Posts Tagged ‘wall street’

No Bailout for Energy Future HoldingsEnergy Future Holdings, formerly TXU, of Dallas might be looking for a handout – from you.

Back in January, Moody’s changed Energy Future Holdings Corp’s rating outlook to negative and made it impossible to ignore what anyone who had been paying attention to the company’s quarterly reports already knew: Energy Future Holdings is on a path heading towards bankruptcy.  Now there are rumors floating around that the company may ask the Texas Legislature to approve a public or ratepayer-funded bailout.

Neither option would benefit majority of Texas citizens and we urge everyone to sign our petition in opposition to any bailout proposal for Energy Future Holdings

You might wonder how the profitable TXU end up as the failing Energy Future Holdings.  The answer is twofold.

First, in Texas, electricity prices are set based on the price of natural gas.  When natural gas prices were high, this meant that coal-fired power plants could reap additional profit.  This made TXU an attractive acquisition because the company owned many coal-fired power plants.  But now, natural gas prices have plummeted and those same coal-fired power plants, especially the oldest and most inefficient, are dragging Energy Future Holdings down.  The private equity investors made a big bet on the wrong energy source.

The second problem is that Energy Future Holdings was acquired in a leveraged buyout.  What that means is that instead of the investors paying the full amount to buy TXU, they financed the deal partially through loans to the company.  While the company has done a good job of staving off the day of reckoning by refinancing many of those loans, many are approaching maturity and additional refinancing options are limited by the negative prospects for the company.

So, while TXU was a profitable company with relatively low debt, Energy Future Holdings is an unprofitable company (because of low natural gas prices) with massive debt (because of the leveraged buyout) that is approaching maturity.  This isn’t a good combination and some people are going to lose money on the deal (many already have).  However, those losses shouldn’t be placed on Texas taxpayers or ratepayers.

Tell your state representatives and senators that you oppose bailing out failed corporations.

Most of us have to live with the consequences of our bad decisions.  Help us make sure that Wall Street and private equity firms must do the same.

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The United State’s much-touted nuclear renaissance is in jeopardy, but it is not primarily from environmental and safety concerns. The industry is finding it increasingly difficult to make the economic case for building new nuclear plants.

The enormous capital cost of building reactors is just one factor holding back the long-promised nuclear revival. Just as critical is the risk that the already high costs will balloon as companies build new-generation plants that must be able to withstand the impact of a terrorist crashing an airliner into one.  Companies are facing difficulties financing their plants due to the long lead times needed for permits and construction before they can begin to recoup capital expenditures. Then there’s the potential for cost overruns, so companies are looking for political and regulatory support to shift financial obligations onto customers and taxpayers to minimize risk in what Moody’s Investor Service Inc. has dubbed a “bet-the-farm” type of project.

That effort to offload financial risk to partners, customers and governments is the hallmark of the 21st-century nuclear industry. (more…)

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Statement of Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director, Public Citizen’s Texas Office

CPS Energy’s announcement today that it will cost $13 billion to build two new nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project (STP) is a naïve guess when compared to independent assessments that offer more realistic estimates for financing and construction. San Antonio already has spent nearly $300 million just for an accounting of this project’s potential cost, but it appears that even that amount could not buy the city an accurate study.

Former Office of Public Utility Counsel Director Clarence Johnson and nuclear engineer and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Arjun Makhijani have estimated that costs will range from $17.5 billion to $22 billion.

Even Wall Street underwriters are pinning new reactors at a cost closer to what Johnson and Makhijani have estimated. Wall Street realizes the true potential cost and risk of nuclear power – which is why they refuse to invest in STP unless it is able to secure federally guaranteed loans. That way, if the project goes under or the costs balloon out of control, the only investors who will lose a significant amount of money are the American taxpayers.

Estimates like the one CPS made today are non-binding. If the reactors cost more than CPS has estimated, San Antonio taxpayers will pay the difference. If NRG Energy is unable to provide a fixed contract for this deal, CPS and San Antonio should ask why.

The City Council can stop all this madness and save San Antonio from a bad deal that will pass costs onto ratepayers for decades to come. Council members have questioned the project in the past and have expressed skepticism. The unfortunate truth is that there will be no way to know how much the expansion will cost until the plant is online.  No one knows how much new reactors will ultimately cost to build, finance and operate.

City Council members have shown support for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. They have shown incredible vision supporting the Mission Verde plan to develop 250 megawatts of solar and new wind contracts. Just this May, the City Council voted to allow CPS to fund energy efficiency efforts, known as the Save for Tomorrow Energy Program. These are the sorts of measures that San Antonio should be supporting – measures that can be deployed quicker and at a fraction of the cost of nuclear expansion.

Now is the time for the City Council to bring common sense and practicality back to the table. San Antonio can’t afford another nuclear boondoggle; the City Council has the opportunity to say “no” to these new nuclear investments. Only it can protect San Antonians from bearing the overwhelming economic burden of building costly, dangerous and unnecessary nuclear reactors.

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A message from our director, Tom “Smitty” Smith:

efficient-homeToday the House and Senate are working to reconcile their different versions of the long-awaited economic stimulus package. The stakes are now higher than ever for Texans, who stand to gain from billions that could go toward developing renewable energy and efficiency in the state, reducing pollution from diesel engines, and cleaning up abandoned nuclear waste sites.

But as much as the state needs that massive investment in our energy future, there is a troubling side to the senate version of the stimulus package: Senators amended the stimulus bill to include $50 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear plants in Texas and elsewhere in the nation.

If Congress needs a reminder why this is a bad deal, it should just ask Wall Street why it doesn’t loan money for nuclear reactors. According to the Congressional Budget Office, nuclear loans default at a rate of 50%. Banks learned long ago that these plants simply can’t be built on budget and aren’t viable without massive taxpayer subsidies. Texans are still paying for the last generation of over-budget nuclear plants each month in a hidden charge on their electric bills. (more…)

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Make no mistake about it, we face an economic crisis of enormous proportions. But the rush to bail out Wall Street firms with a “hair on fire” urgency rings so hollow when you consider how much the American people have already gone through. Millions of people have lost their homes to foreclosures. Many are being forced onto the streets, as tent cities are popping up in major cities. But nothing happened to fix the sub-prime mess, brewing for two years now, until Wall Street had a cash-flow problem.

The biggest problem seems to be that the government is now moving, not because they are inclined to make public policy for the good of the American people, but because their campaign donors have asked them to. You can see campaign finance’s fingers in the presidential race as well, as Wall Street donors dominate the upper echelons of each candidates’ major fundraisers and both candidates flounder and walk the thin line between offending their donors and offering real leadership.

As a seeming palliative to the financial crisis, the House introduced yesterday HR 7022, the Fair Elections Now Act, “To reform the financing of House elections, and for other purposes.” This bill would provide full optional public financing for congressional elections. It’s companion bill in the Senate has been mired in Congressional inaction. We can see how quickly Congress can act when it (more…)

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