Monday, March 15, 2010

FCC Set to Issue Broadband Plan


The Federal Communications Commission’s plan to expand high-speed Internet service, or broadband, is due to Congress by March 17. The agency released a summary today, urging industry and government action. Adding airways for mobile use of the Web will be “a core goal,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a speech last month.

The agency aims to increase the share of those using broadband at home to 90 percent, from about 65 percent today, and having 100 million households with connections of 100 megabits per second, the FCC said. The median speed for broadband customers now connected by fiber or cable is 5 megabits to 6 megabits per second, the FCC said in the plan.

Water Infrastructure in Need of Replacement

The New York Times:

State and federal studies indicate that thousands of water and sewer systems may
be too old to function properly.

For decades, these systems — some built around the time of the Civil War — have been ignored by politicians and residents accustomed to paying almost nothing for water delivery and sewage removal. And so each year, hundreds of thousands of ruptures damage streets and homes and cause dangerous pollutants to seep into drinking water supplies.

PPL Seeking Rate Increase

The Wall Street Journal (subscription):

PPL Corp. (PPL) said Monday it will seek what it called a modest increase in Pennsylvania electric rates beginning next year to cover its investments in power-grid infrastructure.

While the company hasn't finalized its request, it would seek no more than $115 million, said David DeCampli, president of PPL Electric Utilities. That would be about a 2.5% increase to PPL's annual retail revenue.

The rate hike, which requires approval of the state Public Utility Commission, would affect only distribution rates, which account for about one-fourth of the average residential electric bill.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Doubts Emerge About Clean Coal

The New York Times:

A major new study by faculty members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, scheduled for release soon, concludes in a draft version that it is not clear which technology — the so-called integrated gasification combined cycle or pulverized coal — will allow for the easiest carbon capture, because so much engineering work remains to be done.

“Other than recommending that new coal combustion units should be built with the highest efficiency that is economically justifiable, we do not believe that a clear preference for one technology or the other can be justified,” the draft concludes. The M.I.T. study said it was critical that the government “not fall into the trap of picking a technology ‘winner.’ ”

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Duquesne on S&P's Credit Watch

Standard & Poor's Rating Services on Tuesday said its ratings of Duquesne Light Holdings Inc. and its subsidiary Duquesne Light Co. remain on CreditWatch with negative implication.

The ratings agency said the 'BBB', or lower medium grade, corporate credit ratings remains on watch for a possible downgrade, citing a settlement with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission over a pending $3.15 billion buyout. A consortium led by Macquarie Infrastructure Partners and Diversified Utility and Energy Trusts is seeking to buy Duquesne and its subsidiaries.

FirstEnergy Earnings Up

AP via the Akron Beacon Journal:
FirstEnergy Corp. said on Tuesday that earnings rose 44 percent in the fourth quarter, benefiting from electric rates in Ohio and favorable regulatory rulings in Pennsylvania.

In the quarter ended Dec. 31, the regional electric power generation and transmission company earned $274 million, or 84 cents per share, on revenue of $2.69 billion. The company also reported special gains of 1 cent per share.

Seeking Alpha has the details.

Solar Thermal
Solar thermal water heaters, which use solar energy rather than gas or electricity as a power source, could grow in popularity over the next few years, according to analysts and panel installation companies....

Partly driving the interest--besides global warming and rising energy costs--is the fact that the systems work quite well. It is far easier to extract heat from the sun than electricity, according to Gary Gerber, CEO of Sun Light and Power, which installs solar systems. Solar thermal heaters ultimately use about half of the heat that hits them; that makes them two to three times more efficient than the solar panels that turn sunlight into electricity.

Verizon Sues Vonage Over Patent


Vonage, one of the best-known brands in the Internet phone world, acknowledged last week that it doesn't have a plan for getting around use of technology that Verizon claims violates patents it owns.

The upshot: If Verizon prevails in court, Vonage could be forced to shut down, at least temporarily, while it redesigns its service. That could cause a lot of heartburn for Vonage's 2 million customers.

Brooke Schulz, a Vonage spokeswoman, said Monday that Verizon's claims are baseless. "This is about Verizon trying to stifle competition," she said. "We have not infringed on their patents, period."

As for the prospect of Vonage shutting down, Schulz says, customers shouldn't worry. "We're working on a redesign plan."

Monday, February 19, 2007

Where to Store Nuclear Waste

WUPW-TV Fox Toledo:

DTE Energy faces a deadline for dealing with the problem of storing spent nuclear fuel. The waste is from its Fermi 2 reactor near Monroe, Michgian.

The Detroit-based utility will run out of storage room in about three years.

A spokesman says DTE is evaluating bids from vendors and it's looking into forming alliances with other plants to obtain storage containers.

Storage of spent nuclear fuel has been a controversial issue nationwide due to environmental and security concerns.

The Problems with Wind Power (Opinion)

The American Spectator:
But the real question about windmills is whether they are producing any useful electricity at all. A modern electrical grid is a very delicately balanced high-wire act. Supply and demand must be kept in balance at all times. The National Electrical Reliability Council estimates that voltage levels can vary about 5 percent before trouble begins. Computer geeks talk about the "high 9's," meaning current must remain consistent within a range of 99.9999 percent to avoid erasing data. In Digital Power, Peter Huber and Mark Mills report, "Some years ago, a Stanford computer center found its power fatally polluted by an arc furnace over one hundred miles away." As the Industry Standard once put it: "Blips as brief as 1/60th of a second can zap computers and other electronic gear, and blackouts can be catastrophic."

