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Duke Energy puts Houston-based international business up for sale

Posted on February 4, 2016 | By Jordan Blum

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Signage stands outside the Duke Energy Corp. Gallagher Station power plant in New Albany, Indiana, U.S., on Monday, July 27, 2015. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

Duke Energy will consider selling its Houston-based international business segment, the company said Thursday.

North Carolina-based Duke, which is the nation’s top power generator, currently runs its Central and South American power plants from Houston.

Duke is in the preliminary stages of putting its international business up for sale, but hasn’t yet considered any specific offers. Duke isn’t saying much, but the company said it may provide more details during its scheduled earnings call on Feb. 18.

Duke Energy International facilities include 4,400 megawatts of electricity capacity in power plants in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru. Two-thirds of the power plant portfolio is hydro power and half are located in Brazil.

http://fuelfix.com/blog/2016/02/04/duke-energy-puts-its-houston-based-international-business-up-for-sale/

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Top state legislators raise concern about electric grid expansion

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BRIAN VAN DER BRUG / LOS ANGELES TIMES

Senate President Kevin de Leon, above, joined Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in raising concerns about expanding the state electric grid to include PacifiCorp, one of the nation's largest users of coal-fired power plants.

BY IVAN PENN

February 4, 2016, 5:48 p.m.

California legislative leaders questioned Thursday a proposal to expand the electric grid to include one of the largest users of coal-fired power plants in the west.

In a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate President Kevin de Leon and House Speaker Anthony Rendon said they were concerned about bringing utility company PacifiCorp into a regional energy market with the California Independent System Operator, which manages the transmission of most of the state's electricity.

PacifiCorp operates in five western states, including Wyoming and Utah. The utility is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, billionaire Warren Buffett's utility holding company.

De Leon and Rendon, both Democrats from Southern California, said in their letter that PacifiCorp has a track record of stifling clean energy innovation and clinging to carbon polluting coal plants. They said Berkshire Hathaway Energy "recently forced hundreds and potentially thousands of Nevada workers out of a job by killing rooftop solar in the state."

The lawmakers said the proposal to add PacifiCorp to California's energy market could hurt the state's efforts to address climate change and expand clean energy. In 2015, California increased its goals for generating electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind to 50% by 2030.

http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-85797049/

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California teachers pension to divest U.S. thermal coal assets


Feb. 4, 2016 Updated 7:58 p.m.

By BLOOMBERG

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System board voted to divest from U.S. companies that produce coal for energy generation because of the industry’s ailing finances and environmental impact.

The pension system, with $186.1 billion of assets as of Dec. 31, has about $1.5 million invested in coal company stocks and bonds, according to a statement Wednesday.

“We determined that given the financial state of the industry, the movement of the regulatory landscape and coal’s impact on the environment, its presence reflects a loss of value,” Sharon Hendricks, chair of the investment committee, said in the statement. “We will now move ahead to determine the fiduciary appropriateness of non-U.S. thermal coal companies in the Calstrs portfolio and make an additional decision based on those findings.”

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/coal-702895-energy-companies.html

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Study: Oil field operations caused California earthquakes

By David R. Baker

February 4, 2016 Updated: February 4, 2016 9:44pm

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Photo: Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

A person walks past pump jacks operating in Kern County. Researchers on Thursday said that injections of left-over water from oil field operations likely triggered a 2005 earthquake swarm in Kern County, the heart of California’s oil industry. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

For the first time, scientists have reported that the underground disposal of wastewater from oil drilling has probably triggered earthquakes in California, a problem already rattling nerves in Oklahoma and other states.

Researchers on Thursday tied a September 2005 swarm of moderate earthquakes in Kern County to three wastewater disposal wells nearby. The wells opened between 2001 and 2005, rapidly increasing the amount of wastewater stored underground near the White Wolf fault.

The research paper, published by the American Geophysical Union, could not prove with absolute certainty that the wastewater injections caused the quakes. Earthquake swarms, such as the one that hit San Ramon last fall, are hardly unusual in California. But the authors calculated only a 3 percent chance that the Kern County swarm was mere coincidence.

