Saturday, December 30, 2006

FCC Approves AT&T BellSouth Deal
The Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved AT&T Inc.'s $86 billion buyout of BellSouth Corp. on Friday, the day after the company offered a new slate of concessions for consumers and competitors.

The FCC's approval was the last major regulatory hurdle for the proposed deal, which is the largest telecommunications merger in U.S. history.

FPL Sues BellSouth

AP via
Florida Power & Light has sued BellSouth Corp. for $7 million to cover the cost of replacing shared utility poles that were damaged by three hurricanes that hit the peninsula in 2004, according to court documents.

Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne destroyed thousands of utility poles in eight counties on Florida's east coast.

BellSouth had installed the poles, but FPL used its own funds and resources to repair or replace nearly 2,500 poles in order to restore power as quickly as possible, according to FPL's lawsuit.

Atlanta-based BellSouth failed to reimburse the Florida utility company for the work, FPL claims.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Electric Deregulation in Texas

Texans can look forward to starting the New Year sifting through dozens of electricity plans. Lost among the choices will be substantial savings.

January 1 marks the day Texas tosses aside the "price to beat" pricing mechanism set by its biggest utilities and approved by state regulators and plunges into a fully deregulated retail power market governed by the laws of supply and demand in which generators compete for the nearly six million residential customers who can now pick their power provider.

But the Lone Star state is charging ahead despite backtracking by others.

AT&T May Get FCC Approval Today

AT&T has offered a new set of concessions that are expected to satisfy the two Democrats on the Federal Communications Commission and lead to approval of the company's $85 billion buyout of BellSouth.

Approval by the full commission could happen as soon as Friday.

AT&T filed a letter of commitment with the agency Thursday night that adds a number of new conditions to the deal, including a promise to observe "network neutrality" principles, an offer of affordable stand-alone digital subscriber line service and divestment of some wireless spectrum.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

AT&T Offers TV in CT

News Times:
AT&T launched television service in Connecticut on Wednesday, using its phone lines to compete with cable TV companies in a battle for viewers that's being fought in federal court...

Cable companies are fighting AT&T, accusing state regulators of establishing separate systems for AT&T and cable TV. AT&T does not face requirements such as a gross receipts tax and requirements to provide public access and service for all customers in its sales area.

A Good Year for BellSouth


With its takeover by telecom giant AT&T Inc. potentially days away, BellSouth Corp. shares continued to rise Wednesday and are now up more than 75 percent for 2006.

Shares of BellSouth added 57 cents to end at $46.62 on the New York Stock Exchange, where they have traded between $26.42 and $47.09 in the past 52-week period. The company's market capitalization is about $85 billion.

BellSouth's acquisition by AT&T, which was announced in March, will be the largest telecommunications merger in U.S. history and awaits only Federal Communications Commission approval.

The Problem with Wind Power

The New York Times:

Wind, almost everybody’s best hope for big supplies of clean, affordable electricity, is turning out to have complications.

Engineers have cut the price of electricity derived from wind by about 80 percent in the last 20 years, setting up this renewable technology for a major share of the electricity market. But for all its promise, wind also generates a big problem: because it is unpredictable and often fails to blow when electricity is most needed, wind is not reliable enough to assure supplies for an electric grid that must be prepared to deliver power to everybody who wants it — even when it is in greatest demand.

Coal Stocks Are Low at Power Plants

Energy Central News:

Be ready for a cold start to the New Year. Major power plants in the country could trip as they are running out of fuel just when power demand is seen to rise with the expected deepening of winter in January, a latest dossier put together by the Central Electricity Authority has warned.

According to the dossier, big generation units burning coal are running critically low on stocks. As of December 10, coal stock at power plants all over India was half the requirement. Against a need to keep stocks at 20 million tonnes, the inventory declined to 12.405 million tonnes.

In some plants, stocks are down to a level which will last for only 4-6 days.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Eminent Domain in Arizona

Mohave Daily News:
Arizona Public Service Co. is trying to use its eminent domain power to wrest ownership of 7,000 acres in Navajo County from a historic ranching company.

APS officials said the company needs the land to ensure a steady water supply for its Cholla Power Plant near Joseph City. The state's largest utility has been pumping water from land owned by the Aztec Land and Cattle Company for nearly 35 years under a lease with the ranch.

