Category Archives: Utilities

JEA Privatization Uniquely More Complicated Than Other Efforts Around The State

Source: Ryan Benk, WJCT, December 6, 2017

Following a regular board meeting that saw departing member Tom Petway charge his soon-to-be former colleagues with exploring privatization, JEA’s board chair is calling for a swift examination of the utility’s assets. … Should the board and Jacksonville’s political leaders decide privatization is the right path, JEA would not be the first municipal utility to do so in Florida. In fact, there are even examples of voters deciding to go the opposite direction: From private to public. Still, according to one expert, the massive tentacles of JEA’s electric grid, water service and sewer system — which serve more than 450,000 electric, 337,000 water and 261,000 sewer customers in Northeast Florida — would represent one of the largest and most complicated such conversions in Florida’s history. … After a lengthy 2012 exploration of JEA’s assets and the logistics of the city splitting with the utility, the decision was ultimately made to shelve the privatization idea. The last time an audit of JEA’s value was conducted in 2007, it was pinpointed at $2 billion as a municipal utility and more than $3 billion if it went private.

… Most recently, Winter Park successfully booted Progress Energy (now Duke Energy) and municipalized. Meanwhile voters in South Daytona Beach rejected a similar effort to turn their utility public. Kurry said data on customer satisfaction is mixed. Winter Park voters are generally happier with their choice and so are those in South Daytona Beach. … Just as murky as ratepayer views on service quality, customer perception of pricing fairness is mixed across the sector. …

Puerto Rico Still Waits for $4.9 Billion From U.S. Treasury

Source: Rebecca Spalding, Bloomberg, December 8, 2017
 
Over two months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island’s government still hasn’t received any of the $4.9 billion of short-term loans promised in the storm aid package Congress passed at the end of October.  Christian Sobrino, the governor’s representative on the island’s federal oversight board, confirmed Friday that no Puerto Rican entity has received any portion of the funds, which were requested for basic functions like making payroll. This week, the Puerto Rican government told the fiscal control board that the electric company, Prepa, and water utility, Prasa, would run out of money in December.  Sobrino said Friday that the island’s fiscal agency was in talks with the U.S. Treasury and Department of Homeland Security about the money and how it would be disbursed. …

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U.S. counters hedge fund’s attack on Puerto Rico oversight board (Abstract)
Source: Jim Christie, Reuters, December 7, 2017
 
The U.S. government defended on Wednesday the federal board overseeing Puerto Rico’s restructuring, countering a bid by a hedge fund that sought to get the U.S. territory’s bankruptcy-like case dismissed by attacking the board’s legality.  The restructuring is taking place under a special federal law known as the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) that provides for proceedings in U.S. District Court akin to those under Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy. …

Bernie Sanders to unveil a $146 billion ‘Marshall Plan’ for Puerto Rico
Source: Jeff Stein, Washington Post, November 28, 2017

Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s decades-old electrical grid when it made landfall on Sept. 20, rendering millions of island inhabitants without power.  On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will unveil an ambitious $146 billion Puerto Rico recovery plan he says will allow renewable power sources such as solar and wind to provide about 70 percent of the island’s energy needs within the decade.  The bill, which has the backing of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, also calls on Congress to consider retiring Puerto Rico’s debt and would give the island billions in additional federal funding for transportation, health care and education in the hopes of stemming a feared mass exodus to the mainland. It would also allocate funds to the Virgin Islands, which were similarly devastated by Hurricane Maria. …

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Whitefish stops work on Puerto Rico power grid over payment dispute

Source: Brandon Carter, The Hill, November 20, 2017
 
Whitefish Energy, which is under scrutiny over how it was selected for work in Puerto Rico, is halting its efforts on the island’s power grid because it says the local power authority owes it millions of dollars.  In an interview with CNN published Monday, Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski said the company is owed more than $83 million by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and is stopping work because its repeated requests for payment were not fulfilled.  “We stopped because of the financial situation, lack of payment with PREPA has gotten beyond its maximum threshold and what we can sustain as a business,” Techmankski said.  The company’s CEO said that it has employed more than 500 contractors and subcontractors on its work to restore the island’s power grid following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. …

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Ricardo Ramos, embattled head of Puerto Rico’s power utility, resigns
Source: Phil McCausland, NBC News, November 17, 2017
 
The embattled head of Puerto Rico’s power utility resigned on Friday, the latest controversy to hit the island as it struggles to bring its electric grid back online. Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Agency, submitted his resignation to Puerto Rico’s governor’s office only a few days after he testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee over the controversial contract he approved with Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small Montana firm to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid.  A few hours after Ramos resigned, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló recommended the appointment of engineer Justo González as interim director of the public utility.

