Saturday, September 30, 2006

Progress Energy

Charlotte Observer via Topix:
Progress Energy's stock was nearly unchanged late Friday afternoon, a day after another published report on Wall Street said that the Raleigh utility is in talks to be acquired.

SparkSpread reported that Atlanta-based Southern Co. and Progress Energy 'are understood to be in advanced merger discussions' to join forces and create one of the largest utilities in the United States. The report was based on an unidentified industry source and spurred six times the usual volume of trading in Progress shares Thursday.

NatGas Prices Falling

Pittsburgh Tribune Review:
Homeowners can expect this fall to pay natural gas bills with prices close to those of two years ago, before Hurricane Katrina spurred fuel shortages and price spikes...

It's a matter of supply and demand.

"Market prices have been coming down because storage reports show there are more than adequate gas supplies for this winter," said Joe Gregorini, Dominion's manager for regulatory affairs and pricing.

Most of the hurricane-related damage to gas production facilities on the Gulf of Mexico has been repaired. Last winter's weather was mild, and so far this year, weather events haven't disrupted the gas industry.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Natural Gas Supply Data

The Energy Department said natural-gas inventories rose 77 billion cubic feet for the week ended Sept. 22. Analysts at Strategic Energy & Economic Research expected an increase of 86 billion. Total stocks now stand at 3.254 trillion cubic feet, up 377 billion cubic feet from the year-ago level, and 354 billion cubic feet above the five-year average, the government data said. November natural gas shed 8.9 cents, or 1.2%, to $5.58 per million British thermal units.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Congressmen Request Delay

AP via Topix:
The chairman and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee have asked the Justice Department to delay approval of the merger of AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Corp. until a federal court decides whether two previous mergers were in the public interest.

Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and ranking member John Conyers, D-Mich., sent a letter Thursday to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking the department delay its decision until a federal judge rules on the merger of SBC Communications Inc. and the old AT&T Corp., as well as the merger of Verizon Communications Inc. and MCI Inc.

NY Phone Law

NY Newsday:
Gov. George Pataki has signed into law a bill allowing traditional telephone companies to reduce or eliminate fees on non-basic services, a move proponents say will lead to lower bills for consumers.

Verizon's Fiber Investment

Laos News:
New York's Verizon Communications Inc. says its investment in boosting broadband capacity via fiber optic lines from 2004-10 will reach $18 billion.

The company also said Wednesday in a news release that it plans to pass 18 million premises with its fiber network by the end of 2010, or more than 50 percent of the approximately 33 million households in the company's 28-state wireline service area.

Verizon predicted it will exceed 6 million homes with a new fiber optic network by the end of this year.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

FPL Constellation Merger in Peril

South Florida Sentinel:
FPL Group Inc.'s chief executive told investors yesterday that his commitment to the merger with Constellation Energy Group Inc. will stretch only so far, raising new questions about the fate of the $11 billion utility deal and its promise of rate relief for some Maryland electricity customers.

Speaking at a conference in New York, Lewis Hay III said his patience is wearing thin with Maryland, particularly its legislature.

He accused the General Assembly of holding Florida-based FPL hostage while negotiating ways to stall an electricity rate increase for consumers this year.

Qwest Revival

The New York Times:
Richard C. Notebaert, the chief executive of Qwest Communications, is not one for conventional wisdom. Just a year ago, many on Wall Street thought Qwest, the nation’s fourth-largest phone company, was so weak that it was bound to be broken up or sold.

But Mr. Notebaert has quietly and consistently proved them wrong. He has cut costs, stabilized revenue and built up so much cash that Qwest is actually in a position to buy another industry player — perhaps a wireless carrier or a provider of corporate telecommunications services.

Such a move would go a long way toward arming Qwest with the tools it needs to fend off cable companies, Internet phone providers like Vonage and cellphone carriers like Cingular that are luring away hundreds of thousands of its customers. It would also help Qwest contend with Verizon Communications and A.T.& T., which account for half of all sales of communications services to companies.

Copper Thiefs Die

At least seven men in five states have been fatally electrocuted since July while hacking through power lines to steal wire made of copper, which has been commanding near-record prices, police say.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Power for New England

Boston Globe:
After years of warning that New England's electric grid was on the brink of having to impose Third World-style rolling blackouts, top power officials now cautiously predict the region may have enough power for the near future.

