Around 295,000 without power from Hurricane Sally in Alabama, Florida

(Reuters) – Around 295,000 homes and businesses were still without power on Friday in Florida and Alabama after Hurricane Sally smashed into the Gulf Coast early Wednesday, according to local utilities.

That is down from a total of more than 614,000 customers affected by the storm in Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

NextEra Energy Inc’s Gulf Power utility in Florida said it has already restored service to about 158,000 customers. The utility still has about 126,500 without power.

In Louisiana, which was not hit by Sally, about 40,000 customers were still without power in the southwestern part of the state since Hurricane Laura hit the coast in late August.

Entergy Corp, which still has about 25,600 out in Louisiana, said it expected to restore service to most customers by Sept. 23. In the Hackberry area where the Cameron LNG export plant is located, Entergy has said it expects to restore service by Sept. 20.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino)

U.S. energy firms tally hurricane damage, plot restarts as Laura races north

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – U.S. energy companies on Thursday were organizing crews and beginning to review offshore Gulf of Mexico platforms and assess damage to coastal operations as Hurricane Laura took its fierce winds inland.

The storm hit Louisiana early Thursday with 150 mile-per-hour (240 kph) winds, damaging buildings, knocking down trees and cutting power to more than 400,000 people in Louisiana and Texas. Its storm surge was less than predicted, sparing inland plants from feared flooding.

Laura passed over Lake Charles, Louisiana, and its oil refineries overnight and was moving quickly north toward Arkansas on Thursday.

Offshore operators were busy scheduling reconnaissance flights over the more than 300 offshore platforms and drilling rigs whose crews evacuated last week. Laura tore through the Gulf of Mexico’s prime oil production fields, with first assessments due Thursday for pipelines and platforms.

Exxon Mobil Corp said it was contacting employees of its 369,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) oil refinery and chemical plant in Beaumont, Texas, and preparing a preliminary tally of damages. The large plant was one of six plants along the Gulf Coast’s refinery row that shut this week ahead of the storm.

Even with no or little damage, refineries take days to resume production from a cold shut and the widespread power outages in the region and evacuations could slow the process further.

Utilities reported more than 650,000 customers in Texas and Louisiana were without power on Thursday and at least one reconnaissance flight was canceled because of travel disruptions.

Oil producers were preparing to fly over evacuated offshore platforms on Thursday. Some 1.5 million barrels of oil, and or 1.65 billion cubic feet of natural gas output were halted by well closures on Wednesday.

Companies have regularly scheduled crew changes beginning on Saturday and could take the first steps to resuming production this weekend if conditions allow, said Lani Moneyhon, manager of Bristow Group’s Galliano heliport. The company provides transport to offshore producers.

Energy firms typically fly over platforms looking for damage, and later conduct walk-throughs by safety experts before crews can return. It can take several days to run reviews and schedule crew returns.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba and Gary McWilliams; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Trump ousts TVA board members over outsourcing jobs; targets CEO salary

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday he was formally removing two members from the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority for seeking to outsource U.S. jobs to foreign workers, and criticized its chief executive as overpaid.

In remarks during a White House event, Trump threatened to remove the agency’s chief executive, Jeff Lyash, and called on the board of the nation’s largest public utility to do so. Trump has previously been critical of the agency and threatened firm disciplinary action against it.

“Let this serve as a warning to any federally appointed board. If you betray American workers, then you will hear two simple words ‘you’re fired,'” Trump said, before signing an executive order aimed at preventing federal agencies from using foreign workers and offshore labor to displace U.S. workers.

Trump said he was removing TVA board chairman James Thompson and Richard Howorth from their positions on the board.

U.S. Tech workers, a nonprofit formed to fight the growth of H1-B visas to foreign workers, had criticized TVA in a series of television ads. The group urged Trump, who has the authority to appoint the TVA board, to fire Lyash for laying off U.S. workers and replacing them with contractors hiring foreign workers.

The Chattanooga Free Press reported in June that TVA had laid off 62 IT workers in Chattanooga and Knoxville as it moved to outsource more data and programming work.

