Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ernesto Damage

The Sun-Sentinel:
Florida Power & Light Co. said Thursday that the peak number of power outages caused by Tropical Storm Ernesto was 21,522. This is higher than their earlier estimate of 17,800 customers without electricity.

Most of the customers left without power were located in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

FPL says it restored power to virtually all affected customers as of midnight Wednesday.

Leak at FPL Nuclear Plant

Florida Today:
A small radioactive leak seeped into a pond at Florida Power & Light’s St. Lucie nuclear reactor, but posed no risk to the public, the company said.

Company officials said “drips” of tritium were discovered, but they believe they’ve already found and stopped the source. The leak was not dangerous to employees or others and wouldn’t affect any drinking water, the Juno Beach-based company told the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Verizon Drops DSL Fee

After hearing complaints from customers, Verizon Communications has dropped plans to impose a supplier surcharge on its DSL service, the company said Wednesday.

TXU To Build Nuclear Plants

Dallas Morning News:
TXU Corp. announced Thursday plans to build up to three nuclear power plants in Texas.

The Dallas power company said in a press release that it will apply for licenses for the plants in 2008 and will probably finish building them around 2015 to 2020.

TXU didn’t say how much it would spend to build up to six gigawatts of nuclear power capacity it’s planning, but said the idea is to come up with a design and construction process that shaves up to 40 percent off of the average cost.

TXU said the average cost to build a nuclear plant is $2,100 per kilowatt. So TXU’s plans could cost around $8 billion.

Electricity Planning in Connecticut

The Connecticut Post:
The Department of Public Utility Control said the state, searching for ways to reduce electricity bills, will next month begin to entertain proposals to build power plants or create new energy management programs.

In a news release Friday, the DPUC said it has approved a draft for its Request for Proposals to reduce electricity costs and plans to issue the RFP on Sept. 15.

California Caps Emissions

The L.A. Times:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders agreed Wednesday on a plan to cut by 25% the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from California electric power plants, refineries and other sources by the year 2020.

Later, the agreement was approved by the Senate 23 to 14 with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposed. It then went to the Assembly, where final approval was expected.

It would make California the first state in the nation to fight global warming by slapping caps on carbon dioxide and other emissions.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

York Water Stock Split

Market Wire:
YORK, PA -- August 29, 2006 -- The York Water Company's President and CEO, Jeffrey S. Osman, announced today the Company's Board of Directors established September 11, 2006 as the distribution date for the Company's three-for-two common stock split to shareholders of record at the close of business on September 1, 2006.

Exelon-PSEG Deal Near Collapse

Exelon Corp. on Wednesday cast doubt on its ability to complete its planned $18.5 billion takeover of Public Service Enterprise Group due to the companies' struggles to receive approval from New Jersey regulators.

Exelon said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it was still committed to its ongoing efforts to complete the acquisition, but its management believed that it was no longer likely to close the deal.

More from Bloomberg...

AT&T Hacked

Hackers illegally accessed a computer system and stole credit card information and other personal data from thousands of customers who purchased DSL equipment from an AT&T online store, the company said Tuesday.

AT&T Inc. said the system was hacked into over the weekend. The data of "fewer than 19,000 customers" were affected, the company said.

A Greener Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has doubled the purchase of green electricity to 20 percent of its needs, becoming the largest U.S. state buyer of power from sustainable sources such as wind and water, the state government said on Tuesday.

The administration of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell modified an existing contract with Community Energy Inc., a unit of Spanish renewable energy manufacturer Iberdrola, to buy 200,000 megawatt hours of electricity a year generated from renewable sources at a rate of 34 cents a kilowatt hour.

The contract calls for electricity that is generated 40 percent from wind power and 60 percent from hydroelectric sources. That will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by some 123,000 tons, sulfur dioxide by 951 tons, and nitrogen oxide by 271 tons, the state said.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

PG Energy Becomes UGI

The Times Leader:
The approximately $580 million deal between UGI and Southern Union Co., the Houston, Texas, parent company of PG Energy, closed Thursday. The sale expands UGI’s reach into 13 counties in northeastern and central Pennsylvania and adds approximately 158,000 customers. Prior to the acquisition UGI had 307,000 customers in the southeastern and south central parts of the state. Its electric utilities operation serves nearly 62,000 customers in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

UGI Penn Natural Gas is a separate subsidiary of Reading–based UGI Utilities, itself a subsidiary of UGI Corp. in Valley Forge.

Ernesto Is Coming!

Utility and telephone companies are prepped and ready for Tropical Storm Ernesto in South Florida.

