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Industry News

Plans to Mislead Grid Operators in Trader Transcripts

LCG, June 10, 2002--Transcripts of telephone conversations between energy traders at Xcel and Mirant Corp. in 2000 show communication concerning the supply of power to grid managers at the California Independent System Operator at the last minute.

Conversations indicate intentionally false scheduling of transactions, and cases in which schedules were filed with the ISO, even though there were no plans to deliver power by the routes being indicated. By doing so, the traders could be paid to relieve congestion on the lines, congestion that had been created in part by artifical trades.

The strategies discussed by traders at Xcel's Public Service Co. of Colorado and Southern Co. Energy Marketing (now Mirant) reflect strategies discussed in memos written by Enron attorneys. The transcripts came to light following the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's request for documents relating to possible similarities between energy traders' behavior and practices named in the Enron memos. Prior to the filing, a number of companies, including Dynegy, CMS Energy, and Reliant, had admitted to false, round-trip trades, which might boost prices by causing the appearance of higher trading volumes and prices. The strategies in the recent transcripts are somewhat more complex.

In a particular conversation from July 18, 2000, an Xcel trader is asked by a counterpart at Mirant if he would like "to do an ex-post type of game or you want to do a congestion type of game plus ex-post." The ex-post strategy indicates that power was to be supplied to the ISO at the last possible minute. Xcel went on record as having supplied Mirant with 300 megawatt-hours of energy for $277 per megawatt-hour. The following day, the ISO paid up to $500 per megawatt-hour, and in declaring a Stage 2 emergency, required some customers to be cut off from supplies temporarily.

According to Paul Bonavia, president of Xcel's Energy Markets unit, "We did not overschedule. We did not manuipulate prices." Rules governing market participants' interaction the ISO required schedules with equal demand and supply, but "balanced" schedules" were not consistently demanded by the ISO, Mirant has said. The ISO in fact encouraged schedules that it knew would prove inaccurate in order for it to have power from Mirant when other resources did not materialize. Senator Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, said last month that the ISO had responded to manipulation by generators by manipulating the market itself.
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