Enron Settles 2000-2001 Energy Market Dispute

Enron Corp. (search) said on Friday it agreed to settle disputes that it manipulated power and natural gas prices in the Western U.S. energy markets between 1997 and 2003 for $1.522 billion.

However, the payout from Enron, which emerged from bankruptcy in November as a private entity, will likely be far smaller, since the company's remaining assets are only a fraction of the amount it owes its creditors.

Under the settlement, Enron's Enron Power Marketing (search) unit granted the parties $875 million in unsecured claims in the bankruptcy court that is overseeing the payout to its creditors.

Those creditors are expected to receive about 22.8 cents on the dollar per claim, bringing that amount it actually pays to about $200 million.

The settling parties include PG&E Corp. (PCG) utility unit Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Edison International's (EIX) Southern California Edison Co., Sempra Energy's (SRE) San Diego Gas & Electric Co., the California Department of Water Resources, the California Electricity Oversight Board, the state of California and attorneys general of Oregon and Washington,

Those parties will also receive up to $47.3 million of receivables and cash collateral owed to Enron.

The governmental entities in the settlement will also be entitled to a $600 million civil penalty -- although that claim will fall far down the bankruptcy court's priority list.

The dispute centered on claims that Enron and several other energy companies manipulated the markets during the Western states' power crisis in 2000 and 2001, when energy prices there skyrocketed. The state of California and other parties claimed the energy companies withheld power illegally to drive up prices.

Several other companies -- including El Paso Corp. (EP), Duke Energy Corp. (DUK), Dynegy Corp. (DYN), Mirant Corp. and Williams Cos. Inc. (WMB) -- have already settled disputes concerning their roles in the energy crisis.

The settlement is subject to approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the California Public Utility Commission and Enron's bankruptcy court.