Keeping a commitment to wrap up its California energy crisis investigations in the first quarter, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said Wednesday that it plans to release its findings March 26 on the manipulation of Western energy markets and on California's request for refunds and renegotiated long-term power contracts.
FERC also will release its findings on whether El Paso Corp. withheld natural-gas supplies from the state.
"We are focused 100% on getting the California-Western stuff out this month," FERC Chairman Patrick H. Wood III told reporters.
Wood said the commission intends to make public evidence submitted by California officials to support allegations of energy-market manipulation, as well as documents amassed by FERC staff in its own probe of the matter. However, Wood acknowledged that possible legal challenges could delay the release of tens of thousands of pages of documents.
California officials, who once complained that FERC moved too slowly in addressing the state's energy meltdown in 2000-01, are now voicing concern that the commission is moving too fast.
A coalition of state agencies and utilities on March 3 submitted more than 3,000 pages of evidence to support the state's quest for refunds for an alleged $9 billion in electricity overcharges during the energy crisis.
The four cases grew out of California's 18 months of energy chaos, during which the price of electricity and natural gas skyrocketed and the state's two largest electricity utilities became technically insolvent because of power-purchasing debts. They are:
* California's $9-billion refund demand, which was reduced to $1.8 billion in a preliminary decision by a FERC judge in December.
* California's request for cancellation or renegotiation of $43 billion in long-term energy contracts signed by the state during the height of the crisis.
* An investigation, begun in February 2002, of whether Enron Corp. and others manipulated California's and other Western energy markets.
* California's complaint that energy customers in the state spent $3.3 billion too much for natural gas because El Paso Corp. squelched supplies. The Houston-based pipeline operator has denied the charges.
Separately, a Senate committee approved Joseph T. Kelliher to fill one of two empty seats on the five-member commission.
Kelliher, a senior advisor to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, would take the slot reserved for a Republican if he is confirmed by the full Senate. President Bush has said his nominee for the other vacancy, reserved for a Democrat, will be University of New Mexico law professor Suedeen G. Kelly, who once worked for California's grid operator.
Times news services were used in compiling this report.