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CA Thinks Enron Owes More Than $1.67B FERC Staff Seeks

The number was still hot off first press reports of FERC staff testimony before a regulatory judge when the California Attorney General's Office called for more than the $1.67 billion federal regulatory analysts have calculated is owed by Enron Corp. for its alleged wholesale energy market manipulation during the 2000-2001 western energy crisis. California's AG thinks it should be $2.8 billion, a spokesperson told western news media.

Nevertheless, how much and who actually receives payment when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ultimately decides the case later this year is still uncertain, particularly in light of Enron's ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding in which the caretaker management contends there are only $12.8 billion in assets to satisfy $63 billion in creditor claims, according to a business news report in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times.

Further complicating the situation is the fact that there also is a legal argument as to whether any FERC-ordered profit returns constitute a "fine" or a "debt," the latter holding much higher standing in bankruptcies than the former.

While the FERC staff's calculated "fine," or payment due by Enron covers its trading activities going back to 1997 on the eve of the restructured wholesale power market starting in California, a California AG spokesperson made the case that the AG's higher dollar amount is for a much narrower time period, and a leading San Diego-based utility consumer advocate, Michael Shames, told news media both the state and FERC are way too low in their calculations.

Shames, who heads the Utility Consumers' Action Network (UCAN), said total overcharges amount to $45 billion, his estimate of alleged "overcharges" by all the market participants in the 2000-2001 period. The FERC staff estimate is the first formal attempt to put a price on Enron's alleged manipulation of the market for the period of Jan. 16, 1997 through June 25, 2003. FERC Analyst Randolph Barlow made the assessment, submitted in the ongoing case.

California's AG used a market-based approach in calculating the higher price for Enron, noting that it held Enron responsible for gaming schemes that it alleges were copied by other companies, and the cumulative effort impacted the entire western power market.

Last year, FERC ordered Enron to forfeit $32 million in profits tied to its alleged manipulation of the market in conjunction with El Paso Electric Corp. The federal regulators subsequently ordered a larger probe of Enron's profits during the western wholesale energy market meltdown.

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