That lease expires in August and the two big companies have been negotiating a new one for months. But with no end in sight, APS spokesman Steven Gotfried said the company was forced to sue to take over ownership.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

NRC Acts on TMI Security

The York Dispatch:
The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission plans to ask for public comment on a five-year-old petition by an activist group that wants the agency to require nuclear power plants to station guards at facility entrances.

Members of the nuclear watchdog group Three Mile Island Alert developed the petition during the summer of 2001 and say a response by the federal agency is long overdue. The group proposed the idea as a deterrent to terrorists who think an unmanned entrance gate is a sign that a successful attack is possible.

TransCanada Buys Pipelines from El Paso

The Toronto Star:

TransCanada Corp. and its United States affiliate are spending about $3.39 billion (U.S.) in cash for some of El Paso Corp.'s pipelines and storage facilities as El Paso works to cut debt.

TransCanada, Canada's biggest pipeline company, will acquire ANR Pipeline, storage facilities in Michigan and a 50 per cent stake in Great Lakes Gas Transmission from El Paso, the largest North American natural gas-pipeline owner.

The transaction includes assumption of $744 million in debt by TransCanada and TC Pipelines LP.

Small Cap Water Stocks

Seeking Alpha has some interesting analysis on two (2) small cap water stocks: York Water Company and Pennichuck Corp.

Natural Gas Prices

A steep decline in natural-gas futures amid forecasts for above-average temperatures in the eastern United States this week weighed across the energy sector Tuesday, dragging crude futures off the early highs hit as Iran vowed to defy United Nations sanctions on its nuclear research.

Natural-gas futures for January delivery tumbled 52.2 cents, or 7.9%, to close at $6.113 per million British thermal units, the contract's lowest level since July 2004.

"Storage and weather -- these are the two factors that control the market, and neither one is going to exert a positive influence anytime soon," said Mike Fitzpatrick, an energy analyst at Fimat USA.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Dominion: End Dereg in VA

Dominion Virginia Power will ask state legislators to end Virginia's five year experiment with retail competition in the electricity business.

The state's largest public utility called for a return to state regulation of electric rates yesterday, five years after Virginia fixed rates and allowed retail customers to shop for their power supplies.

FERC Approves Duquesne Deal

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

The sale of Duquesne Light Holdings Inc. to a group led by Australia's Macquarie Infrastructure Partners has received federal approval.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the deal today at a meeting in Washington, D.C. Stockholders of the Downtown-based company, the parent of Duquesne Light, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the $3 billion deal earlier this month, and the state Public Utility Commission still must act on it.

PSEG Takes Back Nukes

NY Newsday:
Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. on Wednesday said it plans to again directly manage its Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants, taking over from Exelon Corp. after a merger of the two utility giants fell through earlier this year.

American Water IPO

The State Journal (WV):

The parent company of West Virginia's largest water utility company hopes a recent public hearing in front of the state's Public Service Commission will result in a green light allowing the company to sell off the utility.

German-based RWE AG is hoping to divest itself of American Water Co. and its subsidiary companies, including West Virginia American Water. RWE AG has said it would like to sell off the water utility companies through an initial public offering, or IPO, of stock sometime in 2007.

But before RWE AG can launch the IPO, public service commissions in 13 of the 29 states American Water Co. operates in must approve of the sale.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

ICC OKs Ameren Phase-In Plan

State Journal Register:

State utility regulators, saying they want to ease the “rate shock” that soon will hit consumers, on Wednesday approved Ameren’s plan to gradually impose dramatically higher electricity prices that take effect Jan. 2.

The Illinois Commerce Commission voted 5-0 for the Ameren phase-in proposal and a similar one from Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison.

We Energies Sells Nuke to FPL

The Palm Beach Post:

Wisconsin Energy Corp. is selling its only nuclear power plant to Florida-based FPL Energy in a deal worth about $1 billion, the companies announced Wednesday.

We Energies' agreement with the subsidiary of FPL Group Inc. includes $783 million for the plant and $215 million for its nuclear fuel and other inventories.

Milwaukee-based We Energies will buy the entire output of the plant, whose two reactors generate about a quarter of the company's energy needs.

