Breakingviews

Water woes could open taps on corporate risk

January 5, 2015

Two-thirds of the world’s biggest companies are worried about access to water. But few are well prepared for problems. That should change as ways to track and address concerns grow. And if bosses don’t take the initiative, activist investors may force them to.

UK faces risk of cold-weather blackouts

December 30, 2014

Britain’s electricity system is ageing and the mix of generating technology is changing. Both factors increase the danger of power cuts at peak times. Contingency plans include paying companies to accept temporary grid outages. New capacity can’t come soon enough.

Solar upstarts and utilities head for uneasy truce

December 16, 2014

The soaring popularity of solar panels in the U.S. cuts carbon emissions but upsets utilities trying to make a return on grid investments. The industry’s attempts to slap fees on solar users sparked uproar in 2014. A new cost-sharing approach may take the heat out of the debate.

E.ON’s “bad power” spinoff promises little upside

December 1, 2014

Germany’s largest utility is exiting conventional generation, bundling unwanted risk into a new company to be handed to shareholders. E.ON can concentrate on distribution and clean electricity. Both managements will benefit from focus. Still, the new entity’s prospects are bleak.

Dynegy’s $6.25 bln grab marks return of ambition

August 22, 2014

The U.S. power company once tried to buy Enron and eventually went bust after a spat with activist Carl Icahn. Two years out of bankruptcy, Dynegy is roughly doubling its business with two deals. They look sensible, but the lesson from the past is to avoid getting carried away.

Exelon is overpaying, even with the sandbagging

April 30, 2014

Relative to similar deals, the U.S. utility is low-balling the projected savings from its $6.8 bln Pepco purchase. Modesty won’t fool regulators. They’ll demand a cut through lower electric bills. Even assuming more realistic synergies won’t justify a $1.1 bln premium.

Comcast’s $45 bln deal warrants some utility logic

April 11, 2014

These days it isn’t a big stretch to liken pipes carrying internet access to those carrying water or electricity. When utilities merge, though, regulators want consumers to share the spoils. If approached that way, Comcast’s Time Warner Cable takeover might raise fewer hackles.

Carlyle descends into a public-private inferno

April 4, 2014

The mayor of a U.S. city once called Hellgate is using eminent domain to try and seize the local water utility the buyout firm acquired in 2011, a deal he backed. The clash shows why joint efforts between governments and investors to improve infrastructure don’t proliferate.

Irene should blow U.S. utility deal off course

September 1, 2011

Hurricane Irene may not have done much damage on Wall Street. But she ought to blow one deal off course: the $4.2 billion merger of electric utilities Northeast Utilities and NSTAR.

Less, not more, better for New England utilities

November 3, 2011

Too many customers of Northeast Utilities lost power for too long after recent storms. As with banks, risk management and regulation failures are to blame. Towns that run their own utilities offer an alternative; meanwhile, Northeast’s planned $4.7 bln deal needs to be torpedoed.