I remember when Enron closed generating plants for “maintenance” back in the good old days of extorting money from the citizens. These maintenance periods coincided with peak demand in California and helped Enron generate billions in profits. And I remember that many public officials were shocked that anyone would think something suspicious was going on.*(see below)
An ethical businessman makes money by selling a service or a product. An unethical businessman manipulates the market to make money. Making money the ethical way is too slow when you can lobby regulators to look the other way while you cut the supplies of electricity to raise the price. It is fast profits, a high return on an investment, good results for the next quarter, and it leaves in the dust the ethical businessman.
If this process is not regulated, then the unethical manipulators will drive the ethical producers out of the electrical business. This is a kind of Social Darwinism in which the unprincipled and immoral displace their competitors producing a mediocracy of the ethicless. A society that values simply making money by whatever means necessary will embrace such mediocracy since only a fool would act ethically when money can be made. So in time, all producers will act to manipulate and cheat as opposed to making an honest dollar.
The dishonest profit destroys the moral fabric of a society?
Probably not the best place to raise children?
Enron-style price gouging is making a comeback | Al Jazeera America
The price of electricity would soar under the latest scheme by Wall Street financial engineers to game the electricity markets.
If regulators side with Wall Street — and indications are that they will — expect the cost of electricity to rise from Maine to California as others duplicate this scheme to manipulate the markets, as Enron did on the West Coast 14 years ago, before the electricity-trading company collapsed under allegations of accounting fraud and corruption.
The test case is playing out in New England. Energy Capital Partners, an investment group that uses tax-avoiding offshore investing techniques and has deep ties to Goldman Sachs, paid $650 million last year to acquire three generating plant complexes, including the second largest electric power plant in New England, Brayton Point in Massachusetts.
Five weeks after the deal closed, Energy partners moved to shutter Brayton Point. Why would anyone spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy the second largest electric power plant in New England and then quickly take steps to shut it down?
Energy partners says in regulatory filings that the plant is so old and prone to breakdowns that it is not worth operating, raising the question of why such sophisticated energy-industry investors bought it.
The real answer is simple: Under the rules of the electricity markets, the best way to earn huge profits is by reducing the supply of power. That creates a shortage during peak demand periods, such as hot summer evenings and cold winter days, causing prices to rise. Under the rules of the electricity markets, even a tiny shortfall between the available supply of electricity and the demand from customers results in enormous price spikes.
With Brayton Point closed, New England consumers and businesses will spend as much as $2.6 billion more per year for electricity, critics of the deal suggest in documents filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
That estimate will turn out to be conservative, I expect, based on what Enron traders did to California, Oregon and Washington electricity customers starting in 2000. In California alone the short-term market manipulations cost each resident more than $1,300, a total burden of about $45 billion.
*Bush administration officials repeated Enron’s claims that California’s problems were caused by the state’s “flawed” deregulation plan—which was not “free market” enough—and strict environmental standards, which limited the construction of new power plants. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney publicly opposed price controls, insisting that any such moves would be a disincentive for power companies to operate in the state.
Several weeks after the memos were written outlining the company’s strategy to manipulate California’s market, Enron CEO Kenneth Lay—the largest single contributor to Bush’s political career—successfully prompted the Bush administration to appoint free-market advocate Pat Wood as the head of the Federal Energy Regulation Commission. Once in place, Wood resisted the implementation of price controls for months while the crisis spun out of control.
After FERC was finally pushed to restrict price hikes in late April 2001 Cheney denounced the move, telling the Los Angeles Times, “Price caps are not a help. They take us in exactly the wrong direction.” After reiterating that only free market policies could resolve California’s problems, Cheney added, “I’ve never seen price regulations that I’ve felt very good about. If I had been at FERC, I would never have voted for short-term price caps.”
At the time California’s Democratic governor and senators requested federal intervention to hold down the cost of electricity and charged that energy providers were manipulating the market to boost their profits. According to the New York Times, Senator Diane Feinstein said she tried “three or four times” to speak with Bush about the state’s crisis but the president refused to meet with her. Instead she held two brief meetings with Cheney as part of larger groups. “Their attitude was laissez-faire, let the market do what the market does, but it was a broken market,” she told the Times. At meetings with Cheney on March 27 and June 12, she said, the vice president spoke, “but did not listen much. When someone is looking at their watch, it gives you a pretty good idea they want to get out of the room,” Feinstein said.
From Around the Web.
From the web site, CBS News.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) agreed to pay $410 million in penalties on Tuesday to settle accusations by U.S. energy regulators that it manipulated electricity prices.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said the bank used improper bidding strategies to squeeze excessive payments from the agencies that run the power grids in California and the Midwest in 2010 and 2011.
The penalty includes $285 million for the federal government, and $125 million for ratepayers.
FERC’s enforcement staff said its investigation had found improper trading practices were used at Houston-based JPMorgan Ventures Energy Corp.
JPMorgan said in a written statement that it’s “pleased to have reached an agreement with FERC to put this matter behind it.” JPMorgan didn’t admit or deny any violations.
FERC recently levied a $453 million penalty on Barclays, Britain’s second-largest bank, for manipulating electricity prices in California and other Western states. Barclays is disputing the allegations.
FERC claimed JPMorgan’s energy unit used five “manipulative bidding strategies” in California between September 2010 and June 2011, and three in the Midwest from October 2010 to May 2011.