Ninth Circuit Overrules FERC
In upholding future wholesale energy contracts negotiated during the California Electricity Crisis, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission incorrectly relied on a “public interest” standard of review, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

The panel, in a consolidated appeal of FERC rulings, remanded actions by various retail power companies and state agencies to the commission, directing that it make a new determination as to the validity of the challenged contracts.

Sierra Sells Pipeline

The parent of Sierra Pacific Power Co. on Tuesday closed the sale of its 50 percent interest in the Tuscarora Gas Transmission Co. to TC PipeLines LP of Canada for $100 million.

Sierra Pacific Resources previously said it planned to sell its stake in Tuscarora to concentrate on its growing utility subsidiaries, Sierra Pacific Power Co. in Reno and Nevada Power Co. in Las Vegas.

The pipeline is a 240-mile natural gas line from Malin, Ore., to Reno.

Telcos Can Do TV

Washington Post:

A divided Federal Communications Commission yesterday approved a measure aimed at helping telephone companies move into cable television markets by significantly limiting what local officials can demand in return for franchises.

The new rule reflects the intensifying battle between the phone and cable industries over who will control distribution of video, voice and Internet access in an increasingly wired country. But the telephone industry's victory could prove temporary because opponents say the measure will almost certainly be challenged in court.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cape Wind Transmission Approved

AP via South Coast Today:
BOSTON — The state's highest court yesterday upheld a decision permitting construction of transmission lines to bring electricity from the Cape Wind project to shore.

The [Massachusetts] Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a May 2005 decision by the state Energy Facilities Siting Board that was challenged by a group opposing the Cape Wind project.

The high court said the board adopted "an eminently reasonable and practical approach to the uncommon jurisdictional issues presented by the petition" seeking to build a pair of 18-mile-long transmission lines.

If it receives needed federal approval, Cape Wind would become the nation's first offshore wind farm — a unique status that has presented local, state and federal jurisdictional questions during five years of government reviews.

Americans' Water Use

The average American uses 20 to 80 gallons of water daily in their [sic] home.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ameren's System Maintenance

Jefferson City News Tribune:
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation has found that Ameren executives often insist publicly they've done all they can to limit storm outages, but tell regulators in writing that they must spend more money on programs to boost reliability.

At the same time, Ameren relies on tree trimmers to inspect the vast majority of the power grid even though the trimmers' union says they're not trained to spot many problems.

Regulations can be lax. Neither Missouri nor Illinois have hired outside engineers to investigate the outages.

Broadwater Public Hearings

NY Newsday:
Federal regulators plan to hold hearings in January on the controversial proposal to build a liquid natural gas terminal called Broadwater in the middle of Long Island Sound.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has scheduled hearings for 7 PM January 10 at Smithtown West High School and for the following day at 7 PM at Shoreham-Wading River Middle School. FERC said there will also be hearings in Connecticut. One is scheduled for 7 PM Jan 9 at Mitchell College in New London and the other for 7 PM at the Branford High School in Branford.

The regulators are to hold hearings on the draft environmental impact statement for the LNG terminal proposed to be built nine miles off of Wading River.

AT&T BellSouth Deal in Doubt

AT&T Inc.'s proposed buyout of BellSouth was thrown into doubt Monday when Robert McDowell, a member of the Federal Communications Commission and a former telecommunications industry lobbyist, said he is excluding himself from participation in the agency's deliberations on the deal.

McDowell's personal disqualification means that the nation's largest telecommunications merger is stuck at a presumed 2-2 deadlock. He said he hoped that his fellow commissioners "will come back to the negotiating table in good faith to offer meaningful concessions."

The acquisition has been hung up because the two Democrats on the commission, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, have insisted that AT&T agree to conditions, including some allowances on the issue of network neutrality.

Verizon Under Water


Verizon Business, a unit of telecommunications company Verizon Communications Inc., said Monday it signed a construction and maintenance agreement to work with China Telecom and China Netcom to build an undersea optical cable system linking mainland U.S. and China.

The total cost of the system will be more than $500 million, to be split evenly between consortium members. The system is expected to be complete in 2008.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Verizon TV in NJ

Daily Record:
New Jersey regulators today gave Verizon Communications Inc., the state's dominant phone provider, clearance to begin offering television programming in 316 of the state's 566 communities.