Telecom Competition (Opinion)

The Wall Street Journal (subscription):
How much competition is there in U.S. telecommunications? So much that even California regulators have finally noticed. Last week the state's Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 to lift decades-old price controls on land-line phone companies.

The move was instigated by Rachelle Chong, who was appointed to the Commission in January by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to a Los Angeles Times report, this is the first time in 18 years that California has altered its rate structure. Think about all that has happened in telecom in the past two decades, from the proliferation of wireless devices to Internet telephony, and you get some idea of how far past due these changes were.

Other states, including Texas, Florida, Indiana, Colorado and Massachusetts, have eased their anti-competitive price controls in recent years, but the decision to do so by the nation's largest state is still significant. "The California Public Utility Commission is used by Commissions in other states as a standard," says Barry Aarons, who follows telecom at the Institute for Policy Innovation. "They reason, 'If California is willing to do this, we shouldn't be scared to do it ourselves.'"

Kinder Morgan To Go Private

The New York Times:
Kinder Morgan Inc., one of the largest pipeline operators in the country, said yesterday that it had agreed to a sweetened buyout offer of $15 billion from a group of investors led by its chairman and co-founder, Richard D. Kinder.

The buyers, who plan to take the company private, agreed to increase their cash offer to $107.50 a share, from an offer of $100 a share made in May. In addition, they will assume $7 billion of debt, Kinder Morgan, of Houston, said in a statement.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Bell South Drops DSL Fee

E-Commerce News:
One of the nation's phone giants backed down from a plan to continue collecting a rebated tax, under a new name, rather than pass along the savings to customers.

While another phone giant, Verizon Communications, said it does not intend to change a similar plan of its own.

More on Verizon...

Annapolis Ends Free Electricity

News Channel 8:
Starting October First, people living in public housing in Annapolis will have to pay their own electric bills.

Annapolis has been one of the few cities in the region that pays the bills for public housing residents, but the housing authority's mounting debt to Baltimore Gas and Electric has risen to about $450,000. Federal subsidies for the utility costs ended last year.

Housing officials say they plan to offer rent concessions to help tenants pay the new bills.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Balloons Cause Outage

The Times-Standard:
A bouquet of Mylar balloons disrupted power to nearly 2,000 Pacific Gas and Electric customers Wednesday morning when they got caught up in electric wires.

PG&E spokeswoman Lisa Randle said the disruption to most of the 1,844 customers was temporary, just a few minutes at most, but nine customers didn't have their power back for two hours.

The shortages occurred between 9 and 10 a.m.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Crumbling Infrastructure

The New York Times:
An elevator lurches to a halt and the lights flicker. Hours pass before a maintenance man can pry the door open and rescue those trapped inside. Once outside they find a city nearly at a standstill, no subways running and traffic snarled. Time to join the millions streaming up the avenues or across the bridges for a long walk home, and scramble to find food for dinner.

That’s what happened to some New Yorkers during the blackout on August 14, 2003, the largest electrical failure in American history. It affected 50 million people across the Northeast. For some it was inconvenient; for others, like those trapped in the elevators or on subway trains, it was alarming; and for an unfortunate few, it was deadly. The investigations concluded that it all started because untrimmed trees grew into three high-voltage power lines. But the ripple effect went on to expose a frail electrical transmission system in a country that consumes more and more electricity. The estimated cost of that single, widespread failure was $12 billion.

Was this a call to arms? Did we fix our electrical grid? Not exactly. Legislators, regulators, and companies have taken baby steps, but hardly enough to restore confidence.

AT&T Sues ID Thieves

Washington Post:
AT&T Corp. on Wednesday filed suit in federal court to unmask and halt the actions of 25 people who allegedly posed as customers to gain unauthorized online access to private phone records.

Some 2,500 customers' records were stolen, AT&T alleges in its civil complaint. The affected customers have been notified and access to their online accounts frozen, the company said...

Thieves are after more than phone records... "They steal your cable TV records, your satellite TV records, your gas and electric records and all the rest," said Douglas, who edits, an information security Web site. "Every interaction we have is being recorded somewhere, and every minute thieves are working trying to figure out how to gain access to that information and use it for profit.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

U.S. Sues Maine PUC Over Verizon Info

The U.S. government sued Maine officials on Tuesday to block their demand that Verizon disclose whether it gave the government's spying program access to its customer data, documents showed.

The government's civil suit, submitted by the U.S. Department of Justice to a district court in Maine, said the Maine public utilities officials' attempts to obtain information on Verizon's involvement with the National Security Agency (NSA) were "invalid".

