Consumer advocates said it appeared increasingly likely that residents would have to pay a major part of the price of solving the state's electricity crisis, whether through higher taxes or higher rates. Gov. Gray Davis, who has opposed rate increases as part of any solution to the situation, appeared to be softening his position, analysts said.
The bill in the State Assembly would allow the state to sell bonds to buy power for resale to the utilities. The state would receive stock warrants or other financial instruments that would appreciate if the stocks of the utilities' parent companies recovered.
Shares in those companies, the PG&E Corporation and Edison International, both on the brink of bankruptcy, rebounded this week on news that a power auction arranged by Governor Davis had resulted in bids that could begin stabilizing the state's power supplies. Yesterday, analysts said there were more questions than answers about the auction's results.
Governor Davis had hoped to secure supplies at $55 a megawatt hour, but on Wednesday said that he was happy to have had bids offering what his office called a weighted-average price of $69 a megawatt hour. That average, it turns out, did not include much higher prices that would have to be paid for electricity during periods of peak use, officials said yesterday.
Aides to Governor Davis said he had not tried to deceive anyone about the auction. In a news conference, Governor Davis said those peak-period costs would make only a ''minuscule'' difference -- but he did not specify how much they raised the weighted average of power companies' bids at the auction.
Despite calls from legislators, state officials did not release other details of the auction, like the amount of power that generators offered to sell and the length of the contract periods.
If the contracts extend longer than a year or two, some industry analysts say the state may be in danger of accepting bids that save money and reduce volatility in the short term but result in spending far more than the market price for long-term supplies of electricity.
An executive at one major power supplier, who insisted on not being identified, said a typical proposal to the state would have offered power for $95 to $100 a megawatt hour over five years, or for $75 to $80 over 10 years. Power during peak periods would probably cost another $200 to $300 a megawatt hour, the executive estimated.
As for the legislation being weighed in Sacramento, Steven Fleishman, a utility analyst at Merrill Lynch in New York, said it was too early to handicap its chances of passage. But Mr. Fleishman said it seemed clear that the bill was structured to allow for possible tax or rate increases. ''I think the solution will be shared by a bunch of parties,'' including residents, he said.
A group of leading California economists issued a statement yesterday saying that rate increases were unavoidable.
''There is no other way out,'' the statement said. ''Either retail prices must go up, or blackouts will continue with the consequent high costs to the California economy.''
Governor Davis said that he still hoped to avoid a rate increase and that he was optimistic for a legislative solution.
''We believe we will get there,'' he said. He also endorsed the concept of helping the utilities out in exchange for stock warrants or other securities that would appreciate if the utilities regained their financial footing.
''Ratepayers should benefit from any infusion of capital,'' Governor Davis said.
Consumer advocates blasted the legislative proposals as a bailout. ''We haven't seen anything in the bill that holds out any promise that we're going to see anything but consumers assigned the entire bill for the fiasco,'' said Bob Finkelstein, a lawyer at the Utility Reform Network, in San Francisco. Should the eventual legislation give the state warrants or other securities tied to the performance of the utilities, that could create a huge conflict of interest, Mr. Finkelstein said, between the interests of serving ratepayers and bolstering the state's treasury. The state's Public Utilities Commission, he said, would be caught in between.
''If the utilities come in and say, 'we need a higher rate of return,' what's the P.U.C. supposed to do?'' he asked.