California energy customers could get $1.6 billion in refunds

by Dale Kasler, Sacramento Bee

California electricity consumers could get refunds totaling $1.6 billion because of excessive rates charged during the initial phase of the energy crisis, the Public Utilities Commission said today.

The case involves allegations of market manipulation during the summer of 2000, when the first electricity shortages surfaced and wholesale electric prices began to skyrocket.

The PUC said an administrative law judge at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a preliminary decision last Friday in favor of the state and against several power wholesalers. If the FERC judge’s decision is upheld by the full commission, Californians would get a $1 billion refund plus $600 million in interest.

According to the PUC, those companies that were found to have manipulated prices included Powerex, an arm of the government of British Columbia; Shell Energy North America; Trans Alta Corp. of Canada; and the U.S. government’s own Bonneville Power Administration.

"This money was stolen from ratepayers in California by a bunch of sellers who conducted business like pirates," said PUC Commissioner Mike Florio in a prepared statement.