Verizon's application to the state Board of Public Utilities, made possible by a law signed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine in August, was opposed by a coalition of cable companies.

Storm in the Northwest

UPI via

A storm that pushed its way inland from the Oregon coast has left more than 375,000 homes without electricity.

The storm, driven by hurricane-force winds, knocked over trees and utility poles and caused lowland areas to flood, the Portland Oregonian reported.

About 245,000 of the homes without power were Portland General Electric customers, accounting for about 30 percent of the company's coverage area.

Seattle Times:
One million people are without power in the greater Seattle area...

Many people living in outlying areas could be without power for five days or more.

Incidents at Nuke Plants

The reactor at Three Mile Island, site of the nation's worst nuclear accident, shut down automatically on Wednesday without posing a safety hazard after a turbine was tripped, a federal nuclear regulatory spokeswoman said.

The shutdown just before 6 p.m. was apparently caused by a disturbance on the electrical grid that tripped the turbine, which is powered by steam inside the reactor to generate electricity, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Diane Screnci said.
A cooling pump exploded at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, leading to a precautionary emergency shutdown of one of the two reactors.

No radiation was released and no one was injured in the Tuesday afternoon incident, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said.

AT&T Off the FCC's Agenda for Now

Washington Post:

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin said yesterday he did not know how soon it would consider AT&T's proposed $86 billion acquisition of BellSouth after the deal was left off the agenda for Wednesday's meeting because of a continuing stalemate between the commission's Republican and Democratic members.

Martin, an advocate of the merger, told reporters he was "anxious" to set a date for the vote, which would create the country's largest provider of telephone, wireless and broadband services. AT&T and BellSouth have waited more than seven months for the commission to act despite Martin's efforts earlier this year to win quick approval of the transaction without conditions.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Arsenic Removal Is Costly

U.S. Water News:

DOYLESTOWN, Pa.-- New federal standards have forced authorities in Bucks County to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to reduce the amount of naturally occurring arsenic in their water systems.

A federal law enacted in January cuts the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10. At least seven communities and three schools have water supplies that test above the new limit.

But Michael Brzezecki, superintendent of Quakertown's water department, said the arsenic levels are not cause for alarm.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Copper Thieves

The Seattle Times:
Global copper prices have more than doubled during the past three years and thieves are looking everywhere for the hot commodity. Increasingly utilities across the nation have been the target of these thieves...

There have been some arrests related to the thefts, but none of the copper wire has been recovered.

Thieves have taken the copper wire from storage grounds, the back of trucks and active high-voltage lines. Two weeks ago, a thief stole several thousand feet of copper wire from a live line taken down during the snowstorm...

Skilling Begins Prison Sentence

Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling reported to federal prison on Wednesday to begin serving his 24-year sentence for fraud and other crimes in the collapse of the former energy giant.

Missouri Sues Ameren

AP via Topix:

The state sued Ameren Corp. on Wednesday over the billion-gallon breach of a reservoir it says was caused by the utility's negligence.

Ameren already has agreed to pay federal regulators a record $15 million fine for the December 2005 breach of the Taum Sauk reservoir, which created an instant flood that injured a family of five and nearly destroyed a southeastern Missouri state park.

Connecticut Power Rates

WCBS News Radio 880:
Hartford (AP) -- Some legislative leaders are calling on state regulators to delay accepting bids from power suppliers that help determine electrical rates.

They're calling on the state Department of Public Utility Control to postpone the deadline for those bids which are due today.

The lawmakers say such a delay will give the legislature a chance to work on the system that has seen electric rates jump several times since deregulation.

Congestion Charges

The New York Times:

Over all, the Energy Department estimates, congestion charges in 2008 will add $8 billion or so — about $40 a person — to electricity costs on the Eastern grid, which serves almost 200 million people east of the Rockies except for Texas. The department did not make an estimate for the Western grids.

These congestion charges would raise electricity prices by about a nickel on the dollar if they were spread evenly, but in fact some customers pay far more and others pay nothing.

