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Briefs -- Xcel Energy, Texas Alliance, Ohio Power Plant, Oneok Partners, WV Budget, Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Retail natural gas utility charges in Colorado would decline 9-10% beginning April 1 under a proposal by Xcel Energy Inc. combination utility Public Service Company of Colorado. Xcel said in a filing with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that the quarterly gas cost adjustment would result in a 9% decrease in residential bills and a 10% reduction for small businesses. Meanwhile, residential utility electric rates are expected to increase about 3.5%. For residential customers that use an average of 42 therms/month in the spring, the commodity prices dips to 2.41 cents/therm versus 3.48 cents/therm a year ago, a decline of about $3.00 a month. For small businesses that average about 185.2 therms monthly, the rate would drop to 2.38 cents/therm, a reduction of slightly more than $13. The revised rates require PUC approval.

The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers (TAEP) has launched a webinar series to help members stay informed about regulatory changes in the oil/natural gas patch. The webinars will be hosted by TAEP Executive Vice President John Tintera, former executive director of the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), and Alliance RRC Committee Chair Brian Miller of Miller Consulting Inc., with logistical coordination/technical assistance by Alliance Public Affairs Consultant Katie Carmichael, said TAEP President Alex Mills. The first webinar is focused on recent changes to the RRC Groundwater Advisory Unit's (GAU) certification process. The hosts explained new fees associated with the existing GAU Water Board Letters, with an emphasis on form requirements and compliance. For information, visit www.texasalliance.org.

The developers of a natural gas-fired power plant currently under construction in Northwest Ohio have filed a revised application with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to increase capacity to 960 MW from 799 MW. Project backers Ares Management LP, North American Project Development (NAPD) LLC and I-Square Capital filed an application to build the Oregon Clean Energy plant in May 2013 to produce 960 MW of electricity, but at the time developers were concerned about overloading the electric grid. Grid operator PJM Interconnection has determined that 960 MW is manageable, NAPD said. The facility, which is being built in Lucas County, is expected to be operational by 2017. The plant would be one of four newbuild or conversion power plants approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board that would use regionally produced gas to generate electricity.

Unseasonably warm and windy conditions in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota sparked two grass fires on Sunday in McKenzie County, a top oil producing area, including one near a Oneok Partners natural gas compressor station southeast of Keene. A Oneok spokesperson told NGI's Shale Daily the company is investigating the fire's cause, which consumed about 900 acres before being brought under control. The incident had no impact on operations. Another fire reportedly resulted from target shooting, authorities said.

West Virginia's Republican-controlled legislature concluded this year's 60-day regular session on Saturday without passing a balanced budget. Democratic Gov.Earl Ray Tomblin indicated he would likely have to call lawmakers back for a special session to resolve the impasse. The state's general revenue budget has grown rapidly over the last decade, and lawmakers are gridlocked over how to balance the $4.3 billion budget and plug a nearly $400 million deficit. The state Senate shelved a House-crafted budget over the weekend that would have relied on $72 million in spending cuts for state agencies, while the House has rejected a Senate proposal that would raise $139 million in tax increases on tobacco products, among other things. The state has long relied on its coal and natural gas severance taxes to balance its budget, but the commodities downturn is now straining its finances. Overall severance tax collections rose by 2% through the first nine months of fiscal year (FY) 2015 but fell 31% through the final three months, reflecting coal's ongoing downturn and a drop in oil and gas prices. The state has projected that FY 2016 severance tax collections could fall nearly $192 million short of projections (see Shale DailyOct. 7, 2015). The House last week shelved a bill passed by the Senate that would have lowered the coal and gas severance taxes (see Shale DailyMarch 8).

An Ohio appeals court has upheld a lower state court's decision that found illegal a community bill of rights banning oil and gas drilling in the Cleveland suburb of Broadview Heights. The eighth appellate court of Ohio reaffirmed the decision of a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge that ruled the bill of rights conflicts with state law that gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources preemptive authority to regulate the industry (see Shale DailyMarch 13, 2015). Broadview Heights approved the bill in 2012 to amend the city's charter to ban the drilling of new oil and gas wells, as well as the transport and injection of the industry's waste. Two conventional drillers, Bass Energy Inc. and Ohio Valley Energy filed a lawsuit against the bill in June 2014. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund aided some residents in appealing the lower court's decision.

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