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Industry News

No Northwest Power Refunds, FERC Judge Says

LCG, Sept. 26, 2001--A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission administrative law judge said yesterday that wholesale power buyers in the U.S. Pacific Northwest are not entitled to any refunds on the high prices they paid for electricity between Dec. 25, 2000 and June 20 of this year.

The market worked properly in the Pacific Northwest when supplies were tight, said a 233-page report by FERC Administrative Law Judge Carmen Cintron.

In her report, Cintron said it was demand exceeding supply, and not market manipulation, that caused prices to soar. The effect of that simple economic law was worsened by a drought that cut available hydroelectric power almost in half and by high natural gas prices that made power more expensive to produce in conventional power plants.

"Under these circumstances the prices were not unreasonable or unjust and the refund should not be ordered in this proceeding," Cintron wrote in her decision.

The judge pointed up the differences between the markets in the Northwest and those in California, where the California Independent System Operator made power purchases to ensure reliability of most of that state's transmission grid and where the now-defunct California Power Exchange was the sole venue for the trading of power.

"I recommend that the Commission not order refunds in this case because the prices were not unreasonable and, unlike the California ISO/PX, the market is a competitive market," Cintron said in her recommendation.

Cintron further said in her report that FERC intervention in the Pacific Northwest market would have "a chilling effect on trading and would drive marketers out of the region," which could have the snowball effect of thinning market participants, liquidity and weakening reliability.

The judge said power buyers entered the market with their eyes open and chose willingly "to take the risk of high spot market prices."

"The Pacific Northwest was faced with an extreme and rare contraction in available supply. To accommodate the shortage, prices rose dramatically, but that is exactly what they are supposed to do," Cintron wrote.

The Pacific Northwest case was brought by municipal utilities including those in Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., and Eugene, Ore. Refunds were sought from power providers such as the federal Bonneville Power Administration and the Powerex Corp. unit of British Columbia's provincial utility BC Hydro.

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