After Doomed Whitefish Deal, Puerto Rico Asks Congress for $94 Billion
Source: Frances Robles, New York Times, November 14, 2017

The governor of Puerto Rico and the chief executive of its beleaguered electric company faced hours of questioning on Tuesday in Congress, where skeptical legislators questioned whether to give the island an enormous aid package on the heels of a botched high-priced contract to fix its power grid.
Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló came to Senate and House committees with a huge ask: $94.4 billion to help Puerto Rico “build back better” after Hurricane Maria destroyed or damaged 472,000 homes and knocked out the island’s electricity. He also said that Puerto Rico should have more authority over its own fiscal affairs, and that he had “zero role” in awarding a highly criticized $300 million deal to a small Montana firm to help restore power. …

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Council urges Univ. of Memphis to decline state outsourcing contract

Source: Michelle Corbet, Memphis Business Journal, September 20, 2017

With the University of Memphis’ next Board of Trustees meeting set for early October, members of the Memphis City Council are asking that the group think twice before opting into the state’s facilities management contract. It’s no secret the University of Memphis plans to opt into the state’s property management contract, said Councilman Martavius Jones, who sponsored a resolution Sept. 19 urging local universities and their administrators to do the opposite. In May, the State of Tennessee entered into a contract with Chicago-based JLL to privatize maintenance, security, janitorial and landscaping services for state-owned public colleges and universities. “Based on my experience on the school board, the quality of the service, the cleanliness and the general morale suffered [when outsourced],” said Jones, who served on the Memphis City Schools Board from 2006 to 2013. …

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Does Outsourcing Some State Jobs Save TN Taxpayers Money?
Source: Local Memphis, August 31, 2017
 
Many Tennessee lawmakers hope to see if outsourcing some state jobs actually saves taxpayers money. It’s been a controversial topic since Governor Bill Haslam began implementing the idea a few years ago.  Questions about outsourcing are always the same. Does it save money and is there accountability?  “There’s… people concerned about state jobs all over Tennessee,” said one protester.  Many state lawmakers have heard and seen the protests about the ongoing outsourcing of state jobs. That’s why a majority of legislators from both parties signed a letter of concern earlier this year to Governor Haslam. The Governor has defended outsourcing state jobs in some areas, especially on state college campuses. …

UT campus workers protest Gov. Haslam’s outsourcing plan
Source: WBIR, August 28, 2017

University of Tennessee Knoxville staff, faculty and students joined local business leaders, state representatives and faith leaders in a demonstration Monday to call on university officials to “opt-out” of Gov. Bill Haslam’s outsourcing plan. The demonstration was organized by United Campus Workers. Last week, a bill to introduce oversight in outsourcing was heard in summer study in the General Assembly. If the university were to “opt-in”, United Campus Workers believe as many as 10,000 facilities jobs, including hundreds in Knoxville, would be outsourced. Those who oppose the plan fear it will result in job loss, loss of oversight and accountability, reduced services and negative consequences for local businesses which provide services to campuses. …

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Report: Gov. Henry McMaster considering Santee Cooper sale to help pay for nuclear project

Source: David Wren, The Post and Courier, August 8, 2017

Gov. Henry McMaster is reportedly considering selling state-owned electric utility Santee Cooper as a way to pay for at least one of two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station near Jenkinsville. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that McMaster is “pursuing several options” to raise the money needed to finish the project, which Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas abandoned last week in the face of rising costs and the bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse Electric. …

Congress must continue to block Trump plan to sell BPA

Source: Union-Bulletin Editorial Board, August 8, 2017

Late last month the U.S. House Budget Committee approved a budget resolution that rejects privatizing the transmission assets of the Bonneville Power Administration proposed by the Trump administration. A great move. The sooner this lousy proposal is dead the better it will be for Pacific Northwest residents who pay power bills — pretty much all of us. … President Donald Trump is calling for turning over the transmission network of power lines and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of hydropower from the Columbia and Snake rivers’ dams, to private companies. As Trump sees it, this would lower costs to taxpayers and improve efficiency. But in reality it would result in far higher rates for consumers. And putting the high-voltage grid in the hands of private investors — perhaps foreign investors — would create national security concerns. …

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Down the Mighty Columbia River, Where a Power Struggle Looms
Source: Kirk Johnson, New York Times, July 28, 2017

To ride down the Columbia River as the John Day Dam’s wall of concrete slowly fills the view from a tugboat is to see what the country’s largest network of energy-producing dams created through five decades of 20th-century ambition, investment and hubris. … Now, the Trump administration has proposed rethinking the entire system, with a plan to sell the transmission network of wires and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of the Columbia basin’s output, to private buyers. The idea is part of a package of proposals that would transform much of the infrastructure in the United States to a mixture of public and private partnerships, lowering costs to taxpayers and improving efficiency, administration officials said. Assets of two other big public power operators, based in Colorado and Oklahoma, would be sold, too, if Congress approves the measure.

