Taking stock of ESG risks for U.S. utilities

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks are becoming increasingly important to judging the credit worthiness of electric utilities, especially as climate change makes their work more challenging. On this episode of the Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless talks to Jim Hempstead, a managing director in Moody’s Global Project and Infrastructure Finance Group. In his role at Moody’s, one of the largest credit ratings firms in the world, Jim helps oversee the North American Regulated Utility and Power Team. He also heads Moody’s working group in charge of ESG issues in the Americas. In the conversation with Bill, Jim makes clear that defining ESG standards is still very much a work in progress for the credit rating firms and the companies they assess for credit worthiness. Nevertheless, ESG metrics are an important means of evaluating the utility sector where shifts…

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Podcast, Policy

“What’s the value of national security?”

The Trump administration continues to look for ways to keep old coal and nuclear power plants operating, as lower-cost natural gas and renewable energy offers cheaper alternatives for generating electricity. A new proposal under consideration at the U.S. Department of Energy takes a new tact on the topic, claiming ongoing retirements of coal and nuclear plants presents a national security risk to the U.S., given growing concerns over the vulnerability of the grid to cyber and even physical attacks. If nothing else, the thinking goes, coal and nuclear plants have the advantage of storing fuel on-site rather than relying on pipelines, as is the case with gas power plants, or intermittent supplies of solar and wind energy. Here, in a Columbia Energy Exchange podcast with me, DOE’s assistant secretary for electricity, Bruce Walker, speaks out on the national-security rationale for…

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Article, Consumer, Corporations, Economy / Finance, Energy

Utilities? Relatively safe investments, sure, but …

U.S. utilities have traditionally been a safe bet for investors, and by and large they will continue to be in 2017. Still, there are worrisome undercurrents for the sector that deserve close attention as we approach a new year. So advises Fitch Ratings in its annual look at the credit-worthiness of investor-owned companies that provide households and businesses with electricity and natural gas. (Read More)

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Article, Energy, Government and Politics, Policy, Technology, Utilities and Providers

Utilities’ drone plans cleared for takeoff

Electric utilities across the U.S. are wasting no time taking advantage of new FAA rules authorizing use of drones for commercial purposes. “We’ve certainly heard from our members that they’re excited about this technology,” said Chris Hickling, the director of government relations for the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade group for investor-owned utilities in the U.S. (Read more)

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Article, Corporations, Energy, Utilities and Providers

Growth powers natgas, renewable-energy mergers

The growth in natural-gas and renewable-energy trade in the U.S. is driving mergers and acquisitions to high levels in North America. That includes increasing interest from investors in Canada and other countries in assets in the U.S., where a relatively stable regulatory environment and low interest rates make American pipeline, transmission and distribution companies attractive targets. A new report from the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers puts the total value of North American power and utilities deals at $41.4 billion in the first quarter of 2016, compared to $11.5 billion in the previous quarter. (Read more)

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Article, Consumer, Energy, Technology, Utilities and Providers

Can N.Y. solar-electric deal recharge U.S. green-energy effort?

The head of the leading rooftop solar company in the U.S. told me last year that one of his top priorities was to strike deals with electric utilities that would make them partners rather than rivals in the changing power sector. “I’m very interested in finding a utility that we can work with that wants to solve problems, not prevent change,” Lyndon Rive, the co-founder and chief executive of SolarCity, said in June. “It would be learning for both of us.” Well, Rive got his wish last week as SolarCity and two other solar developers, SunPower and SunEdison, joined six New York utilities in announcing their formation of the “Solar Progress Partnership.” (Read more)

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Article, Energy, Policy, Regulations, Utilities and Providers

Why this Ohio utility lauds carbon controls

The year 2016 will be a crucial one for electric utilities as they prepare to meet new Environmental Protection Agency regulations requiring them to cut their carbon emissions more than ever. Among the milestones in EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which the agency issued last year, is a requirement for states to submit plans by September to comply with the policy’s requirement to reduce emissions by 32% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. Utilities will play a big part in the development of those plans. (Read more)

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