Since February, thanks to recent policy changes, proposals for 21 new power plants that could deliver enough electricity for about 3 million homes have come before regional power grid administrators. Those include a $1.5 billion NRG Energy Inc. plan for multiple new generators in Connecticut and a single generator that would burn methane gas from a dump in Westminster, near Fitchburg.

The Holyoke -based organization that runs the six-state power grid and wholesale markets, Independent System Operator New England, plans to discuss the projects in a two-day Boston conference starting today .

Six Years for Fastow

Andrew Fastow took his medicine Tuesday. But the prescription isn't as stiff as some expected -- and it's positively candy-coated compared with Bernard Ebbers' spoonful.

Fastow, the former finance chief of Enron, was sentenced to six years in prison by a Houston judge.

The ex-CFO had originally faced 98 counts -- including fraud, insider trading and money laundering -- in the spectacular 2001 implosion of the energy-trading giant. Fastow had pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy, accepting ten years in the hoosegow and surrendering some $30 million in assets.

Putin's Gas

The New York Times:
Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, announced on Saturday that Russia is prepared to divert up to 45 billion cubic meters of gas a year from the Shtokman gas fields to Europe from its intended destination, the United States. The news, delivered at a trilateral meeting between Mr. Putin and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and French president, Jacques Chirac, was a surprise, according to Russia’s major newspapers. Even the state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, which controls the Shtokman fields, was not informed of the proposal beforehand, according to an unnamed source close to the company quoted by Vedomosti.


Dallas Morning News via PEI:
Exelon chief executive John Rowe said in a news report during the weekend that he's still shopping and that he's most interested in power-generation assets, particularly nuclear power plants.

An Exelon spokeswoman confirmed that company executives have discussed a deal with TXU. The idea wasn't necessarily to merge but possibly to swap generation capacity, or to strike a deal for Exelon to own or manage TXU's nuclear assets.

Friday, September 22, 2006

FCC Chairman Wants Merger Approved

Reuters via MSN:
U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin has proposed the agency approve AT&T Inc.'s acquisition of BellSouth Corp. without any conditions, sources familiar with the matter said on Friday.

Martin circulated the initial proposal late Thursday with a goal for the agency to vote at its monthly open meeting currently scheduled for October 12, these sources said, declining further identification because the deliberations are secret.

Tea Bag Protest

Las Vegas Sun:
Illinois' lieutenant governor is urging people to mail tea bags to two electric utilities to protest rate increases - an idea that leaves the post office cold...

On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn urged residents of his state to include tea bags with their electric bills in the spirit of the Boston Tea Party. After the post office objected, Quinn's office said ratepayers could send just a picture of a tea bag.

Utility officials announced last week that electricity rates next year will increase an average of about 22 percent for ComEd customers and 40 percent to 55 percent for customers of St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. ComEd, a division of Chicago-based Exelon Corp., and Ameren together serve 4.9 million customers in Illinois.

Nuke Plant Shutdown Sought

The News & Observer (NC):
Five public interest groups are asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to suspend the operating license of Progress Energy's Shearon Harris plant or levy hefty fines until the plant fixes longstanding flaws in fire safety systems.

A petition -- filed Wednesday by the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and two other groups -- contends that the violations make the plant unsafe. The groups demand that regulators take an emergency action -- either shut down the plant or fine it $130,000 a day per violation.

Duke Seek Recovery of Nuke Costs

Triangle Business Journal:
Duke Energy Corp. is asking the North Carolina Utilities Commission in Raleigh to allow it to increase utility rates to cover the costs of building a proposed nuclear plant in Cherokee County, S.C.

Approval would mark a major change in the Carolinas, where utilities have been required to put a plant in operation before recovering the expense. That approach, Duke Chief Executive Jim Rogers has said, would put too much strain on Duke, particularly in building a nuclear plant that could take a decade to complete.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Nat Gas Prices Dip

Natural-gas futures fell Thursday, sending the October contract to a close at its lowest level in two-and-a-half years after a U.S. government report showed that supplies of the fuel were at a more than comfortable level -- 13% above a year ago...

Natural gas for October delivery fell by 15 cents, or 3%, to close $4.781 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange after reaching a low of $4.60, the weakest level the contract has seen since February 2004.

