SEATTLE -- Checks totaling over $10 million will begin to go out this week to electric utilities in Washington that raised rates during the western states' energy crisis of 2000-2001. Those utilities will in turn issue bill credits or refunds to their commercial and industrial customers in the near future.
The checks result from multi-state antitrust settlements with the Williams Companies, El Paso Corporation and Duke Energy Corporation.
"While we cannot undo the harm our businesses suffered as a result of the soaring rates they paid during the energy crisis, this refund will help," Attorney General Rob McKenna said.
A blue-ribbon panel of business, legislative, and energy industry experts provided guidance on how best to benefit commercial and industrial customers; they recommended the Attorney General return this money directly to consumers. The blue ribbon panel on that committee includes: Bill Gillis, Chair, Washington State University Center to Bridge the Digital Divide; Janet Benish, Costco; Carolyn Logue, National Federation of Independent Business; Steve Johnson, Washington PUD Association; Ken Canon, Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities; Sen. Bob Morton, Ranking Minority Member, Water, Energy and Environment Committee; Rep. Jeff Morris, Chair, Technology, Energy and Communications Committee.
Attorneys general of several western states, including Washington, Oregon and California investigated the companies for manipulating the wholesale electricity market and overcharging customers during the 2000-2001 energy crisis -- when retail electricity rates skyrocketed for Washington consumers.
The states' investigation focused on various practices used by the energy companies to manipulate markets thereby artificially inflating energy prices. All of these companies bought and sold power into the Washington electricity markets during this period or engaged in activities that impacted the prices of electricity in Washington.
Eligible electric utilities in Washington will receive checks ranging from $1,000 to $2.4 million, based on electricity sales and rates that each utility reported to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration. The money will then be passed onto the utilities' commercial and industrial customers who qualify. Utilities are returning the money to customers in different ways to meet their local needs, but most companies are giving customers a one-time credit on their bills. Each utility will distribute its portion of the reimbursement money to its eligible customers within 60 days of the date the utility receives the money.
Duke settled with Washington for $3.25 million; the Williams Companies agreed to pay Washington $15 million over three years and El Paso Corp., agreed to pay $21.3 million.
The Washington Consumer Energy Fund was established at the Seattle Foundation to distribute residential customers' portion of the settlement. Approximately $13 million has already been distributed to programs benefiting residential customers.