B.C.’s Powerex to pay Californians $750 million

Minister says Hydro deal to settle overcharge claims avoids risk of potential $3.2b penalty

  • Aug. 16, 2013 12:00 a.m.

B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett.

BC Hydro’s electricity export arm has agreed to pay Californians $750 million to settle accusations it overcharged during the state’s energy crisis of 2000-01 and avoid the risk of a much higher court-ordered penalty.

Energy Minister Bill Bennett said Friday the settlement by Powerex won’t drive up electricity rates in B.C., although part of the payment will be recouped from a five per cent rate rider that already applies to Hydro customers.

“This was an extremely difficult decision to come to but a very necessary decision to protect British Columbia taxpayers from an unpredictable result in the U.S. court system,” Bennett said.

He maintains BC Hydro did nothing wrong in the years when other power sellers did manipulate energy prices to California amid rolling blackouts, triggering lawsuits for refunds from dozens of sellers, including Powerex.

But he says fighting on could have been much more expensive, because U.S. regulators already partly ruled against the targeted utilities in a blanket judgment.

Powerex faced a possible $3.2-billion penalty if it lost, he said, and that would have come after years of fighting in U.S. courts, stacking up $125 million a year in interest and a projected legal bill of $50 million.

Bennett said he’s “not happy” but noted the payout works out to 12 cents on the dollar of what Hydro may have paid out.

“We could duke this out,” he said, adding it would be a “lifetime’s work” for the lawyers involved and a huge risk to B.C. taxpayers.

“It’s actually irresponsible to not settle this with the opportunity we’ve got.”

Most of the cost of the payout consists of wiping out a $475-million debt California owes Powerex, plus interest, or else has already been carved out of Powerex profits.

A remaining $100 million that must be found will come via the rate rider and will be overseen by the B.C. Utilities Commission, Bennett said.

NDP energy critic John Horgan called it a “complete capitulation” when B.C. had a “strong hand” as a result of a string of U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rulings that had largely absolved Powerex of unfairly exploiting the energy crisis.

And he said it’s “absolute lunacy” for Bennett to claim the large payout won’t contribute to higher BC Hydro rates in the coming years and possibly cut into government dividends from Hydro at taxpayers’ expense.

“The only place that can come from is ratepayers,” Horgan said.

The NDP critic backed former energy minister Rich Coleman in February when the province was determined to fight on.

Horgan said a reasonable settlement would have been to erase the amounts owed by California but not pay the $275 million in additional cash.

He also dismissed suggestions from Powerex CEO Teresa Conway that the deal was important to preserve BC Hydro’s business relationship with the California market, which has generated $3.5 billion in revenue over the years.

Bennett likened the decision to the choice made in past years by Canadian forest companies to settle the softwood lumber dispute rather than gamble on a U.S. court outcome.

Most other power sellers accused of overcharging have settled.

The decision by Powerex to follow suit must still be approved by FERC.

Most of the refunds will go to customers of California’s biggest utilities.

 

// <![CDATA[

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+”://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js”;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,”script”,”twitter-wjs”);

//

Just Posted

Heat warning rescinded for Central and South Okanagan

Kelowna - It’s expected to cool off a bit this week

Lighting strikes spark 38 fires in B.C., 13 in the region

13 new fires in the Okanagan have been reported from the BC Wildfire Service Tuesday night.

Penticton fire offers tips to stay safe during wildfire season

Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson reminds all residents that wildfire season is here

City keeps pushing forward on downtown issues

The City of Penticton isn’t letting up on their campaign to reduce street issues

Update: Lightning sparks blaze above Summerland

Firefighters are battling the small fire from the area that occurred Tuesday shortly after 7 p.m.

Firefighters respond to roadside brush fire

Fire next to Highway 97 being brought under control.

Trudeau shuffles familiar faces, adds new ones to expanded cabinet

Justin Trudeau shuffleS his front bench Wednesday to install the roster of ministers that will be entrusted with leading the Liberal team into next year’s election.

Ingenious Okanagan beatboxer featured in video series

Nuge Bird uses beatboxing and comedy as a way to overcome his challenges

Search continues for missing North Okanagan-Shuswap women

Search planned for July 21-22 to start behind Splatsin Community Centre in Enderby

Lightning strikes West Kelowna condo

Fire crews were called to a building on Carrington Road Tuesday night

Lightning sparks wildfires in Vernon

Tuesday night storm causes wildfire in BX and residential fire in East Hill

Crash closes Highway 5A in both directions

A collision has shut down Highway 5A about 22 kilometres south of the junction with Highway 97C

UPDATE: Smoke rising from Okanagan Mountain Park hills

Lightning may have sparked a fire in the hills across from Peachland

Most Read