News

Friday AM October 19th, 2007

PUC thwarts Coastal Habitat Alliance attempts to block wind-powered turbines on Gulf Coast…Number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits shoots up…Transport Workers Union of America makes third attempt to organize Continental fleet service workers… The Public Utility Commission has blocked conservationists’ attempts to present concerns about proposed Gulf Coast wind farms. The […]

PUC thwarts Coastal Habitat Alliance attempts to block wind-powered turbines on Gulf Coast…Number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits shoots up…Transport Workers Union of America makes third attempt to organize Continental fleet service workers…

The Public Utility Commission has blocked conservationists’ attempts to present concerns about proposed Gulf Coast wind farms. The Coastal Habitat Alliance is worried that the arrays of wind-powered turbines would harm migratory birds. The environmental groups want to intervene in a company’s application for a 21-mile transmission line that would run through Kenedy Ranch in south Texas. It would bring power from wind turbines planned along the Gulf Coast. In a divided decision, Commissioners Julie Caruthers Parsley and Barry Smitherman on Wednesday said the group couldn’t intervene. They say no members of the opposition group own land within 500 feet of the route for the wires. No permit is required to put up the turbines, but the commission still regulates the placement of transmission lines. The PUC is still reviewing the transmission line application.


The number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits shot up last week. The Labor Department says applications for jobless benefits hit 337,000. That’s an increase of 28,000 from the previous week, and the biggest one-week surge since February. The increase was four times larger than the gain of 6,000 that economists had been expecting. The four-week average for claims edged up to 316,500, the highest level in four weeks.


The Federal Reserve says the economy generated slower growth recently as troubles in the housing and credit markets weighed on companies and consumers alike. The so-called Beige Book indicates that business activity around the country was more subdued with a more uncertain outlook. In remarks earlier this week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned the housing slump will be a “significant drag” on economic growth into next year. Analysts are divided whether the Fed will cut interest rates at the policy-setting at the end of this month.


A forward-looking economic gauge is pointing higher, amid a mixed variety of data seen recently. The Conference Board’s Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose three-tenths of a percent in September. That follows a sharp drop in August. The index released by the private released group has been choppy this year. The LEI is intended to predict economic activity in the coming months.


Freddie Mac says mortgage rates have been mixed recently. It says the average for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages stood at 6.40 percent this week, unchanged from last week. For 15-year fixed, the average is put at 6.08 percent, up from 6.06 percent last week. On one-year treasury-indexed adjustable rate mortgages, Freddie Mac says the average is 5.76 percent, up from 5.73 percent last week. The mortgage giant’s chief economist, Frank Nothaft, says the rate movements reflect recent economic data, which has been mixed.


The Transport Workers Union of America is trying again to organize thousands of fleet service workers at Continental Airlines, according to the Houston Chronicle. The group has filed union authorization cards with the National Mediation Board. Union officials failed in 2005 and 2006 to get enough votes to represent almost 8,000 fleet service workers, including baggage loaders, freight handlers and plane de-icers. Three-thousand of those workers are in Houston.

Continental Airlines reported third-quarter profits two percent higher than last year’s quarter. The Houston-based airline says it had double-digit passenger revenue growth in every segment of its business, except for domestic flights. Continental reports a net profit of $241 million. The company had a slightly larger share count in the most recent quarter, which is why earnings per share fell even as profits rose. Revenue rose almost nine percent to $3.82 billion. Passenger revenue rose more than 22 percent on trans-Atlantic flights, more than 11 percent on flights to Latin America and more than ten percent on flights to the Pacific region. Domestic passenger revenue rose just more than seven percent.


Southwest Airlines reports its third-quarter profit more than tripled from last year’s quarter because its packing its planes fuller amid strong demand. Net income for the three months ended September 30th rose to $162 million. The earnings figures include the effect of a $25 million charge to cover early retirement payments for about seven percent of employees. They also include an $11 million charge related to Illinois state taxes. Southwest said the charges, which amounted to about three cents per share in total, weren’t included in analysts’ estimates. Revenue increased almost 11 percent to $2.59 billion. Analysts had predicted revenue of $2.58 billion. The Dallas-based airline says its load factor, which measures how many seats are filled by paying customers, rose to a record 76.6 percent during the quarter.


British Airways said it wants to forge closer ties over the long haul with Fort Worth-based American Airlines. But the British carrier says it has no plans to seek regulatory approval for a tie-up. BA and American are members of the OneWorld Alliance of Carriers. That allows customers of one airline to earn and redeem frequent-flier miles on most flights operated by alliance partners. The airlines have twice previously tried to cement a closer relationship through a profit-sharing arrangement covering Trans-Atlantic routes. Those attempts failed as U.S. regulators wanted the carriers to cede too many landing slots, particularly at London’s Heathrow Airport. BA and American already have code-sharing agreements for certain flights. They face tougher competition at Heathrow next April. That’s when a trans-Atlantic aviation treaty takes effect. It’ll allow any European airline to fly from all European airports to any U.S. destination and vice versa.


At least 16 coal-fired power plant proposals nationwide have been scrapped in recent months. More than three dozen other plant projects have been delayed as utilities face increasing pressure due to concerns over global warming and rising construction costs. The slow pace of new plant construction reflects a dramatic change in fortune for a fuel source that just a few years ago was poised for a major resurgence. Combined, the canceled and delayed projects represent enough electricity to power approximately 20 million homes. The U.S. Department of Energy’s latest tally of pending coal plants shows eight projects totaling 7,000 megawatts have been canceled since May. That’s besides TXU’s cancellation earlier this year of eight of 11 proposed Texas plants. The eight total almost 6,900 megawatts. TXU’s turned its attention to nuclear and wind power. The Energy Department report says utilities have also pushed back construction on another 32,000 megawatts worth of projects. Coal has been a mainstay for utilities, producing half of all electricity consumed in the United States. But it’s also one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change.

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