California consumer groups unhappy with settlement involving Williams

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The Associated Press

Williams Cos. should have paid California more than the $8 million it was forced to in a settlement with federal regulators over the company’s power charges, California consumer watchdogs say.

“It’s like catching a bank robber and making him return only 75 percent of what he stole,” the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights said.

Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams reached the settlement this week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but admitted no wrongdoing.

The settlement resolved one of four cases that federal regulators had brought against the Tulsa company.

The commission had accused Williams and a partner of deliberately shutting down two electric generating plants in California to increase by 10 times the price for electricity generated by their other plants in the spring of 2000.

Federal regulators told Williams in March to either explain its actions or return profits in excess of $10.8 million.

The company denied the allegation and said it never overcharged.

Harvey Rosenfield, executive director for the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, said Williams got off easy with the $8 million settlement.

“They’ll make that money back in the next few days by selling power to California at extortionary prices,” he said.

The California Public Utilities Commission had recommended that federal regulators triple damages.

Williams spokeswoman Paula Hill-Collins said she is “confident that a full hearing of the facts would have exonerated us entirely.”

“Settling the matter provided the best opportunity for Williams to move forward on more productive matters, instead of engaging in a lengthy and costly hearing process,” she said.

William L. Massey, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, concurred with the settlement but said the agency must be more aggressive “to act as a deterrent to anticompetitive actions.

“In this respect, this settlement is not as strong as I would have preferred,” he said.

Consumer Watchdog
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