SAN FRANCISCO — California electricity consumers could see up to $2 billion in new refunds from energy wholesalers that profited during the state's energy crisis more than a dozen years ago if a federal judge's recommendation holds up at trial, state regulators said Thursday.
The California Public Utilities Commission called the rulings this week from the U.S. Court of Claims in Washington, D.C., a tremendous victory for a state that saw power prices spike to extraordinary heights amid the rolling blackouts of 2000-2001. The state bought billions of dollars' worth of electricity at the time just to keep the lights on.
"The winds of justice and recompense are blowing in Washington," Frank Lindh, general counsel for the commission, said a statement Thursday. "Consumers, agriculture and industry all suffered terrible economic harm during the energy crisis. We look forward to the day when these cases can be laid to rest, once and for all."
The judge found Tuesday that Portland, Ore. -based Bonneville Power Administration and Lakewood, Colo.-based Western Area Power Administration sold energy at inflated prices. The court will set the exact amount the two agencies owe the state at a June 3 trial.
The rulings come on the heels of another decision issued in February by an administrative law judge at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who found roughly a dozen private sector companies also were liable for refunds of up to $1 billion. The FERC is expected decide on that case later this year.
In total, the refunds could yield the state roughly $3 billion, the California Public Utilities Commission said.
Western Area Power Administration spokesman Randy Wilkerson said Thursday the administration could not comment because the case was still in litigation.
Bonneville Power Administration spokesman Mike Hansen referred calls to a Department of Justice attorney, who did not immediately respond to a voicemail or email after business hours Thursday.
California utility companies Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison joined the CPUC in the case on behalf of their customers.
"There are additional legal hurdles to overcome before these orders can become final. (Edison) will continue to diligently pursue refunds from overcharging sellers, both through litigation and settlement," Lauren Bartlett, a company spokeswoman, said in an email.
PG&E also said it would continue fighting for refunds on behalf of its customers.
Lindh said if the refunds are upheld, consumers will likely see a $10-$12 reduction on their electricity bills for a few months.