Kansas BPU Investigated

The Pitch Weekly:

People in Kansas City, Kansas, might want to pray for a mild winter because it appears that their electric rates are about to go up. At the same time, they might want to start asking their utility company what business is so important that it must be conducted over high-dollar lunches across the state line at the Savoy Grill in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Pitch has learned that top officials with the Board of Public Utilities have been eating well and, apparently, drinking, on their ratepayers' dime.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Lifeline in Florida

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution:

Lifeline is paid for by the federal Universal Service Fund, created to make sure everyone has a land-line telephone regardless of where they live or how much they make. The monthly discount is made up of $7 of federal money, $3 of state money and $3.50 from BellSouth, Embarq, Verizon and other telephone companies that provide local phone service in Florida.

The phone companies can be reimbursed through the service fund for some of their contributions, but not for the $3.50 they pay for each Lifeline customer each month.

Marshall Criser III, president of BellSouth's Florida territory, said his company has increased efforts this year to find residents who need phone service.

Illinois Emissions Rule

AP via
Illinois' coal-fired power plants must cut mercury emissions 90 percent by 2009, under a rule approved Tuesday that makes Illinois the latest state to buck federal limits many consider too lax.

AT&T Sues Time Warner

The Houston Chronicle:
San Antonio-based AT&T has sued competitor Time Warner Cable, saying it illegally accessed and damaged network wiring when hooking up telephone customers in San Antonio apartment buildings.

Time Warner technicians conducted a "methodical invasion" of AT&T's network facilities in apartment complexes, the phone giant claims in the lawsuit filed Friday in federal district court here.

Time Warner had no immediate comment on the suit.

Com. Kelly: U.S. Needs LNG

SNL Interactive:

One of the biggest challenges facing energy policymakers and natural gas industry officials in the northeastern United States is securing enough gas supply to meet growing demand from both [Local Distribution Companies] and the power generation sector, [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] Commissioner Suedeen Kelly said Dec. 8 during a panel discussion in New York City sponsored by the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas.

"Even if we increased the pipeline capacity, we're really talking about the supply," she said. "It's also no secret that if last winter had been a cold winter, there's a very high likelihood that there would have to have been rationing of gas in the Northeast. It was a very precarious situation." The Northeast, along with the entire nation, faced an unstable gas supply picture heading into the winter of 2005-2006 due to significant production damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Kelly said it is unclear whether the public in the Northeast "understands how tight the gas situation really is. In the winter of 2004, we came very, very close to having to ration gas. There was a situation where it was a question of whether the gas should go into the heating or the electricity."

Water Bills in NYC

The New York Times:
For years, New York City has failed to collect on millions of dollars in overdue water bills because its records are so riddled with factual errors and outdated information that pursuing deadbeats and delinquents has become virtually impossible.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Alec Opposes Oyster Creek
Actor Alec Baldwin has lent support to New Jersey residents worried about the relicensing of a southern New Jersey nuclear power plant.

Baldwin moderated a Friday night discussion at Rutgers University Law School in Newark about the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, which is seeking a 20-year renewal for its license; the license is set to expire in 2009.

Verizon Rate Hike in PA

Verizon Communications is asking state regulators for permission to raise rates. The company wants to raise home phone rates by 51 cents a month. But first it needs approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. If approved, the rates will increase starting January First.

FCC's McDowell to Vote on AT&T

NY Times:

Robert M. McDowell, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, will be permitted to cast the tie-breaking vote on the proposed acquisition of BellSouth by AT&T, the agency’s general counsel said yesterday.

The commission’s general counsel, Samuel L. Feder, said in a memorandum released by the agency that Mr. McDowell should be allowed to weigh in to break a deadlock among the other four commissioners.

Keyspan's Cleanup Costs

NY Newsday:
On the heels of a lawsuit by Bay Shore residents against KeySpan Corp. claiming negligence tied to toxic gas manufacturing plant sites in the region, the Suffolk County Legislature this week passed a resolution seeking to prevent KeySpan and proposed owner National Grid from dumping cleanup costs on ratepayers.

The resolution directs the county attorney to intervene in pending hearings on the buyout before the state Public Service Commission specifically relating to the cleanup costs.

Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), who sponsored the resolution, said it's essential that ratepayers not be stuck holding the bill, which he estimated at upward of $450 million - a figure KeySpan disputes. "That would be devastating to the ratepayers of Long Island," Horsley said.

