Records Show Enron Manipulation, Washington State Utility Says
By Peter Behr
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, June 15, 2004; Page E02
Confidential Enron Corp. accounting records show that its traders were manipulating electricity prices on nearly every day of the year-long West Coast electricity crisis in 2000-2001, Washington state utility officials said yesterday.
The new trading documents were obtained by lawyers for the Snohomish County Public Utility District, the same small municipal power provider that last month released tapes of profanity-laced conversations by Enron traders bragging about their trading schemes and mocking consumers hit by soaring power prices.
Snohomish, which had to raise its electricity rates by 50 percent when the prices spiked in 2000, signed a $122 million long-term power contract with Enron early in 2001, but canceled it after accounting scandals enveloped the Houston company. Enron's bankruptcy attorneys have sued Snohomish and other utilities that also canceled contracts, seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in contract termination penalties.
The new documents allegedly show Enron manipulating the market on more than 400 of 537 days from January 2000 to June 2001, Snohomish said.
The accounting records allow investigators to track Enron behavior, Snohomish assistant general counsel Eric Christensen said. In one example, Enron purchased a block of power from California's power grid operators on May 22, 2000, at the start of the crisis. After selling it to an Oregon utility and buying it back, it sold the power back to California that same day, after the state declared an energy emergency, and made a profit of $222,678, Christensen said.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) castigated the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for not obtaining the accounting records and tape transcripts itself and then for "obstructing" Snohomish's attempts to get the information. "Whose side is FERC really on?" Cantwell asked.
At one point, Cantwell said, FERC attorneys and the Justice Department tried to block Snohomish from obtaining the Enron trader tapes, which were in the custody of prosecutors investigating Enron's trading schemes. Justice Department lawyers had not transcribed the tapes or listened to them, and after a FERC administrative judge intervened, the tapes were turned over to Snohomish.
Four years after the power crisis, legal battles drag on before the commission, in various courts and in the Enron bankruptcy proceeding, over how much Enron and other power marketers owe West Coast consumers.
The utility got one of the accounting reports from an Enron consultant and another from Enron itself a month ago after lengthy wrangling, and delivered them and trader tape transcripts to FERC. "The commission will thoroughly review the material and determine what new information if any it contains," said agency spokesman Bryan Lee, who added that FERC is still considering the final sanctions it will impose on Enron.
Snohomish said that several of the traders' calls document Enron's manipulation of its contract. In one, an Enron vice president advised a company attorney to make negotiations with Snohomish "sound like we're in a competitive process . . . or some [expletive] like that, you know. . . . It's all how well you can weave these lies together."
The lawyer laughed. "I feel like I'm being corrupted now," she said. "No," the executive replied, "this is marketing."
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