IN THE NEWS #467 - California Power Crisis

By Jerilyn Watson

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

The western American state of California is suffering its fourth week of a power emergency. The state's supply of electricity is extremely low. Last month, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses had their power cut off for short periods. These conditions affected areas from central California to its northern border with the state of Oregon. Darkened traffic lights caused car accidents. Businesses including the high-technology industries lost millions of dollars.

Several years ago, the state took action that experts say led to the present energy crisis. A law was passed that was designed to increase competition among California power companies. The competition was expected to lead to lower energy prices for business and home users.

The deregulation legislation required the major investor-owned power companies in the state to sell many of their factories that produced power for them. The companies were required to buy power on the open market. The prices the companies were permitted to charge their users were restricted.

However, fuel prices have greatly increased in the past year. The power companies had to pay more for energy supplies than they could require users to pay. Now the companies are deeply in debt. They have been unable to pay for the energy they need to buy from out of state suppliers.

On February First, California lawmakers approved a ten-year plan in hopes of preventing future such emergencies. Under this plan, the state is to buy much of its electric power directly from suppliers. State officials are working to sign long term agreements with the energy suppliers to guarantee a continuing power supply at a reasonable rate.

The state government plans to raise ten-thousand-million dollars by selling bonds. That money would be used to pay for measures to deal with the energy crisis.

California Governor Gray Davis says the state now has three energy goals. One goal is to produce more power by building new power producing centers. Another is to prevent big price increases. A third goal is to protect the energy supply by cutting usage. For example, Governor Davis recently ordered that businesses reduce use of open-air lights during hours when they are closed. Lights are to be turned off in parking areas.

Governors of nine western states met with federal officials last week. They expressed concern that California's energy problems will spread through their area. They warned that demand for energy in the west is increasing as the population grows and companies expand. They said the high energy costs were hurting businesses and homeowners.

Experts say the California energy crisis is not over. And they say it could affect the national economy.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by Jerilyn Watson. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English