Utility Reform Project
  · Advanced search

The Business Journal - Portland

Port of Seattle sues utilities, including PGE, PacifiCorp

May 30, 2003

Shelly Strom

The Port of Seattle filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Seattle Thursday that names Portland-based PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric, as well as eight other utilities.

The complaint seeks damages of at least $30 million and was filed under Washington State antitrust laws, the Sherman Act and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

The Port of Seattle alleges the defendants used false information to drive electricity prices during the Western power crisis of 2000 and 2001. "The conspiratorial conduct engaged in by defendants and their co-conspirators was a combination and conspiracy designed and intended to fix and raise the market price of electricity to Port and others in violation of Washington law," according to the lawsuit.

Several state and federal agencies are investigating the power crisis; however, the lawsuit is among the first of its kind filed by an agency other than a regulator. Enron, a major marketer of electric power during the crisis that went on to file bankruptcy late in 2001, was not named as a defendant because it is protected from litigation under bankruptcy statutes.

PacifiCorp officials say the company doesn't comment on ongoing litigation. The utility, owned by Scottish Power, has maintained that its role in energy trading during the crisis was limited to a small number of transactions needed to meet customer demand.

Calls placed by The Business Journal to PGE were not immediately returned.

"By late 2000, the rate of and price paid for 'out-of-market' electricity and for 'ancillary services' increased substantially. From November 2000 to December 2000, prices for all 'ancillary services' increased between 127 percent and 650 percent. Finally, the prices for wholesale electricity in [various] markets also skyrocketed. Prior to May 2000, electricity prices consistently averaged $24 to $40 per megawatt hour. By December 2000, the height of the crisis, prices reached $1,500 per megawatt hour," according to the filing.

"Among other things," according to court documents, "Enron, Defendants, and others did knowingly transmit via wire communications in interstate commerce information concerning energy schedules and bids that:

  • Misrepresented the nature and amount of electricity Enron, defendants, and others proposed to supply as well as the load they intended to serve;
  • \Created false congestion and falsely relieved congestion on California transmission lines, and otherwise manipulated the ISO's calculation of congestion fees;
  • Misrepresented the source and destination of energy; and
  • Falsely represented that Enron, Defendants, and others intended to supply energy and ancillary services they did not in fact have, and did not intend to supply."

Contact Shelly Strom at 503-219-3414 or by e-mail at sstrom@bizjournals.com.