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Three local water districts sue over electricity prices By Jeff McDonald UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER January 17, 2001
Desperate for relief that is slow in coming from the governor or state lawmakers, three San Diego County water districts went to court yesterday to fight what they say are illegal conspiracies to run up energy rates.
The San Diego County Superior Court lawsuit accuses 13 electricity generators and trading companies of engaging in unfair and illegal business practices.
The water districts want a judge to issue an immediate injunction, order restitution and appoint a receiver to manage the defendants' activities.
"It's getting extremely bad," said attorney C. Michael Cowett, who filed the suit on behalf of the Sweetwater Authority, Valley Center Municipal Water District and Padre Dam Municipal Water District. "Our costs for power have way more than doubled in the past six months."
According to the complaint, the defendants withheld power supplies to create an artificial shortage. They also exported power out of state, performed unneeded maintenance on plants and exploited confidential information for higher profits, the lawsuit claims.
The districts spent $3 million more to pump water over the past several months than they paid before California deregulated its electricity industry, the suit alleges. Combined, they serve more than 330,000 customers.
Among those named in the lawsuit are two subsidiaries of Sempra Energy, the giant energy concern that also owns San Diego Gas & Electric Co. Sempra called allegations that it violated any laws "completely false and frivolous."
The suit also names Dynegy Inc., Dynegy Marketing and Trade, Enron Energy Services Inc., Enron Power Marketing Inc., PG&E Energy Trading-Power Holdings Corp., Reliant Energy Services Inc., Southern Company Energy Marketing L.P., Williams Energy Marketing & Trading Co., Williams Energy Ventures Inc., Duke Energy Trading & Marketing LLC and NRG Energy Inc.
In unrelated court action, Judge Larry Stirling said yesterday that the federal lawsuit he filed last summer against the federal government had been dismissed.
Stirling claimed the government wrongly allowed cheap federal power to be sold at huge profits. After losing a state Senate campaign and returning to the Superior Court bench, he said it would be improper to pursue the case.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), January 18, 2001