The study also does not offer any indication of how common such human-induced quakes may be in California. “However, considering the numerous active faults in California, the seismogenic consequences of even a few induced cases can be devastating,” the authors note.

http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Study-Oil-field-operations-caused-California-6808015.php?t=79feb0ffe1

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JUICE: Regulatory & Well Failure


—William J. Kelly

4FEB   2016

http://cacurrent.com/subscriber/archives/26923

For 25 consecutive years, SoCal Gas won the Division of Oil, Gas, & Geothermal Resources’ annual “Outstanding Field Lease & Facility Maintenance Award” for its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field.

The annual award—given by the division that oversees the environmental integrity and safety of natural storage fields—recognized the company through 2008 for “maintenance efforts” that went “above and beyond what is required.”

Comforted by the company’s long history of awards for its purported top notch maintenance of the huge underground storage field—the largest west of the Mississippi—the California Public Utilities Commission in 2008 authorized SoCal Gas to store more gas at Aliso Canyon and its three other natural gas storage facilities.

The commission approved an increase of 7 billion cubic feet of natural gas, with an increase of 1 billion cubic feet annually for four years beginning with 2010. By 2013, SoCal Gas told the commission in its 2016-18 General Rate Case proceeding that it had managed to increase storage “by 5 Bcf, from approximately 131 Bcf to 136 Bcf” at all of its fields.

Meanwhile, it began working on replacing the large turbines at Aliso Canyon used to pump gas into the ground in order to inject even more.

Everything was coming up roses, or so it seemed.

But while the commission emphasized squeezing more gas into the ground at Aliso Canyon, the wells used to inject that gas when it’s plentiful and withdraw it when demand is high were corroding beneath the state’s feet.

In its 2016-18 rate case proceeding, the company told the commission in November of 2014 that “reactive-type work in response to identified safety-related conditions observed as part of routine operations has increased in recent years.” The company went on to say that “in fact, a negative well integrity trend seems to have developed since 2008.”

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Customer’s lawsuit challenges SMUD’s use of smart meters

FEBRUARY 4, 2016 11:10 AM

Complaint claims utility board did not approve massive changeover, something SMUD has denied

Elk Grove resident concerned about radiation from smart meters

SMUD: No scientific, medical evidence of public health concern

BY MARK GLOVER

mglover@sacbee.com

A persistent critic of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s smart meter program has filed suit against the utility, seeking to recoup charges he paid for switching from a smart electric meter to an analog meter.

While SMUD customer and Elk Grove resident Mark Graham’s suit filed last month in Sacramento County Superior Court involves a fairly small amount of money – less than $500 – he says he’s hopeful of proving that SMUD’s smart meter program was not properly approved and of informing SMUD customers that they have the option to replace smart meters with analog meters.

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Under its smart grid program, SMUD completed replacement of more than 600,000 old analog meters in its territory in 2012. Jose Luis Villegas jvillegas@sacbee.com

“I shouldn’t have to pay for something that wasn’t even properly approved in the first place,” Graham said in a phone interview.

SMUD vehemently disagrees and has told Graham so at board meetings and via email in a dispute stretching back several years. Graham plans to present the 296-page lawsuit to SMUD board members at Thursday night’s regular meeting.

http://www.sacbee.com/news/business/article58433618.html

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Senate Democrats Block Energy Bill in Dispute Over Aid for Flint


By CORAL DAVENPORTFEB. 4, 2016

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Senators Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, left, and Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, last month at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. They wrote an energy bill that was blocked in two votes on Thursday.

Credit

Zach Gibson/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked action on a comprehensive energy bill that had drawn broad bipartisan support after lawmakers failed to agree on including a $600 million amendment to address the crisis over lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich.

Senators voted twice to end debate on the energy bill, first falling 10 votes short of the 60-vote threshold needed to bring the item to a conclusion, and then falling six votes short. Absent their Flint aid amendment, 38 Democrats, including one of the bill’s chief authors, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, voted against moving forward on the first vote, and 39 Democrats voted no on the second vote.

Thursday’s votes will delay, but not derail, the legislation. Immediately after, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said that its authors would work through the weekend to find a path forward on the energy bill and the Flint aid amendment. “Hopefully we’ll be able to salvage this important bipartisan legislation in the next few days,” he said.

