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California Attorney General Bill Lockyer used the state’s unfair competition statute Tuesday to bring suit in San Francisco Superior Court against four out-of-state energy companies. The state is accusing the energy providers of violating the Federal Power Act and charging unjust and illegal rates under California law during last year’s energy crisis. The targeted companies are Atlanta-based Mirant, Houston-based Coral Energy — a Royal Dutch/Shell Group affiliate — Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams Energy, and Powerex, out of Vancouver, British Columbia. Under California’s Business and Professions Code � 17200, the companies could be fined $2,500 for each of the hundreds of thousands of illegal sales the state says were made in 2000 and 2001, and total civil penalties could add up to more than $1 billion. “In California, a business that breaks the law faces a unique state penalty for the unfair business practice,” Lockyer said in a press release. He added that his office is eyeing two dozen other energy companies and more suits will be filed. “By violating the Federal Power Act and charging illegal prices, wholesale power companies were able to distort California’s energy markets and prevent meaningful review of electricity rates by the public, by energy buyers and by [the Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission],” Lockyer said. None of the companies or their outside counsel commented Tuesday, although all the companies have denied any wrongdoing in the past. Williams’ attorney is Gray Cary Ware & Friedenrich partner Mark Hamer. Hamer, who practices out of the San Diego office, said he wasn’t authorized to talk about the case. Mirant is relying on White & Case partner Bryan Merryman, in Los Angeles, for its defense. Both Coral and Powerex are relying on inside counsel to handle the matter. Tuesday’s action is just the latest in a string of suits brought by Lockyer as part of California’s investigation into possible illegal behavior during the energy crisis. In March, Lockyer accused four major energy companies of charging the state almost $50 million for emergency generating capacity that was never delivered. In January, the attorney general’s office went after PG&E’s parent company, accusing it of siphoning $4 billion from the utility and driving it to bankruptcy. Lawyers for the attorney general’s office also went to court last year to demand that two energy companies turn over documents related to the state’s investigation into anti-competitive business practices.

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