The problem with wind energy is that it is always fluctuating. The physics of windmills make it worse because output varies with the cube of the velocity. A 20 percent increase in wind speed will double output in a few minutes. Under these circumstances, large numbers of windmills are viewed by grid operators more as a liability than an asset.

Unfortunately, where the wind is predictable, it doesn't co-ordinate very well demand. The wind blows strongest at night and in the spring and fall. Electrical demand peaks in the daytime and summer and winter.

Paying Now for Future Power in SC

The Item:
Several electric utilities planning new nuclear power plants in South Carolina say they want customers to start paying for those facilities now rather than wait the 10 or so years before those plants are actually built and producing power.

Under a bill proposed in the Legislature last week, the cost of financing the nuclear facilities and new coal plants could be more easily passed on to ratepayers.

Duke Power, Progress Energy and SCANA Corp. say building the plants will ensure cheap and reliable energy for the future.

By paying millions in financing costs now, customers could avoid having to pay even more in accumulated interest when the plants go on line, they argue.

But consumer advocates say it's not right to charge today's customers for tomorrow's electricity.

Upgrades for DTE's Monroe Plant

AP via Contra Costa Times:
DTE Energy Co. is spending more than $1 billion on its Monroe power plant as part of a five-year effort to comply with federal rules to reduce emissions.

The Detroit-based utility, which owns Detroit Edison and Michigan Consolidated Gas, will install two flue gas desulfurization units - or scrubbers - and a selective catalytic reduction unit. The new equipment will be able to control up to 97 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions and 80 percent of mercury emissions at the facility.

Nominations to Ohio Commission

The Zanesville Times Recorder:
Lobbyists for phone companies and industries that are the largest electricity users are front-runners to serve on - and perhaps one day chair - the panel that polices Ohio's gas, electric and phone companies.

Upcoming appointments under new Gov. Ted Strickland have advocates for residential customers worried about the future of rates and service.

Critics had hoped that Strickland, the first Democratic governor in 16 years, would change the direction of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which some have viewed as too cozy with - and easy on - utility giants like FirstEnergy Corp., American Electric Power and AT&T.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

New York City Water

The New York Times:
In late spring or early summer, the United States Environmental Protection Agency will decide whether New York water is still pure enough to drink without filtering. Development in the city’s upstate watershed areas, as well as the increasingly stormy weather that comes with climate change, is threatening the water’s mythic purity. If the federal agency does conclude that city water is too sullied to be consumed directly, New York will have to spend huge sums on filtering, close the book on 165 years of filter-free taps — and absorb a major blow to its hometown pride.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Power Shortages in New England?

The Concord Monitor:
Energy use in New England is increasing steadily, nowhere faster than in New Hampshire. Yet no major power plants are under construction in the region.

The region's wholesale electric energy pool manager, ISO-New England, projects that shortages could occur by next year. It predicts that energy demand by 2015 will require 4,300 megawatts of new generation capacity, the equivalent of about nine large new power plants.

Energy Efficiency in California

The Washington Post:

Since 1974, California has held its per capita energy consumption essentially constant, while energy use per person for the United States overall has jumped 50 percent.

California has managed that feat through a mixture of mandates, regulations and high prices. The state has been able to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, keep utility companies happy and maintain economic growth. And in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on global warming, California serves as a model for other states seeking a similar path to energy reduction. Now California is pushing further in its effort to cut automobile pollution, spur use of solar energy and cap greenhouse gases.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Electric Regulation Debate in IL

The New York Times:

Utility rates had been capped in Illinois for 10 years, but the state agreed last year to raise them as part of an effort to open up its electricity markets to competition. Maryland, New Jersey and a half dozen other states are also removing caps. But residents in this part of Illinois are seeing some of the highest rate increases in the country — in some cases, 100 percent to 200 percent higher.

The higher rates are touching off a fresh round of national debate over unleashing competitive forces on traditionally regulated electricity markets. Opening up the markets was supposed to lead to savings for consumers. But that did not turn out as regulators predicted. The anticipated competition among energy suppliers never fully emerged as natural gas prices more than doubled in the last decade.

Yet even as the pain of higher utility bills is setting in, the electric power industry is warning of an energy crisis that could rival California’s if higher fuel and plant construction costs cannot be passed onto consumers.

Water Rate Hike in Indianapolis
The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor has signed off on a proposal to grant the city of Indianapolis its first water rate increase since 1998, which would generate a nearly 29 percent bump in revenues for Indianapolis Water.

While actual increases will vary depending on usage, the monthly water rate for a residential customer consuming an average of 700 cubic feet a month will increase from $16.65 to $20.95.

"Re-regulation" in Montana

Great Falls Tribune:

The first of three bills that would scrap the state's 10-year-old deregulation laws and allow NorthWestern Energy to build its own power plants won initial approval Wednesday in the House.

Supporters of the measure by Rep. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, said it would give NorthWestern, which owns the utility transmission lines, a big bargaining chip when it negotiates for power owned by PPL Montana...

PPL Montana has opposed the measures, and even supporters agree they won't return Montana to the days of cheap power before deregulation. The days of inexpensive power generated by dams and coal-fired power plants are long gone, and building new power plants will be very expensive.

But supporters say even a small project could force PPL Montana to charge lower rates, and new plants by NorthWestern would provide cheaper electricity over the long run.