Breach at LNG Plant

Boston Globe:
BOSTON --Two people were seen on surveillance tapes cutting through a fence and climbing to the top of the storage tank at a liquefied natural gas storage facility in Lynn last week, but there is no evidence the incident was terrorist related, state officials said Tuesday.

However, authorities were not pleased with the five-day lag between the Aug. 16 security breach and when KeySpan Corp. reported it to the state on Monday, said Mike Coelho, chief of staff of the state Executive Office of Public Safety.

China Water Investment

International Herald Tribune:
The Chinese government plans to spend 1 trillion yuan by 2010 to build waste-water treatment plants and upgrade water distribution systems around China, the Ministry of Construction said Tuesday.

Of that amount, which is equivalent to $125.5 billion, as much as 330 billion yuan will be spent on the water projects in urban centers. As many as 278 cities lack proper treatment facilities and at least 30 cities have plants that operate at less than 30 percent capacity, the ministry said.

China wants to tap the capital and technology of overseas companies like Veolia Environnement to supply clean water for the country

Con Ed Outage Estimates "Off"

AP via Topix:
In testimony at a city council committee hearing on the Queens [NY]outage, Joseph Bruno, the commissioner of the City's Office of Emergency Management, said Con Edison never told city officials how extensive the outage was in Queens.

He said Con Edison advised the city there were 1,700 customers, or 6,800 people, without power on the sixth day of the blackout -- believed to be the peak day of the weeklong failure. City officials now believe that more than 100,000 plus people were in the dark.

'They were off by 10 times the amount,' Bruno said. 'I have never seen Con Ed so far off the numbers.'

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Verizon Fees

Verizon Communications has decided to pocket most of the savings from the cancellation of a government surcharge on digital subscriber lines, despite calls from consumer groups to pass on the savings on to users.

Verizon, one of the biggest U.S. telecoms companies, used to charge DSL customers a monthly fee of $1.25 or $2.83, depending on connection speeds, for a government fund to help bring service to lower-income and rural areas.

The government stopped charging that fee from August 14, but Verizon will instead impose a new monthly surcharge of $1.20 or $2.70, beginning August 26, which it said was to help subsidize connection costs.

Spent Fuel Missing

Newscom via Topix:
Southern Nuclear confirmed late Monday that a small quantity of spent nuclear fuel was still missing from a power plant in Baxley, Ga.

The company said in a statement that an in-depth inventory at the Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Plant failed to account for 18 inches of used fuel, which amounts to a little over an ounce, and discounted the possibility of theft.

Nuclear Reactors

The New York Times:
When nuclear reactors were first commercialized almost half a century ago, every self-respecting electric utility wanted one. They were encouraged by a government that saw nuclear energy as a peaceful, redemptive byproduct of the deadly power unleashed at Hiroshima. The federal official for promoting nuclear energy, Lewis L. Strauss, said it would produce electricity “too cheap to meter.”

It has never given consumers anything like that. But with the industry now consolidated so that most reactors are in the hands of a comparatively few operators, utility executives are sharply divided over whether nuclear power offers an attractive choice as they seek to satisfy a growing demand for electricity.

For them, the question comes down not so much to safety and environmental impact but to whether the potential reward is worth the financial risk. And those who already operate several reactors are prone to want more.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Merger Activity

The Chicago Tribune:
Utility mergers are heating up across the country, adding drama to a sector of the economy known and valued for its stability...

The pace of mergers was actually much faster at the start of the decade, but seems to be picking up again.

The American Gas Association and the Edison Electric Institute list 12 pending utility mergers. Since 2000, at least 57 mergers have been completed.

NJ BPU: A Quiet Agency Makes Noise

The New York Times:
In New Jersey, you cannot go anywhere at home without bumping into something that is regulated by a relatively obscure agency called the Board of Public Utilities.

The five-member board is supposed to make sure your electric, water and natural gas rates are fair, for example, and it monitors the reliability of your telephone service.

But these days, the board has a more visible role. It is on the cusp of making one of the more significant decisions in its 95-year history: whether to approve a $17 billion merger of Exelon, a Chicago-based company, and Public Service Enterprise Group, the parent company of P.S.E.& G., creating the nation’s largest utility.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Pennsylvania Approves UGI-PG Energy Deal

The Times Leader (Wilkes Barre, Pa.) :
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Thursday gave conditional approval of the $580 million sale of the area’s largest natural gas provider PG Energy to UGI Corp.

Nuclear Revival

As more and more heat waves, hurricanes and other natural catastrophes batter the world, the mood among people just about everywhere is turning increasingly green.

