Williams files $591 million claim in Pacific Gas & Electric’s bankruptcy

— Diversified energy company Williams said its exposure to unpaid power bills in California through Apr. 6 is $591 million.

The Tulsa-based company filed the claim with US Federal Bankruptcy Court for power sold to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. through the California Independent System Operator and the California Power Exchange (PX).

Pacific Gas & Electric, the utility unit of PG&E Corp., filed for bankruptcy protection Apr. 6. Until Friday’s claim was filed, the company’s most recent public disclosure concerning unpaid bills in California amounted to $302 million, said Paula Hall Collins, spokesperson for Williams.

“We have not made public how much the company has reserved for this,” she said. “But we have planned for this exposure.”

Williams sold the power to the grid operator and the PX, which, in turn, delivered the power to Pacific Gas & Electric and to Southern California Edison Co. (SCE). Williams said SCE owed a “material” part of the $591 million.

“We’ re required to file to ensure that the courts have a full picture of the monies owed to Williams as bankruptcy proceedings progress,” the company said in a release. “Williams does not know the exact sales amounts made to PG&E.”

The ISO and the PX know how much of the total should be attributed to PG&E and SCE, the company said. The California ISO does “know” how much each utility owes the company, but is not sure if it’s public information, said Gregg Fishman, spokesman for the ISO.

The financial community doesn’t expect California generators to be made whole, said one New York analyst who didn’t want to be named. “It will be somewhere upwards of 50%,” he predicted. “Companies like Mirant Corp. that have reserved for their entire amount make us more comfortable.”

California lawmakers are considering a bill to help prevent SCE from filing bankruptcy by paying past bills and debts. Included is a clause that would prohibit reimbursing so-called “out-of-state generators” for any unpaid balances for power already delivered in the state, he said.

If approved, observers said, the law will ultimately end up in court, further delaying settlement of bills owed the generators. But the analyst said he is confidant the generators will eventually get paid something.

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