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Industry News

FERC Finds Increased Refunds Owed to California

LCG, Mar. 26, 2003--A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff report will likely lead to at least $1.5 billion more in refunds for California power customers, due to electricity and gas market manipulation and gaming, a spokesman for the agency said, while FERC chairman Pat Wood III issued a statement that "dysfunctions in each [market] fed off one another."

Wood noted that an earlier December ruling on refunds was based on gas price indexes which were likely manipulated, meaning that revised refund amounts will be calculated based on a "new gas price proxy," or Mitigated Market Clearing Price (MMCP). The final determination of refund amounts will probably be issued in four to six months. The lower-than-normal hydropower supplies in the West during the period October 2, 2000 through June 20, 2001, for which refunds will be calculated, caused greater reliance on gas-fired generators than may have occurred otherwise. This increased the potential for manipulation of gas prices to affect the electricity market, according to a staff report. Whatever the refunds that are determined, Wood said that the agency will see that suppliers are "made whole" with respect to their substantiated "actual gas costs."

The staff report recommended "show cause" orders be issued to at least 30 entities, to show why their trading activity does not constitute "gaming or anomalous behavior" in defiance of California Independent System Operator or California Power Exchange tariffs. Units of three companies - Enron, BP Energy and Reliant Resources - that were found to have tried to manipulate gas and electricity prices were told that unless they could explain their actions within 21 days, their trading privileges would be revoked. According to FERC, BP Energy and Reliant Energy Services traders spoke about causing electricity price increases with one another at the Palo Verde trading hub, in Arizona. Reliant Resources was found to have accounted for nearly 50% of all trades with Enron through the EnronOnline trading platform, in an apparent attempt to create the appearance of active trading and push up the price of gas at the Topock hub in Southern California. Other companies for which "show cause" orders were recommended included AEP, Aquila, Avista, BPA, Coral Power, Duke, Dynegy, Enron, Idaho Power, LADWP, Mirant, PG&E, PacifiCorp, Portland General, Powerex, Reliant, Sempra, Sierra Pacific, Southern California Edison, and Williams.

Investigation of possible withholding of generation, for which evidence may be found in recent filings by California, will continue, a statement by Wood indicated. Additionally, an analysis of a report by the California PUC will be posted. The three sitting FERC commissioners were not prepared to issue a ruling on long-term power contracts signed during the Western energy crisis. Contracts would need to be shown to be against the public interest, a standard established and referred to in some of the contracts, based on Mobile-Sierra, a precedent-setting case heard by the Supreme Court.
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