Investing & Divesting in the Water Industry

IR Magazine:
Aqua America, the biggest publicly traded water utility in the US, has announced an aggressive blitz of gambits, sacrificing cash for assets everywhere it can. Early this year, the company’s management said they were on track to conclude 25 to 30 new acquisitions initiated in 2005, up from a remarkable track record of absorbing 26 companies in 2004. In November 2005, by contrast, Germany’s RWE announced it would divest its major water holdings, Thames Water and American Water Works, by the end of 2007. The company recently got partway to its goal with the sale of Thames Water to Australia’s Macquarie for $8.9 bn. Interestingly, despite divergent strategies, both companies are getting a round of applause from their investors and analysts.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Revisiting the USF in Texas

The East Texas Review:
In a draft report commissioned by the Legislature, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) recommends re-examining the size and scope of TUSF, which currently provides over $500 million in subsidies to local phone companies, like AT&T and Verizon, to serve rural or high-cost areas in the state.

What is the universal service fund?

The Universal Service Fund was established more than a decade ago to ensure universal and affordable basic phone service in the state. Several programs are aimed at subsidizing phone service to individuals with low-incomes and disabilities.

Electric Rate Hikes in CT
Urging reform of the electricity system, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal asked state utility regulators Thursday to require the two biggest power companies in Connecticut to absorb the cost of delaying upcoming rate increases.

The request was included in his filings with the Department of Public Utility Control that call for the deferral of rates increases for United Illuminating and Connecticut Light & Power scheduled for Jan. 1. Blumenthal claimed the companies failed to fight for reform of the state's electricity system that has seen customers' bills rise along with the companies' cost of buying power since the industry was deregulated.

More Criticism for Ameren

AP via Topix:
Top leaders in Missouri and Illinois, where thousands of customers remain without power after last week's winter storm, sharply criticized a utility's response to the crisis Thursday.

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt asked his state's Public Service Commission to hold public hearings and said he wants St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. to provide a clear plan for preventing a recurrence.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Utilities Warming Up to Plastic

The Wall Street Journal:

The payment-card industry is charging into one of the last bastions of consumer business that has been slow to accept plastic: utilities.

In the past year, a number of large natural-gas and electric providers have begun allowing residential customers to pay their bills with credit and debit cards. Utilities are dropping their longstanding opposition to plastic as new competition looms in states that have deregulated the former monopolies. To help hang on to customers, the utility industry is searching for ways to make bill-paying faster and easier.

Emission Rules in NY

The Poughkeepsie Journal:
To further Gov. George Pataki's regional effort to reduce pollution that causes global warming, New York Tuesday released a preliminary draft of rules to regulate carbon dioxide emitted by power plants.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in New York would set up a market-based, cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in New York and other Northeastern states. Each state that agreed to join the program will set its own rules.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ameren Under Fire in Missouri

Though power has been restored to most areas hardest hit by the first winter storm of the season, Missouri's utility regulators are frustrated that more hasn't been done to prevent widespread outages...

Frustrations with the prolonged power outage prompted the Missouri Public Service Commission to summon Ameren's chief operating officer to a meeting Tuesday. Commissioners weren't satisfied with Executive Vice President Thomas Voss' explanation that the ice storm was the worst to hit the St. Louis since December 31, 1978, and that most of the damage was caused by trees rooted on private property.

Commission chairman Jeff Davis, his voice rising, noted it was Ameren's fourth major, prolonged power outage in three years. Davis and other commissioners demanded Ameren come up with suggestions to prevent such widespread blackouts -- be it buried power lines, stronger lines or expanded legal authority to trim trees.

Electric Rates in CT

The New York Times:
Gov. M. Jodi Rell asked public-utility regulators yesterday to postpone major increases in electric rates, saying that the proposed increases are “simply unsustainable and unaffordable.” The state’s largest utility company, Connecticut Light and Power, has proposed an increase that averages 8.9 percent for residential and commercial customers, beginning Jan. 1. Another company, United Illuminating, has proposed an increase of as much as 48 percent in some residential areas. In a letter to the Department of Public Utility Control, Ms. Rell asked regulators to postpone a decision until the Legislature could review ways to lessen the effect on consumers.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

McDowell & AT&T at the FCC

AP via Forbes:

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell expressed confidence Tuesday that he could get up to speed quickly if he is called upon to join the agency's deadlocked review of AT&T Inc.'s proposed purchase of BellSouth Corp.

