FERC plans to rule on the “Big Four” cases dealing with the alleged manipulation of the California natural gas and electricity markets at its next regular meeting on March 26, Chairman Pat Wood said last Wednesday.

At a briefing with reporters, he said the Commission staff “[was] 100% focused on getting the California stuff out” in time for the meeting, and he noted that orders were already being drafted in some cases.

Specifically, Wood said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission planned to act on a FERC judge’s ruling that El Paso Natural Gas intentionally withheld transportation capacity from California to drive up gas prices in 2000 and 2001; another FERC judge’s ruling that estimated total refunds owed to California electricity customers at $1.8 billion, not the $8-9 billion claimed by the state; FERC staff’s final report on its year-long investigation of energy price gouging in West Coast markets; and efforts to renegotiate billions of dollars of long-term power contracts.

Even after FERC acts on March 26, Wood indicated that certain proceedings still may “require some further work before a judge,” and/or some further enforcement actions perhaps.

On a related issue, the chairman said the current House energy bill, drafted by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), contained “pretty good language” to ensure market transparency for electricity, and that he favored similar provisions for the gas market.

Asked if this meant he endorsed FERC collecting gas prices on a quarterly basis, as it currently does with the electric market, Wood responded “that’s one option” because it would provide a “good after-the-fact check” on prices. He wasn’t sure if giving the Commission this authority would require Congress to re-open the Natural Gas Act.

But he seemed to discount the possibility that the Commission would step into the shoes of energy newsletters and begin gathering prices on gas trades on a daily basis. “I would say as a practical matter that’s very difficult” to do.

Still, Wood believes there is a need for “some auditability” of energy prices. The industry has a “common interest” in restoring the gas price indexes to a level where they will be “respected” again, he noted.

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