California has too much power, according to an in-depth report from the Los Angeles Times (see: "Californians are paying billions for power they don't need," by Ivan Penn and Ryan Menezes). "The state’s power plants are on track to be able to produce at least 21% more electricity than it needs by 2020, based on official estimates," the paper reported. "And that doesn’t even count the soaring production of electricity by rooftop solar panels that has added to the surplus." Ratepayers are shouldering the cost burden for power plants that operate far below capacity; the report blames regulators for allowing public utilities to build too many power plants and leaving customers on the hook for the operating cost.
Short-run, this year's heavy rains in California mean that hydropower production will soar in the state, CNBC reported (see: "California expects surge in hydropower but that could be bad news for these power companies," by Jeff Daniels). "Analysts say the boom in hydroelectricity could further depress power prices, which might be good news for rate payers but bad news ultimately for independent power producers, or IPPs," CNBC reported. Competition from wind and solar is also pushing power costs down.
Already pushing hard for conservation and alternative energy sources, California may up the ante: "Last week, the State Senate leader, Kevin de León, quietly introduced legislation that would require California to get all of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources by 2045," reported the New York Times' California Today newsletter for February 23. Storage is a key technical challenge along that path, the Times notes: "A total reliance on renewable energy would require a major expansion of storage capacity for those times when the wind dies down and the sun fades, said Sadrul Ula, managing director of U.C. Riverside’s Winston Chung Global Energy Center."
Tesla, a market leader in battery storage applications, recently installed a large bank of storage batteries east of Los Angeles, the New York Times reported on January 30 (see: "Tesla Gives the California Power Grid a Battery Boost," by Diane Cardwell). "Just off a freeway in Southern California, 396 refrigerator-size stacks of Tesla batteries, encased in white metal, have been hastily erected with a new mission: to suck up electricity from the grid during the day and feed it back into the system as needed, especially in the evening. The installation, capable of powering roughly 15,000 homes over four hours, is part of an emergency response to projected energy shortages stemming from a huge leak at a natural gas storage facility."
And Reuters reports that big wind and solar projects are driving big transmission line investments to serve the California market (see: "California demand for wind power energizes transmission firms," by Nichola Groom). "A firm controlled by Philip Anschutz, the billionaire entertainment and pro sports magnate, will soon build the largest wind farm in the United States to serve utilities in California, where officials have set ambitious green power goals," Reuters reports. "The $5 billion project, however, will be constructed 700 miles away in Wyoming, a state better known for coal mines and oil fields. The vast distance between the two states provides a different Anschutz-owned firm with another big opportunity: a $3 billion project building transmission lines to deliver the power - one of a dozen similar power-line projects by other companies across the West."
Louisiana homeowners say flood insurance companies are low-balling claims in the aftermath of last summer's epic floods. WWLTV.com reports that homeowners fear a repeat of insurance company practices that were called out after Hurricane Sandy in New York (see: "Underwater & Underpaid: Hurricane Sandy controversies renewed in LA," by David Hammer). The station interviewed two couples who said their claims after the flood were largely denied because investigators working for Metairie-based U.S. Forensic, a contract engineering firm, blamed water damage to their homes on other factors (for example, blaming warped flooring and damaged subflooring on previously existing crawlspace venting and air conditioning problems).
U.S. Forensic was hammered in court after Hurricane Sandy by federal judges who lambasted the firm's contract engineers for improper claims handling. Coastal Connection followed that story in detail at the time (see: "Judge Slaps Insurance Company Lawyers in Sandy Flood Case," Coastal Contractor 11/25/14) and "Insurance Companies Catch More Flak Over Sandy Case Handling," Coastal Contractor 12/8/14). Texas attorney Steve Mostyn scored big headlines, and some wins for homeowners, in East Coast courtrooms (see: "Texas Trial Lawyer Mostyn Changing the Game in Sandy Insurance Battle," Coastal Contractor 2/23/15); the trip to Louisiana from Mostyn's home base in Houston, obviously, would be a shorter commute.
Rentals and second homes make up a growing share of the real estate market, Bloomberg is reporting. The Denver Post carries the story here (see: "Landlords are taking over the U.S. housing market'). "As rising home prices, slow new home construction, and demographic shifts push homeownership rates to 50-year lows, the U.S. is increasingly a country of renters — and landlords," Bloomberg reports. "Last year, 37 percent of homes sold were acquired by buyers who didn’t live in them." That number could include unoccupied second homes and spec flips, the story notes, but it also seems to indicate a drop in ownership and a rise in rental occupancy.
STATE BY STATE
Connecticut: Developer Frank Sciame, who bought the estate of the late actress Katherine Hepburn for $6 million in 2004, has plans now to turn a nearby lighthouse into a playroom for his grandchildren, the New York Post reports (see: "131-year-old Connecticut lighthouse to become kids’ playroom," by Jennifer Gould Keil). The project looks like an interesting showcase.
Florida: Ever seen an enforcement sting on unlicensed contractors? A TV crew from NBC-6 in Miami set up hidden cameras in a vacant house and watched as two undercover officers posed as homeowners, attracting a steady stream of illegal offers. Here's the report (see: "Cracking Down on Unlicensed Contractors," by Alicia Machado).
Massachusetts: A drain contracting company and its owner face criminal charges in the trench collapse deaths of two men in Boston last fall. The Boston Globe has the story (see: "Drain company, owner arraigned in trench deaths," by Evan Allen).