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United States

ALLIANCE URGES MORE THOUGHT

Together with representatives of seven million electricity consumers renewable energy advocates have sat down to develop principles for electric utility restructuring in the US state of Minnesota which is currently the nation's leading market for wind power. So far, eight consensus principles have been reached.

Advocates of renewable energy have joined hands with representatives of seven million electricity consumers to develop principles for electric utility restructuring in the US state of Minnesota, currently the nation's leading market for wind power. The seven million are represented by electric co-operatives, municipal utilities and groups supporting low-income consumers.

While these groups have often butted heads in the past, the seven organisations agreed to eight principles which they claim should form the basis for any future deregulation. "People want low rates and reliable electric service that doesn't harm the environment," says Michael Noble of Minnestans for an Energy-Efficient Economy. He adds that some radical proposals to restructure the electric industry are threatening to undermine Minnesota's progress toward a sustainable energy future. The state Public Utilities Commission is considering moving toward a system which would free large investor-owned utilities to experiment with retail wheeling for large customers -- a system that could mean that small consumers suffer.

"We support open and robust competition at the wholesale level, which is now in the process of developing," says Jack Kegel, executive director of the Minnesota Municipal Utility Association. "We should wait and see how this competition shakes out before jumping into retail competition, which may simply allow large customers to get better rates at the expense of small customers."

As well as the groups represented by Noble and Kegel, members of the coalition are Clean Water Action, Co-operative Power, EnergyCENTS Coalition, Minnesota Municipal Utility Association, Minnesota Rural Electric Association and the Izaak Walton League of America (Midwest Office).

"The question that Minnesotans must answer," says Bill Grant of the Izaak Walton League, "is how to restructure utility regulation to obtain the benefits of greater competition while strengthening our fundamental commitment to environmental protection."

The eight consensus principles reached are: any proposal to restructure the industry must be in the public interest and be introduced gradually; wholesale competition should be evaluated before retail competition is considered; security of supply at reasonable cost must be maintained; recognised stranded costs (unprofitable plant, usually nuclear) must be subject to equitable recovery from departing customers; environmental quality and care of resources must be maintained through an effective integrated resource planning process which includes diversity into renewables; state stewardship of power transmission must be maintained; restructuring must not degrade safety, reliability, or customer service standards; and low income consumers should be protected from power cuts.

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