Thursday PM December 20th, 2007

ERCOT revises predictions for state's energy supply...Bank of America wins case against AEP over Enron agreements...Pentagon awards $458.1 million deal to Stewart & Stevenson for 668 bomb-resistant vehicles...

The operator of the state's electricity grid says Texas should have enough power to deal with extreme demands until 2011. That's two years more leeway than the Electric Reliability Council of Texas predicted in May, when it said the state's energy supply would become uncomfortably tight by 2009. The council says power plants coming online in 2009 and 2010 allowed it to extend the prediction. The new outlook accounts for planned power plants, including three coal plants being built by Energy Future Holdings, formerly named TXU Corporation. ERCOT says it strives to maintain a 12.5 percent reserve margin--or the amount of excess capacity available to ensure reliability during extreme temperatures and unexpected major outages.

A federal judge in Manhattan has awarded Bank of America $347.3 million in damages in a case against an American Electric Power unit over agreements involving Enron. U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa says Bank of America had dealt with Enron on a secured basis and has a right to recover its security interest. The interest involved 55 billion cubic feet of natural gas in a facility Ohio-based AEP obtained when it bought a business from Enron in 2001. The plaintiffs in the case included two former AEP subsidiaries--Houston Pipe Line and HPL Resources.

Attorneys for victims of the 2005 BP Texas City explosion have filed papers in a Galveston court protesting the company's plea bargain calling for a $50 million fine. In late October, BP agreed to plead guilty to a felony violation of the federal Clean Air Act, pay the $50 million fine and serve three years probation for the blast that killed 15 people. The lawyers want a criminal fine of $1 billion or more. U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal postponed the company's plea hearing to February 4th. The U.S. Attorney's office in Houston will file its response next month. BP is spending $1 billion to overhaul the plant, and has spent $1.6 billion settling civil claims. Hundreds more claims remain outstanding.

The Pentagon has awarded a $458.1 million deal to Sealy-based BAE Systems' Stewart & Stevenson Tactical Vehicles division for 668 vehicles. It's part of a combined $2.66 billion deal to four manufacturers to build and deliver more than 3,000 bomb-resistant armored vehicles for U.S. soldiers in Iraq. U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Armed Services Committee, praised the more than 2,000 workers at the Sealy plant for "continuing to play a critical role in protecting military men and women." The new vehicles will be delivered between June and July 2008.

The House has sent President Bush a bill that protects taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax. The measure freezes its growth for a year. The tax was created in 1969 to make sure that a small group of very rich people were not able to avoid paying taxes. But it was never adjusted for inflation. Without the fix, the number of taxpayers hit this year could have grown from four million to 25 million. The president had threatened to veto earlier versions that paid for the fix--estimated to cost $50 billion--by closing some tax loopholes. The White House argued that the alternative minimum tax shouldn't be fixed with increased taxes. There is a down side. The IRS says it will now have to reprogram its computers and that could delay tax refund checks.

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