The feeling is strong that global warming is not a phony fear but a real, rapidly growing and dangerous force. Moreover, the only way to stop it -- or merely slow it -- is to reduce the carbon dioxide emisions produced by the burning of fossil fuels that power industrial plants as well as planes, trains and automobiles.

And the surest way to accomplish that is to depend more on nuclear power instead of oil, gas and coal. Consequently, the nuclear industry is beginning to show signs of revival if not renaissance.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Old Wires Worry Utilities

Wall Street Journal (subscription):
Even as a hot summer strains the electric-power grid, industry officials are growing worried they have underestimated another problem: decades-old underground cables and other gear prone to fail under stress...

Engineering experts now believe the nation is entering a period that could be marked by a dramatic increase in localized power outages unless considerably more is spent on replacing old and deteriorated lines. Replacing these old cables and equipment could add billions to utility spending

Exelon-PSEG Stuck in NJ

The New York Times:
New Jersey regulators said on Thursday that two energy companies would have to offer more money to customers and sell more power plants to win approval of their proposed $17 billion merger that would create the nation’s largest utility company...

But people who were briefed on the proceedings said that the state’s counterproposal would require the two companies to offer about $820 million to New Jersey ratepayers — or $200 million more than the companies’ most recent offer, made on Aug. 2. The money would be distributed mainly through credits on customers’ energy bills.

The new counterproposal would also require that P.S.E.&G., based in Newark, and Exelon, with headquarters in Chicago, sell eight fossil-fuel plants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, or two more than the federal Department of Justice recommended in June, when it approved the merger.

KeySpan Shareholders Approve Takeover

Keyspan Corp. shareholders gave their consent Thursday to an $11.8 billion takeover by Britain's National Grid Plc., the Brooklyn-based company said.

The vote, cast at Keyspan's annual shareholder meeting, brings the two companies a step closer to forging the third largest energy utility in the U.S., with about eight million electric and gas customers in New York and neighboring New England.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Verizon Weighs Offers

The New York Times:
Three months after Verizon confirmed it wanted to sell its local telephone lines in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, the company said Tuesday it is considering several offers.

Verizon said North Carolina-based FairPoint Communications Inc. is one of several companies interested in buying the local networks. Union officials say CenturyTel Inc. and Citizens Communications Co. also are interested, but Verizon officials would not confirm those names.

State leaders and regulators are watching closely, as is the union representing Verizon line workers.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Energy Act Anniversary

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 hit its one-year anniversary this month and Washington policymakers looking at developments since the passage of the bill see a job well done...

Not everyone sees a cause for celebration in the passage of the bill. "Filling champagne glasses in Washington while Americans empty their wallets at the pump is just plain wrong," said Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Home Turbines

The Wall Street Journal (subscription):

In the latest bid to trim energy bills, some consumers are harnessing wind power in their own backyards -- as long as their neighbors don't balk.

While wind energy is commonly associated with massive turbines churning in desolate, windy areas, a new generation of smaller systems made for areas with moderate wind is hitting the market. The latest small turbines, which resemble a ship propeller on a pole, have three blades, are up to 24 feet in diameter and are usually perched on stand-alone towers between 35 and 140 feet high. The systems have the potential to save consumers between 30% and 90% on their electric bills, manufacturers say, and promise to make no more noise than an air conditioner. But tapping so-called small wind using a high-tech windmill can be costly, and homeowners may find themselves battling zoning officials and annoyed neighbors who find the towering devices unsightly.
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Monday, August 14, 2006

Super CLEC

Telecom Web:
Competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) Paetec Communications and US LEC Corp. today disclosed a deal to combine the two companies in a transaction that envisions privately held Paetec essentially buying US LEC for about for about $450 million, excluding debt.

Grid Review in Connecticut

The New York Times:
Gov. M. Jodi Rell has called for inquiries into the soundness of the state’s power grid, expressing concern about the performance of utility companies during the heat wave this month.

Mrs. Rell asked the State Department of Public Utility Control last weekend to examine electrical equipment and review documents from utilities to determine whether they are prepared for increases in power demands. She also wants documents from Connecticut Light and Power and the United Illuminating Company that outline contingency plans for dealing with power failures in the future. Regulators must report their findings by Sept. 15.

Verizon's Fiber Roll-Out

The New York Times:
Building a whole new state-of-the-art network is a laborious and expensive process that Verizon says it must undertake to fend off rivals like Comcast and Vonage, which are moving fast into the phone business. As Verizon replaces more of its old copper network with more durable fiber lines, the company also expects to save billions of dollars in maintenance costs.

