YUBA CITY, Calif. (AP) Citing an energy crisis of “catastrophic proportions,” a federal judge yesterday ordered three major suppliers to sell electricity to California despite their worry two cash-strapped utilities won”t pay for it.

Paul Wong
California Gov. Gray Davis (second from right) tours a new gas-fired power plant near Yuba City, Calif., yesterday.<br><br>AP PHOTO

The reprieve for California energy regulators came as the governor announced he will dramatically accelerate power plant construction to try to stave off summer blackouts.

U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell Jr.”s extension of a temporary restraining order he issued Tuesday ensures the suppliers will not pull about 4,000 megawatts off the state”s power grid. That”s enough power for roughly 4 million homes.

“The state of California is confronting an energy crisis of catastrophic proportions,” the judge wrote. The loss of the power they provide “poses an imminent threat of blackouts.”

The grid”s manager, the California Independent System Operator, sought the order, warning that the electricity”s removal would disrupt the region”s power supply so severely that outages would spread beyond California.

“This would be a serious impact on the safety, health and welfare of not only Californians, but everyone in the Western U.S.,” said Jim Detmers, the ISO”s managing director of operations.

The order, in effect at least until a Feb. 16 hearing on the case, names Reliant Energy Services Inc., AES Pacific Inc. and Dynegy Power Corp.

Reliant had been under a temporary restraining order issued by the Sacramento judge Tuesday night, shortly before the midnight expiration of a Bush administration directive requiring suppliers to continue selling to California despite utility solvency concerns.

The other two companies had voluntarily committed to keep supplying the ISO pending yesterday”s ruling.

Houston-based Reliant, which is responsible for about 9 percent of California”s energy, has balked at selling the ISO emergency power to send to Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. It fears it will never be paid by the cash-strapped utilities.

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