Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Sempra moves to re-make its image

Last week, Sempra Utilities was one of six companies sued by the City and County of San Francisco for market manipulation during the 2000-01 California Energy Crisis:

The lawsuits, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, contend that a group of natural gas producers, marketers, traders, transporters and sellers artificially drove up California's natural gas rates to about six times the national average during the state's energy crisis in 2000-01.

The companies did this, the lawsuits contend, by reporting false sales to trade publications that publish energy price indexes used widely within the industry in writing contracts for longer-term gas sales.

"It is clear that the illegal actions of the gas sellers and traders artificially increased the price of gas for millions of California consumers as well as for public entities like San Francisco," said San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera.

Now, Sempra is seeking to re-make its image in its native San Diego County by pushing an environmentally-friendly energy plan:

By 2010, the utility wants to buy or generate 20 percent of its total electricity consumption from so-called renewable resources, which use wind, green waste, garbage gases, geothermal or solar energy to produce power. Now, less than 6 percent comes from such sources. The plan would expand use of renewable energy much more quickly than a timetable set by state law, which requires California's three regulated utilities to reach the 20 percent goal by 2017.

Why the rush? Utility executives say that renewable energy has suddenly begun to look cheap as the cost of natural gas, the fuel of choice for conventional generators, has skyrocketed during the last two years.

"The price of energy, in general, has been up," utility spokesman Ed Van Herik said Monday. "A diverse fuel mix provides you with hedges from sudden price increases in one type of fuel or another."

Ironically, Sempra's spokesman avoids his own company's culpability in driving up the price of energy!