Monday, August 10, 2009

Battle of the Titans: Rival hopes to stop MidAmerican wind energy plan (BRK.A; FPL)

NextEra, a non-regulated division of FPL Companies is the largest generator of wind and solar power in North America, MidAmerican, a majority-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway has the largest utility owned wind operation along with significant hydro production and one of the largest natural gas pipelines in the country.
From the DesMoines Register:
Two energy giants will face off Monday in a dispute over who will harness the most power and profits from Iowa's wind.

MidAmerican Energy of Des Moines, Iowa's largest wind generator with 1,300 megawatts of capacity, wants state approval for an additional 1,001 megawatts at yet-undisclosed locations in the state. It said it wants to comply with the pro-wind policies of President Barack Obama and Gov. Chet Culver.

Florida-based NextEra Energy, in second place with 800 megawatts of Iowa wind generation, contends that the MidAmerican proposal would have a "chilling effect" on future outside wind investment in Iowa. That's because MidAmerican would have an allowed rate of return, giving it an advantage over NextEra and other nonutilities in attracting investors....
...Utilities normally fight each other behind the scenes, usually in regional transmission grid organizations, and try to keep a united front before regulators. A lawyered-up public showdown of the kind that will begin Monday before the Iowa Utilities Board is rare in the industry.

"I don't know of another kind of battle between two entities this large that has come into the open in this way," said Robert Latham of Cedar Rapids, an independent electricity consultant who works with both MidAmerican and NextEra.

This fight is different, in part, because of climate-change legislation pending before Congress. MidAmerican is vulnerable to any government-mandated efforts to reduce greenhouse gases since 59 percent of its generated power comes from coal. The bill could also give financial advantages to wind providers.

"We know climate change legislation is coming. We just don't know exactly what it will be," MidAmerican President William Fehrman said. "We want to position ourselves for it."

MidAmerican says it needs state approval now to take advantage of new federal tax breaks, including what it calls a "bonus" depreciation available only until the end of 2009.

Also hanging over the dispute is the prospect of a huge new electric transmission superhighway that Obama, Culver and several other Midwestern governors have urged be built from the Dakotas through Iowa to carry wind-generated electricity east. Iowa ranks second only to Texas in wind generation.

The battle also features the star power of Omaha billionaire Warren Buffett. Since his Berkshire Hathaway bought MidAmerican a decade ago, Buffett has provided the vision and financial power to make MidAmerican the nation's largest regulated utility provider of wind energy....MORE