Maybe Utah's electrical industry needs to be opened up to competition. Then again, maybe it doesn't.

Members of the state Committee of Consumer Services have yet to decide where they stand on the complex issue of deregulation, but they and other interested parties need to make an initial decision soon.A resolution passed by the 1998 Legislature says all groups or individuals interested in the issue face an April 30 deadline for submitting draft legislation to be considered by the Electrical Deregulation and Customer Choice Task Force.

Consumer committee members, meeting Friday in Provo, did not decide what they will submit to the legislative task force, if anything.

Roger Ball, the committee's administrative secretary, said he thinks it has three options. First, the committee could send the task force a letter indicating that it does not want to take a stand on the issue.

Second, committee members and staff could try to put together a detailed proposal that addresses every possible issue, Ball said, but that may be impossible to finish by the deadline.

He said the third option would propose that the Legislature put the drive toward deregulation on hold pending further study.

It would, Ball said, ask the questions: "What's the rush? Why are we hurrying toward this cliff? Maybe we don't want to jump off."

California and a few other states are moving ahead with restructuring or deregulation of the electrical industry, which would let free market forces shape prices for some services. Currently, electrical utilities operate as monopolies under strict state regulation.

Considering the difficult issues included in the deregulation debate and the reality of Utah's relatively low electricity rates, Ball said, the committee probably will not come up with its plan until the last minute.

"On things like this, it may be 5 p.m. April 29 before we're sure what we want to do," Ball said.

The task force faces a Nov. 30 deadline for presenting its final report, including any proposed legislation.

A March 30 letter from the task force co-chairs to interested parties said the draft legislation it receives by April 30 will be used as a starting point for its summer study. The task force's first meeting is set for 9 a.m. April 23 in Room 303 of the state Capitol.

"The draft legislative language should not be viewed as the final opportunity to recommend statutory changes," the letter said. "We realize that your positions and recommendation may change as additional information is discussed by the task force and studied by the Public Service Commission."

The PSC has started work on the first of four reports the task force asked it to assemble on different deregulation issues.

The initial report will deal with "unbundling," or separating the costs of electricity generation, distribution and transmission and deciding which of those services should be placed in the open market. The PSC report is due to the task force by June 1.