Three former workers at a power plant in suburban San Diego owned by Duke Energy told a hearing in the State Legislature that the plant?s managers shut down production units in order to drive up electricity prices. They said they were asked to throw out new parts that could have been used for maintenance, did not complete necessary maintenance and ran a more expensive emergency turbine than was necessary. ?In my opinion, there was price manipulation,? said Glenn Johnson, one of the workers who testified.

The employees?two mechanics and a control room technician?worked for San Diego Gas and Electric, a subcontractor for Duke. They were let go when Duke took control of the plant a few months ago. Johnson, along with Edmond Edwards Jr. and Jimmy Olkjer, supported their testimony with copies of control-room logs that Glenn Johnson smuggled out of the plant.

Executives at Duke denied the accusations. ?These allegations represent just one more page in a very long chapter of misinformation disseminated by people who don?t know the full story,? said Bill Hall, vice president for Duke?s western operations. He noted that Duke produced 50 percent more energy in 2000 than in 1999. Duke supplies about 5 percent of California?s from its 4 in-state plants.

?This is the first smoking gun that?s appeared?whistle blowers,? said Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. ?That is called market manipulation, and that, in effect, ended up costing the ratepayers of California billions.? The Independent System Operator has concluded that Californians might have been overcharged $6.7 million for energy bought since last summer.

In March, Duke offered to negotiate a broad settlement in exchange for dropping private lawsuits against them, as well as California?s complaints to federal regulators and state investigations.

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