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Industry News

Transactions by Enron Made Through Small Utilities

LCG, June 6, 2002--In testimony before California state senators yesterday, consultant Robert McCullough, of Portland, Oregon, said that Enron used trades with members of the Northern California Power Agency to evade regulatory detection of manipulative trading strategies.

McCullough said the NCPA was only one of various trading partners used by Enron to create the illusion of impending congestion on the California transmission grid. The agency's members include 23 public utilities, many of which rely on the NCPA for electric power services. "All told, Enron's schemes included a number of other parties, selected for their transmission access, location and ability to obscure regulatory review," McCullough told a panel investigating the blackouts that took place in 2001. The Independent System Operator ordered rolling blackouts of different areas of the state in order to prevent a system-wide collapse.

John Fistolera, the NCPA's legislative director, said, "As far as we knew, the movement of generation over those lines was to the benefit of the statewide grid." A sales division manager, Larry Owens of Silicon Valley Power, based in Santa Clara, said Silicon Valley Power had not utilized the wholesale services provided by the NCPA. Palo Alto's spokeswoman, Linda Clerkson, said the municipal utility had no comment, when contacted by the Sacramento Bee.

The appearance of congestion could have been used to the advantage of traders, because of a rule imposed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that required payments to energy providers for not loading lines with their generation. The ISO asked that the rule be dropped.

"The schemes appear to be simple comercial fraud since, by design, no actual generation was ever envisaged as running to support the schedules filed with the ISO. Stripped of their complexities, these schemes are simply a modern form of check kiting," McCullough testified. The ISO, which would receive allegedly fraudulent schedules of generation and demand, would attempt to curtail transactions or preserve reliability for most of the state by imposing rolling blackouts.

According to Frank Wolak, an economist at Stanford University quoted in the Sacramento Bee, despite what he termed "just standard trading strategies," the ability of generators to withhold power from the grid could cause more serious reliability problems as well as spiraling prices.
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