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Avista will distribute Enron settlement funds

Officials have heating assistance programs in mind

A $9 million settlement from Enron Corp. for its role in the 2000-’01 Western energy crisis will help reduce heating costs for Washington households.

The settlement includes $463,187 for Avista Utilities, which must distribute the money to customers over the next 12 months.

“Now is the time that customers will most benefit from these funds as we move into the heating season,” said Debbie Simock, company spokeswoman. “We talk to customers every day that have been good-paying customers, but they’ve been impacted by the economy.”

Avista still is developing guidelines for distributing the money, which must meet the state’s criteria. Washington is emphasizing weatherization programs and helping needy families with their energy bills.

“How fitting that Enron will pay to provide warmth to low-income homes and to help Washington residents make their homes more energy efficient,” said Attorney General Rob McKenna. “These programs are especially needed in today’s economy and will benefit those least able to bear the burden of higher power bills.”

Enron reportedly made almost $2 billion in profits from its electricity trading operations in Western states during 2000 and 2001. Attorneys general from several states investigated whether Enron traders manipulated the market, uncovering schemes with colorful names such as “Death Star” and “Fat Boy.”

The states of Washington, California and Oregon, and some California utilities and other organizations, settled with Enron for $1.52 billion. Washington’s share was $22.5 million, and the state was able to recover nearly half of that from Enron, McKenna said.

Nearly $6 million in checks were sent to utilities to benefit residential customers. Businesses will also benefit through $3 million in programs to help commercial building owners lower their energy use.