Monday, February 24, 2014

Power plants for sale

If you have a spare billion dollars or two, Duke Energy is having a clearance sale on power plants.

Last week the nation's largest electric power holding company confirmed what had been said off the record for several months: that it is exiting the wholesale electricity market.

It seems the wholesale market is not nearly as lucrative as the retail market, and Duke would rather sell power it generates than generate electricity and sell it to other companies that provide it to homes and businesses.

If you look at the list of plants that Duke plans to sell its interest in, you'll find several of them are along the Ohio River -- Beckjord, Zimmer, Stuart, Killen and Hanging Rock, to name the ones I'm most familiar with. About half the generating capacity Duke wants to sell is coal-fired. The rest is natural gas.

Duke executives say the asking price is about half the plants' book value. So if you want to spend $2 billion to pick up $4 billion worth of generating assets, have at it.

But the wholesale market may not be the place to put your money now. Electricity demand is down from 2008, including the PJM Interconnection region that includes the area along most of the Ohio River. It's a tough business now.

Beyond that, who would want to buy coal-fired power plants that have ash ponds, ash piles or slurry landfills as part of the deal? Duke is having enough problems with the ash spill on the Dan River in North Carolina earlier this month. How would taking on such a potential liability be attractive to investors?

Duke executives say they expect to close on the sale of their merchant assets early next year.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Living the analog life again

Adam and I went down to Catlettsburg KY to see if the Crounse Corp. towboat Leslie M. Neal was there. Since 2009 or 2010, we had seen other versions of the new Crounse boats -- the Linda Reed, the Paula Ruble, the Janis R. Brewer and the Jackie Englert. But the Neal had eluded us, as it rarely gets up to our part of the Ohio River.

We didn't see the boat we were looking for, but we did get a couple of other interesting pictures, aided by the high water. I raised my Nikon FM2 at a guy working on some barges, snapped the shutter and looked at the camera back to see what image I got. Then I remembered I was shooting with a film camera, and the idea of waiting a few days to finish the roll and then have it processed to see what I got felt oh so wrong.

My good digital camera is out of action for now, and I don't have the money to replace it, so I'm making do with what I have. In this case, I figured I would try an old roll of Kodak color film that has been hanging around my house for a few years. I was going to try it in a camera I bought in 1976, but the camera does not have a battery for the exposure meter and I didn't feel like investing in one for just one or two rolls of film.

The Nikon's batteries still worked, so I've been trying it out. The lens has been giving me a hard time, though. It's one I bought at a pawn shop when my others started wearing out from being banged around too many times since I bought them in 1984, when I ordered the camera from 47th Street Photo in New York. The lens didn't want to let me change the aperture easily or focus easily.

For the record, the FM2 has been a great fully manual camera for me. But "manual" is the word. You set the shutter speed and the aperture manually, just as you have to do with the film's ISO setting on the shutter dial. The only thing automatic about it is how the electronic exposure meter shuts off after 30 seconds.

The FM2 has been with me around the world. I bought it so I could take it to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, on the trip over part of it started coming apart. A cab driver took me to a repair shop where the owner fixed it for free. The Nikon went with me in 1986 on a trip up and down the river. It's been with me on walks on the river bank in subfreezing temperatures. We drove the Pacific Coast highway from the Golden Gate to Los Angeles. Its last big trip, I guess, was to Japan in 2000 for a two-week trip sponsored in part by the Japanese Auto Manufacturers Association.

I went digital in 2007 and never really looked back. The DSLR I have now has a crack in the display window, and the battery doesn't want to charge. Plus it feels old, and I wonder when the shutter will have reached its limit and say no mas.

Assuming the old roll of film I'm shooting is still good, I will post any interesting pictures I get from it. Right now it's hard reliving the days when you took a picture and waited a week to see the image. And having to take care composing the shot and the exposure because you only get so many pictures on a roll. And thinking if I don't get it right the first time, there's no shooting three dozen more images in hopes of one turning out okay. And ... you get the idea.

Maybe soon my DSLR battery will decide to work again, but the trust has been broken. Until then, it's using lesser cameras and trying to find that right image at the exact right moment. In other words, I have to think again. And that hurts.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

M/V Paula Ruble

The Leslie M. Neal got out of the Greenup Locks and Dam upbound tonight shortly before 7 p.m. I don't know what its orders are. Too bad. That is the only one of the new Crounse boats that I haven't seen, I think. Adam and I have seen the Linda Reed, the Paula Ruble, the Janis R. Brewer and one other whose name escapes me now.

So I don't know if I will see the Leslie M. Neal on this trip up the river.

However, I did get to see the Paula Ruble when it passed by Huntington WV on Thursday morning. Here are a couple of shots.

It was god to get down by the river again, even if I didn't have my good camera available.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Will this winter never end?

I'm in one of those phases of life where everything comes at you all at once and something has had to give -- in this case, blogging.

Since this site started four and a half years ago, social media have changed, and I have to wonder what the Ohio River Blog should be: a photo site, a news aggregation site, a collection of Top 10 and Top 5 lists, a personal diary ... what?

As I sort that out, here are three pictures from recent days.

First, ice.

I understand that the bend in the Ohio River at Parkersburg WV and Belpre OH was pretty nasty last week as far as ice was concerned. Down my way it wasn't so bad. There was ice from shore to shore, but for the most part it was not solid. Last Thursday morning I did make my way down to the shore with Adam's old point-and-shoot camera (my own camera has decided to stop working for a while) and got some pictures of ice slabs that must have been between an inch and a half and two inches thick.

Yesterday I went up the river, and there was still ice clinging to the shore, particularly in bends.

I stopped at the parkfront at Gallipolis OH to see the new sign they have.

That leaves Huntington WV as the main community around here that does not anything along the riverfront to say where you are. I guess people in Huntington figure if you've made it this far, you know where you are. It was kind of like the white powder scares after 9/11. People here figured that if terrorists were attacking Huntington, the rest of the nation must be gone because we would be pretty low on their priority list.

Finally, as I passed the Gavin power plant on a dreary day I noticed how the tops of the smoke stakcs were lost in the fog, part of which was created by the plant itself.

And that was my excitement for the past week.

You may envy me at your leisure.