TIMELINE

Events That Led to Flint’s Water Crisis

Timeline of the critical moments leading to the public health emergency.

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OPEN TIMELINE

The bill, written by Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, the chairwoman of the Energy Committee, with Ms. Cantwell, the committee’s ranking Democrat, was the first major energy legislation to come to the Senate floor in nearly a decade. The measure would modernize the nation’s power grid, expand production of renewable energy, accelerate exports of natural gas and improve the government’s response to cybersecurity threats.

The senators managed to draft a bill that would substantially reshape energy policy with support from a majority in both parties, and they accomplished this in an election year.

But the roiling scandal of lead-tainted water in Flint brought the measure down, at least temporarily.

The energy bill reached the Senate floor with bipartisan momentum. But as the crisis in Flint worsened, Democrats saw it as an opportunity to demand federal aid for its victims.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/05/us/politics/senate-democrats-block-energy-bill-flint-aid.html?ref=energy-environment&_r=0

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Many Flint Residents Are Desperate to Leave, but See No Escape

By JULIE BOSMANFEB. 4, 2016

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Charles White at home in Flint, Mich., with his 5-month-old son, Vaughn, who has tested high for levels of lead.

Credit

Sarah Rice for The New York Times

FLINT, Mich. — Charles White, a carpenter, sat on the couch in the living room of his small bungalow, his gaze fixed on his 5-month-old, Vaughn, nestled in a bouncy chair at his feet.

Mr. White, who has lived in Flint most of his life, said that he was at his job the day before when his girlfriend, Tia, called in a panic after coming from the pediatrician. Both of their children have lead poisoning.

“She spent all day crying, trying to figure out how we’re going to get out of here,” he said softly. “I’m prepared to sell everything I own to get out and save my children.”

Yet Mr. White, like many people here, says he is as good as trapped in this poisoned city.

Because the drinking water flowing from their pipes is contaminated, tens of thousands of people here may have been exposed to lead and other toxic chemicals. Untold numbers of them are desperate to leave. But few see a way to pick up and move to a place where the water that flows from the taps is clean and safe.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/05/us/many-flint-residents-are-desperate-to-leave-but-see-no-escape.html?action=click&contentCollection=Politics&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

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Opinion: To make the most of rain, state needs Delta tunnels

FEBRUARY 4, 2016 8:00 AM

Reservoirs and other water storage projects can capture rainfall

But the aging pumping system in the Delta prevents even more storage

The current system also threatens fish, even during wet times

Gov. Jerry Brown holds up the measure he signed to place a $7.5 billion water plan on the November 2014 ballot. Rich Pedroncelli Associated Press file

BY JOHN LAIRD

Special to The Bee

John Laird is California secretary for natural resources. He can be contacted at John.Laird@resources.ca.gov.

This week I testified at a legislative hearing on implementing the $7.5 billion water bond passed by voters in November 2014. One legislator asked me if the state was positioned to capture extra rainwater if El Niño brings a strong rainy season.

I pointed out that many California reservoirs are empty enough to capture much of the runoff from this year’s rainstorms, but that isn’t the full story.

California depends upon capturing water when it’s available. Between Jan. 5 and Jan. 31, we missed the opportunity to capture 290,000 acre-feet of water – enough to supply 580,000 homes for a year. The volume of water we have failed to store this month continues to rise.

Similarly, in the winter of 2012-13 – which turned dry after a wet start – we missed the chance to capture at least 700,000 acre-feet of water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

That’s because the pumping system in the Delta for California’s major water projects is outdated. It poses a risk to native fish and frequently must be restricted, even in the winter when flows are high.

The federal and state pumping plants, built more than half a century ago, are in the south Delta. They pull water through channels in unnatural directions. These “reverse flows” pull fish into dead-end zones in the Delta, where they must be trucked out to safer habitat to survive.

