Judge rules that state must disclose power purchase records

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San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. _ The state must disclose everything about California’s power purchases, including spot sales, contract details and tapes of negotiations, a judge ruled Wednesday.

The Davis administration has refused to disclose details of the state’s power purchases, saying companies will only charge more if they know what the state pays.

The ruling came in response to lawsuits by news agencies and Republican lawmakers who argued that the public has a right to know how billions of tax dollars are being spent.

“This is a huge victory for the people of California and for open government,” said Assemblyman Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks.

Davis has until Friday to request a stay of the order if the state plans to appeal. A spokesman said the administration is weighing its options. A final ruling is expected July 5.

“The governor wants to make as much information public as possible but he doesn’t want to give the greedy energy companies a competitive advantage that will drive up electricity rates higher,” said Davis spokesman Steve Maviglio. “We are reviewing the Judge’s decision and will make a decision shortly about a possible appeal.”

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Linda B. Quinn two weeks ago ordered Davis to release long-term power contracts but allowed the state to black out key details such as fuel prices and electricity delivery points. Davis produced those contracts with the details omitted.

Wednesday’s hearing was to determine whether the state could continue withholding those details, as well as prices and other information about ongoing daily electricity purchases.

Included in Judge Quinn’s Wednesday order was a demand that the state produce 7,200 hours of audiotaped negotiations for spot power transactions.

Though many were unaware such tapes even existed, state and industry officials said they are standard practice in spot transactions.

“They do that in order to rectify any misunderstandings,” said Gary Ackerman, executive director of the Western Power Trading Forum. “They play back the tape if there’s any dispute.”

Power sellers have opposed releasing contract details but with much of the information already released, further disclosure would be a minor irritant, Ackerman said.

The state began buying power in January for customers of its major utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. The utilities could no longer buy electricity because of high debt from buying power for more than they could charge customers.

The state has spent nearly $8 billion buying power since then and signed electricity contracts worth $43 billion for the next 10 years. The state plans to issue a record $13.4 billion in ratepayer-backed bonds to cover its power costs.

Consumer advocates also cheered the judge’s order.

“The moment of truth is at hand,” said Harvey Rosenfield of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “Now we’re going to know just how badly we got reamed.”

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