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Pruitt ends 'sue and settle' practice; SJI plans system upgrades in $1.7B deal

Q2: U.S. Solar and Wind Power by the Numbers

Essential Energy Insights - September 17, 2020

Essential Energy Insights September 2020

Rate case activity slips, COVID-19 proceedings remain at the forefront in August


Pruitt ends 'sue and settle' practice; SJI plans system upgrades in $1.7B deal

Top News

Pruitt: The days of 'sue and settle' are 'terminated'

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt has directed staff to refrain from resolving litigation through "backroom deals" with special interest groups, a process the administrator referred to as "sue and settle" litigation.

South Jersey Industries plans system upgrades in $1.7B buy of NJ, Md. utilities

South Jersey Industries Inc. sees its planned acquisition of a pair of Southern Co.'s gas utilities as a source of growth through infrastructure upgrades, executives said on an Oct. 16 conference call.

Ohio River locks failure highlights need to complete 22-year project

A long-delayed, over-budget project to overhaul the aging locks on a major coal shipping route on the Ohio River might be nearing the finish line — 17 years after it was supposed to be finished.

Power

* The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's decision to switch energy efficiency from the "cost" side of the cost-benefit ratio to the "savings" side has proven controversial, but the change actually highlights both a long-running debate among economists and the manner in which politics often is injected into rulemaking.

* NRG Energy Inc. has filed a motion with the California Energy Commission to suspend all further proceedings on its proposed Puente gas-fired power plant in Oxnard, Calif. On Oct. 5, the state panel overseeing the review of the project indicated its intention to recommend rejection of the project.

* Nuclear energy is in irreversible decline across the world, with the construction of new units appearing to bottom out, a new report found. "The deterioration of the situation is accelerating," warned Paris-based nuclear consultant Mycle Schneider at the U.S. launch of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report on Oct. 12 in Washington, D.C.

* Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Robert Powelson brushed off assertions that natural gas plant performance issues drove power outages during the 2014 polar vortex, a key assumption behind the U.S. Department of Energy’s recent proposal to better compensate coal and nuclear plants to ensure reliability.

* Dominion Energy Inc. subsidiary Dominion Energy Virginia is seeking bids for approximately 300 MW of solar and onshore wind energy, in the form of power purchase agreements or projects that may be acquired by the company, according to a news release. Dominion Energy Virginia is legally known as Virginia Electric and Power Co.

* Brookfield Renewable Partners LP and its institutional partners completed the acquisition of a 51% interest in TerraForm Power Inc., adding more than 2,600 MW of solar and wind assets located primarily in the U.S., according to a news release. In connection with the deal completion, Brookfield Managing Partner John Stinebaugh has become new CEO of TerraForm Power, replacing interim CEO Peter Blackmore.

* Boralex Inc. entered a 50-50 joint venture agreement with U.K.-based Infinergy Ltd. to develop a 325-MW pipeline of onshore wind projects in Scotland. The joint venture comprises a pipeline of 10 wind projects varying from 6 MW to 80 MW and would allow Boralex to acquire or resell the projects over the coming years.

Natural gas/midstream

* Hedge fund JANA Partners LLC made good on its promise to wage a proxy battle to halt the pending merger of Appalachian shale gas drillers EQT Corp. and Rice Energy Inc., asking Oct. 16 for shareholders to vote against the deal at a Nov. 9 special meeting in Pittsburgh. In response, EQT released a statement reiterating that the transaction represents a "pivotal strategic opportunity" for the company to have an unmatched asset position in one of the most prolific natural gas basins in the United States.

* South Jersey Industries Inc.'s agreement to acquire two Southern Co. Gas utilities includes a termination fee of $80 million for Elizabethtown Gas Co. Inc. and $500,000 for Elkton Gas Co. under certain circumstances, according to a Form 8-K filing.

* The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has released an initial draft of proposed changes to its flowline and safety rules. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the commission to update its regulations in response to a fatal explosion at a home close to a vertical well in Firestone, Colo.

* Master limited partnerships reining in cash distributions, long an unwelcome sign for investors, are making industry observers more optimistic about midstream master limited partnerships' fiscal health.

* The Virginia Outdoors Foundation board of trustees approved easements for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline projects. The approval came with several conditions, including the conveyance to VOF of more than 1,100 acres of substitute land in Highland, Nelson, and Roanoke counties. "[O]ur board felt that utilizing the long-established conversion process in state law was preferable to forcing the developers to condemn our easements through eminent domain," foundation Executive Director Brett Glymph said.

* Venture Global LNG secured $108.6 million of additional capital in a private placement, bringing its aggregate funding total to $470 million. The company plans to use proceeds to help fund development activities for its proposed LNG export facilities in Louisiana.

* MMEX Resources Corp. is set to break ground Nov. 17 on its 10,000 barrel-per-day crude distillation unit near Fort Stockton, Texas. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved the project in late August.

* Mustang Fuel Corp. subsidiary Mustang Gas Products LLC announced a $65 million capital program to "significantly enhance our position as a preferred midstream operator in Oklahoma," President and CEO Carey Joullian said in a statement. The program is expected to result in increased system-wide gathering capability and plant capacity of more than 225 MMcf/d.

Coal

* CNX Coal Resources LP reported an estimated $3.3 million to $3.9 million in net income for the third quarter compared to $6.4 million in the year-ago period.

* The U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory awarded a $644,000 grant to West Virginia University to continue its research on recovering rare elements from coal and coal by-products.

* The March 30 death of a Kentucky coal miner occurred because the mine owner failed to identify and correct hazardous conditions, federal investigators concluded.

Commodities

* The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects shale output of natural gas and crude oil will set a new record November, with gas output climbing for the eighth consecutive month to come in 13.4% above the same month a year earlier.

* Closing the previous week with gains, power packages for November delivery continued higher during the week ended Oct. 13 as a rebound in fueling costs driven by a recovery in natural gas futures countered the slack demand implied by weather forecasts.

* Power dailies could have a mixed showing Tuesday, Oct. 17, as jumbled demand forecasts for midweek combine with the recent volatility in natural gas futures. Declining more than 5 cents in the prior trading day, November natural gas futures at the NYMEX were rebounding higher early Tuesday ahead of the opening bell.

* After ending the week's opening session down 5.4 cents at $2.946/MMBtu, NYMEX November natural gas futures ticked higher overnight ahead of the Tuesday, Oct. 17, open, on the back of renewed weather support. At 6:45 a.m. ET, the contract was 5.1 cents higher at $2.997/MMBtu.

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New from RRA

* Eversource Energy's proposed acquisition of Macquarie Utilities Inc. and its subsidiaries, including Aquarion Water, hit its first roadblock on Oct. 13, when the Massachusetts attorney general recommended that the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities reject the proposed transaction.

Quoted

"The days of this regulation through litigation, or 'sue and settle,' are terminated. EPA will not resolve litigation through backroom deals with any type of special interest group," – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, said in a directive to EPA staff to end settlement arrangements with outside partiers, usually environmental groups, that file suit against the agency.

The day ahead

* Early morning futures indicators pointed to a mixed opening for the U.S. equity markets. To view more SNL equity market indexes, click here. To view more SNL Energy commodities prices, click here.

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