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Saturday, March 22, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Fight Brewing Over Deregulation Study

Seattle Times Olympia Bureau

OLYMPIA - The once grand plans to deregulate the state's electrical power industry have unraveled so much it's unlikely the issue will even get a formal study.

A House bill that would form a task force to study how best to bring competition to the industry is given little chance of getting a vote because of a partisan fight over the makeup of the group, said House Energy and Utilities Chairman Larry Crouse, R-Spokane.

Crouse and co-sponsor Rep. Erik Poulsen, D-Seattle, said the fight is over how many appointments Democrats will get to make to the task force.

The bill calls for Democrats and Republicans to appoint two members each, with Gov. Gary Locke making three appointments.

But since Locke is a Democrat, Republicans worry that the task force would have too many Democrats, Crouse said. He said Republican lawmakers should make four appointments, with Democratic lawmakers and Locke each making two appointments.

Earlier this week a Senate proposal to deregulate the industry fell apart because disputes between the state's large industrial consumers of electricity and the utilities that now sell them electricity. The House had taken a slower approach with House Bill 2232.

"I recognize the complexity of this issue," Crouse said. He said that even without a bill, he will study the issue, although a formal task force would have given the effort more visibility. Poulsen, the ranking Democrat on the Utilities Committee, agreed.

Perhaps the only deregulation-related bill to pass this year was approved by the Senate last week 31-17. But the bill, Senate Bill 6006, "doesn't do anything but split your utility bill," said Senate Energy and Utilities Chairman Bill Finkbeiner, R-Redmond.

The measure would require utilities to give consumers much more detail about their power costs.

A move by Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, to amend the bill to include a study was defeated.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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