Enron and others pay for roles in manufactured energy ‘crisis’

EVERETT — Nearly a decade after Enron Corp., the bankrupt energy broker, bragged about gouging millions of dollars from West Coast grandmothers, Snohomish County utility payers will finally get some payback — what amounts to 92 cents a person.

The Snohomish County PUD is receiving $641,644 as part of a restitution settlement for residential customers.

Don’t expect a check for your 92 cents anytime soon.

Under the terms of the settlement, the PUD must put the money toward programs that help low-income ratepayers.

The money comes from settlements negotiated by the state Attorney General’s Office with various energy companies related to the 2000-01 energy crisis, including Enron. The attorney general is handing out a total of $6.2 million statewide.

Snohomish County utility bills rocketed up 50 percent in 2001 partly after the PUD bought high-priced power from Enron.

At the time, Enron blamed the high price of energy on demand and a drought that hurt hydropower. Officials later learned Enron had manipulated the market to artificially drive up prices.

People here paid.

From May 2000 to June 2001, prices were five, 10 and briefly even 100 times above the long-term average in the region. One PUD attorney likened the hikes to finding gasoline at the local service station going from $2 a gallon to $8, to $40 overnight with spikes of $400 a gallon.

In 2001, PUD officials smelled a rat and canceled a multimillion-dollar contract with Enron after it uncovered evidence Enron was financially unstable.

The energy broker later crumbled in a dramatic financial scandal.

Enron sued the PUD for dumping the contract. The PUD and its customers could have been on the hook for as much as $180 million. The utility ended up paying $18 million as part of a settlement contract with Enron in 2007.

Snohomish County ratepayers got one other major settlement payout in 2004. That $3 million, also negotiated by the attorney general on behalf of customers, also went to low-income energy assistance programs.

Again, the PUD plans to work with local agencies to get the money to people around the county. Most of the money will go to those who make just enough money they don’t qualify for other low-income assistance programs, but have incomes between 125 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level — that’s $27,562 to $44,100 annually for a family of four.

In addition, some of the money will be set aside to pay for energy bill vouchers for households that may need short-term help because of a job loss or other hardship.

The PUD is still working out the details. Officials ask customers to hold off contacting the PUD until the programs are announced to the public.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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