Multnomah County customers of Portland General Electric over the past seven years are on the brink of getting money back from the troubled utility.

PGE and the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against PGE announced late Tuesday that the two sides had reached a settlement costing the utility $10 million.

That money will provide a refund to ratepayers who paid the county business income tax back as far as 1999 as a line item on their monthly PGE bills.

The lawsuit charged the utility with collecting taxes from ratepayers but not passing them on to Multnomah County government.

As detailed in WW stories last year ("Pants on Fire," Nov. 30), PGE documents showed that the utility collected about $7 million for the county tax but passed on less than $4,000 of it to taxing authorities.

The agreement in the 11-month-old lawsuit still must be approved by Multnomah County Circuit Judge John Wittmayer.

If the judge OK's the deal, a PGE residential customer who lived in Multnomah County for the past seven years and who has an average monthly bill of $73 would get a $14 refund on a bill.

Schools, commercial customers and industries would get even bigger refunds.

"This is a fair settlement, and it gives back to ratepayers Multnomah County taxes they were charged by PGE under Enron," Ken Lewis, one of the lead plaintiffs, said in a news release announcing the agreement.

PGE, which stopped collecting the money last October, does not admit any liability or wrongdoing in the settlement.

Company spokesman Scott Simms says the utility is "pleased" with the settlement, adding that it "lets us focus on our future as an independent company, paying taxes directly to government agencies."

If the $7 million lawsuit had gone to trial and PGE had lost, the judge could have awarded triple damages—$21 million—because it was a class-action case.

NOTE: This story published to the web on 1/10/2006.