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Dec. 12-16: Perry for DOE secretary; Avista rate request rejected


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Dec. 12-16: Perry for DOE secretary; Avista rate request rejected

A brief look back at successes and setbacks in the energy industry.


RICK PERRY — If confirmed, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry will be the next secretary of energy. President-elect Donald Trump formally announced Perry as his pick on Dec. 14. Experts cited energy development in Texas during Perry's tenure as governor as indicators of how he will handle leadership of the U.S. Department of Energy. "Rick Perry's Texas was not only a world leader in oil and gas production; it was also a global leader in wind power and renewable energy investment," Bracewell LLP Senior Counsel Salo Zelermyer said. Environmental groups were quick to seize on Perry's background, too, with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune saying Perry's, "ideological obsession with promoting dirty fossil fuels and ignoring the climate crisis means he is just as unfit for this position as the other climate deniers Trump is promoting for key posts."

RYAN ZINKE — Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana was named as Trump's pick to head the U.S. Department of the Interior, drawing praise from energy producers. Cloud Peak Energy Inc. spokesman Rick Curtsinger described Zinke as "a great representative for the people of Montana, including folks who depend on mining for their livelihood." Zinke opposed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's rule to limit methane emissions from oil and gas wells, and supports TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL crude pipeline, but also opposes the transfer of federal lands to state ownership. Environmental groups were critical of the choice, with Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Marissa Knodel saying Zinke "will use Interior to plunder public lands."

GULFPORT — Utica shale driller Gulfport Energy Corp. announced on Dec. 14 a deal to buy 85,000 acres for $1.85 billion in the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province, or SCOOP, basin from private equity firm Quantum Energy Partners LLC's Vitruvian II Woodford LLC, noting the SCOOP has much better basis costs than Appalachia. "[Gulfport's] move into the SCOOP provides the company with a chance to participate in a play that is experiencing a positive rate of change," Capital One Securities Inc. analysts said. On Dec. 13, Gulfport announced a deal to acquire about 12,600 net undeveloped dry gas Utica Shale acres in Monroe County, Ohio, from an unnamed seller.

ENBRIDGE, SPECTRA Spectra Energy Corp and Enbridge Inc. moved closer to their merger with affirmative votes by the shareholders of each company. About 73% of the total outstanding shares of Spectra Energy stock and about 98% of the total shares voted in favor of the union at a Spectra stockholders meeting. Separately, Enbridge said 99.42% of shares were voted in favor of the issuance of shares for the transaction. Enbridge and Spectra also forged a timing agreement on merger closing with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on deal closing, expected for first-quarter 2017.


REX TILLERSON — On Dec. 13, Trump announced his selection of Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, an unconventional choice that sparked debate in Washington over his established business ties to Russia. "You can't find someone in private industry that has better experience negotiating contracts than the head of a supermajor," ClearView Energy Partners Managing Director Kevin Book said. But some Republicans raised concern about Tillerson's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Being a 'Friend of Vladimir' is not an attribute I am hoping for in a Secretary of State," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted Dec. 12. Others suggested that Tillerson's Russian business dealings should be considered, but should not preemptively disqualify him from the job. "It's obviously unorthodox [to select a nondiplomat], but my sense is that the experience Rex Tillerson brings to the table is very relevant for someone leading American foreign policy," Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution said.


MONTANA PSC — FERC sided with FLS Energy Inc on Dec. 15, finding that the Montana Public Service Commission and NorthWestern Corp. failed to properly implement the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act. FLS Energy had complained that the Montana PSC violated PURPA with its rule that solar qualifying facilities over 100 kW that failed to meet certain standards would not be eligible for the standard avoided cost rate the PSC established for qualifying facilities. FERC found that the PSC's requirements of a facilities study or an interconnection agreement are inconsistent with PURPA because the utility could act in a way that prevents those milestones from being reached. But FERC refused to initiate an enforcement action, leaving it to FLS Energy to take the dispute to the appropriate federal court.

NEW CENTURY COAL — Ten men will serve a total of 284 months in federal prison for a role in a $14 million fraudulent investor scheme. Brian Rose advertised that his company, New Century Coal Inc., had developed "Blue Gem Coal," a special type of coal used to make computer electronics. Prosecutors said New Century staff sold shares in nine different limited partnerships and falsely represented the existence of coal assets, though they never developed any coal.

AVISTA — Washington state regulators on Dec. 15 voted 2-1 to reject a two-step rate increase by Avista Corp. for a $48.9 million electric rate increase and $5.3 million gas rate increase. In the order, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, or WUTC, stated that Avista "has not presented adequate evidentiary support to demonstrate that its current rates are insufficient or that the pace of its capital investments is outside of the Company's control." In a Dec. 16 news release, Avista said it was "extremely disappointed" in the commission's decision and asserted that the order will raise "serious concerns" from financial stakeholders and rating agencies about the level of regulatory support the utility enjoys.