Billing them as “two new whistleblowers,” California political officials responded last week to heavy counterattacks in the news media by Duke Energy North America, which strongly argues it has done nothing wrong. The state politicians brought forth two additional former power plant workers who allege wrongdoing by Duke in the operation of a San Diego County generation plant.

Like three other former workers who came forward earlier, the two are former San Diego Gas & Electric employees who worked at Duke Energy’s South Bay Power Plant in Chula Vista, CA. They were introduced to news media in the state capital by California’s Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and a state Assemblymember Barbara Matthews, adding to allegations that the merchant generator manipulated the power plant’s operations to drive up wholesale prices earlier in the year.

Matthews and the lieutenant governor have filed a class action civil lawsuit against what they call the “out-of-state energy cartel.” In questioning at a press conference call Friday, Gov. Gray Davis said he would not comment further on the allegations other than the fact that the state transmission grid operator, Cal-ISO, CEO Terry Winter told him that only about “10% to 15%” of the allegation are explained away by the grid-operator’s operating logs for the days in question. Davis did say that he assumed Duke has “another side to the story.”

Nevertheless, the other two elected officials said there are now five former workers–none technically employed by Duke–who the politicians say have “confirmed and testified about the high questionable plant operations” at the South Bay plant operated under a lease agreement by Duke.

Bustamante said the workers, each with more than 20 years of electrical utility experience, allege that Duke “ran the South Bay plant in a way to maximize profits over reliability and safety as part of a scheme to manipulate California’s energy market.”

One of the workers the lieutenant governor brought forward, Richard Connors, told news media “when it came to producing energy, we were told that money, not reliability, was more important.”

Duke again strongly repudiated the charges and called them similar to ones made earlier by workers who were unaware that the state transmission grid operator, Cal-ISO, was really directing the power plant’s operations during the times in question. Allegations about Duke’s plant safety, dispatching and use of natural gas were all rejected by the generator.

In response to allegations of lack safety in its plant operations, a Duke spokesperson said “the record speaks for itself; South Bay has had no lost-time injury for over 800 days. (Since April 1999 when Duke’s lease began with the Port of San Diego, which purchased the plant from SDG&E in 1998.)

There were again allegations that Duke refused to dispatch power during power alerts and extremely tight peak-demand supplies, but the generator said that the only time it did not operate the South Bay plant was when requested to do so by Cal-ISO or when it had to reserve pollution credits to maintain enough credits to meet our must-run obligation to the ISO.

“The only time we recall this occurring was in December of 2000 when we were at the end of our pollution credits at South Bay,” said the Duke spokesperson. “We did tell the ISO at that time that we would run if they called upon us under our must-run obligation.”

Duke also strongly denied allegations–repeated earlier by three other former workers–that is was more costly to run a small, 15-MW combustion turbine on jet fuel than increase one of the natural gas-fired main units by that same amount, as well as the fact that high natural gas prices should not have been a problem for Duke’s spot market power sales.

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