Recycled Wastewater

U.S. Water News:
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- Recycling treated wastewater to irrigate a golf course could save up to 300,000 gallons of drinking water daily during the summer and reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer going into the Piscataqua River, said city engineer Peter Rice....

Reclaimed water has been used for irrigation to preserve scarce drinking water supplies in the southern and western parts of the country for more than 40 years. The study by Camp, Dresser & McKee Inc. noted that cost is one reason the concept has not been embraced in New England.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Nuclear Plant Shutdowns

Peak Oil News:
An analysis of nuclear reactors by a safety group has found that they are prone to costly, lengthy shutdowns for safety problems regardless of their age or the experience of their managers. The finding could have implications for companies considering building new reactors.

That's not deterring builders:
The United States has offered billions of dollars in incentives to jump start investment in new nuclear power reactors, creating a race for the cash among potential builders.

With a federal law allowing builders to save hundreds of millions of dollars in debt financing costs by borrowing money at low rates, several companies are preparing applications to build the next generation of reactors.

Buffett Wants Utilities

Warren Buffett's investment company Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is interested in acquiring further utility companies in coming years, the U.S. billionaire said on Monday during a visit to Israel.

In March, Berkshire's MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. unit bought the western U.S. utility PacificCorp from Scottish Power Plc for $5.1 billion in cash...

Buffett told reporters: "We are interested in acquiring additional utilities.

"My guess is in the next 10 years we will buy one or two or three good-sized ones. You never can tell when they will come along."

He added that his firm was familiar with all the utilities in the United States and some outside the U.S.

"We look at anyone that indicates an interest," Buffett said.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Parade of Utility Mergers

The Seattle Times:
A parade of electric and gas companies have marched to the auction block this year, as the utility industry undergoes yet another wave of consolidation.

Sparked by the belief that bigger is better, fueled with vast new pools of investment cash and fanned by the repeal of a Depression-era law restricting who can own and operate utility companies, a dozen energy producers and distributors have announced deals so far this year, compared with 10 for all of 2005.

CL&P Reliability

The Stamford Advocate (CT):
State regulators have ordered Connecticut Light & Power to issue quarterly reports on improvements to reliability that the utility has said it will make in response to blackouts last month in Stamford and Meriden.

Uranium Boom

AP via Centre Daily Times (PA):
Suddenly, nuclear power is back in demand as a relatively cheap, reliable and emissions-free solution to the world's insatiable demand for energy. Even some leading environmentalists have endorsed nuclear power as an antidote to global warming. More than 50 nuclear plants are planned or under construction in a dozen countries, according to U.S. and international nuclear agencies.

The nuclear comeback has reinvigorated a Western mining industry that, during the 1950s and again in the 1970s, was the stuff of legends. Uranium claims -- which grant an exclusive right to mine a piece of federal land -- were bought and sold like stock.

The successive booms made millionaires and losers and overnight towns.

Citizens to Acquire Commonwealth

Citizens Communications Co. said Monday it will acquire Commonwealth Telephone Enterprises Inc. for $1.16 billion in cash and stock, a move to expand its presence in rural phone markets.

Under the deal, Stamford, Conn.-based Citizens will pay $41.72 for each common share of Commonwealth Telephone, broken down into $31.31 in cash and 0.768 of Citizens' own shares.

The purchase price represents a 17% premium over Commonwealth's Sept. 8 close. On that day, Dallas, Pa.-based Commonwealth publicly disclosed it was "exploring strategic opportunities," an announcement that often leads to a company's sale.

American Water Public Offering

Peoria Journal Star:
American Water is expected to become a publicly traded U.S. company sometime next year, company officials said Friday....

American Water operates in 29 states, and some states... require government approval for utilities to change hands. American Water has filed those requests in 13 states, and has already been granted approval in four states.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Illinois Electric Rates

St. Louis Dispatch:
Illinois electric customers got the low-down Friday on what they'll pay for electric service starting in January, and it isn't pretty.

Ameren Corp. said it expects customers to pay 40 percent to 55 percent more for power as a result of an auction of wholesale power that was ordered by the state. Auction results were released late Friday.

Chicago Tribune:
After enjoying a decade-long electricity rate freeze, residential customers of Commonwealth Edison should brace for a significant increase, an estimated 25 percent, in their monthly bills, according to the results of an energy auction to be disclosed on Friday.

