CSU and UC attempt to stop Enron from breaking contract

Greg Kane

The California State University and the University of California recently asked a federal court for an expedited hearing in its attempt to stop Enron Energy Services, Inc. from backing out of a contract that provides energy exclusively for the two systems.

Both CSU and UC jointly filed for a preliminary injunction earlier this month after receiving word that Enron was attempting to change the four-year contract, which is set to expire March 31, 2002, said Colleen Bentley-Adler, CSU director of Public Affairs.

If Enron is successful, the affected campuses would go from being Direct Access customers buying energy at a fixed rate to being bundled customers of either Pacific Gas and Electric or Southern California Edison, whose rates have skyrocketed due to California?s energy crisis.

Sacramento State is one of four CSU campuses, the others being Stanislaus, Los Angeles and Northridge, that aren?t included in the contract, Bentley-Adler said. PG&E provides energy services for the Sac State campus.

Having service transferred to PG&E or SCE could be devastating for both systems, which stand to lose millions from the rate hike that would follow, Bentley-Adler said.

Although Enron has maintained that the rates wouldn?t go up for either system, many fear that the campuses would be forced to help cover the debts the California companies have accumulated during the past few years.

“We have the potential to lose hundreds of millions of dollars on this,” Bentley-Adler said. “We?ll be a bundled customer instead of a Direct Access customer. This is not a good thing for us at all.”When the original contract was signed in 1998, Enron purchased blocks of electricity that would be used for the CSU and UC campuses, said UC spokesman Chuck McFadden. Now that the energy crisis has created a greater demand for energy, Enron is trying to take those blocks and sell them for a larger profit, he said.

“Enron discovered, ?Hidy-ho! We can sell that electricity for a lot more on the stock market than by selling it to a UC or CSU?,” McFadden said. “They would be in a position to sell that energy at higher prices.”

McFadden said losing the Enron contract poses three major problems for UC and CSU. One, the two systems would be exposed to greater rates. Two, the campuses would be forced to replace highly sophisticated electricity meters which record usage information helpful for conserving energy. And third, the systems would have to learn a new billing system after spending time and money learning Enron?s.

“If Enron is successful in jettisoning us as Direct Access customers, we will have to go back and re-learn that whole complex billing system,” McFadden said.

Bentley-Adler said the loss of the meters would be unfortunate because they were very helpful in monitoring how energy is used on each campus. Meters are set up so that only one company can use them, if PG&E or SCE came in, they would all have to be replaced.

“That?s information we need,” Bentley-Adler said. “We don?t want them taking out their meters and putting in PG&E or SCE meters. We?ll lose three years of information.”

Though student fees are not likely to be raised if Enron is successful, the financial hit campuses could face would likely affect funding from the state, Bentley-Adler said. If fees are raised, more of the budget would have to go to cover energy costs, leaving other areas in the cold.

“I don?t think you?re going to see fees increased, but you won?t see money going to new programs,” Bentley-Adler said.