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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Citing a new report finding Washington state pays the highest next-day wholesale power rates in the nation, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to fulfill its obligation to ensure "just and reasonable rates." In a letter to Curtis Hebert, Chairman of FERC, Murray renewed her call for temporary price caps and asked that Washington state's utilities get the same refunds as California. Murray has previously called for a temporary price cap to stem skyrocketing energy costs.

"I cannot accept the Commission taking action in California alone while ignoring potentially equally unjust power rates in the Northwest simply because it is outside the scope of the investigation or it is deemed 'complex,'" Murray wrote to Chairman Hebert.

According to the Seattle Times, the Northwest wholesale market averaged $267 per megawatt-hour; which is 16 percent higher than the average price in Northern California and 28 percent higher than Southern California.

"Since FERC has ordered refunds in California, where average next-day wholesale prices are cheaper than in the mid-Columbia, I cannot understand how the Commission can fail to investigate action in Washington state," Murray said. "I am disturbed to read press reports that you "balked at ordering refunds in Northwest power markets, saying such a multi-state action would be complex, 'difficult to administer and outside the scope of rate investigations in California.'"

"I continue to believe that the most obvious immediate remedy for the energy crisis would be a temporary price cap, which could be fashioned to exempt plants under construction, and which could have a prescribed end-date. Such an arrangement would satisfy your apparent reservations about imposing price caps, while enabling you to dispatch your responsibilities as Chairman of FERC, to ensure 'just and reasonable rates'," Murray said.

Senator Murray's letter to FERC Chairman Curtis Hebert follows:

April 16, 2001

Mr. Curtis Hebert
Chairman
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, NE
Washington, D.C. 20426

Dear Chairman Hebert:

One month ago I wrote to encourage you and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ensure just and reasonable rates were being charged for electricity throughout the Northwest. I appreciate your response, but I am discouraged by your apparent unwillingness to initiate actions on the part of FERC to ensure just and reasonable rates. I am even more discouraged by press accounts of FERC's recent meeting in Boise, Idaho with Western energy officials.

On Friday, we learned that utilities in the Pacific Northwest are paying the highest prices in the nation for next-day delivery of wholesale power. According to The Seattle Times, the Northwest wholesale market averaged $267 per megawatt-hour; which is 16 percent higher than the average price in Northern California and 28 percent higher than Southern California. Utilities throughout Washington have raised consumer rates substantially, and Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) officials announced Monday that they may have to raised rates by 250 percent or more starting October 1st.

Since FERC has ordered refunds in California, where average next-day wholesale prices are cheaper than in the mid-Columbia, I cannot understand how the Commission can fail to take investigative action in Washington state. I am disturbed to read press reports that you "balked at ordering refunds in Northwest power markets, saying such a multi state action would be complex, 'difficult to administer and outside the scope of rate investigations in California.'"

I cannot accept the Commission taking action in California alone while ignoring potentially equally unjust power rates in the Northwest simply because it is outside the scope of the investigation or it is deemed "complex." I would respectfully suggest that this undertaking is worth the effort in order to protect ratepayers and the economy of the Northwest.

I continue to believe that the most obvious immediate remedy for the energy crisis would be a temporary price cap, which could be fashioned to exempt plants under construction, and which could have a prescribed end-date. Such an arrangement would satisfy your apparent reservations about imposing price caps, while enabling you to dispatch your responsibilities as Chairman of FERC, to ensure "just and reasonable rates."

I look forward to hearing back from you on this urgent matter. Since my last letter to you another plant closed in my home state of Washington, in part because of higher energy rates. The 420 employees will soon be followed by others around the state if something is not done to assure reasonable energy rates.

Sincerely,

Patty Murray
United States Senator