The winning bid to supply power to Illinois is in line with current wholesale prices, according to a source with knowledge of the auction, and that will translate into substantially higher bills.

Exelon-PSEG Deal Is Dead

Newark Star Ledger:
Exelon yesterday walked away from its $17 billion acquisition of Public Service Enterprise Group, balking at concessions sought by New Jersey regulators.

After the stock market closed, Exelon of Chicago and PSEG of Newark announced they were terminating the transaction, ending more than 20 months of arduous efforts to create what would have been the largest electrical power supplier in the country.

This is bad news for PSE&G:
Moody's Investor Service said on Friday that it changed its rating outlook for the debt of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. and its regulated utility unit, Public Service Electric & Gas, to negative from stable following the dissolution of the company's agreement to be acquired by Exelon.

Moody's said the change reflects the rating agency's concern that during the nearly two years the Exelon deal was pending, PSE&G's requests to regulators for higher electric and gas rates went unresolved, 'resulting in a growing need for rate relief to recover increased costs.' Moody's also had viewed an acquisition by Exelon as 'moderately favorable' for the parent company's credit quality.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Capacity RFP in CT

Connecticut regulators plan to launch a request for proposals to obtain additional power from generation, demand-side reduction, conservation and energy efficiency projects in the state.

The new capacity is intended to reduce the impact of federally mandated congestion charges in Connecticut. The Department of Public Utility Control, which had given preliminary approval for the RFP, issued a final decision on Sept. 13. The RFP will be issued Sept. 15, the DPUC said.

Cheap Natural Gas

Natural-gas futures closed Thursday at their lowest level since late February, 2004 after a U.S. government report showed a triple-digit increase in supplies of the fuel for the first time in more than a year...

Natural gas for October delivery closed down 55.7 cents, or 9.6%, at $4.892 per million British thermal units after trading as low as $4.810. The contract hasn't touched levels this low since late February, 2004.

Maryland Debate

The candidates for governor in Maryland are still talking about utility rates.

Thursday was the first debate between Republican incumbent Robert Ehrlich and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

The debate in Timonium was sponsored by the AARP and was mostly congenial, but the candidates traded barbs over electricity-rate hikes that took effect this summer.

FE Nuke Plant Coverup

The Associated Press:
A contractor at FirstEnergy Corp.'s Beaver Valley nuclear power plant failed to do required reviews on a repair project and tried to cover it up, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says.

An engineer with consulting firm Demark Inc. had knowingly signed paperwork on June 1, 2005, that said 25 required reviews were done on a project the preceded plans to replace a nuclear reactor vessel head, but only two or three reviews were actually completed, according to an NRC report that followed a yearlong investigation.

The reviews are important because they are supposed to evaluate how well the replacement reactor head will work with existing safety controls, said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

False Water Quality Reports

The New York Times:
A former New York City worker responsible for monitoring the water supply pleaded guilty yesterday to falsifying important records about the purity of the drinking water.

Verizon TV

Wall Street Journal (subscription):
Verizon Communications Inc. is taking more of its television technology development into its own hands and relying less on its close partner Microsoft Corp. as the phone company struggles to leapfrog cable in an urgent battle to add TV service to its traditional offerings.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Power Plants Opposed

The Dallas Morning News:
Dallas officially entered a fight against new coal-burning power plant construction in Texas, as the City Council unanimously voted Wednesday morning to join the Texas Cities for Clean Air Coalition and contribute $10,000 to a legal fund...

The mayor and other council members have argued that TXU Corp.'s plan to build 11 coal plants throughout Texas would lead to a further decline in the state's air quality. They have urged TXU - and several other companies that together plan to build six other coal-fired plants - to consider alternatives, including nuclear power.

FPL's New Plant

The Palm Beach Post:
Florida Power & Light Co. said today that it is planning to build a "clean coal" power-generation plant in Glades County [FL] that will make enough electricity to serve 650,000 homes...

The proposed plant - called Glades Power Park - would have two 980-megawatt units, one opening in 2012 and the other opening in 2013. It would sit 5 miles northwest of Moore Haven on 4,900 acres.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Shopping for Natural Gas

The Ithaca Journal:
Can a residential customer comparison shop for a commodity such as natural gas or electricity?