The intakes and tunnels proposed by the Brown and Obama administrations to modernize Delta water infrastructure are the subject of lively debate. Yet the discussion seldom includes the point that without them, we cannot maximize the storage of extra water in wet years.

http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/soapbox/article58494508.html

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Dan Walters: Debate over new supplies is microcosm of state’s water war

FEBRUARY 4, 2016 6:15 PM

Despite wet winter, the water debate continues

It pits conservation vs. new supplies

Water board skirmish encapsulated conflict

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This desalination plant, under construction last year in San Diego County, is one way Southern California is becoming less dependent on water from Northern California. Gregory Bull Associated Press file

BY DAN WALTERS

dwalters@sacbee.com

Despite a wet winter, California’s historic drought continues to spark fierce – even bitter – debate over how the state’s water needs should be met in the future.

The core issue is whether we should primarily rely on conservation of what may be a permanently diminished water supply, or make more energetic efforts to increase the supply with new dams and reservoirs, desalination plants, etc.

The two are not, of course, mutually exclusive, and both are certain to play some role, in the future, so it’s really about their relative emphasis.

Nor is the debate confined just to supply and demand. The availability of water is the key factor in larger issues of land use and economic development, including whether higher-density housing will succeed single-family homes, and whether agriculture, the biggest consumer of water, will expand or contract.

A microcosm of the big debate has been playing out in the State Water Resources Control Board as it revised its drought management regulations.

http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/dan-walters/article58555808.html

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Obama to Propose a $10-a-Barrel Fee on Oil


By CORAL DAVENPORTFEB. 4, 2016

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s budget request to Congress will include a new fee on oil companies, requiring them to pay $10 to the federal government for every barrel of oil they produce, the White House said on Thursday.

The money, which could bring in up to $32 billion in new federal revenue annually, would be spent on a variety of transportation and infrastructure projects, including bridges and highways, high-speed rail and research on advanced vehicles such as electric and self-driving cars.

The proposal to further increase costs for fossil fuel production is part of a broader effort by Mr. Obama to fight climate change. The goal is to make it more expensive to produce and consume energy sources that emit planet-warming greenhouse gases while stoking the market for clean, renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/05/business/energy-environment/obama-to-propose-a-10-a-barrel-fee-on-oil.html?ref=energy-environment

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Obama to seek $10-a-barrel oil tax

Posted on February 4, 2016 | By James Osborne

New York Times

President Barack Obama greets supporters as he arrives at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, Aug, 31, 2015. Obama traveled to Alaska on the first presidential visit above the Arctic Circle to call for aggressive action to tackle climate change and to participate in a roundtable with Alaska Natives. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to seek a $10-a-barrel oil tax to overhaul the nation’s transportation system toward reducing carbon emissions.

In a statement from the White House Thursday, the administration expressed plans to spend more than $300 billion over the next decade, expanding rail and mass transit networks, modernizing freight transportation and expanding research into self-driving cars.

“Our nation’s transportation system was built around President Eisenhower’s vision of interstate highways connecting 20th century America” the White House said. “This new approach to investment and funding is one that places a priority on reducing greenhouse gases, while working to develop a more integrated, sophisticated, and sustainable transportation sector.”

Full details of the proposal are expected to be laid out when the White House releases its budget next Tuesday.

Already the administration is attempting to sell the proposal as one that will not only cut carbon emissions but make the nation’s transportation system more efficient.

Obama is likely to face a defiant Republican majority in Congress, which has consistently pushed back against his climate change initiatives.

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, tweeted Thursday afternoon, “Disgusted that @POTUS wants to slam consumers — and Houston’s economy — with an extreme oil tax. This idea is DOA.”

The proposal comes at a time the U.S. oil industry is struggling under historic lows in the price of crude, decimating stock prices and raising the specter of bankruptcy around many producers.

http://fuelfix.com/blog/2016/02/04/obama-seeks-10-per-barrel-oil-tax-to-fund-clean-transport/#35236101=0

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Tesla Share Price Slides As Sales Projections Cut, German Competition Looms

FEB 4, 2016 @ 01:50 PM

Neil Winton , CONTRIBUTOR

I cover Europe’s car manufacturers, their business, tech, products

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Investors are losing faith in Tesla Motors TSLA +1.14%’ long-term prospects, with some analysts saying its relatively small scale will make it difficult to compete with established manufacturers, mainly the Germans, who are belatedly but busily readying competitive products.

