Report: Industry drills for fracking-friendly studies

An Associated Press article posted earlier Monday on our website reported how opponents of fracking — the controversial method of extracting natural gas from rock deep beneath the ground — apply shaky science to back their stand.

Meanwhile, another news report says the natural gas industry has been backing university scientific studies that reach conclusions favorable to continued fracking — though the studies’ connection to the industry isn’t at all apparent.

“Producers are taking a page from the tobacco industry playbook: funding research at established universities that arrives at conclusions that counter concerns raised by critics,” a Bloomberg article states.

As examples, the Bloomberg piece cites the following:

*An economic study from Penn State that favored the continuation of Pennsylvania’s policy of not taxing gas drillers. “What the study didn’t do was note that it was sponsored by gas drillers and led by an economist … with a history of producing industry-friendly research on economic and energy issues.”

*A University of Texas study that said fracking did not contaminate ground water. The professor who led the study is on the board of a gas-drilling company and received $400,000 in compensation from the company last year.

*A study from the State University of New York at Buffalo, partially authored by the same economist from the Penn State study, that “did not acknowledge ‘extensive ties’ by its authors to the gas industry, according to a watchdog group.”

Bad timing for Pepco hiring

As hundreds of thousands cursed power companies while desperately searching for places to charge their iPhones last week, Pepco Holdings Inc. was trying to hire a new media relations manager in the Washington, D.C. area.

Talk about bad timing.

The ad was listed two days before a freak storm struck with little warning on June 29 and knocked out power around the region. The job description says the manager “works to manage and properly address controversial issues” and “responds rapidly and tactically to unanticipated events such as storm outages.”

The job was still listed as of Monday morning, and surely the gig will get filled.

But even desperate job-seekers probably thought twice before clicking “apply” last week.

Constellation Field, home of your Sugar Land Skeeters

As a side benefit to its May 27 purchase of StarTex Power, Constellation Energy Group is now the official naming sponsor of the Sugar Land Skeeters’ new minor league baseball stadium in Texas.

The Sugar Land City Council on Tuesday approved the name change of StarTex Power Field to Constellation Field, reflecting the change in ownership for Houston-based StarTex. Constellation agreed to buy StarTex Power, a retail electric provider with approximately 170,000 customers, in May for $142.5 million.

“Constellation’s merger with StarTex enhances an already strong partnership,” said Matt O’Brien, President of the Sugar Land Skeeters. “Adding more resources and community initiatives while maintaining local relationships will only bring greater good for Skeeters baseball and the entire Sugar Land community.”

The Skeeters, an expansion team debuting in April, will play in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, a minor league system not affiliated with Major League Baseball. The team will be the first in the league not located in the Mid-Atlantic. (The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of Waldorf and Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers are also in the league.)

Continue reading

Federal stimulus energy rebates extended for homeowners

A program that offers federal stimulus funds as rebates for homeowners seeking to upgrade properties through whole-house air sealing, duct replacement and insulation of walls, attics, crawl spaces and basements has been infused with an additional $850,000.

The Home Performance Rebate program was given the extra funds Thursday, state officials announced. So far, almost 1,000 Maryland residents have upgraded their homes with an average rebate of $1,529 each. The rebates are paid through the Maryland Energy Administration.

The rebate program offers a 35 percent rebate – which totals up to $3,100 per household – toward qualifying home efficiency upgrades. That rebate, combined with the existing rebates of 15 percent from state utilities, allows homeowners to reduce the cost of installing upgrades by as much as half.

The Home Performance Rebate program has led to nearly $3 million of private investment in home energy efficiency upgrades in just seven months. The new funds are expected to spark more than $1.5 million in additional investment in energy efficient home improvements, state officials said.

The program is funded entirely by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Pepco under fire (cont.)

Power company Pepco and its performance, or lack thereof, were the topics of discussion once again Wednesday, this time at a hearing held by the  House Economic Matters Committee.

