News digest

Argentina: Argentina’s energy ministry received six bids for a contract to build, operate and maintain a transmission line linking the national and Patagonian power grids. Sweden’s Skanska, Spanish companies Abengoa and Islux, and Argentine companies Electro-Ingeneria, Grupo Roggio and Techint-Transpa submitted bids.

Bolivia: The Bolivian government will launch a $30m international tender to build the Caranavi-Trinidad 115 kV transmission line in Beni and several smaller branch lines. The Bolivian government has said that it will receive bids until June 2004 with construction starting by the end of August 2004.

Brazil: The Portuguese group EDP has completed the first stage of the restructuring process of its Brazilian assets. The Brazilian assets account for 30 per cent of EDP’s business. EDP has negotiated with the Brazilian state-owned oil and gas company Petrobras the sale of its 80 per cent stake in the Fafen thermal electric plant.

Canada: Construction of the $95m Summerview Wind Farm will begin with work on the electricity generating facility to be completed by July. The 68 MW project will consist of 38 wind turbines.

Chile: The senate has voted to approve the final version of the “Ley Corta” fast-track bill. The law should provide the power sector with greater regulatory certainty, and pave the way for $3bn of investments over the next five years.

Peru: Peru will seek bids for tender to complete the 130 MW Yuncan hydroelectric project in the southern Andes. Final cost is expected to be around $262m and the project will be completed by mid 2005.

Peru: Peru has authorised the sale of shares on the Lima stock exchange of three state-owned electricity companies: the San Gabon generator plants in Puno; Egasa, which distributes electricity in Arequipa; and Sociedad Electrica del SurOeste.

USA: Xcel Energy is seeking government approval to upgrade three coal-fired power plants in Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota to increase capacity and reduce emissions. The power plants include King, High Bridge and riverside plants and will need funding of $799m.

USA: PSEG has set a voluntary goal of cutting its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 18 per cent from 2000 levels by January 1, 2009. The target continues PSEG’s participation in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Leaders Programme.

USA: Calpine Corp. has completed the sale of its 50 per cent interest in the 545 MW Lost Pines 1 Power Project to GenTex Power Corp.

Canada to install GE’s first 7H gas turbine

Canada’s Hydro-Quebec is to be the first utility to implement GE Energy’s 7H gas turbine technology. The machine will be installed in an 800 MW, combined cycle facility called Suroit.

The $550m Suroit plant, which aims to be online by 2007, will be built at Beauharnois, Quebec, southwest of Montreal, Canada. The 50 Hz version of the H system (the 9H) was launched at Baglan Bay in Wales in 2003. The H system is capable of 60 per cent efficiency, which is around three percentage points more efficient than other combined cycle plants, claims GE.

Power from Suroit will feed Quebec and the US northeast. It is part of wider plans that will see Hydro-Quebec spend $2.6bn over five years to add over 2 GW of additional generating capacity. The demand for power in Quebec is forecast to rise at 1.8 per cent per year between 2001– 2011.

California sets power margins

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has ordered the state’s utilities to set up a 15 to 17 per cent electricity reserve level by 2008. The aim is to avoid a repeat of the summer energy crisis of 2000-1.

Energy companies will have to phase in the reserve levels by 2005. They must also sign contracts a year in advance for 90 per cent, plus reserves, of their projected summer electricity load.

The CPUC’s president, Michael Peevey, has assured Governor Schwarzenegger and US Senator Dianne Feinstein that the commission would attempt to boost power supply with reserve levels of 15 per cent, but utilities will be allowed up to 17 per cent to account for “inherent lumpiness” in adding resources.

The CPUC will draft other measures to reduce electricity demand in the state. The state’s three investor-owned utilities are PG&E Corp.’s unit Pacific Gas & Electric, Edison International unit Southern California Edison and Sempra Energy unit San Diego Gas & Electric.

NY approves 600 MW line

A 600 MW HVDC power line connecting New Jersey to Long Island (NY) has been approved by US regulators.

The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) has allowed the construction of the HVDC link which will stretch 60 km from New Jersey’s Central Power and Light substation in Sayreville to Long Island Power Authority’s substation in Nassau County. Building the line will be Neptune Regional Transmission System, where the direct current will be converted to alternating current via a converter along the way.

Meanwhile, New York City’s energy task force has released a report outlining a potential future power shortage due to increasing electrical demand. The task force has proposed the addition of 2600 MW of generating capacity by 2008.

El Paso sells 25 plants

US power giant El Paso will sell 25 power plants for $746m to American International Group Inc. (AIG), a global insurer. Proceeds of the sale will contribute towards debt relief and improving cash flow.

The deal will see AIG assume $174m of consolidated non-recourse debt through its Northern Star Generation subsidiary. The plants in the deal are spread across seven states in the USA and have a combined generating capacity of 1850 MW.

The package is part of El Paso’s plan announced last year to dispose of $3.6bn to $3.9bn of assets. The company’s president and CEO, Doug Foshee, said that around $2.3bn has been raised so far.

The transaction represents a significant portion of El Paso’s domestic power portfolio, and is expected to close in mid-2004. AIG believes that the assets will generate stable long-term cash flows with investment grade-rated utilities.

Ratings agency boosts Brazil

Fitch Atlantic Ratings has upgraded Brazil’s power sector from negative to stable as utilities’ profit margins increase steadily. The agency has predicted 2004 to be a profitable year for utilities.

Fitch paid tribute to Brazil’s power and distribution companies, which endured a difficult year characterized by low consumer demand and a slumping economy. It said that demand had picked up significantly in the last quarter of the year, with industry making a major impact. The upgrade came after Brazil unveiled a new regulatory model for the energy sector. This will aid major companies such as Eletropaulo Metropolitana Electricidade de Sao Paulo and state-owned Companhia Energetica de Minas Gerais. Also helped by the upgrade are Parana state distributor Companhia Paranaense de Energia, AES Tiete Companhia Paulista de Forca e Luz and Tractebel Energia.

Fitch expects interest rates and risk perceptions to fall.