At long last, independent power producer Calpine (NASDAQ:CPNL) has reached the end of this line -- bankruptcy. No longer able to hold out hope of restructuring and repaying the huge debt load, the board bit the bullet, and the company filed for Chapter 11.

This isn't unfamiliar turf for this sector -- companies such as Mirant (NASDAQ:MIRKQ), NRGEnergy (NYSE:NRG), and of course Enron have all gone down this path before. In the particular case of Calpine, it would seem that a recent court ruling related to the alleged misuse of asset sale proceeds was the last straw.

That said, there were the other straws -- this is a company that gorged itself on debt to build an excessive number of power plants just as electricity prices fell significantly. Making matters worse, management then failed to live up to its own promises for debt reduction and liquidity enhancement.

If past bankruptcies are any indication, this stock will continue to jump around a bit and will probably rise up from time to time on rumors related to the bankruptcy process. But let me be clear about one point -- the odds that today's holders of common shares will see anything are not much better than zero.

In addition, past bankruptcies would suggest that unsecured creditors will probably get around $0.40 for each dollar of their claims, and there will almost certainly be calls to sell more of the company's power plants. But what makes the picture even foggier right now is the suggestion in some corners that Calpine overstated the value of its plants by billions of dollars. Combine that allegation with the possibility that Calpine may ask the bankruptcy court to release it from electricity contracts that are priced at below-market rates, and you could see some real chaos as this mess unwinds.

When it's all said and done, I would imagine that Calpine will continue on in some form, emerge from bankruptcy, and eventually return to the markets as a public company. After all, creditors in these situations often have to accept equity as partial payment of debts, and a subsequent relaunch of Calpine as a public company would be the only way for those creditors to see actual cash put back into their pockets.

Who knows what the future holds? After all, NRG Energy went bankrupt and came back out as a viable company, and pieces of Enron (Prisma Energy and Portland General Electric) still survive. That said, even if Calpine proves to have a second act, today's shareholders will most likely find their shares worth less than the paper they're printed on.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).