He offered few clues, however, to his viewpoint on the deal or the impasse.

Shareholders Approve Duquesne Deal

Pittsburgh Business Times:

Duquesne Light Holdings Inc. said Tuesday its shareholders have approved the company's $3.15 billion acquisition by a consortium led by Macquarie Infrastructure Partners and Diversified Utility and Energy Trusts. The deal values each share of Pittsburgh-based Duquesne at $20 in cash.

Duquesne Light said its headquarters will remain in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Duquesne Light also said regulatory review of the deal by the Public Utility Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is in its initial stages, and believes the deal could be approved by June.

Utility Stock Performance

The Wall Street Journal:

The most-energized mutual funds this year include a category sometimes associated with the most conservative investors: utility-sector funds.

These mutual funds have delivered high-wattage performance, especially those that bulked up on shares of telecommunications and power merchants that benefit from high electricity prices. But with these stocks' valuations getting richer and the broader market increasingly favoring "growth" stocks -- those of companies with quickly expanding earnings -- it isn't clear how long these funds can continue to generate strong returns.

Settlement in Equitable Merger Case

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
A two-year freeze on natural gas delivery rates is part of the settlement that Equitable Resources Inc. reached with consumer advocates, political leaders and some gas suppliers who fought its controversial plan to acquire Dominion Peoples Gas.

The agreement addresses service, safety and competitive issues, and represents a major step in North Shore-based Equitable's efforts to secure the state Public Utility Commission's approval for the merger early next year, observers said.

The NRC & Indian Point

The Journal News (NY):

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rejected an attempt by Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano to broaden the standards it uses to review plants such as Indian Point when they apply for relicensing.

The decision comes just weeks after Entergy Nuclear Northeast, the owners of the Buchanan plants, announced it would seek to continue operating them through 2035. The licenses for the existing plants expire in 2013 and 2015; the company plans to formally apply for 20-year license extensions in the spring.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Water Problems in TX

Dallas Morning News:
Dallas officials fear that the Legislature may jeopardize decades of local water planning, overhauling state water policy in a way that could threaten North Texas' resources and prompt even tougher limits on water use here...

The legislation they anticipate in the coming months could hinder the city's ability to manage its own water by forcing Dallas to sell or give away its reserves to water-strapped cities across the state; by limiting Dallas' water recycling efforts to send more flow down the Trinity River; or by requiring Dallas water customers to pay a water tax that would benefit only Texas' least-prepared communities...

With the state's population booming, planning for an adequate long-term water supply has become a priority for officials at all levels of government. The pressure's already on locally – Dallas may be forced to help Irving ease massive water shortages, which could force greater restrictions on Dallas' water customers.

Powerless in the Midwest

Hundreds of thousands of Missouri and Illinois residents who have endured five days without power were still waiting Monday in dangerously cold conditions as temperatures hover in the teens...

Ameren had restored power to 50,000 customers in the previous 15 hours, it said Monday. Despite those efforts, 296,000 customers in Missouri and Illinois were still without electricity.

Temporary help has come from 14 states, but even as crews put in 16-hour days, cold temperatures, icy poles, downed lines and brittle trees were making the restoration process a difficult one following Thursday night's ice storm.

European Utility Mergers

The Economist:

Energy-industry insiders predicted a series of mergers and acquisitions in European utilities at the beginning of this year. But hardly anyone expected the announcement in February of two of the biggest-ever takeovers in corporate Europe: the bid for Endesa, a Spanish electricity company, by E.ON, a German power giant; and the merger of Gaz de France (GDF), a French gas firm, and Suez, another French utility.

The latest takeover in the industry, announced this week, is smaller, less spectacular and not much of a surprise. Iberdrola, a Spanish electricity company, announced on November 28th its €17.2 billion ($22.5 billion) bid for Scottish Power, a British utility. Compared with the E.ON bid, now valued at €37 billion, and the €78 billion merger of Suez and GDF, the deal looks like small beer. Yet the acquisition will create one of Europe's six biggest utilities and a world leader in renewable energy. And in striking contrast to the two bigger deals, which are bogged down in legal and political quagmires, it is likely to proceed smoothly.

Security Drills at TMI

The Harrisburg Patriot-News:

The simulated attack on the Three Mile Island nuclear plant began in the dark, shortly before 8 p.m., with an explosion.