Debates about government and its role in land and environmental policy are always highly charged. But perhaps nowhere could the proposed changes have a more significant impact than along the great river of the West — fourth largest by volume in North America, more than 10 times that of the Hudson. Privatization would transform a government service that requires equal standards across a vast territory — from large cities to tiny hamlets — into a private operation seeking maximum returns to investors. …

This Is How the Trump Administration Will Privatize Our Infrastructure

Source: David Dayen, The Nation, June 20, 2017
 
North Miami Beach’s Norwood water treatment plant is a major source of revenue, serving a region with almost five times as many customers as city residents…. Critics, including plant employees and members of the local Public Utilities Commission, blamed the city for intentional lack of investment and reduced staffing. “It’s on the city workers somehow that the system has fallen into disrepair,” said a spokesman with AFSCME Florida. “If you’re a journalist, and the newspaper is not making money, is that on you?” … As for plant workers, they could lose benefits under CH2M immediately, since the city’s contract with AFSCME expired in 2015. The CH2M contract calls for $2.4 million in annual savings in labor costs starting in year two. And with a fixed fee for operations and maintenance, CH2M can only extract profits and deliver long-term cost savings by cutting corners. …

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North Miami Beach Gives Public Water Utility Serving 180,000 People to Private Firm
Source: Jerry Ianelli, Miami New Times, May 17, 2017
 
None of those facts stopped the North Miami Beach City Commission last night from voting 4 to 2 to outsource its public water utility to global engineering firm CH2M Hill. From here on out, the company will control virtually every operational facet of a water plant that serves more than 180,000 people in North Miami Beach, Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach, and Miami Gardens. … On April 3, the city held a special meeting to begin formal negotiations with CH2M. In the leadup to that meeting, the city’s municipal worker’s union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, spoke out against the privatization plan as an attempt at union-busting. The ASFCME warned that privatization deals tend to lead to job or benefits cuts to workers.  Though the final contract guarantees that all city workers who pass a drug test and physical must be rehired by CH2M, the contract does not say what will happen to those workers in the following years. (During that April 3 meeting, multiple city workers accused the government of willfully underfunding the plant to create an excuse to privatize it.) …

North Miami Beach to Vote on Privatizing Its Water System Tomorrow Despite FBI Probe
Source: Jerry Iannelli, Miami New Times, May 15, 2017
 
On April 3, the City of North Miami Beach started negotiating with a global engineering firm to take over the city’s water utility, which services close to 200,000 people in north Dade. Clean-water activists vehemently opposed the move, citing research that water utilities run by private companies tend to get much more expensive over time, and typically provide services at “cheaper” rates by cutting staff or services. … But those facts have not mattered at all to North Miami Beach’s elected officials. Tomorrow, the city commission will vote on whether to hand the utility’s operations over to CH2M Hill Engineering for an annual fee of $18.8 million per year. (The city would retain ownership of the utility, but CH2M would handle the plant’s day-to-day operations. The city will also pay CH2M $19.3 million in the first year to cover startup costs.) …

North Miami Beach Moves Forward With Water-Privatization Deal Despite FBI Probe
Source: Jerry Iannelli, Miami New Times, April 4, 2017

At the beginning of North Miami Beach’s meeting last night about a plan to privatize its water system, City Manager Ana Garcia asked residents to trust the city based on the commission’s track record. That was an odd appeal, considering Mayor George Vallejo is the subject of an ongoing Miami-Dade County criminal probe and the FBI and Miami-Dade County Public Corruption unit have launched investigations into the water negotiations. Despite all of those red flags, commissioners voted 4-2 last night to move forward with the plan after a testy meeting that lasted close to three hours. … The city also did not disclose that an affiliate of the leading company bidding for the project, global engineering firm CH2M Hill, has held a temporary contract to operate portions of the plant since October 17, 2016. The contract raises additional questions as to whether the city’s bidding process has been fair. … The vote authorizes the city to begin negotiating a contract with CH2M, which is angling to take over the full operation of the city’s water plant.

