Anger, Frustration Spill Out at Forum on California Energy Crisis

By Maria Elena Kennedy | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - California's five-month old energy crisis has already resulted in rolling blackouts across the nation's biggest state, forced the mega-utility Pacific Gas and Electric to file for bankruptcy and financially crippled another utility company, Southern California Edison.

Now, with summer approaching, the soaring temperatures and California's unquenchable appetite for energy could create many more blackouts and deepen the financial crisis.

The ISO (Independent System Operator), the non-profit group charged with ensuring the electrical flow in California, is urging energy providers not to let their emotions get the better of them, however, the feelings spilled out during a market issues forum this week in Folsom.

Shishir Mukherjee, Resource Planner from the City of Palo Alto Utilities Department was blunt and angry, telling forum moderator Bryon Woertz that the "more and more we look at the California energy situation, it seems like we're watching the theater of the absurd."

Mukherjee said he was frustrated with the lack of information. "What is really going on? Who is buying power? How much power at what price?" Mukherjee demanded to know. "Customers do not know what price they have to pay. Can you really tell us something about current events? Everything seems to be underground."

Not allowing himself to be interrupted by Woertz, Mukherjee continued venting his frustration. "All of us are affected. We are affected by the bankruptcy," he said, referring to the landmark April 6 bankruptcy filing by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

"We do not know whether their contracts will be validated. Can you tell us something real? Can you give us some information? Otherwise, I don't know how the ISO is operating now, how the energy system is operating."

The ISO has warned that, barring cool weather and increased rainfall in the Pacific Northwest, California will face certain blackouts in the coming months.

"Electricity does not come for free. We want something that is very environmentally friendly. We don't want transmission lines built by our nice new houses and we have seen electricity rates increased since 1985 ... 84," Woertz said. "The price of this [electricity] has gone up. Consumers are seeing that the potential of prices increasing is going to produce conservation."

Woertz also made it clear, the coming summer will be difficult. "This summer, if we think that we're going to use energy and electricity at the rate we have as a state and not see some impact from it in terms of cost, in terms of shortage, I think we're misleading the public. Every bit of conservation helps right now," he said.

According to Mukherjee, "people are really concerned that they don't know what rate they are really going to pay because everyone is thinking that there will be some bill in the future that will come back to haunt us. We'll have to pay for it in the future. No one is assuring us that this won't happen."

California regulators did launch an investigation Thursday to determine whether the energy shortages in the state are due to legitimate business reasons or whether certain energy suppliers are trying to manipulate the market.