Unexpectedly low oil prices are cutting into the demand for electric vehicles, although sales might get a big boost if Germany finally decides on a rumored $2.2 billion subsidy scheme that would cut $5,600 from the price of a battery only car.

Germany has a long-term target of 1 million electric cars on its roads by 2020 which stands no chance of being met without generous subsidies. There are only about 30,000 electric cars now on German roads.

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Porsche Mission E at the 2015 Frankfurt Auto Show on September 15, 2015 . (Photo by Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images)

Investment bank Morgan Stanley MS +4.00% focused on investor discontent at the start of February when it lowered its long-term target for Tesla’s share price by 26 percent to $333. Tesla’s share price is now close to $175, after having fallen more than 40 percent from its high last July of $286.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said he cut the target because sales prospects of the new Model X SUV, currently reaching its first customers, and the mass market little Model 3 have been scaled back. Jonas though still has faith in Tesla’s albeit risky long-term viability.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/neilwinton/2016/02/04/tesla-share-price-slides-as-sales-projections-cut-opposition-looms/?ss=energy#2715e4857a0b3ce01eef6ce0

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The Endgame for Oil

FEB 4, 2016 @ 05:03 PM 1,173 VIEWS

Scott Minerd , CONTRIBUTOR

I cover monetary policy, macroeconomics, global markets and investing

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

In the fourth quarter of 2014, I asserted that a barrel of oil would average $45 during 2015 and 2016. Given the nature of the growing supply glut and OPEC’s unwillingness to cooperate on reducing output, I also projected that there was risk of a spike down to $25 per barrel before prices would stabilize. While far from consensus, my pessimism at the time now smacks of optimism. Today, looking at the market fundamentals in place, I believe we have reached a new point in the global energy story: The endgame in the decline of the price of oil.

Others are not so sure. As prices continue to fall, the market continues to be confronted with lower and lower predictions for the price of oil. For example, several bulge-bracket banks recently registered price targets of $20. Not to be outdone, Deutsche Bank suggested prices could fall to marginal cash costs for U.S. shale, possibly as low as $7 per barrel. Sentiment has turned so negative that a growing consensus of analysts are beginning to herald a new era for oil where prices remain close to current levels for many years.

Just as prices are reaching levels where U.S. output is beginning to decline, analysts have begun to identify a list of factors that will keep oil prices depressed. First is Iran, where post-sanction production is poised to rise by an estimated 500,000 to 1 million barrels per day. Questions remain as to how much of that “increased” production has already hit the market and whether an increase of that size is even possible in the near term.

Another factor contributing to the bleak outlook is on the demand side, as many observers anticipate a continued slowdown in global growth. China looms large in this story, but concerns remain about recessions in Japan, Europe, and the United States.

However, just as the consensus call in 2014 for a quick rebound in the event oil traded down to $60 reflected undue complacency—one analyst insisted at the time that there was an absolute floor at that price—today’s prognostications of permanently subdued energy prices seem equally unsubstantiated.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottminerd/2016/02/04/the-endgame-for-oil/?ss=energy#2715e4857a0b4177e974a70f

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The world’s biggest solar plant takes important step forward

By Kate Yoder on 4 Feb 2016

http://grist.org/article/the-worlds-biggest-solar-plant-takes-important-step-forward/

Ouarzazate, Morocco, located on a plateau at the edge of the Sahara, is best known to Americans as the scenic location for epics like Lawrence of Arabia, Babel, and Game of Thrones. Now, the area will host a new type of blockbuster, one that may encourage sustainable energy innovations to take off all over Africa and the Middle East.

Noor 1, the first phase of Morocco’s $3.9 billion solar energy project, went live on Thursday. By the time it’s completed in 2018, the concentrated solar complex will be the largest in the world, roughly the size of the country’s capital, Rabat, and will provide electricity for a whopping 1.1 million people.

Morocco is setting the gold standard — or shall I say, green standard? — when it comes to carbon emissions. The country’s aim to generate 42 percent of its total energy from renewables by 2020 has earned it a “sufficient” rating by Climate Action Tracker’s notoriously tough climate pledge assessment — which is pretty admirable considering that Morocco is one of the few countries in the world to achieve that rating.

The Guardian reports on some of the breakthrough solar developments taking place in Ouarzazate:

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