Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29 News: French oil giant bids $1.4 billion for SunPower; Speaker Boehner rejects oil-subsidy vote

April 29 News: French oil giant bids $1.4 billion for SunPower; Speaker Boehner rejects oil-subsidy vote: "

Total Bids $1.4 Billion for Control of SunPower

Total, the French oil giant, offered up to $1.4 billion on Thursday for a controlling stake in SunPower, an American solar energy firm.

Total said it was making a tender offer of $23.25 per SunPower share for 60 percent of the company’s stock, a 46 percent premium over the company’s A shares the day before the announcement was made. The bid values SunPower, based in San Jose, Calif., at $2.3 billion.

The French company is also offering $1 billion in credit support to SunPower over five years.

“We evaluated multiple solar investments for more than two years and concluded that SunPower is the right partner,” said Philippe Boisseau, president of Total’s gas and power unit. “Total is executing on its strategy to become a major integrated player in solar energy.”

Tom Werner, chief executive of SunPower, said that the influx of capital from Total would help his company step up manufacturing and finance further research.

American solar firms face competition from heavily subsidized Chinese rivals that has cut the cost of solar panels and made ambitious start-ups rethink their strategies. SunPower was trading at more than $130 per share in 2007.

Boehner rejects oil-subsidy vote

As the country’s largest oil companies report near-record profits, the office of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) rejected on Thursday Democratic calls to consider legislation eliminating billions of dollars in tax breaks for the same corporations.

“The Speaker wants to increase the supply of American energy to lower gas prices and create millions of American jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an email. “Raising taxes will not do that.”

Boehner said on Monday that oil companies should pay their fair share of taxes and that the industry did not need at least one of the subsidies Democrats want to terminate. But he started walking those comments back in the same interview, and his spokesman’s statement continued the rearguard action.

Steel’s comments came in response to a letter from 28 House Democrats urging Boehner to stage an up-or-down vote on legislation ending roughly $8 billion in oil subsidies annually. President Obama is pushing to eliminate $4 billion in tax breaks each year.

Baucus crafts oil tax break repeal plan amid high profit reports

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) struck while the iron was hot Thursday and vowed to shepherd a plan through the panel that ends billions of dollars in tax breaks for the largest oil companies.

Baucus released a short “blueprint” of the plan – which would expand investment in “clean” fuels and efficient vehicles – the same day that oil giantsExxon and Shell reported big gains in first-quarter profits.

And the outline arrives a day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he planned to bring a tax break repeal measure to the floor. The White House and Democrats are targeting the subsidies in the wider political debate that has erupted over high gasoline prices.

The plan would prevent the five biggest oil companies from claiming a lucrative deduction on domestic manufacturing income, reduce the foreign tax credit for royalty payments to foreign governments and impose an excise tax on certain Gulf of Mexico leases, the blueprint states.

Barack Obama to visit tornado victims

President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, are to visit Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to meet victims of the storms that killed 300 people and devastated entire neighbourhoods in seven southern US states.

As emergency crews searched rubble for survivors, Obama described the loss of life as “heartbreaking” and called the damage to homes and businesses “nothing short of catastrophic”. He promised strong federal support for rebuilding.

Robert Bentley, the governor of Alabama, said his state had confirmed 210 deaths. There were also 33 deaths in Mississippi, 33 in Tennessee, 15 in Georgia, five in Virginia and one in Kentucky. Hundreds if not thousands of people were injured, 600 in Tuscaloosa alone.

Some of the worst damage was in Tuscaloosa, a city of more than 83,000 and home to the university of Alabama. The storms destroyed the city’s emergency management centre, so the Bryant-Denny stadium was turned into a makeshift headquarters. School officials said two students were killed.

Over several days, the powerful tornadoes – of which there were more than 160 reported in total – combined with storms to cut a swath of destruction heading west to east. “I think this is going to rank up as one of the worst tornado outbreaks in US history,” said Craig Fugate, director of the federal emergency management agency.

What’s Up With All These Tornadoes? No One Really Knows

Time’s Bryan Walsh has a good, subtle piece on the difficulties of figuring out what’s causing therecord month for tornadoes in the South. The toughest question, of course, is what role climate change is playing in the devastation.

On the one hand, increased greenhouse gas levels mean higher temperatures and more moisture in the air, which as Walsh puts it, is “like adding nitroglycerin to the atmosphere.” There is more energy for storms to play with. On the other hand, some models forecast that wind shear will decrease, cutting down on the number of destructive tornadoes. It’s far from clear what the impact of burning gigatons of fossil fuels will have on extreme weather of this type in the South.

Climate skeptics use that uncertainty to argue that we shouldn’t do anything about climate change. “What if it doesn’t cause more tornadoes in the south?” they ask. But that’s not how you evaluate a massive risk. It’s like riding in a car without a seatbelt and saying, “What if I don’t get in an accident?” Even if it’s unlikely, the possibility should cause us to prepare for the bad scenarios. And in some ways, the uncertainty makes it worse. We’ve already locked in decades of warming from the emissions we’ve already put in the air. What if global warming *does* cause more and more powerful tornadoes in the south? What then?

