Utility capital spending to top $250 billion in U.S.

- U.S. shareholder-owned electric utilities expect to spend about $256 billion on capital projects from 2009 through 2011, according to a recent estimate of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI).

This spending projection continues the recent torrid pace of capital expenditures by members of the EEI, an association of shareholder-owned electric plants, representing utilities that generate about 70% of the electricity used in the U.S. each year.

These utilities have dramatically increased capital outlays compared to the early years of this decade.

The projected investments will be made in long-lived assets such as power generation, environmental remediation, transmission projects and distribution infrastructure. EEI spokesperson Ed Legg tells Industrial Info it was not yet possible to break down future capex spending by EEI members according to specific business segment (generation, distribution, transmission and environmental projects).

Last year EEI members spent a total of $84.2 billion on capital projects, about $2.3 billion less than the $86.5 billion of projected spending estimated in an August 2008 forecast from the group. Deferred or cancelled generation projects were a major reason for the lower-than-projected capex outlays last year, according to Legg.

But lower-than-expected spending for transmission and distribution projects, as well as the financial crisis that unfolded in late 2008, also contributed to the reduced 2008 capital spending by utilities, Legg adds.

Last year also saw a reversal of a multi-year trend of soaring construction and materials costs that had driven up the estimated cost of capital projects, the EEI states. Investments in electric generation accounted for about $30 billion, or 36%, of these utilities' actual 2008 capex investments, according to EEI. An additional $21 billion, or 24%, of overall spending went to distribution-related projects, including reliability improvements.

Environmental projects consumed $12 billion last year, while about $10 billion was invested in transmission projects, the group adds.

Legg declines to break down projected capital spending by specific electric utilities. Measured by market capitalization at the end of 2008, EEI's 10 largest members were:

• Exelon (NYSE:EXC) (Chicago, Illinois);

• The Southern Company (NYSE:SO) (Atlanta, Georgia);

• Dominion Resources (NYSE:D) (Richmond, Virginia);

• FPL Group (NYSE:FPL) (Juno Beach, Florida);

• Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) (Charlotte, North Carolina);

• Entergy (NYSE:ETR) (New Orleans, Louisiana);

• Public Service Enterprise Group (NYSE:PEG) (Newark, New Jersey);

• FirstEnergy (NYSE:FE) (Akron, Ohio);

• PG&E (NYSE:PCG) (San Francisco, California);

• American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP) (Columbus, Ohio).

Separately, EEI members forecast spending a total of $1.5 trillion for capital projects, excluding climate-related projects, during the 2010-30 timeframe, EEI says, citing a study from consulting firm The Brattle Group.

The Brattle Group's 20-year capex forecast was compiled prior to the U.S. House of Representatives' passing the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which creates a "cap & trade" system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Electric utilities will be heavily impacted by the bill, which awaits an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate, which will begin considering the energy legislation after returning from its July 4 recess.


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