PUD seeks ruling on Enron refund

EVERETT – Snohomish County PUD is pulling out the big guns in its bid to avoid paying Enron Corp. $122 million, money the energy broker says the PUD owes it for canceling a 2000-01 contract early.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and state Attorney General Christine Gregoire will stand by this morning when the PUD holds a news conference announcing it will file a request with federal regulators to prevent the bankrupt energy broker from collecting another penny from the PUD’s 295,000 customers.

On July 22, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that the profits Enron made from 1997 to 2001 were illegally collected, and based on a administrative law judge’s review, are subject to a refund.

By filing its request with FERC today, the PUD wants the energy regulator to clarify whether the $122 million Enron says the PUD owes it qualifies as profits under that July ruling.

The PUD claims it had the right to cancel its contract with Enron because at the time Enron was intentionally manipulating the electricity market to drive up prices, including the price of the contract Enron signed with the PUD. If the PUD is forced to pay Enron $122 million, the cost to each customer could be about $420.

“We’re optimistic, but we still have legal hurdles to clear,” said Neil Neroutsos, a spokesman for the utility district.

Cantwell will use the announcement to call on FERC Chairman Pat Wood to be more clear about which Enron profits are covered under the July 22 ruling, said Charla Neuman, Cantwell’s spokeswoman.

“This is a collective effort to try to nail him down how this ruling affects Snohomish,” Neuman said.

Gregoire will use the news conference to make a separate Enron-related announcement, but specifics wouldn’t be made available until today, said spokesman Gary Larson. Gregoire is among the candidates running for governor.

FERC’s July ruling also could mean that the PUD and other utilities will get millions of dollars in refunds from Enron for profits the energy broker made from 1997 to 2001.

It’s up to an administrative law judge to decide how much of its profits Enron must pay back to utilities including the PUD, said FERC spokesman Bryan Lee.

“The thrust of the board’s decision” is that the profits were illegally gained, Lee said.

According to estimates from California officials, Enron made $3 billion in profits from West Coast utilities between 1997 and 2001, including more than $30 million from PUD customers.

If refunds are ordered, getting money back remains iffy because Enron is under bankrupt court protection and may not have the cash.

Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or lvelush@heraldnet.com.

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