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discussion: What are your views on California's power crisis?  Is the Bush/Cheney Energy Plan setting the right course for America's energy needs?

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thanks for "Blackout". How about a follow-up show discussing the possibilities of micropower. According to "Third Opinion" Magazine (PO Box K133, Haymarket 1240, Australia) and Earth Island Journal, (Summer, 2001) Micropower devices provide a region with decentralized sources of power: microturbines which burn natural or biomass gas, wind turbines, photovoltaic cells; fuel cells; and microhydropower systems. These systems do not require the current power grid. Instead, they provide power right where it is needed. The American people need all the information we can get to enable us to become free of the current system. The technology is here to do this; the political will is not (yet).

You could include info on the hydrogen car produced by BMW and info on the new Stirling engine being used to warm European homes using renewable fuels. There is a lot to cover and learn!

Marilyn Koenitzer
corvallis, oregon


Dear FRONTLINE,

Lowell Bergman has done a great job once again confronting the audience with hard evidence. The California situation was portrayed more clearly to me in terms of the chronology and the players involved. I would like to appeal to my fellow viewers across the nation not to politicize this issue. There is no need to take sides on the left or the right over this.

Instead we need to remained focused on the source of the problem and find practical, long term solutions. I fear that California will not be the last state to undergo an energy crisis of this or any form. What Mr.Bergman proposed was more than likely only part of the story in a clear and forward manner. Not one person or organization is responsible. In many ways we are all implicated in this problem. However, it requires action not rhetoric of a political or ideological nature.

Gregory Harshfield
champaign/urbana, illinois


Dear FRONTLINE,

Frontline is usually one of the most worthwhile programs on television. I've seen no other program that can deal with complex issues so well, and be as balanced as Frontline generally is. However, the "Blackout" episode was a sad exception.

The program told me that Cheney goes fishing with oil company executives, and many CEOs gave campaign contributions to Bush (but not to Gore also?), but I still don't understand what really caused California's energy crisis. The latter is why I tuned in, it's what you advertised, and it all began long before Bush and Cheney were in office.

Also, I don't recall ever seeing a correspondent's face so often during one of your programs. Is he really that good-looking? Does seeing Lowell Bergman mingle with the big boys educate your viewer, or is he just using your program as a stepping stone for a 60 Minutes gig?

Please don't ruin this wonderful series. Please stay away from the riffraff at the New York Times.

lorton, va


Dear FRONTLINE,

we the consumer; have the power to regulate our own price, on all things we buy. DON'T BUY WHEN THE PRICE IS HIGH.

richard pilant
st. petersburg, fl.


Dear FRONTLINE,

I think the show might have benefitted from at least a short discussion of the municipal utilities in California. (See the NewsHour's piece on this, at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/economy/jan-june01/powerinla_01-31.html)

After winning an exemption from the 96 dereg plan, the municipals are performing comparatively well. While this is, as many have said, a complex issue, the absence of the profit motive within the municipals is a strong argument for the people themselves owning and distributing their electricity. Power to the people, indeed.

Rob Sloane
urbana, il


Dear FRONTLINE,

Instead of the rapacious profiteering of the good-old-boy Bush/Cheney set, let's try some enlightened and ethical capitalism--the kind that doesn't gouge California ratepayers, that doesn't exploit labor, and that puts a great deal back into the system from which it takes so much. Another exceptional job on the part of FRONTLINE.

As for the "bias" some viewers have commented on, you simply asked the questions: Cheney and Hebert were responsible for their unstrategic, dark-age responses.

Kay Cunningham
las vegas, nv


Dear FRONTLINE,

As you attempt to drag the new administration down (president and vice president) and throw them into the center of all this problem, remember in your own report that the high prices started last summer in the clinton administration which had no energy policy.

Also to be noted -- houston is a big city where there are multiple mega industries, one of which is energy but is not the only city with major energy companies.

You may also want to note that texas is also paying high prices in gasoline and natural gas that the rest of the country is paying. so before you make all the little snide comments about the administration being oil men and all the energy is in texas and the president is from texas (yes i caught your crude inuendos), look at when this all started, which was over a year ago with an man from arkansas.

How you media people can look at a four month old administration for a problem that takes years to develop is beyond me...

lubbock, texas


Dear FRONTLINE,

Excellent job on "Blackout." The special laid out the complex issues of the energy crisis in an easy-to-follow manner.

I believe Stanford professor of economics Frank Wolak outlined one of the biggest problems: business is business; the ultimate goal of a corporation is to make money, nothing more, nothing less. In a market that represents billions, if a company like Enron didn't take full advantage of the deregulation, someone else would have.

CEOs are an easy target to expose as greedy capitalists, but they are not the cause of the problem. Gov. Gray Davis proved he can smoothly answer softball questions, but he is clearly not a tough enough politician to go toe-to-toe with Bush and Cheney. By sitting on that timebomb, he has now no leverage against political giants in Washington. The next round of elections will be very interesting to watch.

Andy Jacobs
phoenix, az


Dear FRONTLINE,

Frontline as a rule does a great job of presenting a good cross section of views about complex issues, both over the air and online with the companion website. Unfortunately, Blackout is a sorry exception to that rule.

Perhaps it was because of the involvement of the New York Times with this program, but far too much time was wasted with finger-pointing and biased interviewing, digging for who said what to who about who's going to be the head of FERC. Additionally, in reading the full transcripts of the interviews on the website it was very obvious that part of the intent of the producers of this program from the very beginning was to attack the Bush administration and the CEO's of energy companies.

