Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Doubts Emerge About Clean Coal

The New York Times:

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

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

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Duquesne on S&P's Credit Watch

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

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

FirstEnergy Earnings Up

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

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

Seeking Alpha has the details.

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

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

Verizon Sues Vonage Over Patent


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

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

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

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

Monday, February 19, 2007

Where to Store Nuclear Waste

WUPW-TV Fox Toledo:

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

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

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

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

The Problems with Wind Power (Opinion)

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

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

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

Paying Now for Future Power in SC

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

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

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

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

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

Upgrades for DTE's Monroe Plant

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

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

Nominations to Ohio Commission

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

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

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

Sunday, February 18, 2007

New York City Water

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

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Power Shortages in New England?

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

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

Energy Efficiency in California

The Washington Post:

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

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

Friday, February 16, 2007

Electric Regulation Debate in IL

The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

"Re-regulation" in Montana

Great Falls Tribune:

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Storm in the Mid-Atlantic

Reuters via
A snow and ice storm ravaging the U.S. Mid-Atlantic states early Wednesday knocked out power for more than 100,000 customers from Virginia to New Jersey, local electric companies reported.

Has Electric Deregulation Failed?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette:

Maryland state lawmakers, irate over a 72 percent jump in electric bills, vote to fire the state's Public Service Commission. Courts block the move.

Ohio, fearing double-digit rate increases, backs off market-based pricing and stabilizes rates through 2008.

The Illinois House votes to roll back Commonwealth Edison's rates after they go up 22 percent when caps designed to ease customers into deregulation are lifted. ComEd warns it will go bankrupt if the state doesn't face up to free market realities.

Virginia lawmakers prepare to pull the plug on deregulation, negotiating terms for returning regulatory power to the State Corporation Commission.

It's not exactly the laissez-faire paradise states bought into when they deregulated energy markets. The thinking was that freeing consumers of their regulated power provider would create competition -- and lower prices. The capitalist cornucopia envisioned hasn't come to pass in many states, including Pennsylvania, where the state's seven electric companies have until 2010 to complete deregulation.

Wave Power

The Age (Australia):

Ocean waves and tides are generating development plans in the US Pacific North-west as pressure grows for more renewable and emissions-free energy supplies.

Portland General Electric, Oregon's largest utility, is teaming with a wave research laboratory at Oregon State University to explore technologies to tap the energy from waves rolling onto the Oregon coast.

A similar study is taking place in Maine.

First Big Storm in PA

The Daily Item:
Governor Edward G. Rendell today directed state agencies to work together to ensure the health and safety of residents and that emergency responders and utilities can respond to weather-related emergencies during the commonwealth’s first, significant winter storm...

The Public Utility Commission has contacted utilities across the state to evaluate their response capabilities to respond to power, water and gas outages.

Cold Causes Main Breaks

It's a basic fact of science- when water freezes it expands.

That basic fact takes its toll on area water systems as this week's cold weather is damaging underground pipes...

The York Water Company says its problems started when the temperatures plunged. They've handled about eight major breaks in just the past week...

The York Water Company estimates that for every pipe break it handles, there are five to ten customers dealing with similar problems inside their home.

There are several things you can do to reduce your risk. First, insulate pipes running close to exterior walls of your home. Turn up the heat in your home. Also, allow the water to drip from faucets and turn off outside faucets. And beware of shallow pipes running from your home to an exterior building like a garage or shed
Water pipes are busting all over.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Judge OKs Equitable-Dominion Merger in PA

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
An administrative law judge with the state Public Utility Commission has recommended approval of a deal that would turn Equitable Resources Inc. into the largest gas distribution company in Pennsylvania.

The initial decision issued today by Judge John H. Corbett Jr. is a key step in Equitable's plan to acquire Downtown-based Dominion Peoples Gas and a related company in West Virginia, Dominion Hope Gas, for $970 million from Dominion Resources Inc.

Remaining objectors to the controversial deal can file exceptions before the matter goes before the PUC for final approval. The Federal Trade Commission also has been reviewing the acquisition because of its potential effects on competition in areas served by the companies.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

PECO Named in Fumo Probe

KYW News Radio:

One matter in the lengthy federal indictment of State Senator Vincent Fumo is a $17 million donation made by PECO to Fumo’s non-profit agency.

The grand jury says Fumo persuaded PECO to donate a total of $17 million dollars to the non-profit Citizens Alliance group.

The payments came in the settlement of two issues involving PECO before the state Public Utility Commission. One matter was energy deregulation in 1998, and the other was a PECO merger in 2000.

