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State supports Edison's motion for new Salton Sea Power trial

May 26, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

The state of California entered a brief in support of Southern California Edison Co.'s motion for a new trial in its legal battle with plaintiff Salton Sea Power Generation LP this week.

Statements of amicus curiae, or friend of the court, are filed by non-litigants interested in an issue in a case.

While statements of amicus curiae are not uncommon in appellate courts, "you almost never see it in trial court," said Edison's local counsel, attorney Steve Walker of El Centro.

"In my estimation that's a pretty unique thing," Walker said.

Walker sees the amicus curiae statement as a sign the lawsuit filed by Salton Sea Power Generation LP against Edison this spring bears significance as it is part of the larger energy crisis sweeping California.

Patrick Pace of Brawley, local counsel for Salton Sea Power, deferred comment to lead attorney John Shiner of Los Angeles, who was unavailable Friday afternoon.Edison moved for a new trial after Imperial County Superior Court Judge Donal Donnelly granted Salton Sea Power Generation the right to temporarily stop providing Edison capacity and energy and resell it to other buyers.

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Salton Sea Power, like other power-generation companies under contract to provide electricity to Edison, filed suit against the company when it failed to pay Salton Sea for several months.

The court ruling allows Salton Sea to sell power on the open market at market rates that can be higher than what it would have been paid by Edison under contract.

In the amicus curiae brief, the state says Edison cannot afford to buy power on the high-rate open market because of its "weakened financial situation."

"The state of California, through the Department of Water Resources, is purchasing electricity and providing power to customers of Edison and other investor-owned utilities," the brief states.

It continues to say California ratepayers and taxpayers will ultimately bear the "substantially higher cost" of purchasing power in this situation.

"Thus, the public's interests here far outweigh the impact on plaintiff of having to wait for payment from Edison for those few months in which Edison did not pay," the brief states.

The brief questions the court's jurisdiction over the contract by claiming the contract is under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission.

A hearing on the motion for a new trial is scheduled in early June.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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