A spokesman for the TVA had no immediate comment.

During the meeting, attended by several TVA workers, Trump said he had been informed that Lyash had contacted the White House and indicated a strong willingness to reverse course.

Trump has sparred with the TVA in the past over its efforts to close coal-fired power plants. He has also previously proposed selling parts of the government-owned entity to the private sector.

The U.S. Tech workers’ group aired an ad on cable television that said Lyash received an $8.1 million compensation package, making him the “highest-paid federal employee in America.”

Trump said the position was overpaid, and the CEO should not make more than $500,000 annually. “He gets $8 million a year,” said of Lyash’s package. “That was just a succession of deep swamp things happening and it’s a disgrace.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Pete Schroeder and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Tom Brown)

Heatwave broils eastern, central U.S., utilities poised for demand

Visitors from Chile, Emilia Aguirre, 14, Beatriz Catalan, 14, and Magdalena Chahuan, 15, walk during a hot day in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A massive heat wave that has enveloped the U.S. Midwest pushed into the Northeast on Friday, ushering in temperatures that could top 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38°C) in Washington, D.C., and leading utilities to take steps to prevent power outages.

The huge blob of warm air is likely to blanket the region, home to a third of the U.S. population, through Sunday with little overnight relief, said meteorologist David Roth of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

“There are 124 million people under a heat advisory or excessive heat warning – that’s a third of the population,” Roth said.

As of Friday, the heatwave sprawled from Kansas to the Atlantic Coast, and from South Carolina north to Maine. It was expected to intensify on Saturday and Sunday.

Utilities in the eastern half of the United States expect to have enough resources to meet power demand on Friday but asked consumers to turn down air conditioners to avoid putting stress on the system, which could cause outages.

“I’m very confident,” Consolidated Edison Inc President Tim Cawley said when asked at a press conference in New York, if the utility, which serves New York City, could quickly respond to any outages in the country’s largest city. He said 4,000 employees were poised to work 12-hour shifts over the weekend.

On Saturday, parts of Manhattan lost power for hours, darkening Broadway theaters and closing restaurants and shops in a partial blackout blamed on a faulty piece of equipment.

There were no major outages Friday morning anywhere in the United States, according to the PowerOutage.US website.

Temperatures on Friday were forecast to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Washington, 97 degrees F in Philadelphia and 91 degrees F in New York, where it would feel more like 110 degrees F with high humidity, Roth said.

The dangers posed by extreme heat and humidity prompted officials to scrap outdoor competitions, including Saturday’s horse races at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York and Sunday’s New York City Triathlon.

To keep cool during past heat waves, suburban children typically run under lawn sprinklers and city kids frolic in the spray of fire hydrants but the New York City Fire Department warned special spray caps that firehouses hand out should be used to avoid creating a hazard.

“If you open a fire hydrant without these caps, you endanger your neighbors because the water pressure drops and our firefighters are not able to fight fires,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said on social media.

(Additional reporting by Scott DiSavino and Henry Nichols in New York; Editing by Bill Trott and Marguerita Choy)

U.S. natgas use hits record during freeze; utilities urge conservation

FILE PHOTO - A natural gas flare on an oil well pad burns as the sun sets outside Watford City, North Dakota January 21, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

By Scott DiSavino

(Reuters) – Several utilities urged customers to cut back on power and gas use on Thursday during the brutal freeze blanketing the eastern half of the country after U.S. homes and businesses used record amounts of natural gas for heating on Wednesday.

Harsh winds brought record-low temperatures across much of the Midwest, causing at least a dozen deaths and forcing residents who pride themselves on their winter hardiness to huddle indoors.

As consumers cranked up heaters to escape the bitter cold, gas demand in the Lower 48 U.S. states jumped to a preliminary record high of 145.1 billion cubic feet per day on Wednesday, according to financial data provider Refinitiv.

That topped the current all-time high of 144.6 bcfd set on Jan. 1, 2018. One billion cubic feet is enough gas to supply about five million U.S. homes for a day.