(see related story)

Three-Way Utility Deal

Great Plains Energy Inc. said on Wednesday it would pay $1.7 billion for utility Aquila Inc. in cash and stock after Aquila sells certain assets to Black Hills Corp. for $940 million.

Great Plains Energy, parent of Kansas City Power & Light, said it would pay $4.54 in cash and stock for each Aquila share, a 2.8 percent discount to the $4.67 that Aquila shares closed at on Tuesday.

Aquila stock fell 7.1 percent or 33 cents to $4.35 in early trading, while Black Hills shares was nearly unchanged at $39.04 and Great Plains shares rose 1 percent to $32.37.

Crumbling Water & Sewer Lines

The New York Times:

Local and state officials across the country say thousands of miles of century-old underground water and sewer lines are springing leaks, eroding and — in extreme cases — causing the ground above them to collapse. Though there is no master tally of sinkholes, there is consensus among civil engineers and water experts that things are getting worse.

The Environmental Protection Agency has projected that unless cities invest more to repair and replace their water and sewer systems, nearly half of the water system pipes in the United States will be in poor, very poor or “life elapsed” status by 2020.

FERC OKs Duquesne Rate Increase

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said on Wednesday it conditionally approved Duquesne Light Co.'s request for higher transmission rates to help pay for a proposed $184 million transmission expansion project in Western Pennsylvania.

The agency accepted Duquesne's proposed formula rate to recover its revenue requirement for transmission facilities it turned over to operation and control of the PJM Interconnection, effective last Dec. 1.

PJM is the FERC-approved regional transmission organization for the Mid-Atlantic region.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

GE Enters European Water Market

A unit of General Electric will on Tuesday announce its first investment in the European water market, signalling its belief that water could soon rival the energy sector as a destination for infrastructure investment.

GE Energy Financial Services, which aims to invest $1bn in water infrastructure projects by 2009, is buying 95 per cent of Idex Aquaservices, a French operator that extracts and treats water for industrial use, for an undisclosed sum.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Re-regulation in Virginia
Legislation backed by the state's dominant power company to pull the plug on the state's experiment with electric utility deregulation was unanimously endorsed by a Senate committee Monday evening.

Meanwhile, the House of Delegates gave preliminary approval to a similar but competing version of the "re-regulation" bill that contains some provisions the utility, Dominion Resources, dislikes.

The two bills likely are headed to a conference committee to work out differences.

The House and Senate bills arose after the competition envisioned in 1999, when the legislature voted to deregulate utilities, failed over five years to develop. The bills would establish a "hybrid" version of regulation in which the State Corporation Commission would have limited control of how much the utilities could increase their rates in Virginia.

Without new legislation, capped rates that were part of the deregulation plan would be lifted in 2010.
The Senate and the House of Delegates on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed different versions of legislation to end Virginia's failed attempt to deregulate the electric utility industry and give the State Corporation Commission limited authority to set rates.

Energy Overhaul in CT

SNL Interactive:

Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell intends to seek from lawmakers changes to how the state regulates energy prices.

The governor will ask lawmakers to approve the creation of a new Department of Energy and make organizational changes to existing agencies including the Office of Policy and Management, Office of Consumer Counsel and Department of Public Utility Control.

The changes, Rell said in a Feb. 4 statement, are intended to provide for better energy planning and new conservation measures and will include creation of a task force to study ways to aggregate purchases to lower energy prices.

Record Winter Demand at PJM
The operator of the power grid for the mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest says it set an all-time record this morning for winter electricity use.

PJM Interconnection operates the power grid in 13 states and D.C. The operator says demand this morning rose above 112,000-500 megawatts. The previous record for winter use, set in December 2005, was 110,000-414 megawatts.

The all time record for summer use on the grid is 144,000-644 megawatts, set during a heat wave last August.

Incident at Indian Point

WCBS via Topix:
The Indian Point nuclear power station experienced an unexpected drop in cooling water Monday morning, but the problem was not enough to take the reactor offline, officials said.

Entergy Nuclear Northeast, the company that operates the Indian Point site in Buchanan, N.Y., declared an "unusual event," the lowest of four emergency action declarations for the nuclear power plant, at 7:07 a.m., the company said.

The declaration came after the service water for Indian Point 3 Nuclear Power Plant -- drawn from the Hudson River to cool plant equipment -- dropped more than four feet below sea level.

The problem was blamed on debris stuck to screens that filter the river water.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Phone Record Rules Debated

AP via
Federal regulators working on rules to secure the calling records and other private information of telephone customers are running into resistance from phone companies and law enforcement agencies.

