Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Addressing the 2000–2001 Western Energy Crisis: Reverse Chronology at a Glance

Issued: April 28, 2005

The full story of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s wide-ranging response to the 2000-2001 Western energy crisis is a detailed and complex narrative, and one that is still unfolding today. In a series of orders in the late 1990s, the Commission approved California’s consensus market design, which had been negotiated by state officials and industry stakeholders and adopted into law by the California Legislature. This first-in-the-nation electricity market restructuring program had broad political support.

California’s market worked well and delivered value to customers until May 2000 after a serious drought diminished the region’s supplies of typically abundant and inexpensive hydropower. The underlying imbalance between supply and demand, along with inadequate infrastructure and flawed market rules, triggered the crisis in the California markets. The Commission staff’s March 2003 final investigation report on the Western energy crisis concluded that these conditions made possible the market manipulation that prolonged and exacerbated the economic harm caused by the crisis.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been a critical player in disclosing the role Enron and other energy providers played in exploiting and exacerbating the energy crisis in California and other Western states in 2000 and 2001. The Commission collected and analyzed more than 5 terabytes of data, issued subpoenas and show cause orders, and held hearings over the course of many months. To date, the result of this unprecedented and comprehensive investigation has been $4.3 billion in monetary settlements stemming from the crisis, and findings by the Commission contributed to numerous criminal prosecutions by the Department of Justice and $300 million in civil penalties imposed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Significant proceedings are still under way before the Commission. A final Commission order directing refunds for power sales in the California market during 2000 and 2001 is still pending. And in the Enron market-gaming proceeding, FERC administrative litigation staff has recommended that Enron be required to forfeit more than $1.6 billion, the company’s entire profits earned in the Western states from 1997 through 2003.

The legacy of the 2000-2001 Western energy crisis is threaded throughout the Commission's subsequent policy decisions and rules affecting market conduct and price transparency. And since 2002, the Commission's Office of Enforcement, formerly the Office of Market Oversight and Investigations, has provided a real-time window into the workings of electricity and natural gas markets. This information provides the Commission with the analysis and tools to respond to market problems.

California’s high-profile market meltdown helped overshadow other, more successful, market restructurings elsewhere in the country that have saved customers billions of dollars while enhancing power-grid reliability. Today, centralized power markets with independent power grid operators are in place not only in California, but in Texas and throughout the Northeast and Midwest, serving areas representing two-thirds of our nation’s $10 trillion economy.

2008

December 18, 2008
    Item E-1: FERC orders paper hearings on Supreme Court remand of California contracts News Release | Decision PDF
October 23, 2008 June 30, 2008 June 4, 2008 May 23, 2008 April 2, 2008 March 20 , 2008 January 8, 2008 January 4, 2008

2007

November 19, 2007
    FERC denies rehearing of framework for evidence in California refund methodology (EL00-95-136) Decision PDF

October 18, 2007
    FERC vacates California refund orders relating to non-public entities (EL00-95-164) Fact Sheet PDF | Decision PDF

July 6, 2007
    Commission Approves $18 Million California Settlement (EL00-95-000) Fact Sheet PDF | Decision PDF

June 21, 2007
June 21, 2007
March 17, 2007
    FERC approves Settlement and Settlement and Release of Claims Agreement filed on March 12, 2007 by Portland General Electric Company (PGE) and the California Parties. The Settlement consists of a "Joint Explanatory Statement" and a "Settlement and Release of Claims Agreement. The Settlement resolves matters and claims in the Refund Proceedings related to PGE and arising from events and transactions in the Western Energy Markets during the period January 1, 2000 through June 20, 2001 Decision PDF

March 1, 2007
    Commission approves multiparty APX settlement resolving matters related to western energy crisis News Release | Decision PDF

2006

June 28, 2006
May 23, 2006
January 25, 2006
    Agreement accepted between Enron and Nevada companies settling matters stemming from Western Energy Crisis News Release | Decision PDF

2005

April 13, 2005 March 11, 2005
    The Commission clarifies that the disputed terminated contracts between Enron and various utilities (executed during the period January 16, 1997 to June 25, 2003) are within the scope of this proceeding, and shall be addressed in the ongoing hearing in Docket No. EL03-180, et al., subject to any applicable bankruptcy restrictions Order on Clarification PDF
January 31, 2005
    FERC trial staff testifies in Enron Gaming case that Enron’s profits in Western states from 1997 through 2003 was more than $1.6 billion, and recommends that Enron be required to surrender the full amount

2004

December 7, 2004 December 3, 2004
    The Chief Judge suspends the hearing in Docket No. EL04-1-000 at the request of Nevada Power Company and Sierra Pacific Power Company, after bankruptcy judge enjoins the Nevada utilities from participating in the Enron contract dispute proceeding Order PDF
October 27, 2004 October 25, 2004 September 22, 2004 September 21, 2004 August 5, 2004 August 2, 2004
July 22, 2004
    Commission orders Enron to forfeit at least $32.5 million in unjust profits because it violated its market-based rate authority;

