CALIF. GROUP KEEPING TABS ON FEDERAL ELECTRIC DEREGULATION

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WASHINGTON — A coalition of California industries, electric utilities and state regulators are lobbying Congress to ensure that any federal deregulation of electric utilities grandfathers in a delicate compromise reached in that state.

The effort comes as the California Public Utilities Commission could decide next month how quickly to introduce competition to various parts of the market. Members of the coalition hope to know by midsummer whether the federal Energy Regulatory Commission will approve their plan.

Electric utility restructuring is a key issue for plastics industry lobbyists in both Washington and statehouses this year, with advocates claiming it could lower power costs, a significant part of many companies' budgets, by 20 percent.

The California legislation, which was passed unanimously in September, froze rates and promises future cuts of 20 percent for homes and small businesses and unspecified reductions for large businesses.

The AB 1890 Implementation Group, named for the assembly bill that the coalition is supporting, met with the state's congressional delegation and with staffers on key congressional committees during the week of March 10.

California Gov. Pete Wilson addressed the congressional delegation in support of AB 1890, which he signed.

The group does not see an immediate threat that Congress might pass legislation that would interfere with any aspect of the compromise and unravel the deal.

However, members wanted to get their point across while Washington is still in the early stages of debate, said Carol Guthrie, area manager for energy services for Chevron Cos. in San Francisco.