The rules, an effort by the Federal Communications Commission to combat "pretexting," are circulating among the commissioners for comment and may be voted on this month.

Pretexting is the practice of impersonating a phone customer to gain access to his phone records. President Bush signed a law last month criminalizing the practice and imposing penalties including up to 10 years in prison.

Solar Power Plant

Arizona Daily Sun:
A coalition of utility firms, including Tucson Electric Power, Arizona Public Service and the Salt River Project, are considering building a commercial-sized solar power plant that could power as many as 250,000 homes.

A site for the proposed 250-megawatt facility hasn't been finalized, but utility officials said they're looking at sites in Nevada and Arizona. Other potential partners include the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, according to APS officials.

The solar plant would be among the largest built and is being considered to help meet requirement set by Arizona state regulators for utilities to obtain at least 15 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2015.

Friday, February 02, 2007

KCP&L Rate Case in Missouri

Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), a subsidiary of Great Plains Energy, today filed a request with the Missouri Public Service Commission (MPSC) to increase rates for electric service in order to help recover costs of air quality improvement investments included in its Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) as well as higher fuel and other operational costs. The requested increase would add approximately $6.00 to a typical Missouri residential customer's average monthly bill.

Governor Proposes Energy Plan in PA

The Harrisburg Patriot-News:

Gov. Ed Rendell proposed a sweeping energy plan yesterday that he said would cut overall electric bills by $10 billion over 10 years and promote energy conservation and alternative fuels.

With the plan, large parts of which must be approved by the Legislature, Rendell hopes to stabilize electricity prices once rate caps expire for the state's largest utilities in 2009 and 2010...

The plan would encourage conservation. Consumers could volunteer for time-of-use pricing, which allows for lower rates during off-peak hours. It would also provide financial incentives for installing rooftop solar panels that can create heat and electricity and for trading in old refrigerators and air conditioners...

In addition, all electricity consumers would pay a new tax of 0.05 cents per kilowatt-hour on their electricity usage. The new "system benefit charge" would create a fund of about $850 million to pay for subsidy programs.

Rendell said the charge would cost homeowners an average of $6 a year and would be capped at $10,000 a year for large industrial customers.

Con Edison Solutions in CT
State regulators have agreed to consider a proposal by Con Edison Solutions Inc. to compete for residential electric customers in Connecticut...

Con Edison Solutions already sells electricity to large and small businesses in Connecticut, but is not yet authorized to sell to residents. The firm, a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison Inc., of New York, is hoping to extend its license to include residential service.

Columbia Gas & Leaky Connections

The Toledo Blade:
Ohio's biggest natural gas provider said yesterday that replacing potentially faulty outdoor line hookups could cost it $200 million.

Columbia Gas of Ohio wants to be able to charge all customers about $2 a month for years to pay for it.

Columbia Gas officials said up to 400,000 of the company's 1.4 million customers could have the hookups, known as risers, that could be prone to failure and develop leaks. The riser is the pipe that comes up from underground and connects to the gas meter.

Utility Mergers in Europe


Consolidation in Europe’s energy sector ramped up yesterday, as two $31 billion deals loomed on the horizon. Dutch utilities Essent and Nuon unveiled an agreement to create a 24 billion euro ($31 billion) energy giant that will rank among Europe’s top 10. The new company, to be called EssentNuon, will have 12 billion euros in sales and have a 20,000-strong work force in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany and supply 5 million customers. Both firms are owned by local governments, and ownership of the new entity will be split 55 percent to 45 percent in Essent’s favor.

The deal was announced the same day that another megadeal in the European energy sector appeared closer to completion. Spain’s Gas Natural said yesterday it was dropping its 24 billion euro ($31 billion) offer for rival Endesa, clearing the way for Germany’s E.ON to buy the Spanish energy utility.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

FCC Under Fire on the Hill

AP via Topix:

The Republican-majority Federal Communications Commission is getting its first taste of what life will be like under a Democratically controlled Congress...

On Wednesday, Democratic Reps. John Dingell and Ed Markey released a letter detailing a number of questions they have for the commissioners, including several regarding commission Chairman Kevin Martin's intention to enforce a series of conditions that allowed AT&T Inc.'s $86 billion takeover of BellSouth Corp.

More Money for Utility Assistance

AP via

The House approved additional funding Thursday to help low-income people pay their utility bills, while a Senate panel considered a proposal that would bar utilities from cutting off people's electricity when it's hot.

After little debate, the House voted to add $6.3 million to the Utilicare program, which helps people weatherize their homes to improve energy efficiency and pay utility bills. If the Senate follows suit, the money would be added to $42.5 million from the federal government through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.