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Sempra Energy's Los Angeles-based Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) utility is making preparations to install nearly six million smart gas meters in what is said to be the largest such program ever undertaken in the gas utility sector. Sempra's combination utility, San Diego Gas and Electric Co. is currently installing both gas and electric smart meters throughout its system in San Diego County and southern Orange County. SoCalGas's $1 billion program is expected to take through 2017 to complete. The utility's representatives have been meeting with community leaders to explain the advanced metering network while they also has assemble a 150-person internal staff to carry out the implementation with contractors.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has launched a natural gas vehicle (NGV) website to help public- and private-sector fleet operators decide if they want to convert part or all of their operations to NGVs. The website offers information on both compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas options. Inspired by the state's booming shale gas play, Pennsylvania's new state law (Act 13) passed earlier this year authorized DEP to establish the Natural Gas Energy Development Program to distribute $20 million in grants during a three-year period to help pay for the purchase and conversion costs of NGVs. The website (www.dep.state.pa.us) section on the "Natural Gas Vehicle Grant Program" offers more details on the grants as well as information on NGV conversions and fueling.

Rapid City, SD-based Black Hills Corp. said its Black Hills Energy Colorado gas utility filed an application with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, asking for a 1.5% hike in retail gas utility revenues to recover nearly $29 million in capital investments made in its gas utility system since January 2008. If approved by the state regulators, a typical gas residential customers in Colorado will see a monthly increase averaging slightly more than $1. Black Hills said the rate request addresses the 25-35% of the monthly gas utility bill that goes for covering costs of service, such as customer service and pipeline maintenance/integrity programs. The remaining 65-75% of the typical bill covers commodity costs. It's Colorado gas utility serves 71,000 customers in 31 communities.

A drilling industry project for rig personnel to develop enhanced competency guidelines that expand existing knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) templates has been launched by the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC). Virtually all rig positions are to be covered, with a primary focus on safety-critical positions with well control responsibilities. The KSA templates originally were issued in 2000 and represented the basic skills and knowledge necessary for competence in 12 rig positions. The enhanced guidelines would provide the tools to confirm proficiency levels for the current drilling workforce, as well as provide competency levels for new employees and help to ensure industry-accepted levels of competency exist when people are recruited. Petrofac Training Services has been contracted to collect data across different industry sectors to develop a list of competency guidelines.

Spokane, WA-based Avista Utilities has proposed retail natural gas and electricity utility rate decreases for customers in Washington, effective Aug. 1, as the result of an annual true up of its energy efficiency programs. Avista projects a 1.3% decrease in gas rates, or slightly less than a dollar monthly, and a 1.9%, or $1.47/month, decrease for power customers. The rate decreases will result if the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission approves Avista's request to lower monthly surcharges that fund the utility's gas and electric rebate and incentive programs for saving energy. Last year more than 43,000 customers in Avista's three-state territory (Washington, Oregon and Idaho) received rebates and incentives totaling more than $16 million, and in Washington that amounted to 28,000 customers and $11.4 million in incentives.

Calpine Corp. signed a power purchase deal with Xcel Energy's Southwestern Public Service Co. (SPS) utility operations in New Mexico to provide 200 MW from the combined-cycle natural gas-fired 1,134 MW Oneta Energy Center in Oklahoma. The power supply contract is for five years, beginning June 1, 2014, extending a seven-year deal that began Jan. 1. The latest power purchase agreement is subject to approval by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. Calpine COO Thad Hill said his firm is providing the Xcel utility with "dependable, economical and environmentally responsible" power supplies.

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