AA asks European Union to investigate oil market manipulation

The AA is to ask the European competition commissioner to investigate whether oil and petrol markets are being manipulated as Shell reports first quarter profits up 40%, making its global profits stand at nearly £2m per hour.

The motorists’ organisation wants similar groups on the continent to pressurise the European Union to take action because, while wholesalepetrol prices are at record levels, crude oil is still $20 lower than in 2008. “We do not have a beef with Shell per se,” said an AA spokesman, “but we do have a beef with the oil industry in general and the lack of transparency in the sector.”

The FairFuelUK lobby group, backed by the RAC and the trucking industry, added to the outcry by calling for the British government to start cutting taxes levied on the forecourt.

Major polluters say 2011 climate deal “not doable”

The world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters do not expect a legally-binding deal to tackle climate change at talks in South Africa in December, two leading climate envoys said on Wednesday.

U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern and European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard played down the chance of a breakthrough after a meeting of the Major Economies Forum (MEF), an informal group of 17 countries including the world’s top polluters, China and the United States.

“From what I’ve heard in these last two days, the conclusion must be that it is highly unlikely that the world will see a legally binding deal done in Durban,” Hedegaard told reporters.

“Not that they do not think it’s important — but there is just this feeling that it’s simply not doable for Durban.”

Utilities Gird for New Regs as EPA Studies Toxicity of Hex Chromium

The drumbeat for imposing federal limits on hexavalent chromium in drinking water is reminding many experts of a similar push several years ago for limiting another likely carcinogen, arsenic.

The two contaminants are put in water by both natural and man-made sources and have been the focus of long public health debates. And the technologies for removing both chemicals from water are complicated and very expensive.

“Arsenic is a good parallel for hexavalent chromium,” said Alan Roberson, the director of federal relations for the American Water Works Association (AWWA), a trade group for utilities. “You’re talking about a lot of the same issues, and it’s likely we have a fair amount of it across the country at very low levels.”

U.S. EPA worked for years on arsenic before issuing a drinking water rule for it in 2001. And now the agency is finalizing a draft toxicology assessment of hexavalent chromium — a contaminant made infamous by the hit 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich” — that says the compound is a likely carcinogen.

EPA Stance on Natural-Gas Recovery Gets Support

Diesel fuel shouldn’t be added to drilling fluids used to recover natural gas, the head of the American Gas Association said Thursday.

The comments from Dave McCurdy, the industry group’s president and CEO, came days after the Environmental Protection Agency said it would more closely regulate the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a process that involves injecting drilling fluids into wells to free oil and natural gas trapped in shale formations deep underground.

“Diesel should not be used in fracking fluid,” Mr. McCurdy told reporters after a speech Thursday.

“It’s a question of holding people accountable that they shouldn’t be using diesel in the fracking process,” Mr. McCurdy said. His association represents 199 energy companies, according to its website.

Some drilling companies say they no longer use diesel as an ingredient in fracturing fluid. Diesel had been a convenient additive because it can help other chemicals disperse in water and companies already maintained it on-site.

Business Roundtable Urges EPA to Stop Greenhouse Gas Rules

The Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives officers from companies such as General Electric Co. (GE) and Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), urged the Obama administration to abandon efforts to regulate greenhouse gases from industrial polluters.

The Washington-based association wants President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency to scrap the rules for power plants and oil refineries, giving Congress time to craft legislation, according to an e-mailed statement today.

The EPA rules are “an example of damaging regulatory overreach that threatens to stifle U.S. economic growth and job creation,” Thomas Fanning, CEO of Atlanta-based Southern Co. (SO), a Roundtable member and the biggest U.S. utility owner by market value, said in the group’s statement.

The Chamber of Commerce, the biggest U.S. business lobbying group, Republican lawmakers and some Democrats also have called for blocking or delaying the EPA rules. White House aides said in a statement this month that they would recommend that Obama veto any legislation stripping the EPA of its power to regulate carbon-dioxide pollution under the Clean Air Act.

Harry Reid: Don’t let China beat us

Don’t let China win the future on clean energy, Harry Reid said after his return this week from a nine-day trip to the rising Asian power.

The Senate majority leader, who took the taxpayer-funded delegation to Asia with nine other lawmakers, said the journey served as “an unmistakable reminder just how hard we have to work to make America competitive with the rest of the world,” particularly on manufacturing and energy, according to The Associated Press.

Reid said he used to be proud that he could see dozens of construction cranes in Las Vegas and other fast-growing areas in Nevada. But now, he said, in China “they have 26 cranes in one block. And they have block after block of cranes,” the AP reported following a conference call with the senator Wednesday.

In a statement Tuesday, Reid had said that “China isn’t investing so heavily in clean energy just because it’s good for the environment — it’s doing so because it’s good for the economy. China knows clean energy creates jobs and, in reducing its reliance on oil, makes it more secure.”


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