Texas Business Report: State Regulator Raises Energy Prices

The Texas Public Utility Commission decided Thursday to raise the price of wholesale energy by 50 percent.
Sat June 30, 2012 1:36 am
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The Texas economy is one of the most robust in the world. Wildly profitable companies and ingenious entrepreneurs call this state home, and what happens here influences businesses around the nation. Here’s a slice of the profits, losses, big deals, and backroom decisions happening across  Texas this week.

Peak Power Price Pickup Pleases Producers, Perturbs Public
Texas power plant owners will soon be able to charge more for the electricity they generate in peak summer hours. State regulators voted Thursday to raise the cap on the price of wholesale energy by 50 percent starting in August. The Texas Tribune reports that the Texas Public Utility Commission’s decision gives a boost to plant owners — many of whom are struggling in a weak energy market — and “could give them an incentive to build more plants to supply the state's growing population.”

The Bottom Line : Consumer advocates argue that energy companies will likely pass the increase on to customers, and one industrial group estimates that if the higher cap had been in place last year, “the total cost of raising the price cap would have amounted to $4.7 billion,” according to the Tribune.

Google Doc Search: No Results Found
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is ramping up the state’s legal battle with Google, accusing the company of concealing evidence that it manipulates search results in an attempt “to stifle competition and drive up online advertising prices,” the Associated Press reports.

Abbott filed a complaint in state court last week, hoping to force Google to turn over more than 14,500 internal documents that he first requested two years ago. The search giant has already released thousands of pages of records as part of legal challenges from Texas and five other states, but it has declined to surrender the remainder on the grounds of attorney-client privilege.

The Bottom Line : Google’s stock has been underperforming for the last year, partially as a result of “the uncertainty posed by [its] legal battles with government regulators and authorities around the world,” according to the AP.

A Few Green Cards Short of a Tech
Several Texas technology companies are participating in a national effort to overhaul federal immigration policy to “enhance America’s competitiveness in the global economy,” the Houston Business Journal reports. Under current law, 140,000 green cards are available to immigrants coming to work in the U.S. each year, but there is a limit to the number of legal permanent residents admitted from each individual nation — no one country can make up more than 7 percent of the total pool of green cards.

In a letter addressed to members of the U.S. Senate, supporters point out that under the existing policy, “the U.S. awards the same number of green cards to natives of India and China, countries which account for over 40% of the world's population, as it does to natives of Greenland, a country that accounts for 0.001% of the world's population.”

The Bottom Line : A network of 346 tech companies signed a letter in support of the cause, including Freescale Semiconductor and Cirrus Logic in Austin, as well as Houston’s Kaiz Corp., Opera Consulting and Shri Shah Corp.

Winners of the Week: Lockheed Martin Machinists
Machinists at Lockheed Martin’s aircraft assembly plant in Fort Worth ended a 10-week strike on Thursday, accepting a deal that offers most of the concessions they had requested. The company’s original offer in April “would have raised health care costs and eliminated pensions for new hires,” the Associated Press reports. Under the terms of this week’s agreement, union members will receive $2,000 bonuses and annual pay increases starting at 3 percent. The machinists, who assemble F-35 stealth fighter jets at the plant, expect to return to work by July 9.

Losers of the Week: AT&T U-verse Subscribers
Bad news for AT&T U-verse subscribers who are fans of “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” and other AMC shows: The cable provider is set to drop the network from its programming lineup when the contract between the two companies expires on Saturday night. Dallas-based AT&T says it is pulling the plug because AMC Networks is demanding “nearly double” the amount its competitors pay to carry AMC, IFC and We TV, Businessweek reports.

Dish Networks is also threatening to drop AMC this weekend due to a rate increase and a separate legal dispute.

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