Nuclear refund

PGE, PUC lose nuclear plant ruling

The decision could mean refunds to ratepayers, an attorney says

MICHAEL ROSE (503-399-6657)/Statesman Journal/November 8, 2003

A Marion County judge ruled Friday that state utility regulators were wrong when they allowed Portland General Electric to charge ratepayers for a closed nuclear power plant.

Judge Paul Lipscomb's order calls for the Oregon Public Utility Commission to revise PGE's rate structure, or compel PGE to issue refunds, to offset charges related to the Trojan nuclear power plant. Trojan closed in 1993, but PGE was allowed to collect a return on its investment.

The Utility Reform Project brought the court action against PGE and the OPUC. It maintains that ratepayers are entitled to a $200 million refund.

"Judge Lipscomb basically agreed with us 100 percent," said Daniel Meek, an attorney who represents the Utility Reform Project. "He is telling the OPUC that it has to refund to ratepayers everything PGE has collected for Trojan that is return on investment since 1995."

In his order, Lipscomb stated that the defendants' arguments for billing ratepayers for a closed nuclear plant were "more in keeping with the satiric scenarios of Joseph Heller's 'Catch 22' and Lewis Carroll's 'Through the Looking Glass' than with responsible utility regulation."

In 1995, state regulators ruled that PGE could recover most of its investments and lost profits in Trojan. The decision triggered a court challenge by the Citizens Utility Board, another consumer watchdog group, which it won.

PGE appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court. But before that ruling, the state legislature passed a law that supported the utility's right to bill ratepayers for Trojan. CUB was later part of a settlement, which PGE had hoped would put the Trojan matter to rest. Instead, the Utility Reform Project a group led by PGE critic Lloyd Marbet headed to court and fought on.

PGE and the Oregon Attorney General's Office, which represented state regulators, said they were still reviewing Lipscomb's decision. "We think we're right, and we're going to continue to defend our position," said PGE spokesman Kregg Arntson. He stopped short of saying the utility would file an appeal.