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12 posts from November 2013


Luminant agrees to pay $750,000 in settlement with PUC

Dallas-based Luminant, the state's largest electricity generator, has agreed to pay $750,000 to settle regulators' complaints that it failed to meet its obligations during a February 2011 cold snap that produced rotating blackouts. About 8,000 megawatts of generation was lost around the state as exceptionally low  temperatures and wind chill factors affected power plants. In April 2012 the staff of the Public Utility Commission of Texas recommended fining Luminant for its performance in 2011, saying five of 10 generators didn't meet instructions from the state's largest power grid to bring electricity online. Other participants in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas also have been fined for their performance in the outages, but Luminant's settlement, in which it admits no violations, is by  far the largest, said PUC spokesman Terry Hadley.

"Since 2011, Luminant has joined other generators, electric transmission firms and state agencies to take measures to better prepare for future extreme weather," Luminant spokesman Brad Watson said in a prepared statement. " Some 225 generation resources in ERCOT, more than 40 percent of the total generation, experienced a trip, failed start or derate," Watson said. "With this settlement, Luminant resolves all alleged violations of ERCOT protocols and PUC rules from the cold weather event in 2011," he said.

The Sierra Club, in a news release, said it hoped "this rather modest fine will send a message to Luminant and other coal and gas generators that when they are paid money by ERCOT to be available in times of emergency -- such as the freeze of February 2011 -- they must be available." 

Jim Fuquay



First Cash to buy 12-store pawn chain in South Carolina

Arlington-based First Cash Financial Services, a large operator of pawn shops in the United States and Mexico, said Monday it agreed to buy a 12-store chain of large pawn stores in the Charleston, S.C., area. Terms were not disclosed. The deal is expected to close by year's end and will give First Cash 18 large-format pawn stores in South Carolina. "The 12 Charleston stores being acquired have well-established locations with significant market share and strong brand awareness in their market," CEO Rick Wessel said in a prepared release. Counting those stores, First Cash has added 100 new locations so far this year, and expects to add between seven and 12 additional locations by the end of the year, the company said. Those include a 19-store Texas chain purchased in June and eight stores in Mexico acquired in September. The company expects to finish the year with more than 900 locations.

-- Jim Fuquay


Cash America to pay $5 million penalty related to loans

Fort Worth-based Cash America International, which in October disclosed that it was being investigated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said  Wednesday it agreed to pay a $5 million civil penalty to settle charges it mishandled court documents and overcharged military personnel on loans. The CFPB said it's the young agency's first enforcement action against a maker of so-called payday loans -- short-term, high-rate advances to individuals.

Cash America in December 2012 said it would make refunds to about 14,000 Ohio customers that it took to court for nonpayment of their loans. It said at the time the voluntary action, whose cost it estimated at $13.4 million, came after it learned employees "did not prepare some court documents properly in many of its Ohio collections legal proceedings." Wednesday, the company said it had disclosed the actions to the CFPB during the agency's examination of Cash America.

The CFPB said Wednesday that the company has already paid out about $6 million in refunds and agreed to set aside $8 million to cover future claims.  The agency also said Cash America made payday loans at illegal rates to "more than 300 active-duty servicemembers of dependents." The Military Lending Act caps the annual interest rate on loans to servicemembers at 36 percent, whereas payday loans typically carry effective rates several times that. CFPB said the $5 million penalty was based on those violations, as well as actions by Cash America's Enova Financial online lending unit that impeded the agency's investigation. Those actions included limiting information disclosed to investigators about marketing, deleting phone recordings and shredding documents.

-- Jim Fuquay


Baylor to build new surgical hospital in Fort Worth

Baylor SH at FW rendering Nov 2103
Baylor Health Care System will build a three-story surgical hospital near its Baylor All Saints Hospital to replace a smaller unit nearby. Baylor Surgical Hospital at Fort Worth, at 1800 Park Place Ave., will have 30 inpatient beds as well as a three-bed emergency department. The 82,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to break ground Thursday and has a September 2014 estimated completion date.

“We have literally outgrown this current building,” Roger Rhodes, CEO of Baylor Surgical Hospital, said of an existing surgery facility at 750 12th Ave. Rhodes said about 75 percent of the facility’s surgeries will be outpatient, and those done as inpatient will typically involve stays averaging about 2.5 days.

The facility is a joint venture with Dallas-based United Surgical Partners International, a for-profit company that owns and operates more than 200 surgery centers, many with not-for-profit health systems. USPI already partners with Baylor on a number of facilities, including surgery centers in Trophy Club, Arlington, Bedford, Mansfield and Granbury.

-- Jim Fuquay

Tom Plaskett, RadioShack's longest-serving director, has retired

Thomas G. Plaskett, the longest-serving director at RadioShack Corp., has retired from the board of the Fort Worth-based consumer electronics chain.

Plaskett, a former airline executive, joined the RadioShack board in 1986 and served as a member of the Audit and Compliance committee and the Corporate Governance committee. He retired on Thursday, according to an SEC filing, for personal reasons and "not due to any disagreement with the Company."

During his tenure, he oversaw RadioShack through thick and thin, from the company's heyday and renaissance under CEOs John Roach and Len Roberts to its struggles in recent years under Julian Day and Jim Gooch. He was also the board's presiding director in 2006 when it had to wrestle with revelations that CEO Dave Edmondson, who succeeded Roberts, had lied on his resume about his academic credentials. Edmondson was fired within a week of the Star-Telegram's report.

Daniel R. Feehan, the Cash America CEO who serves as RadioShack's non-executive chairman, said Plaskett "has made an enduring contribution to the legacy of this great Company, and his thoughtful input will be missed. We now have the opportunity to identify a new independent director with a fresh voice who will add additional perspectives as we continue the Company's operational turnaround."

