Wednesday PM March 14th, 2007

Halliburton to hire more than 13,000 new workers this year...Former Hewlett-Packard board chairwoman and others accused in boardroom spying scandal cut deal with prosecutors...Japanese firm receives order for two nuclear reactors from TXU...

Halliburton plans to hire more than 13,000 new workers this year in the United States and elsewhere. So says Halliburton Chief Operating Officer Andy Lane in a memo obtained by the Associated Press. That's an increase of 30 percent in Halliburton's work force. But the memo didn't say where the other jobs would be created. The oil services giant plans the increase as it splits its headquarters between Houston and the Persian Gulf Emirate of Dubai. Halliburton announced this week that chief executive Dave Lesar would lead the company from a new headquarters in the gulf state. The planned headquarters shift is raising an outcry among some in the United States. Some Congressional Democrats raised fears the move would mean U.S. job cuts and suspicions that Halliburton was trying to avoid paying U.S. taxes. The firm says it will remain incorporated in Delaware and the move won't affect its tax burden.

A California judge dropped charges that had been leveled against former Hewlett-Packard board chairwoman Patricia Dunn in connection with the computer company's boardroom spying scandal. Three other defendants entered no contest pleas to misdemeanor charges and will avoid jail time, too. Former HP ethics chief Kevin Hunsaker, and private investigators Ronald Delia and Matthew Depante have been ordered to complete 96 hours of community service and make restitution. Once that's been done, charges against them will be dropped. State prosecutors had announced earlier that Dunn and the other defendants had agreed to plead guilty to reduced charges. According to a release from the Attorney General's Office, the community service requirement for Dunn would be waived because she has cancer. But lawyers for Dunn and the other defendants say the press release was inaccurate and that the deal with the state called for Dunn's case to be dismissed. Dunn and the three others were charged last October with four felony counts--each of which could have landed them three-year prison terms.

Japan's largest heavy machinery maker has announced a non-binding deal for two nuclear reactors for Dallas-based electric utility TXU. The deal with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Limited is the first nuclear reactor export deal from a Japanese company, although TXU says the agreement stops short of a multibillion-dollar commitment. Mitsubishi Heavy would provide two of its newest pressurized water-cooled reactors with 1,700 megawatt-hours of generation capacity each. The design must still be approved by U.S. regulators. A Mistubishi Heavy spokesman says the company's not disclosing the amount of the proposed deal because of a "confidentiality rule'' with the client. But the Nikkei business newspaper says the combined value is estimated at $5.17 billion. TXU is the largest power operator in Texas. It formally notified its reactor selection to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Friday. It plans to start commercial operations at the plant with new reactors starting from 2015 to 2020. A 2005 federal energy bill promises financial incentives to companies that propose new nuclear reactors.

The Texas Public Utility Commission will recommend that TXU Energy pay a penalty and make refunds to customers over allegations that it manipulated wholesale power markets in 2005, according to the Houston Chronicle. An independent consulting firm says TXU drove up power prices in Texas by $70 million in the summer of 2005. The report alleges that TXU purposely held back some power from its plants to drive up prices in a market state grid operators use to balance the difference between supply and demand. The company has denied the allegations.

A state district court in Austin has upheld a Texas Department of Insurance order that Allstate reduce its rates by five percent. The home insurer may appeal the order, which comes from a 2004 case in which the department rejected a proposed rate increase from Allstate. Regulators ordered Allstate to refund some $56 million overcharged to policyholders since December 2004, plus interest.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is suing four insurers for some $6 million in premiums to policyholders who bought "credit insurance" policies to protect their vehicle's financing. Allstate's American Heritage Life Insurance, Protective Life, Old United Life Insurance and Resource Life Insurance did not reimburse clients who paid off their car loans ahead of schedule, according to Abbott. He says some 27,000 policyholders are owed an average of $222.

Flames stopped burning today at the site of a fiery gas line accident in rural Parker County, north of Weatherford. Sheriff Larry Fowler says crews arrived to survey the job site after the flames died out. Workers were putting in a pipeline Monday when a backhoe poked a hole in an existing line--sparking a spectacular blaze. Flames shot several hundred feed into the air and burned more than half-a dozen vehicles. Officials say about 15 workers took off running when the accident happened. Nobody was hurt. Both ends of the pipeline feeding the blaze were shut down and the fire was allowed to burn itself out. The accident happened in a rural area about 30 miles west of Fort Worth in the middle of the Barnett Shale--a large natural gas field.

Portland General Electric has filed a settlement with federal regulators to resolve refund claims to California's three investor-owned utilities and some state agencies, according to the Houston Chronicle. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has to approve the proposal, which calls for the former Enron division to refund about $65 million to Portland General's Pacific Gas and Electric division, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. California had rolling blackouts in 2000 and 2001 and higher wholesale prices for energy.

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