Utilities are at the threshold of some of the most significant changes they have faced in their history, rivaling the passage of PUHCA in 1935. This change emanates primarily from a handful of key business drivers associated with major technological improvements (i.e., AMI, smart grid), the need for increased customer focus, increased regulatory mandates, and a changing workforce.
January’s debt-issue activity portends a rush on the markets later this year.
Michael T. Burr
Something seemed rotten in December. Fortnightly’s survey of utility and financial deals for that month turned up so few debt issues, we wondered if our research methods were failing. We found only one significant utility bond issue during the month; Allegheny’s West Penn Power issued $275 million in 10-year notes. December’s deathly quiet raised questions about whether we were missing most of the deals.
U.S. utilities are gaining valuable lessons from technology developments abroad.
Charles W. Thurston
Structural and regulatory factors have allowed utilities in some countries to leapfrog America’s utility industry in terms of technology leadership. But U.S. utilities are learning valuable lessons from international advancements.
Fiber optic lines expose grid companies to class action lawsuits.
Arnold Tesh and Deborah Haskell
Property owners are banding together and filing class-action lawsuits against transmission owners who sell dark-fiber capacity on their rights of way. Utilities have strong arguments against demands for hefty compensation.
DOE’s move to ‘restructure’ FutureGen clears the way for more rational R&D.
Michael T. Burr, Editor-in-Chief
When President Bush announced the FutureGen initiative halfway through his first term, industry veterans instinctively understood its purpose. Nominally a public-private partnership to build a “zero-emissions” coal-fired power plant, FutureGen stood as a symbol for the administration’s climate-change strategy. It helped the government argue mandatory carbon constraints were unnecessary, because America will develop more green technology than any other country in the world.
Low-carbon strategies are yielding rewards for shareholders.
Michael Rutkowski, et al.
Low-carbon and “green” strategies have begun delivering returns for utility shareholders. Whether a company ultimately wins or loses depends on how markets are pricing the risks of possible carbon-control regimes.
Why developers today are often kept waiting to get projects ok’d to connect to the grid.
Bruce W. Radford
Late last year FERC learned that the Midwest regional grid likely would require at least 40 years — until 2050 — simply to clear its backlog of proposed gen projects awaiting a completed interconnection agreement to certify their compatibility with the interstate power grid. But grid engineers would meet that date only by shortening the process and studying multiple projects simultaneously in clusters. To apply the process literally, studying one project at a time, as envisioned by current rules, the Midwest reportedly would need 300-plus years to clear its project queue.
Turbulent politics and market trends cloud prospects for coal-fired power.
Eric Spiegel, et al.
Coal faces more uncertainty than any other base-load generating source. Two new factors, hitherto irrelevant to the U.S. industry, will shape future generation investment—imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and greenhouse-gas (GHG) restrictions. Taken together, they point to a bleak future for coal unless its technology advances dramatically … or a political consensus fails to emerge.
“Biomass Fuel Foibles states that biomass plants will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We own several wood (biomass) plants and yes, sulfur emissions are almost zero, but there is always a NOx problem. NOx can be controlled using urea injection and other technologies. But isn’t the main concern over the emission of CO2, and don’t biomass plants or any process that combusts fuel produce CO2 that cannot be controlled?
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