News

Wednesday June 1st, 2005

Former Portland General Electric CEO testifies for defense in Enron Broadband trial…Texans can get free copy of their credit report beginning today…Report indicates business owners more pessimistic… The former head of an Oregon utility that Enron acquired testified today that he actively encouraged Enron’s foray into broadband. Former Portland General Electric CEO Ken L. Harrison […]

Former Portland General Electric CEO testifies for defense in Enron Broadband trial…Texans can get free copy of their credit report beginning today…Report indicates business owners more pessimistic…

The former head of an Oregon utility that Enron acquired testified today that he actively encouraged Enron’s foray into broadband. Former Portland General Electric CEO Ken L. Harrison was the first witness for the defense in the trial of five former Enron Broadband executives accused of lying about the unit’s capabilities to enrich themselves. Harrison says he encouraged Enron to invest millions to turn his utility’s fledgling broadband arm into a leader in the then-burgeoning market. The broadband unit failed. Harrison testified on behalf of defendant Joseph Hirko, who was Portland General’s finance chief until Enron acquired the utility. He praised Hirko’s trustworthiness and noted he recommended Hirko as finance chief for Portland General’s new parent. Enron named Andrew Fastow to that job instead, leaving Hirko to focus on broadband.

Starting today, Texans can get a free copy of their credit report. It’s part of a mandate by the Federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act to combat identity theft. Although the law passed in 2003, credit bureaus were worried they would be inundated with requests, so the government phased in the country from west to east. Westerners and midwesterners have had the opportunity for months. Now, Texans can get a free copy of their credit report every 12 months. The service is available through each of the three national credit bureaus: Experian, Trans-Union and Equifax. Requests can be made online or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

A natural gas well continues to burn hours after a gas leak ignited early Wednesday. The leak happened about 25 miles northeast of Houston in a sparsely populated area around the small Harris County town of Crosby. Crosby volunteer firefighters received a report of a gas leak shortly after midnight and evacuated the area of about 15 households when something ignited the gas. A private contractor has been brought in to fight the gas fire. Louisiana Gas Development, which owns the well, says the well could continue to burn for days. No injuries nor environmental damage has been reported as a result of the fire.

The Texas Small Business ConditionsSM report indicates business owners are more pessimistic about their future, according to the Houston Business Journal, and less likely to invest in new technologies than earlier this year. The report from the National Federation of Independent Businesses polled business owners in south Texas, finding pessimism about the future since legislators are placing the burden of funding public schools squarely on the backs of small business owners.

Governor Rick Perry has signed into law the workers’ compensation reform legislation passed by the Texas legislature. Perry says House Bill 7 will abolish the Workers’ Compensation Commission and move its work to a new division in the Texas Department of Insurance. The law will increase the cap on weekly benefits for injured workers by as much as 15 percent beginning next year. The governor says the law will provide employers with financial relief on insurance costs.

The Riverside General Hospital Computer Laboratory Training Center project has been completed in the Fifth Ward at the Houston Recovery Campus. The center is the result of a grant awarded to the hospital through the 5th Ward/HP i-community, established in partnership with Hewlett-Packard. The Houston Community Call Center will provide career opportunities to computer trained graduates of Riverside General Hospital’s Service Station Program and other hospital programs.

SBC Communications is cutting the price for high-speed internet access to $15 per month for new subscribers who sign up online. It’s another aggressive move by the San Antonio-based telephone company as it looks to add and retain customers in advance of its push into cable TV service later this year. The promotional rate for SBC Yahoo DSL Express is priced below what many dial-up internet services as well as rival broadband providers charge. Customers must sign a one-year contract to get the $15 rate. After that first year, the price will revert to the regular fee, currently about $30. The $15 rate for DSL brings entry-level download speeds of between 384 kilobytes to 1.5 megabytes per second.

One in six Texas homeowners could see reduced insurance rates this year. The Texas Department of Insurance says several small insurance companies have filed their rate changes for 2005 indicating rate decreases of up to 14.5 percent. The state’s largest insurers have yet to file their changes. Industry leaders attribute the reductions to lower claims costs and stiffer competition among insurers. But insurance department spokesman Jim Hurley warns that the rate changes have not been reviewed and may be too much or too little. The department can order more rate reductions.

Louisiana’s 4th Court of Appeals is refusing to rehear a pollution case for Irving-based Exxon Mobil. The judges has already lowered a $1 billion verdict against the oil company to about $219 million in a case in which it allegedly ignored radioactive contamination left behind on land leased to an Exxon contractor. Radioactive material is generated in the oil-producing process and attaches itself to pipes.

The settlement of a 1999 federal pollution lawsuit at Dynegy’s Baldwin power plant in Illinois was approved last week by a U. S. district court, according to Reuters. The settlement calls for Dynegy to spend $545 million to cut pollution from its Illinois coal-fired power plants. The company will pay a $9 million civil penalty and spend $15 million on projects to lessen harm caused by the plants’ emissions.

Texen Oil & Gas has moved its corporate headquarters from Houston to Scottsdale, Arizona, according to the Houston Business Journal. But the company will maintain its energy division in Houston. Texen is changing its name to SNRG Corporation. The company is expanding its activities to include the development and production of natural and synthetic resource-derived materials, hydrocarbons and energy.

Plains Exploration & Production has completed the $336 million sale of producing properties to Fort Worth-based XTO Energy. Plains E&P is a Houston-based independent oil and gas company.

The Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau says the Produce Marketing Association will base its Fresh Summit International Convention and Exposition in Houston in 2012 and 2016. It’s the world’s largest fresh fruit and vegetable event, and is expected to draw 17,000 delegates from 70 countries at each convention. The GHCVB expects an economic impact of $7 million for the city per convention.

Continental Airlines will begin daily non-stop flights from its Newark Liberty International Airport hub to Stockholm, Sweden beginning Thursday. The Houston-based air carrier says there are more than 1,200 U. S.-owned companies in Sweden, and more than 300,000 Americans visit there every year.

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