It's certainly not easy, say those who have tried. The prices change daily and, sometimes, hourly. It's not like shopping for a flat-screen television, where a buyer can consult Consumer Reports and then make the trek to several electronics retailers to compare models and prices.

There's no storefront, no public retail operation offering supplies from multiple companies. Shopping for natural gas involves phone calls to individual suppliers, some of whom are more forthcoming than others with prices and the impact on your personal bill. Information on past pricing history for any of the suppliers is scant or nonexistent...

Experts say shopping for natural gas may not even be worth the effort. Individual customers can't leverage huge consumption that, say, a large factory can use to bargain for lower rates.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The NRC Is Hiring
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is on track to add almost half again as many employees to its staff to keep up with an increasing demand for nuclear power.

The 3,000-person NRC aims to have 4,000 employees by early 2008. To account for attrition, the agency is signing up about 1,300 new employees.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Suez & Gaz de France

BBC News:
France's left-wing opposition has vowed to delay a bill that would approve the privatisation of Gaz de France (GDF).

If approved, the bill would make way for a controversial merger between GDF and rival French utility group Suez.

Duke Gas

Charlotte Business Journal:
Duke Energy Corp. plans to create a separate, publicly traded natural gas company, with more than $15 billion in capitalization, by Jan. 1.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Duke says the spinoff company, called GasSpinCo Inc. for now, will apply for a listing on the New York Stock Exchange during the fourth quarter.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Constellation/FPL Merger Delayed

The Baltimore Sun:
The Public Service Commission has rejected Constellation Energy Group's request to accelerate hearings on its proposed merger with a Florida utility owner, saying consumer advocates and other parties concerned about the $11 billion deal need the extra time to prepare their arguments in the case.

The decision filed late Thursday means the Baltimore energy company and FPL Group Inc., of Juno Beach, Fla., will miss a self-imposed Dec. 31 deadline to get the deal completed.

Phone Record Privacy

The New York Times:
The protection of phone records falls into a legal gray area, privacy experts say. Legislators, regulators and the phone industry are all considering ways to clamp down on unauthorized releases of records...

Legislation that is pending in the Senate and House would criminalize what is known as pretexting — seeking to obtain a customer’s phone records under false pretext, typically by pretending to be the customer. Separately, the Federal Communications Commission is considering new rules that would force phone companies to guard customer records more carefully.

The California Attorney General is investigating...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lower Natural Gas Prices

The Express Times [PA]:
If you heat, cook or dry clothes with natural gas -- and in case you haven't noticed -- the fuel price has been dropping.

Both UGI Utilities Inc. and PPL Gas Utilities said Thursday that customers will pay slightly less for natural gas beginning today, a sign of lower wholesale gas prices that, according to UGI, peaked during the winter following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Out of Power in NY

The New York Times:
As many as 45,000 people in Westchester County [NY] remained without electricity on Tuesday night, three days after Tropical Storm Ernesto sheared through trees, knocked down power lines, and inflicted more damage on Consolidated Edison’s power system than any storm in the last 20 years.

The heavy toll exacted by Ernesto, which swept through the region on Saturday, marked at least the fourth time this year that a storm has left tens of thousands of people throughout Westchester in the dark for several days.

No power means no drinking water:
Residents of Yonkers were still being advised to boil water for two minutes for drinking or cooking after the storm knocked out power at a reservoir in Westchester County, said Westchester County Department of Health spokeswoman Mary Landrigan.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Duquesne Light Buys Generation

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Duquesne Light holdings has completed the $173 million purchase of minority interests in two in-state generating plants. The parent of Duquesne Light Co. acquired from Atlantic City Electric 65.6 megawatts, or 3.8 percent, of the Conemaugh Generating Station in New Florence, Westmoreland County, and 42.3 megawatts, or 2.5 percent, of the Keystone Generating Station in Schelocta, Indiana County. Both plants are coal-fired.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Natural Gas Supply Data

The Energy Department said natural-gas inventories rose 48 billion cubic feet for the week ended Aug. 25. Analysts at Global Insight expected an increase of 58 billion. Total stocks now stand at 2.905 trillion cubic feet, up 280 billion cubic feet from the year-ago level, and 320 billion cubic feet above the five-year average, the government data said. October natural gas shed 13 cents, or 2.1%, to $6.16 per million British thermal units after trading as low as $6.07 earlier.