The attackers, presumably terrorists intent on causing a reactor meltdown, tried to blow up part of the double-walled security fence that rings the plant. But they didn't get far.

Within minutes they were dead, killed by Wackenhut security officers under contract with plant owner Exelon Nuclear to protect the nuclear station. One security officer was killed.

"Enron - The Musical"

The L.A. Times:
HOUSTON — Five years after Enron Corp. filed for bankruptcy, "Enron — The Musical" opened Friday in a mostly filled theater here with 2 1/2 hours of toe-tapping songs immortalizing the collapse of the 7th-largest company in America.

The Allegheny Debacle

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Allegheny Energy Inc. this week closed the door to a $700 million debacle that helped to nearly bankrupt the... energy company.

The company sold the last of three power plants acquired in 2001 for more than $1 billion from Enron Corp., once the symbol of America's high-flying power industry during the early 2000s...

In total, the three so-called peaking plants -- used only when demand for power was so high that the natural gas-fired plants were economical to run -- were sold over the last three years for less than $300 million.

That left about $700 million Allegheny Energy was forced to write-off. It was one of the reasons the company eliminated the dividend on its stock, demanded mandatory retirements from about 600 workers or 10 percent of the work force, and sold assets worth $1.1 billion to pay down $6 billion in debt built up during an expansion in 2000-2001. In the worst years, 2002 and 2003, the company lost a total of $987 million.

FCC Deadlocked on AT&T

AP via Forbes:

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on Friday initiated a process that may break the deadlock in the agency's vote on AT&T Inc.'s proposed acquisition of BellSouth Corp. by allowing a fifth commissioner who had recused himself to participate.

Martin asked the general counsel for the Federal Communications Commission to consider whether Robert McDowell ought to be authorized to participate in the deliberations on the roughly $80 billion deal, FCC officials said Friday.

Water Debate in Long Island

The New York Times:

Thousands of years ago, rain fell on Long Island and seeped hundreds of feet through the sandy soil, coming to rest on bedrock. It formed what geologists call the Lloyd aquifer, the island’s oldest, deepest, purest — and scarcest — groundwater.

Now, after 60 years of virtually unchecked suburban growth and consumption of the island’s most precious resource, public officials and civic groups are fighting over control of the remaining water supply. It is as if these were the island’s last drops to drink, which is precisely what environmentalists insist the aquifer should be reserved for.

The battle over the aquifer underscores the broader debate over Long Island’s entire water supply for its nearly three million residents and future development. Preservationists warn that if the island continues on its present path, it will run out of clean water, while other experts are equally insistent that there is enough to last for generations.

Revisiting Deregulation in PA

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Pennsylvania's utility regulators will soon take a fresh look at the state's decade-old electricity deregulation law and other rules dictating how power can be bought and sold.

The law that allows every customer to choose an electric supplier has withstood plenty of criticism as energy prices have risen in recent years.

Electric Rates in CT

The New York Times:
Monthly electric bills for Connecticut residents, already among the highest in the nation, are likely to jump again in January, with regulators poised to approve rate increases starting on Monday.

But not here in the eastern part of Norwalk, where George E. Leary runs what is known as the Third Taxing District’s Electric Department. His 3,800 residential customers will see no price increase in January and will continue to pay less — far less — for the same power that lights up much of Connecticut.

Cow Power

Power derived from manure is changing from an alternative-fuel experiment to a business, pushed by high oil costs, low milk prices and new laws restricting harmful gas emissions and requiring the use of renewable energy.

Two generators at the Audets' Blue Spruce Farm [in Bridport, Vermont] feed electricity to the local utility. They run on methane gas derived from cow manure. The farm is part of Cow Power, a program of the local electric company, Central Vermont Public Service. Cow Power gives customers the option to pay higher rates to subsidize farm-generated, poop-powered electricity. The 4-cent premium the farmers are paid helps cover the cost of installing an anaerobic digester that extracts methane from cowpies.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Electric Deregulation in TX

Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Deregulation has resulted in higher electric rates for North Texans, according to a new report.

Conducted on behalf of Forth Worth, Dallas, Arlington and about 100 other municipalities, the study concludes that rates offered to customers in deregulated areas of North Texas are higher, on average, than rates in areas that remain under regulation.