    Commission set for expedited hearing a complaint by Nevada Power Company and Sierra Pacific Company against Enron Power Marketing, Inc relating to a contract termination payment of $300 million;

    Commission directed the ALJ to determine how much more of Enron’s profits earned between January 1997 and June 2003 Enron should be required to forfeit since it was not in compliance with its market-based rate authority Commission Order PDF
July 2, 2004 May 6, 2004 April 19, 2004 March 26, 2004 March 8, 2004
March 4, 2004
February 2004
    Snohomish obtains recordings of Enron trader conversations with the help of Commission trial staff
January 26, 2004
    The FERC Chief Administrative Law Judge consolidates for hearing the remaining Gaming and Partnership cases with outstanding Enron issues (EL03-180). Order PDF
January 22, 2004

2003

December 19, 2003 December 18, 2003 November 17, 2003
    Commission finalizes anti-manipulation rules Order PDF
November 14, 2003 October 2, 2003
    Commission approves settlement with Reliant for up to $50 million in disgorgement of profits in the anomalous bidding investigation

July 23, 2003 July 18, 2003 July 15, 2003
    A FERC Administrative Law Judge issues an Initial Decision finding that Enron must disgorge $32.5 million in profits earned in violation of its market-based rate authority. Initial Decision PDF
June 26, 2003
    In order to prevent market abuse and provide clear "rules of the road" for all market participants, the Commission proposed rules to curb improper market manipulation while tightening communication and reporting requirements for electric power and natural gas markets.

June 25–26, 2003
June 25, 2003
June 25, 2003
March 26, 2003 March 26, 2003
March 26, 2003
March 26, 2003
January 31, 2003

2002

December 13, 2002
    California with the assistance of FERC ALJ reaches settlement with Williams to restructure energy contracts (estimated $1.4 billion savings)
August 13, 2002 February 13, 2002
    Commission institutes a staff-level investigation into Enron and the Western Energy Crisis in Docket No. PA02-2-000 Order PDF

2001

December 2001 July 25, 2001
    Commission orders separate hearing on energy prices in California and the Pacific Northwest News Release PDF
June 19, 2001
    Commission issues orders calming market volatility by requiring generators to run and capping prices. Order’s price-control limits on wholesale electricity prices in California ISO and PX markets are never triggered Order TIF
April 30, 2001 April 26, 2001
    Commission orders prospective mitigation and monitoring plan for California wholesale electric markets and establishes investigation into wholesale western energy markets Order PDF
April 6, 2001 March 28, 2001
    Commission orders hearing on anti-competitive issues relating to El Paso Natural Gas Order TIF
March 14, 2001
    Commission issues an order seeking to increase energy supplies and reduce energy demand in California and the West Order TXT
March 9, 2001
    Commission staff issues a proposal for monitoring and mitigating prices prospectively in California’s wholesale sport power markets Staff Proposal TIF

    The Commission also issues the first refund order directing sellers to provide refunds of excess amounts charged for certain electric energy sales during the month of January 2001 Order PDF
February 14, 2001
    Commission addresses CAISO’s creditworthiness tariff revisions Order TXT

2000

December 15, 2000
    Commission eliminates the mandatory PX buy-sell requirement, sets a benchmark price for wholesale bilateral contracts, orders market monitoring, adds a penalty charge for underscheduling of power, orders the establishment of independent, non-stakeholder Governing Boards for the PX and the ISO, and orders generation interconnection procedures Order TXT
December 8, 2000
    Commission temporarily waives its rules regarding the operating and efficiency standards for jurisdictional (QF) generators to increase power supply in California Order TXT
November 9, 2000
    Commission holds a technical conference with all California and Western Parties, including the California PUC as well as then Governor Gray Davis Transcript [eLibrary]
November 1, 2000
August 23, 2000
    Commission initiates a formal investigation of the electric rates and structure of the CAISO, PX and market-based sellers in the California wholesale market, in coordination with a nationwide fact-finding probe of electric wholesale markets, and a refund date is set. This ‘converts’ the earlier staff investigation into a public proceeding with opportunity for comment and refund protection Order PDF
August 2, 2000
    San Diego Gas & Electric files a complaint seeking price controls Complaint Filing TIF
July 26, 2000
    Commission directs staff to undertake a fact-finding investigation of the conditions in electric bulk power markets (including volatile price fluctuations) in various regions of the country and report its findings to the Commission by November 1, 2000 News Release PDF
Summer 2000
    Sharp rise in Western energy prices, frequent system emergencies, severe financial distress to California utilities and customers


Updated: January 27, 2014