Much better use of time could have been spent on examining some of the infrastructure issues rather than conspiracy theories. For example, how limited is natural gas pipeline capacity to Southern California, how limited is the transmission grid, is there really a generating shortfall? Additionally, it would have been of great interest to compare the deregulation of electricity in California to the European experience where deregulation efforts are generally thought to be succeeding.

Blackout, in short does much more to confuse the issues rather than illuminate them.

Deregulation of the electricity market is a complex issue. It was noted by several people that electricity in some sense is a unique commodity, because it is so essential and difficult to store. But in another sense it is truly a commodity since there are so many current and potential sources of electricity, large fossil fuel generating plants, hydro-electric plants, nuclear plants, wind turbines, small scale fuel cells, geo-thermal, wave-action, solar collectors etc. The goal of any national energy policy should be to encourage as large, inexpensive and diverse supply of electricity as possible. With a large and inexpensive supply of electricity, things like electric vehicles start making more sense. And with as diverse a supply as possible, shortfalls in one area have less of an effect overall. Barriers to transmission and constraints on supplies provided by infrastructure like natural gas pipelines need to be eliminated.

Eventually the market will work, the real villians in the California crisis are Grey Davis who is hopelessly out of his depth and Loretta Lynch who is more interested in investigating and suing everyone than constructively working for a solution.

John Newman
westminster, co


Dear FRONTLINE,

"Blackout" was a fair and balanced work of reporting. All parties involved were given plenty of air time to defend their side, and thus lots of rope to hang themselves.

What seems apparent is that the Bush Administration and FERC are refusing to fulfill their obligation under the law, which is to keep electricity rates "just and reasonable." Whether their motivation is ideological or corrupt cannot be certain, but the words "shock treatment" and "kleptocracy" and "Yeltsin" come to mind. We in California are being robbed, initially through the bleeding of our tax coffers, and soon through radically higher utility bills -- and all of it "legal."

Mark Parker
banning, california


Dear FRONTLINE,

If the success or failure of this program to present the issues clearly can be judged by the comments below, I'd give it a "C+". However, that may not be fair. Certainly some responsibility must be borne by the viewer, as well. It would seem that human nature prevails yet again. People hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest.

As for this so-called "deregulation," ever since I first heard about it, it has been obvious to me that the residential consumer was completely irrelevant. The promised "Choice" of generators and competitive pricing never materialized for us. This whole scheme was set up, at least in part, to benefit the large users who could bargain for best rates. If there's anything good about how it has worked out, it's that they, too, have been burned. You'd think good businessmen would have foreseen the entry into the marketplace of predators like Enron. After all, it was a golden profit-making opportunity!

Through it all, the residential consumer's only power has been to conserve. As the numbers show, we've been doing that! I'm looking forward to June 21, when we'll have another chance to express ourselves.

Join in the Voluntary Rolling Blackout!

It's a simple protest and a symbolic act. Turn out your lights from 7pm till 10pm (in your own timezone) on June 21. Unplug whatever you can unplug in your house. Light a candle to the Sun goddess, kiss and tell or not, take a stroll in the dark, invent ghost stories, anything that's not electronic--have fun in the dark! This isn't just a California thing. It's a way to make a statement about the future.

This one hour program couldn't possibly cover all the background information. Thank goodness for the Internet! You know, it's how we're all "publishing" our opinions of the show? This website is full of additional information. Check it out!

covina, california


Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you Frontline for another eye-opening expose! It was surprising to me the number of individuals who wrote in on the side of the corporations and polititians. I perceive the PBS audiance to be more left leaning than the general public.

I think some viewers missed a key point made by the CA regulatory person who said that while DEMAND has only increased by 5%, cost has increased many fold more. Why is this??? Afterall, CA is the most energy-efficient state in the Union.

With all our political history, why is it considered so far fetched to think that people who give millions to a political campaign will see some issues brought up (and decided)on their behalf? Why is it good to defend multibillion dollar corporations who are making SO much money during this energy crisis???

I look forward to seeing this blackout roll across the country. Perhaps it will be a wake up for American consumers. Maybe people will realize they don't need to drive 2 blocks to the store or have air conditioning everyday, etc... gallon SUV they drive in the CITY on PAVEMENT is not necessary.

K Early
pullman, wa


Dear FRONTLINE,

It would seem that you are trying to place the blame for a problem that has been looming for the past ten years on two men (Bush and Cheney) who have only been in office for about five months.

Don Andersen
fargo, nd


Dear FRONTLINE,

I felt like the show did nothing to address the fact that an imbalance exists between supply and demand. If most people looked at thier lives today vs. a few years ago, i'm sure most have at least one computer, plus maybe a laptop and a cell phone charging...etc..

Look at the numbers. It is impossible to build power plants in California, and mother nature has not helped, yet the internet boom with massive server farms has contributed to increased demand. We live in a free market society. I'm sure no one in California, whose housing values have quadrupled will sell their house for 'cost'. Yet, they expect power generators to sell their power for cost.

annapolis, md


Dear FRONTLINE,

After reading the previous comments, the tenor of the replies accurately reflects the complexity of this situation. I would agree with the respondents who criticized FRONTLINE for spending too much time looking for a culprit. In a complex situation such as the one within which Californians find themselves. I believe fault lies with far too many parties at every step of the process.

Did the power moguls of Energy Alley exploit a newbie deregulated market under the guise of "shareholder value"? Perhaps. Did the deregulation advocates sell Califonia consumers down the river with unreal and misunderstood promises of lower energy bills? Perhaps. Did inept California energy officials get swindled by the market? Perhaps. Are the Ken Lays and Michael Priorys rubbing feet with the current administration under the bedsheets of a "free market"? Perhaps. Is it going to get worse before it gets better? Definitely! Thanks for tackling a tough issue; keep up the good work.

Fred Morales
houston, tx

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