The company is under fire from multiple sides over its response to power outages in Montgomery County since last year. On Wednesday, the committee had a hearing on HB110, known by some as the ‘nuclear’ option, which, if passed, could lead to the company’s franchise to operate in Maryland being pulled.

Del. Bill Frick, a Montgomery County Democrat, and 13 other lawmakers introduced the bill in February. At the hearing, Frick reiterated the need to force Pepco out.

“What HB110 does is, what our neighbors wish they could do — it takes our business elsewhere,” Frick said.

He said Pepco customers were stuck and unable to switch to another company. He told the commission it was time to bring in another company that could do the job.

After he testified, questions from the committee were light, and Pepco and its allies did not speak to the bill.

For it’s part, the PSC said it had “no position” on the bill. But a spokeswoman said the PSC was undertaking its own investigation of Pepco.

Top 5: Wind energy, Black Friday and payday loans

The truncated work week didn’t keep The Daily Record’s business reporters from breaking some news in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Also cracking the weekly top five for the first time is a recent installment in our new series, the Photo of the Day. The picture relates to air travel, hence the business peg, but mostly it’s just a very cool picture. Do check it out.

1. On the Move, 11/26: Northrop Grumman’s Edwards Veihoffer wins women engineers award

Debbie Edwards Veihdeffer, director of work-life integration at Northrop Grumman’s electronic systems sector in Linthicum, recently received the Work-Life Balance Award from the Society of Women Engineers.

She serves as the human resources focal point for three sector-level employee resource groups and is the project leader for two science, technology, engineering and mathematics educational outreach programs for teachers.

2. State suspends debt collection firm’s license

A collection company hired by payday loan firms was suspended by state regulators Monday because the loans were given by unlicensed companies who violated state usury laws.

Continue reading

Planting a seed for a green roof

A Baltimore roofing company wants to give away a “green” roof to a nonprofit looking to reduce its carbon footprint.

Cole Roofing has dubbed the promotion the “Green Roof Giveaway” and values it at $30,000, either in the form of solar panels or a vegetated roof, which Cole says are growing in popularity. Interested nonprofits can go to a website and upload a video or submit an essay explaining why a green roof would help them in their work. The deadline is Nov. 15.

Cole Roofing will determine the type of roof to install based on the structure of the nonprofit’s building.

Continue reading

Bye bye White Pages delivery

The days of the residential White Pages delivered to doorsteps across the state would appear to be numbered.

Verizon, the largest landline telecommunications provider in Maryland, is seeking permission from the state’s Public Service Commission to change how it delivers the residential White Pages in all counties except Garrett and Dorchester. If approved, the only way to get the White Pages delivered would be to go to Verizon’s website and request it.

Otherwise, searchable white and yellow, residential and commercial listings are also available on the site. Or, customers can download a copy for use on computers or handheld devices.

The Public Service Commission will be taking comments through the end of the month. And, the commission will discuss the matter at a meeting on Dec. 8.

Power outage blues

As two Montgomery County residents who commute to Baltimore daily, we’ve attacked this week’s power outages in different ways.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re both steaming about Pepco’s slow return to service, but knowing their business a bit — and seeing all of the damage from the storm’s downed trees — has helped take off the edge.

So has working with A/C in Baltimore.

Here’s this week from each of our points of view.

Continue reading

OPC’s new people-friendly website

The Office of the People’s Counsel has a new website that they are touting as more friendly to the people they rep in utility matters — consumers.

The site gives consumers a list of energy providers with the essentials on their offerings: how much they charge per kilowatt-hour, the length of the contract, fee for canceling and what type of power they provide.

While OPC’s website is a good one-stop shop for consumers looking to compare deals, OPC warns that you should still check with the individual providers and read contract details before signing on with an energy company. Contract terms can change quickly, and you don’t want to get stuck paying for a service that you don’t like.

The site also includes a list of public hearings coming up at the Public Service Commission. I even noticed dates for a taxicab rate hike hearing that I didn’t know was coming up (August 2-4). There’s also a section on the latest news from the PSC. Consumers can see how the commission ruled and where OPC came down in support of customers.