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State Sues Sempra a Second Time

Sempra Energy faced a second lawsuit from California Attorney General Bill Lockyer within the space of a week.

Lockyer and the state Public Utilities Commission sued Sempra and its subsidiaries Nov. 21, alleging the utility “intentionally misled” the commission about the amount of pipeline capacity it had, to the detriment of ratepayers.

The new lawsuit, filed in San Diego Superior Court, alleges Sempra sent natural gas to a power plant in Mexico, causing shortages to San Diego County plants in the winter of 2000-01. That forced the U.S. power plants to use oil rather than gas, driving up the cost to consumers and increasing air pollution, according to the lawsuit.

The new suit seeks at least $1 million in civil penalties and damages. It also asks the court to order Sempra to divest parts of its business.

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Portions of the complaint and portions of the supporting documents are under seal and not available to the public. The attorney general’s office said this is because of a confidentiality agreement between the state and Sempra.

With parts of the complaint missing, Sempra executives “have not had the opportunity to fully analyze” the complaint, Sempra said in an eight-paragraph statement released Nov. 21.

W. Davis Smith, vice president and associate general counsel of Sempra Energy, called the new charges “recycled from the energy crisis.” He also criticized the timing of the suit, since it comes while a jury is mulling an unrelated, class-action lawsuit against Sempra.

Those two cases are separate from the suit that the attorney general filed Nov. 16. That lawsuit alleges Sempra manipulated wholesale energy prices in 2000-2001.

Sempra trades on the New York Stock Exchange as SRE. Its stock closed Nov. 22 at $43.72, up 62 cents from the previous day’s close.

, Brad Graves

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