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EPA withdraws model trading rules; Interior finalizes Stream Protection Rule

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EPA drops efforts to finish Clean Power Plan's model trading rules

The U.S. EPA is walking away from efforts to finalize the draft model trading rules and other projects associated with the Clean Power Plan before the new administration takes over. In a Dec. 19 blog post, Janet McCabe, EPA acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, explained that the agency decided to withdraw the Clean Power Plan's model trading rules and other related projects and post the work that has been completed as a working draft.

Lacking key gas pipe records, Cascade faces up to $2.5M fine, audit

Cascade Natural Gas Corp. could pay up to $2.5 million in penalties under a proposed settlement for not having the proper records for 40% of the company's high-pressure pipelines in Washington state. As much as $1.5 million of that sum may be dropped if the utility meets a number of upcoming safety benchmarks, according to the company's agreement with staff at the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, filed on Dec. 15.

Stream Protection Rule critics sharpen knives, prepare for pushback

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Dec. 19 decision to finalize its highly contested Stream Protection Rule just one month before President Barack Obama leaves office drew scorn from critics of the regulation and promises to push back against the action in Congress. "This action is outrageous," said David McKinley, R-W.Va., who chairs the Congressional Coal Caucus.


* Comprehensive energy legislation that passed the Michigan House on Dec. 15 awaits the governor's signature. A spokesman for Gov. Rick Snyder confirmed on Dec. 19 that his office has not yet received the pair of bills, which overhaul the state's energy policy. Upon receipt, state law says the governor has 14 days to approve. In a statement, Snyder said the bills will help the environment by "making it easier for Michigan to develop its own energy sources, instead of buying coal from various states."

* Despite concerns over consumer protection, the Public Utility Commission of Texas decided not to regulate rooftop solar companies, the Houston Chronicle's FuelFix reported.

* Vectren Corp.'s electric utility will replace 715 MW of existing coal and gas capacity with solar generation and an 889-MW combined-cycle plant under an integrated resource plan expected to exceed carbon-reduction targets in the EPA's Clean Power Plan.

* TransAlta Corp. initiated 2017 guidance of C$1.03 billion to C$1.14 billion for comparable EBITDA and C$300 million to C$365 million for comparable free cash flow. "While there are varying views on the outlook for power prices in 2017, we have chosen to take a conservative view for purposes of our budgeting and forecasting," President and CEO Dawn Farrell said.

* Pattern Energy Group LP's proposed Southern Cross transmission line, which will link Texas wind power to part of the Southeast, could generate $3.9 billion in direct and indirect economic benefits, according to estimates from accounting firm Moss Adams.

* NRG Energy Inc. successfully converted four of its coal-fired facilities to run on natural gas, slashing the power plants' combined carbon footprint by more than 80%. The modified units can collectively produce 2,780 MW, enough to power more than 2 million average homes, according to a Dec. 19 news release.

* Traverse City, Mich., commissioners adopted a resolution to power city services with 100% renewables by 2020, Midwest Energy News reported.

* 8point3 Energy Partners LP declared a quarterly cash distribution of 24.90 cents per class A share, representing an 18.7% increase over the minimum quarterly distribution and a 3.5% increase over the previous quarter's distribution, according to a news release.

Natural gas/midstream

* President Barack Obama is looking at using a provision from the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently ban new offshore drilling in federally-owned waters off the Atlantic Coast and in the Arctic Ocean, according to The New York Times.

* The trial over Dakota Access Pipeline's protesters has been postponed after some defendants failed to receive all evidence from the prosecutor, The Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota reported. The trial, which should have started Dec. 19, will be moved to Jan. 31, 2017, and Feb. 1, 2017.

* The founder of the New York-based hedge fund Platinum Partners and six associates were arrested and charged Dec. 19 with securities and investment adviser fraud over what federal authorities said was a $1 billion investment scam, in part using the assets of a now-defunct oil driller.

* Energy Transfer Partners LP's Rover Pipeline LLC urged FERC to grant authorization by the end of December for the Rover natural gas pipeline project that is supposed to allow producers to move the first volumes of an eventual 3.25 Bcf/d of Appalachian supplies to Midwest, Gulf Coast and Canadian markets starting in July 2017.

* Glass Mountain Pipeline LLC, a joint venture of SemGroup Corp. and NGL Energy Partners LP, plans to build a 44-mile pipeline extension that will deliver crude oil from north-central Oklahoma's STACK resource play to Cushing, Okla., according to a news release.

* Eclipse Resources Corp. sold assets, consisting primarily of undeveloped acres in the Utica shale formation, to an undisclosed buyer for about $63.8 million, according to a news release. The company plans to use proceeds to fund its operations and for general corporate purposes.


* In the face of strong opposition from the coal industry and its allies in Congress, the Interior Department on Dec. 19 issued a final version of the contested Stream Protection Rule.

* India released a new energy plan that reflects the country's belief that it doesn't need any new coal-fired capacity between 2017 and 2027, Australia's The Courier Mail reported. Despite this development, Adani Enterprises Ltd. said it will push through with its plan to build the Carmichael mine in Australia and have the coal shipped to power plants in India.

* Texas Mineral Resources Corp., extended the memorandum of understanding executed in July 2016 with anthracite producer Jeddo Coal Co. — parent company Pagnotti Enterprises Inc. — to evaluate the possibility of recovering and producing scandium and rare earth elements from coal deposits at operations around the Jeddo Basin near Hazleton, Pa.


* The recovery in rig counts has entered its seventh month, with redeployments of oil rigs outpacing natural gas. Signals from drillers and analysts suggest that the rebound may continue. "[Y]ou could say that May was the trough [in rig pricing], and I think our lowest pricing was in August, and so we're starting to see some improvements," John Lindsay, president and CEO of Helmerich & Payne, said on the company's conference call Nov. 17. "But I don't think there's any doubt that for high-quality rigs and high-quality performance … there will start to become some pricing power in the market."

* After extending 2.3 cents lower in the week's opening session to settle at $3.392/MMBtu, January 2017 natural gas futures reflected little change overnight ahead of the Dec. 20, open, as bullish near-term storage prospects ran counter to lackluster weather-related demand implied by midrange forecasts.

* Next-day power values could dwindle Dec. 20, as market participants consider forecasts for generally diminished demand at midweek alongside the recent weakness at the natural gas futures arena.

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New from RRA

* On Dec. 16, Southwestern Electric Power Co. filed with the Public Utility Commission of Texas for a $105.9 million electric base rate increase. After consideration of the transfer to base rates of amounts currently being collected through riders, the net impact on ratepayers would be a $69 million rate increase.

* On Dec. 16, the Virginia State Corporation Commission staff recommended a $3.1 million reduction in the revenue Virginia Electric and Power Co. collects under its Rider B adjustment mechanism.


"I can't imagine anyone is going to announce a new coal plant because of the change in administration in Washington, D.C.," said Todd Shipman, senior analyst, S&P Global Ratings.

The day ahead

* Early morning futures indicators pointed to a higher 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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