June 26, 2001 11:00 pm

Under heavy pressure from ratepayers in California and the new democratically controlled Senate, members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission extended restraints on electricity prices to all 11 western states. Short-term relief may quell the attitude and outcries of many elected officials, but it wont solve the long-term energy prices in the West. And it is time that westerners wake up to this reality.

According to the Energy Information Administrations Annual Electric Utility Report, average ratepayers in the Pacific contiguous states (California, Oregon and Washington) are paying 8.53 cents per kilowatt-hour, 2.65 cents per kilowatt-hour less than residents in the New England area. We pay even less than people living in the Middle Atlantic region do. If you factor out California, ratepayers in Oregon and Washington are averaging 5.43 cents per kilowatt-hour, some of the lowest electricity rates in the nation. The This annual report is from 1999, which means some of the data lags behind our current energy situation.

Californias woes might seem difficult to digest, but ratepayers in New York have been paying 13.7 cents per kilowatt-hour for a long time. Californians are now just experiencing those kinds of rates. People living in much of the rest of the country have been paying more for decades, so when they hear those of us in the West talking about high energy prices, it becomes a relative statement.

Our problems here in the West cant be remedied by putting in price caps, but rather by increasing our supplies of electrical generation and then having better transmission infrastructure. That can only be done with major investments and time.

The outlook for energy in the next five to eight years is much better. Prices should lower and stabilize again, but only if the necessary infrastructure is in place. One thing is for sure: Those of us living in the West will have to face the reality that the price differential between us and the rest of the country will close considerably. And that doesnt mean our prices will be going down.

No one likes to pay more for a commodity, but then, no one likes being lied to. It would appear that as politicians blame each other or the big energy generators, they are lying to themselves and to ratepayers.

We dont need blame. We need action to create more power generation that is safe and reliable. We also need the infrastructure that will carry the power to the areas that need it. Price capping or fixing wont solve anything in the long term.

The Democrats who control the Senate, the Republicans who control the House and the White House need to sit down with private power generators and get us headed in the right direction. We need more power and long-term stable prices.