OK Gubernatorial Candidates in No Rush to Deregulate Electricity

Article excerpt

Although the Legislature nearly passed an electric deregulation plan in 2000, subsequent problems in California and the collapse of energy trading giant Enron have virtually killed debate on the issue.

That's just fine with Oklahoma's major gubernatorial candidates, who all say they're in no hurry to move ahead with retail deregulation.

"The Oklahoma Legislature voted to put electricity deregulation on hold and I'm glad we did," said Sen. Kelly Haney, D-Seminole. "We set up a task force to study the issue and issue a report to the Legislature at the end of this year and I'm waiting to see their report. We've received sharply conflicting reports from various experts claiming that deregulation could save money for consumers - or it could increase electric bills for Oklahoma residents by almost half a billion dollars. I'd prefer to see all the facts before making a decision, rather than rushing out an uninformed position on this issue for political gain."

"A couple of years ago when California was trying this and the feds were kind of forcing it down everybody's throat, everybody kind of thought they had to get there before the feds made it any worse than it otherwise might be," said restaurateur Vince Orza, D- Edmond. "Everything's on hold right now. So I don't think anybody's in any particular rush to do anything at all. And I think what we currently do in Oklahoma seems to be working pretty well."

Former Congressman Steve Largent, R-Tulsa, said federal action in the wholesale electric market will determine the feasibility of retail deregulation in the state and said Oklahoma policy-makers should delay action until those federal issues have been resolved.

"I am not going to be an advocate for deregulation in the state of Oklahoma until the federal government gets its act in order and uncomplicates the transmission of wholesale electricity," Largent said.

Rep. Jim Dunegan, D-Calera, said deregulation's potential impact on the tax base of municipalities - which often depend on franchise tax paid by local power producers - complicates the issue.

"I have a lot of problems with it," Dunegan said. "There's situations with it where it puts the cities in real jeopardy."

Dunegan agreed that deregulation, in theory, could yield positive results for consumers, but he said the unintended consequences of deregulation might offset those gains. …