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July 29-Aug. 2: Southern stands by Vogtle dates; NiSource ups blasts estimate

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July 29-Aug. 2: Southern stands by Vogtle dates; NiSource ups blasts estimate

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

Highs

PEABODY — Peabody Energy Corp. executives on July 31 said the coal producer intends to accelerate its share buyback program in the latter half of 2019. Peabody already repurchased a quarter of its own shares that were initially outstanding since announcing its buyback plan in August 2017. Peabody spent $57.2 million in the second quarter and $51 million in July as buyback activity resumed after a required blackout period following the announcement of a joint venture with competitor Arch Coal Inc.

Between

VOGTLE — Southern Co. executives said they are sticking to their timeline for the Alvin W. Vogtle Nuclear Plant expansion despite a "difference of opinion" in a Georgia Public Service Commission staff report that questions the in-service dates for the new reactors. Vogtle units 3 and 4 are scheduled to come online in November 2021 and November 2022, respectively. Southern subsidiary and Vogtle majority owner Georgia Power Co. is focused on ramping up productivity at the site to bring units 3 and 4 online months earlier. "We think everything we are doing is sound," Southern Chairman, President and CEO Thomas Fanning said July 31 on the company's second-quarter 2019 earnings call. "It's very reasonable that someone could have a different opinion about that, but we believe that our conviction is well suited."

Lows

TARIFFS — Southern also is the latest utility to highlight concerns about the impact of the global trade war and tariffs on industrial sales. Southern Executive Vice President and CFO Andrew Evans told analysts and investors the company's industrial sales "were down due to global trade concerns and a strong dollar's impact on trade, as well as changes in production levels and some timing." The July 31 earnings call came less than a week after American Electric Power Co. Inc. Chairman, President and CEO Nicholas Akins called the impact of the trade war on its retail electric customers the "biggest economic headwind we have at this point."

NISOURCE — NiSource Inc. on July 31 again raised its cost estimate from the September 2018 Massachusetts gas explosions. The company now expects to spend $1.67 billion to $1.72 billion to cover the cost of pipeline replacement and restoration, third-party claims and other expenses following the deadly series of Boston-area fires and explosions. "Going forward, with four major civil claims related to the event now resolved, and the restoration work nearly complete, we don't expect any significant future adjustments to the estimate," NiSource Executive Vice President and CFO Donald Brown told analysts and investors.

ENBRIDGE — Enbridge Inc. subsidiary Enbridge (US) Inc. could face a months-long investigation into the deadly Aug. 1 explosion along a portion of its Texas Eastern Transmission LP interstate natural gas pipeline in Lincoln County, Ky. "Normally in a situation that takes high priority a couple of months would not be unusual, but I've seen cases where it takes six months to a year," said Richard Kuprewicz, president of pipeline investigation and auditing firm Accufacts Inc. The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has recorded eight incidents on the Texas Eastern Pipeline since the start of 2019, the most on record going back 33 years.