A brief lookback at successes and setbacks in the energy industry.
AEP, FIRSTENERGY — In a controversial and long-awaiteddecision, Ohio regulators on March31 unanimously approved eight-year subsidy plans for and FirstEnergy Corp.utilities designed to guarantee income for several, mostly coal-fired, powerplants. Opponents of theplans and related settlements havesaid they amount to "handouts" ranging from $1.9billion for AEP Ohio and almost $4 billion for FirstEnergy. "Although thenon-signatory parties have raised numerous concerns regarding the stipulation,we are persuaded that the stipulation, as a package, benefits ratepayers andthe public interest," the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio said in itsorder. Market reactionto the decision seemed muted. Shares of FirstEnergy closed up 18 cents at $35.97 March 31 and 38cents for AEP at $66.40 — with analysts and investors not surprised by thedecision. Wall Street and opponents, such as the Alliance for Energy Choice,contend the utilities "got virtually everything they asked for."
MACQUARIE, CLECO — A group of investors led by on March 28 successfully persuaded the Louisiana Public Service Commission toapprove by a vote of 4-1its proposed acquisitionof Cleco Corp., afterroundly rejecting the $4.7 billion deal one month earlier. A key concession that Commissioner Foster Campbell saidswayed his vote was a guarantee by Cleco management the company would not seeka rate increase until June 30, 2019, with new rates not to take effect untilJuly 1, 2020. "It's a hell of a deal," Campbell, who tookcredit for securing that concession, said. "I've listened to it, and we'veadded some things to it; it has become palatable to me."
PACIFICORP — Thegovernor of Utah signed into lawMarch 30 a bill with numerous provisions requested by that will allow for a"rainy day" coal plant retirement account and a 100% pass-through ofpower supply costs without general rate case review. Passage of the billwas in doubt until the Utah House reversed its vote to reject the measure andan amended version squeaked through on the last night of Utah's legislativesession. PacifiCorp, which does business as Rocky Mountain Power in Utah and isa subsidiary of BerkshireHathaway Energy, got most of what it wanted. The new law allowsPacifiCorp, which serves most of the state's electricity customers, to tiethrough accounting mechanisms the future expense of any premature coal plantretirements to the utility's energy efficiency programs.
CONSUMERS FORSMART SOLAR — The Florida Supreme Court , by a vote of 4-3,a solar power-related ballot measure backed by the state's utilities to go onthe November ballot. Voters in the state will now have the opportunityto vote on whether to amend the Florida Constitution with the ballot measure'slanguage, which would enshrine the right for consumers to own or lease solarequipment installed on their property to generate power for its own use. Opponents of the Consumers for SmartSolar initiative have criticized it as an effort by investor-owned electricutilities to enforce the status quo by asserting property rights Floridacitizens already possess. With utility financial support, Consumers for SmartSolar launched their effort roughlysix months after a different coalition, Floridians for SolarChoice, announced a campaign to place on the November 2016 ballot a solaramendment that would allow for third-party electricity sales, paving the wayfor rooftop solar leasing, but that efforthas faltered. Consumers for Smart Solar will now see theiramendment without competition on the November 2016 ballot.
SEMPRA — Sempra U.S. Gas& Power LLC struck a deal, announcedMarch 29, to sell its 25% stake in the Rockies Express Pipeline toTallgrass Development LPfor $440 million in cash. TallgrassDevelopment already owns a 50% stake in the 1,712-mile natural gas transmissionpipeline that extends from Opal, Wyo., and Meeker, Colo., to Clarington, Ohio.Analysts see the dealas solving a number of problems for SempraEnergy, but it could present some difficulties for Tallgrass. Sempra is takinga one-time $27 million loss on the capacity contracts it is giving up, but itwill no longer have to spend millions for unused west-to-east capacity it signedup for in 2009 when REX was first constructed. Presidentand CEO David Dehaemers downplayed any risk built into his company's stake inREX and said he looks forward to the day when the gas markets stabilize and REXcan be dropped into a Tallgrass MLP. In addition to the unused west-to-east capacity Tallgrass isbuying from Sempra, it is increasing its exposure to Appalachian shaleproducers at a time when money is getting tight in the Northeast shale plays.The deal could get even better for Tallgrass when the original REX west-to-eastcontracts roll off the board in 2019.
SUNEDISON — More alarming headlines on the corporate family: TheWall Street Journal reported April 1 the troubled company Chapter11 bankruptcy protection, likely unsurprising to observers aware of the company'srecent turbulence. SunEdison yieldco TerraFormGlobal Inc. warned ina March 29 filing of "substantial risk," SunEdison wouldsoon file for bankruptcy due to a liquidity crunch. News broke April 1 the U.S. Department of Justice subpoenaedSunEdison seeking informationrelated to financing activities for the acquisition of and the "conductof a former non-executive employee who is alleged to have committed wrongdoingin connection with the Vivint termination negotiations," the company saidin a March 31 filing. SunEdison also confirmed that the SEC is investigatingthe company over similar reasons and that it intends to cooperate with federalauthorities.
SANDRIDGE — SandRidgeEnergy Inc. admitted in its annual report March 30 that itcould be headed forChapter 11 bankruptcy, due to the oil and gas price collapse, as well as itsholdings in the unprofitable Mississippian Lime play. "[T]here can be no assurances that the companywill be able to successfully restructure its indebtedness, improve itsfinancial position or complete any strategic transactions. As a result of theseuncertainties and the likelihood of a restructuring or reorganization,management has concluded that there is substantial doubt regarding the company'sability to continue as a going concern as it is currently structured,"SandRidge said.
PEABODY — PeabodyEnergy Corp. is attempting tosalvage a deal to selltwo mines in New Mexico and one in Colorado to afterBowie's attempts to secure financing for the deal fell through. Proceeds fromthe deal are particularly important for Peabody after disclosures that themining giant harbors substantial doubt as to whether the company will beable to continue as a going concern and is at risk of a potential Chapter 11bankruptcy reorganization. Peabody and Bowie entered into a limitedwaiver to purchase and sale agreement, pushing the seller's termination rightsback to the end of the day April 7 and the same rights for the buyer to April15. In January 2016, Bowie initiated efforts to secure $650 million infinancing to help fund the transaction, then put its debt financing for thetransaction on hold in February.
NORTHWESTERN— NorthWestern Corp.expected to record a $9.7 millionpretax charge to 2016 earnings after the Montana Public ServiceCommission voted 3-2 to disallowrecovery of power supply costs the company incurred after a more than six-monthoutage of a unit at the Colstripplant. The Montana Environmental Information Center pointed to the PSC'sdecision as further proof of how the plant is expensive and unreliable, inaddition to being Montana's biggest air polluter. Commissioner KirkBushman noted this, saying the PSC's decision adds uncertainty for coal-firedgeneration in Montana. "I could not support the motion today as it ispotentially another nail in Colstrip's coffin, and it's the ratepayers ofMontana who will eventually pay the price if Colstrip closes," Bushmansaid. NorthWestern, meanwhile, is reviewing legal options. "It is particularly disappointingthat Montana is disallowing these outage related costs when no other stateutility commission has found the utility was imprudent as it relates to the2013 Colstrip Unit 4 outage," the company's vice president and generalcounsel, Heather Grahame, said.