According to the RadioShack website, the company now has eight directors, including CEO Joseph C. Magnacca.

Also in the SEC filing Monday:

The board approved a supplementary incentive comepensation plan for executives that will pay cash bonuses based on hitting EDITDA targets and gaining approval from a board committee that the company is making progress towards strategic goals.

And the company plans to change its fiscal year from a calendar year to a fiscal year that ends with the Saturday closest to Jan. 31, in line with other retail companies.

-- Steve Kaskovich


Municipal groups knock proposed changes in Texas power market

A state group that includes many cities and municipalities says in a new report that proposed payments to electricity generators aimed at ensuring enough power could cost consumers billions annually, but not necessarily bring more generation online. The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power and Steering Committee of Cities Served by Oncor commissioned the report. It follows a 2-1 vote in October by the Public Utility Commission of Texas to mandate a minimum reserve margin -- a desired excess of capacity over projected demand -- on the state's largest power grid. The PUC will wait until a January report by a national consultant before setting the margin.

Currently under Texas deregulated electricity market, generators are paid only when they sell power. That's called an "energy only" market. Under a mandated reserve margin unspecified payments would be made to generators to providing capacity. That's called a "capacity" market. Electricity generators in the state have struggled with low wholesale power prices in recent years and support the mandated margin and payments. In February the Austin office of Public  Citizen estimated the cost at $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion. Another study put the cost at $3.6 billion a year.

"With these subsidies, generators would be paid simply for existing," said Jay Doegey, Arlington's city attorney and chairman of the Steering Committee of Cities Served by Oncor. "These very expensive proposals will almost certainly lead to higher electricity prices. What's unclear, however, is whether these subsidies really are necessary and how Texas consumers would ever benefit from them." Oncor Electric Delivery is the principal utility that distributes electricity in North Texas.

A link to the groups' report is here.

-- Jim Fuquay


Thomson Reuters to close Fort Worth office

Thomson Reuters, a news and information services company, will close its downtown Fort Worth office in the spring, although it said "the vast majority" of the 308 affected employees will be offered positions in its Carrollton office or given the chance to work from home. Five will see their positions eliminated at the company's tax and accounting  unit, Reuters said in a notice to the Texas Workforce Commission. The anticipated closing date for the office in the Burnett Plaza building at 801 Cherry St. is about April 30, 2014. The company said about 62 of the affected workers are eligible for a severance package and can take it if they choose not to relocate.

Thomson Reuters moved into Burnett Plaza in 2000 when it consolidated two previous Fort Worth offices. It established a Fort Worth presence when it acquired Practitioners Publishing, which serves accountants.

-- Jim Fuquay


Luminant tells regulators it's suspending Comanche Peak expansion

Dallas-based Luminant Generation has told federal regulators it will suspend its quest for a license to expand its Comanche Peak nuclear plant in Glen Rose, southwest of Fort Worth. Luminant cited reactor partner Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' decision to focus its efforts on restoring nuclear power in Japan, where reactors were idled following the 2011 Fukushima accident. Both companies also said economic conditions, including the low price of wholesale power in Texas, played a role. Mitsubishi Nuclear Energy Systems had been working to gain U.S. certification of the reactor design that was going to be used at an expanded Comanche Peak. The plant currently has two reactors, and Luminant in 2008 announced plans to add two more.

In a letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Luminant said that "while Luminant preferred for MHI to continue" to pursue certification of its reactor, "that alternative does not appear viable given MHI's other priorities." The letter, dated Thursday, goes on to say that Luminant "concluded that it does not make sense to continue to expend Luminant or NRC resources" on the work toward a new license. Work on the Comanche Peak expansion had already been delayed by the financial woes of Energy Future Holdings, Luminant's corporate parent, and Texas' power prices that have been driven down by cheap natural gas.

Two Texas opponents of the Comanche Peak expansion on Friday said the decision "shows that the so-called nuclear renaissance has fizzled." Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED)  Coalition, said the delay clears the way for safer, cleaner and more affordable renewable energy in Texas." Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, said "it was long believed EFH was keeping these licenses alive because they would be valuable assets in bankruptcy.  This stunning decision shows how little bankers on Wall Street value nuclear power." 

-- Jim Fuquay

DSW and Havertys coming to Alliance Town Center in north Fort Worth

DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse and Havertys furniture store will open at Alliance Town Center in north Fort Worth by Labor Day weekend of 2014.

Fort Worth-based Trademark Property Co., who is partnering with Hillwood Property, to develop the shopping center also said new tenants Cold Stone Creamery, Lane Bryant and H&R Block will also open in 2014.

Construction should begin later this year or early next year on the 15,000-square-foot DSW, which will be located south of the recently opened Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Havertys will start construction in December on a 35,000-square-foot store near the new DSW, Trademark said.

Razzoo’s Cajun Cafe and Pie Five Pizza Co. are scheduled to open in December at the center.

 _ Sandra Baker


Fort Worth-Arlington home prices rise 5.3 percent in September in market report

Fort Worth-Arlington home prices rose 5.3 percent in September, according to CoreLogic’s monthly Home Price Index released Tuesday.

The figure includes the sale of distressed properties.

When that number is removed, home prices locally rose 8.9 percent in September, compared to a year ago.

Home prices nationwide increased 12 percent in September, the 19th straight month of year-over-year price increase, CoreLogic said.

Excluding distressed sales, home prices nationwide increased 10.8 percent in September.

"September marked the unofficial five-year anniversary of the start of the housing crisis," said  Mark Fleming, CoreLogic’s chief economist. "The five-year home price appreciation for all homes in the nation was 3.4 percent. While there is still room for improvement, the CoreLogic Home Price Index is at the highest level since May 2008."

_ Sandra Baker


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