Verizon will spend about $20 billion by the end of the decade to reach 16 million homes from Florida to California. But it is in New York City where Verizon has the most at stake, because New Yorkers are some of the nation’s biggest buyers of video, Internet and phone services. The company plans to spend about $3 billion to reach the city’s 3.1 million homes and apartments.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Equity Investors & Utilities

Gulf News:
As the worldwide thirst for infrastructure assets increases, more such private equity firms are likely to emerge at the head of, or as part of, consortium bids for water companies, bringing to the boil the simmering discussion of whether they are locust-like short-termists, or serious long-term shareholders. That debate is already under way in the US utility industry, where regulators have blocked two private-equity-led bids for electricity companies, chilling similar investment across the sector.

Union Objects to KeySpan Deal

The Deal:
A labor union representing more than 3,000 employees at gas and electricity supplier KeySpan Corp. has raised concerns about National Grid plc's planned takeover just one week before KeySpan shareholders are scheduled to vote on the $7.3 billion deal.

On Tuesday, Aug. 8, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based KeySpan saw its advisory firm vote in favor of the sale, which was announced in February. However, a New York union is now preparing to ask regulators to reject the deal unless the companies provide more information about planned job cuts, according to a story published on Wednesday by Long Island-based Newsday.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The California Tapes

International Herald Tribune:
A San Diego court ruled that 27 energy companies must hand over taped conversations of natural gas traders that Californian plaintiffs claim will prove that brazen market manipulation occurred during the state's energy crisis of 2000 and 2001.

Expletive-laden conversations of natural gas traders - in documents introduced to the court Tuesday - show disdain for Californians as "a bunch of hippies" who deserved high utility bills because strict environmental regulations kept the number of power plants in the state low.

Water Industry Growth

The New York Times:
Everyone knows there is a lot of money to be made in oil. But a fresh group of big businesses is discovering there may be even greater profit in a more prosaic liquid: water.

“You’ve got exploding urban populations, increased pollution and a need to address those things in a meaningful way,’’ said Ian Barbour, general manager of Dow Chemical’s Water Solutions unit. “Of course, we’re investing significantly in the water business.”

Most analysts expect the water market in the United States to be worth at least $150 billion by 2010. And it may happen even sooner than that. Arid cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix already grapple with sporadic water shortages. New York City’s water — once lauded for its purity — is getting cloudy, and the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the pipes and other parts of the country’s creaky water system a D minus.

Globally, water problems are even more immediate. Many experts estimate that water-related equipment and services already make up a $400 billion global market.

“Water is a growth driver for as long and far as the eye can see,’’ said Deane M. Dray, who follows many water companies for Goldman Sachs.

Tax Breaks for Constellation

Washington Post:
Aiming to become the first U.S. jurisdiction since 1996 with a newly operating nuclear energy reactor, officials in Calvert County this week offered tax breaks valued at $300 million to induce a Baltimore company to expand its nuclear power operation along the Chesapeake Bay.

County commissioners took action at the request of the company, Constellation Energy Group Inc., and appeared to push Calvert ahead of the two counties in New York that have similar operations run by Constellation.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Investing in Green Energy

You know a cultural movement is real when the money men get on board. In just the past year a broad swath of financiers -- venture capitalists, hedge funds, investment banks, public pension funds, and even stodgy insurers -- have begun sinking billions of dollars into producers of ethanol, fuel cell superbatteries, microscopic bugs that turn glucose into plastic, environmentally friendly pesticides, anything that might tap into the green craze. Saving the planet, protecting America, doing God's work, cynically exploiting a feel-good trend -- call it what you will. Wall Street sees money to be made. When John V. Veech, a managing director at Lehman Brothers Inc. (LEH ), showed up at a renewable energy conference in June, he was amazed to see that it was standing room only. "If you went five years ago you'd see a lot of ponytails," he says. "Now these conferences are packed with suits."

Hurrican Season

Washington Post:
The 2006 hurricane season -- so far quiet -- has fallen far behind last year's record for tropical storm activity, but scientists on Tuesday issued a prediction that this year will nonetheless be above average, with seven to nine hurricanes forming in the Atlantic basin.

In the kind of season that is anticipated, an average of two or three hurricanes make landfall in the United States, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

USF Caps

The telecom reform bill now pending in the U.S. Senate could include a cap on the $7 billion-a-year boondoggle the nation's rural telephone carriers collect.

For companies like one Hawaiian telecom that sweeps in $13,345 per line per year, the big battle in the reform measure is not over network neutrality... but a high-stakes amendment that could cap the Universal Service Fund (USF) that has provided the carriers years of financial windfalls.