Amid emergency measures taken by Midwestern power plants because of sweltering heat, the Clinton administration unveiled a national electricity deregulation plan Friday that it says will improve reliability.
But the plan, which would let consumers choose their own electricity supplier by 2003, may have a difficult time getting the attention of Congress during its remaining two dozen workdays. The Clinton plan also threatens to be overshadowed by dozens of U.S. state deregulation plans that are in the works."It's still possible to get federal (electricity) legislation passed this year," said Energy Secretary Federico Pena, who leaves office next week. "I know it is difficult and is an upward climb."
Pena, speaking to reporters, said there was a "possibility" that a Republican member of Congress might sponsor the Clinton legislation to help build momentum behind it. House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley, a Virginia Republican, praised the plan as a "good start."
A near-crisis in electric power supplies in the Midwest this week should help build support for the legislation, he said.
Outages at several big Midwestern power plants prompted utilities to take emergency measures to avoid customer blackouts. American Electric Power Co. Inc. and FirstEnergy Corp. in Ohio plus Commonwealth Edison in Chicago blamed the power shortage on repairs and upgrade work combined with tornado damage.
On Friday, Midwestern electricity reserves had improved slightly from the dangerously low level of Thursday but officials still urged residents to cut back on air conditioning whenever possible.
"I believe our legislation would actually firm up reliability," Pena said, referring to the Clinton plan to require all utilities and bulk users to join a new Electricity Reliability Council.