California could collect another $1.5 billion in refunds from the energy crisis under a pair of court rulings this week, state officials said Thursday.
The refunds would go to customers of the three investor-owned utilities Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric through offsets or credits on their monthly bills.
State officials said the refunds stem from massive overcharges imposed by power wholesalers during the energy crisis of 2000-01, when the state's newly deregulated electricity market melted down.
The two court rulings, issued Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., target two hydroelectricity wholesalers that are part of the federal Department of Energy: the Bonneville Power Administration and the Western Area Power Administration.
The court found the two wholesalers exceeded federal rules that say prices must be "just and reasonable."
The court hasn't yet declared how much the two agencies owe California. But Frank Lindh, general counsel at the Public Utilities Commission, said he believes the refund could reach $1.5 billion, including interest.
"That's a realistically optimistic estimate of what we can get," he said.
Randy Wilkerson, a spokesman for Western Area Power, declined comment. A spokesman for Bonneville couldn't be reached.
In a separate case in February, an administrative law judge at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission tentatively ruled that nearly a dozen wholesalers owe Californians about $1.6 billion for overcharges. That ruling still requires ratification by the entire commission.
Taken together, this latest round of cases could bring more than $3 billion in refunds to the state. That would double the amount of refunds that have been paid to California ratepayers in the decade that has passed since the energy crisis ended.
"The winds are blowing in our direction," Lindh said.
Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.