… Per the terms of the city’s request for quotation, the private company is expected to take over full plant operations and take over the contracts of every employee at the utility. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a union that represents the utility workers, says roughly 80 employees could be affected. The union warned last week that privatization deals tend to lead to benefit cutbacks and employee layoffs as the new company tries to cut costs. AFSCME does not have an active contract with the city, and union representatives warned last week that, without a contract, a private company could cut benefits and salaries from day one. …

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Lexserv to Temporarily Shut Down While City Takes Over Service

Source: WTVQ, May 8, 2017

A temporary shutdown of the LEXserv online and phone bill payment system has been scheduled as Lexington’s Division of Revenue takes over the service from Greater Cincinnati Water Works. Beginning May 15, the city will manage all LEXserv customer service and billing services, eliminating the need for outsourcing. Officials say some of the many benefits include:

  • City will save taxpayer dollars by moving system in-house;
  • Customer service will be handled by LFUCG staff in Lexington, creating jobs;
  • Payments will be mailed to a Lexington address for processing;
  • New web portal for customers to make payments, review billing. …

Ohio State plans to privatize energy with largest investment in university history

Source: Owen Daugherty and Summer Cartwright, The Lantern, March 30, 2017
 
Ohio State has proposed a plan to receive its largest investment in the university’s history by selling its energy to the highest bidder. In accepting the unprecedented proposal, OSU will move forward in a public-private partnership with ENGIE, a French global energy producer and operator, who would control the energy used on campus for the next 50 years. The agreement, which is the first of its stature, includes the largest upfront payment — to the tune of $1.015 billion — between an American university and a global energy partner, OSU officials said. University officials said they ultimately chose the proposal from ENGIE-Axium because it offered the largest upfront payment of the three competitors, in turn committing the most money to the University’s endowment. This continues the trend of OSU privatizing its resources, which began with its CampusParc deal in 2012. The 50-year, $483 million deal was also the largest of its kind. …

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Ohio State CFO will recuse himself from decision in energy privatization plan
Source: Tom Knox, Columbus Business First, March 9, 2017

The chief financial officer at Ohio State University will recuse himself from deciding who will privatize the university’s energy operations. Geoff Chatas will help analyze the financial aspects of the deal but won’t know who the final candidates are – they’ll be masked to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, said Ohio State President Michael Drake. … The CFO won’t have a say in who will run the university’s energy operations for 50 years because of a choice he made in 2015 when he accepted a job at the parent company of CampusParc, which in 2012 had negotiated a deal with university officials, including Chatas, to privatize OSU’s parking operations. The move raised questions of quid pro quo, which Chatas vehemently denied, but he soon reversed course and stayed at the university. … Ohio State expects to make a choice on energy privatization before the end of the school year. It’s a unique arrangement for a public university: a group of companies would for 50 years operate utility assets that make Ohio State run, including natural gas and chilled and heated water facilities. The winning bidder would have to meet sustainability goals sought by Ohio State. …

OSU moving toward privatizing its power system
Source: Laura A. Bischoff, Dayton Daily News, February 11, 2017

Ohio State University says it is taking the next step toward becoming the largest institution nationwide to hire private companies to manage its energy systems for decades to come. OSU Provost Bruce McPheron gave notice to staff and students on Thursday that the university will formally ask finalists to submit proposals for the massive project. The finalists in the running have not been disclosed. Ohio State administrators will determine by the end of the current semester whether to ask trustees to pull the trigger on it. The university is weighing whether to hire private contractors to take control of critical assets: the utility system that heats, cools and powers more than 400 buildings on main campus. OSU would receive an undetermined amoung of upfront cash and then agree to buy its energy from the vendor. The contractor would be responsible for making energy efficiency upgrades to cut OSU consumption by 25 percent within a decade. …

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Private water system in Haughton faces audit over billing complaints

Source: Melody Brumble, KTBS 3, March 17, 2017

A private water system in Haughton is in hot water over widespread billing complaints. Auditors will comb the books of Country Place Utilities after the Louisiana Public Service Commission decided to investigate the company. Country Place Utilities serves about 300 homes in Country Place subdivision in Haughton. The company provides water directly to residents and has a contract with the Bossier Parish Police Jury to bill for sewer service. … The PSC ordered the audit after residents complained that bills weren’t mailed for months at a time. Customers also complained of irregularities and discrepancies in usage and charges on bills; and the failure of the system’s staff to communicate with customers. Foster Campbell, the public service commissioner for north Louisiana, said the PSC also tried — without success — to resolve the situation by talking to the system’s operators. … The company could even lose the right to operate the water system, Campbell says. Country Place Utilities also is in hot water with the Bossier Parish Police Jury. In October, the police jury sued, claiming the company owes at least $60,000 in unpaid sewer fees. …