Friday, March 6, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Energy justice was long-delayed

TomEliasW

By
From page A10 | June 14, 2013 |

It’s taken almost 13 years, but justice finally may be coming to California consumers victimized by the federal government during California’s energy crunch of 2000 and 2001.

Yes, by the federal government.

For folks who weren’t in California or don’t remember, that was the time when power prices here soared as electricity-trading companies like Enron, Reliant Energy, the Williams Cos. and several others conspired illegally to take advantage of this state’s abortive deregulation plan.

“Buccaneers from out-of-state” caused the problem, then-Gov. Gray Davis complained at the time. Few took his charge seriously, least of all the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which could instantly have stopped the illegal practice of making fake, phantom shipments of power out of California and then selling the same power back to California utilities at vastly inflated prices.

One result was that Davis’ public approval ratings dropped severely, leaving him vulnerable to the recall election of 2003.

So this energy crunch had political consequences. At the same time, politics had major consequences for consumers. When Republican George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000 without help from California, the state no longer got much sympathy from presidential appointees of most sorts.

No matter how often Davis and other state officials protested the power profiteering, FERC did nothing, and eventually Californians were bilked of more than $10 billion in excessive electricity prices. Super-high prices continued for years after the crunch, as Californians paid for the long-term power supply contracts forced on the state’s Independent System Operator during the crisis.

It wasn’t just through FERC that the federal government persecuted and cheated every residential and commercial electricity customer in this state.

California also bought power at that time from two federal agencies operating dams on major Western rivers. Those were the Bonneville Power Administration based in Portland, Ore., and the Western Area Power Administration in Lakewood, Colo.

Davis at the time charged these federal agencies with profiteering similarly to Enron and other private companies whose executives later were convicted of illegal market manipulation.

The criminal trials of Enron chieftains and others proved Davis correct about those “out-of-state buccaneers,” and now he’s been proven right about the federal agencies, too.

This happened when, in what may have been the most under-reported story of the spring, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., ruled that both the Bonneville and Western Area power administrations bilked Californians of more than $2 billion during and after the electricity crunch. In a separate ruling about the same time, a FERC administrative law judge found that private companies cheated Californians out of at least $1 billion more than they’ve already been forced to refund.

Even after the end of rolling blackouts deliberately created by market manipulators to sow public panic and desperation that left Californians susceptible to gouging, both the federal and private outfits continued to take advantage, the judges ruled. The exact amounts of their liability will be determined in separate court proceedings this month.

After that, the state Public Utilities Commission will decide how to return the money to consumers. Only part of past settlements with private companies has been returned directly to customers who were cheated, with portions going to fund new generating capacity.

Because every region of the state now possesses power plants with the potential to produce at least 15 percent more power than projected maximum demands, all of the new refunds ought to go straight to consumers, applied to their monthly bills.

But the PUC, which was a big supporter of deregulation before the energy crunch despite warnings from consumer groups that large-scale market manipulation surely would follow, has never before given much back to consumers.

The bottom line on all this is an old lesson: Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

Because of the complexity of the energy regulatory process, power companies and the federal and state agencies that regulate them get little public attention. Operating out of the news-coverage spotlight, they sometimes try to take advantage. The only way to avoid future crises and cheating, then, is to shine that spotlight on them continually.

— Reach syndicated columnist Tom Elias at [email protected]

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    ‘Topping out': Sign a building beam at the Shrem Museum

    By Jeffrey Day | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Life after lawn: Fifty greens for shade

    By Katie F. Hetrick | From Page: A1

    Got sun? Indoor herbs can thrive on windowsills

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

     
    How can we know that the products we buy for our homes are safe?

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Quick home improvements that raise your resale value

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Spring-clean your kitchen in five easy steps

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

    Dryers: Homes’ energy guzzlers just got greener

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

     
    Need a new best friend?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6 | Gallery

    UCD improving farming, food production with fewer pesticides

    By Kathy Keatley Garvey | From Page: B6 | Gallery

     
    PSAs highlight area nonprofits

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B6

    Peripheral neuropathy support offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

     
    Workshop eyes creating peace through creative play

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

     
    Museum brick sales to end this month

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

    Cabrillo Club plans membership dinner

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

     
    Pig out at Pig Day Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    Porkers on display at Hattie Weber Museum

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    St. John’s shows off cuisine at brunch

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

    Seniors serious about fitness

    By Savannah Holmes | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    .

    Forum

    Obama’s world is a dangerous place

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: B4

    Some convicts don’t deserve parole hearings

    By Tom Elias | From Page: B4

     
    Here’s how to make college cheaper

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

    Dirty laundry on the company line

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B9

     
    .

    Sports

    Marsh provides radio images of a ‘magical’ Aggie hoops season

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Blue Devil volleyballers cruise in home opener

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    DHS girls track and field team reloads for 2015

    By Dylan Lee | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    UCD women fall at UCR

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Aggie men clinch Big West crown

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Sports briefs: Bella Vista slips past DHS softballers

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12

    .

    Features

     
    Rec Report: Looking ahead to spring break

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

    What’s happening

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: B5

     
    Wineaux: A local diamond in the rough, revisited

    By Susan Leonardi | From Page: A9

    .

    Arts

    Steve Kiser’s work on display at Gallery 1855

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    Tables available at Vinyl and Music Fair

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

    ‘The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel': Second-rate

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A10 | Gallery

     
    ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ auditions set

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

    Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlasela celebrate Mandela’s legacy

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A12 | Gallery

     
    Learn from experts at ‘Art of Painting’ conference

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12 | Gallery

    Tom Brousseau to visit ‘Live in the Loam’ on KDRT

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

     
    .

    Business

    Honey, we shrank the SUV — and Europe loves it

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, March 6, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B10