In Michigan, automakers agreed to interrupt production schedules through Friday after local utility Consumers Energy made an emergency appeal to curtail gas use so it could manage supplies following a fire at a gas compressor station on Wednesday.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said on Thursday it canceled two additional shifts at its Warren Truck and Sterling Heights Assembly plants and General Motors Co said it was suspending operations at a total of 13 Michigan plants and its Warren Tech Center.

Ford Motor Co said it had also taken steps to reduce energy use at its four Michigan plants supplied by CMS.

Consumers, a unit of Michigan energy company CMS Energy Corp, said that the Ray compressor station in Macomb County was partially back in service but urged all of its 1.8 million Michigan customers to continue their conservation efforts through Friday.

Elsewhere in Michigan, DTE Energy Inc asked its 2.2 million power customers to reduce electric use voluntarily to help safeguard the reliability of the regional grid.

PJM, the electric grid operator for all or parts of 13 states from New Jersey to Illinois, said there were no reliability issues and noted that power demand had already peaked on Thursday below 140,000 megawatts.

That is well below the PJM region’s all-time winter peak of 143,338 MW set on Feb. 20, 2015. One megawatt can power about 1,000 homes.

While the brutal cold boosts gas use for heating, it can also reduce production by freezing pipes in gathering systems in producing regions, called freeze-offs.

Gas production in the Lower 48 states was projected to fall to a four-month low of 84.9 bcfd on Thursday due primarily to freeze-offs in the Marcellus and Utica, the nation’s biggest shale gas-producing region in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, according to Refinitiv.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by David Gregorio and Dan Grebler)

Puerto Rico governor knocks U.S. Army Corps response to restoring power after hurricane

Cars drive under a partially collapsed utility pole, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria in September, in Naguabo, Puerto Rico

By Nick Brown and Jessica Resnick-Ault

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lacked urgency in restoring power to the storm-hit island, and that it was pushing the clean-up effort down the road.

The Army Corp was tasked as the leading federal agency to oversee power restoration in Puerto Rico about a week after the U.S. territory was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Speaking to Reuters on a trip to New York, where he plans to meet Governor Andrew Cuomo, Rossello deflected to the Army Corps some of the criticism his administration has faced since Maria made landfall on Sept. 20.

Rossello and the island’s power authority, PREPA, were criticized for initially declining to seek so-called mutual aid from other U.S. public power utilities after the storm knocked out electricity to all of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents.

That decision has become a focal point because it partly spurred PREPA to sign a no-bid contract with private firm Whitefish Energy Holdings – a deal Rossello canceled on Sunday after an uproar over its provisions.

Rossello has since sought mutual aid from utilities in New York and Florida.

But the initial decision to forgo it, he said on Thursday, was due in part to an understanding with the Army Corps that it could help restore power to Puerto Rico within 45 days, and would foot the bill at a time when the island’s bankrupt government could not afford to shell out much cash.

Six weeks after the storm, only about 30 percent of the island’s grid has been restored.

“We are very unsatisfied with the urgency the Corps” has shown, Rossello said. “Everything that has been done right now has been done by PREPA or the subcontractors PREPA has had.”

Jeff Hawk, a spokesman for the Army Corps, said in an emailed statement that “contracts usually take days to a couple of weeks, so we are moving quickly.”

Rossello also said he had some concerns about new parameters laid out on Tuesday by the federal board managing Puerto Rico’s finances, which would require his administration to submit a revised draft of a fiscal turnaround plan for the island by Dec. 22.

“We are in the process of answering to the board some of our concerns with the timelines,” Rossello said, adding that some of the parameters “are appropriate, and some are not, given the lack of information and the level of devastation in Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico filed the largest government bankruptcy in U.S. history this year to restructure $72 billion in debt.

Rossello said the revised plan would be centered around a strategy of reducing the size of government, boosting private sector partnerships, and reforming education and healthcare systems.

 

(Reporting by Nick Brown; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas)