the governor’s office, declared Brown, we need an energy czar! It should be someone we trust, someone who can operate free of politics, someone who knows everything there is to know about power plants, power grids and public power.

Well, we know just the fellow for the job.

No stranger to Sacramento, David S. Freeman is the man who bailed out our own Sacramento Municipal Utility District from the deep trouble it was in during the early ’90s, due mostly to the defunct Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant, may it rest in peace. No longtime Sacramentan with half-a-memory can forget how Freeman swept in, took charge, solved problems, put SMUD back into the black and, ultimately, made a name for SMUD as one of the nation’s most enviable public utilities, with its emphasis on renewable and decentralized sources of power.

Now chief of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Freeman has recently been appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to oversee negotiations by the state to buy electricity. That’s fine. We’re glad Davis had the wisdom to tap Freeman for this job. But, like Mayor Brown, we suggest the governor go even further now and give the man with the Southern drawl and trademark cowboy hat the authority and money to solve California’s energy problem. Freeman should take the opportunity to start up a public power authority that moves us away from a dependence on the centralized-power model and toward a decentralized system of smaller sources. At age 75, Freeman is smart, shrewd, experienced and would excel at the task.

Last summer, Freeman warned a joint session of the Senate and Assembly committee (the one that oversees the state’s energy system) that, “California has enough authority to get a hold of this system.” Freeman added that the state should do whatever it can to put a ceiling on both retail and wholesale energy prices, and he pointed out that electricity is not like other commodities in which the high prices will reduce demand and thus bring prices down: “We’re not selling caviar. We’re not selling car engines,” he said.

The LA Weekly’s Harold Meyerson calls Freeman, “the opposite of a robber baron, he’s a public steward." Sounds like what the doctor ordered. We urge the governor to exercise some wisdom and put Freeman in charge of solving our energy problem.