Energy redux

Last week was another big one for new developments on the energy debacle.

Gov. Gray Davis proposed to the California Energy Commission that two new power plants would be established and put to use during peak use times this summer. These “peaker plants” would both be located in Southern California—San Diego and Palm Springs—and could be on-line by summer.

Davis also announced his “20/20 program,” a voluntary conservation program open to customers of the state’s three investor-owned utilities who cut their electricity use this summer by 20 percent.

Those who reduce energy consumption by at least 20 percent from last summer’s bill will be issued a 20 percent rebate at the end of summer. Customers’ monthly energy bills could be reduced by as much as one-third under the program.

“We think it’s a good idea,” Susannah Churchill of California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG) said of the 20/20 program, “but it’s just a small piece of the plan that he should be implementing.”

CalPIRG and other groups last week released studies showing how this summer’s expected energy crunch could be overcome through aggressive conservation measures and support for renewable technologies. They urged passage of four bills that would help: Senate Bills 17X and 5X and Assembly Bills 38X and 83X.

Meanwhile, the Davis administration’s secret agreements committing billions of dollars in public funds to long-term energy contracts is coming under fire from open-government advocates, who want the terms of those contracts disclosed; while his executive order suspending some environmental review of new power plants was slammed by environmental groups.

“Using public health to pay for the failures of a bad public policy is unacceptable,” said Bonnie Holmes-Gen of the American Lung Association of California. “We should not have to choose between breathing healthy air and keeping the lights on.”

Senate President Pro Tem John Burton also announced last week the formation of the Senate Select Committee to Investigate Price Manipulation in the Wholesale Energy Market to look into price-fixing allegations against the generators from whom Davis is now buying power.

With great fanfare in the Capitol last week, the California Nurses Association (CNA) released its recommended nurse-to-patient ratios, calling for far higher staffing levels than those proposed by the hospital industry.

The CNA’s proposal recommends a 1-3 nurse to patient ratio in the emergency department—one of many categories, each with different ratios—whereas the California Hospital Association proposes a 1-6 ratio in the ER.

Both sides’ proposals will be taken into consideration by the Department of Health Services, which this year must set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios under a new law that goes into effect at the end of the year.