Sunday, October 25, 2015

AEP to close River Ops sale to ACBL next month

That's what AEP CEO Nick Akins said in a conference call with investment analysts last week after his company announced its third-quarter earnings results.

There was no mention of the process for taking the AEP boats out of action or sending them to ACBL docks leading up to whatever date it is that the sale will close. With November almost on us, I assume that will be sometime soon.

It's going to be odd seeing the Buckeye State and other AEP boats in ACBL colors and probably with new names. That assumes ACBL is keeping all of them. For all I know, it might plan to sell the boats it didn't really want but had to buy to get the boats it wanted most.

That's how it works in the newspaper business. I know, because the daily newspaper I used to work for was sold along with three others, and the transaction didn't seem to make sense given the operating philosophy of our new owners. I said as much (diplomatically, of course) in the Page One article announcing the sale. Sure enough, within a few months we were sold again. The second new owner bought when a lot of people were overpaying for newspapers. The Great Recession hit, cutbacks were made and I was out of the job I had had for more than thirty years.

What happens with the boats and barges under ACBL's ownership should provide interesting. If nothing else, it will give a lot of us something to talk about and to aim our cameras at.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Three photos from a Saturday afternoon.

Its work here on this earth done, a deserted beer bottle rests in the cold sand of the Ohio River bank.

The M/V Galveston Bay upbound.

And away from the river, the leaves in the woods near my home are changing. I know a lot of people like fall, and two people in my family like winter, but give me spring and summer, please.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Seaplane sinks in Ohio River

But it was recovered the next day, and it could be back in the air by spring.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

M/V Paula Ruble and M/V Wally Roller

Early morning in the half hour before and after sunrise is one of my favorite times for driving along the Ohio River looking for something to see. This morning I saw two boats -- the Paula Ruble and the Wally Roller. First, a few pictures of both boats as seen during that golden hour.

Now here's my question. What was this thing at the head of the Wally Roller's tow? For some reason my autofocus didn't work as I had expected. I can make out the word "Siemens" on this piece of machinery, but that's about it.

Any information would help satisfy my curiosity.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

News roundup 10/10/2015

For those of you into Ohio River wildlife, this is the 25th anniversary of the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

From the Marietta Times:

The Ohio River Islands Festival will be held on Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. at the refuge, located at 3982 Waverly Road, in Williamstown. It is free and open to all ages.


Apparently there will be no one standard regulating industrial discharge of mercury into the Ohio River. According to the Columbus Dispatch:

States along the Ohio River will decide how and where companies test to determine how much mercury they release into the waterway, according to a decision by the multistate commission overseeing the river’s health.


And Kentucky officials say the lower McAlpine pool is safe for recreation again now that the algae bloom is dissipating.

Friday, October 9, 2015

M/V J.S. Lewis passes Huntington

A guy who works for Amherst Madison got ahold of me to let me know the boat was in my area.

I was first able to catch it at the boat ramp at the mouth of the Guyandotte River.

Then I went up the Ohio side to old Lock and Dam 52, but right before the Lewis came around the bend, a really heavy rain fell.

You win some, you lose some. As I told several people today, when life hands you lemons, throw them back as hard as you can. Those things hurt.

More photos of the Lewis are on my Flickr photostream.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Environmental news roundup, 10/8/2015

There's been some environmental news related to the Ohio River the past couple of days, so lets' get started.

FirstEnergy has received approval from Pennsylvania regulators to ship coal ash by barge from a power plant on the Ohio River to a disposal site on the Mon.

The Great Ohio River swim has been canceled because of the algae problem.

An Ohio woman has been awarded $1.6 million by an Ohio jury that says a chemical discharged into the Ohio River by a DuPont factory in West Virginia caused her kidney cancer.

And the New York Times has issued a correction on an article linked here several days ago about the algae outbreak.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A big old Asian carp caught at R.C. Byrd

You know those Asian carp that wildlife biologists are afraid will cause problems in the Ohio River. A big one was found at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

M/V AEP Leader

Seen today passing Huntington.

The next time I see it, will it have this paint scheme and name? Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Christening of the M/V Findlay, part 4

Final batch.

Christening of the M/V Finday, part 3

Third batch.

Next (and final) batch at 12:30 p.m.

Christening of the M/V Findlay, part 2

Second batch.

Next batch, 11:30 a.m.

Christening of the M/V Findlay, part 1

Here are some photos from the christening ceremony of the Marathon towboat Findlay on Sept. 3. It was a hot, dry, sunny day -- one that I wish we could have today, but that is not to be.

There are so many pictures that I'm spreading them over several entries. There were a couple of cute kids there, but I don't usually post recognizable pictures of other people's kids anymore without a parent's permission. Too many things can go wrong.

So here is the first batch of pictures.

Next batch at 11 a.m.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Number One

The blog post earlier today listing the dozen boats AEP will keep after selling its other river assets to ACBL was pretty popular. In terms of views, it was the most popular post in the history of the Ohio River Blog. The whole blog got more traffic in one day than it did in the entire month of January. And it did that without the help of people in Russia, Ukraine and other places that find it for reasons nice or nefarious.

So thanks to all who checked it out. May you come back from time to time to see what else is on here.

The 12 boats AEP is keeping are ... (Updated)

Gale R. Rhodes
Norman L. Snodgrass
Capt. Gerald Boggs
Capt. James Anderson
AEP Future
AEP Legacy
AEP Mariner
Chuck Zebula
Hoosier State
Mountain State
Dan Elder

That means it's keeping seven of the ten new 6,000-hp boats it has put on the river since 2008 and it is selling the Buckeye State, the AEP Leader and the Mike Weisend to ACBL.

It also means AEP is selling all but one of the 2,8-hp 2,800-hp boats it uses on the upper Ohio, mostly north of Point Pleasant WV.

The fact AEP is keeping the Hoosier State will please my youngest, Adam, who as a 10-year-old got to steer the Hoosier State lightboat following its christening ceremony back in May 2010.



If I read the list correctly there won't be much left of the AEP fleet that I started following in the late 1970s. In the middle part of that decade, AEP bought about a dozen boats, half from Dravo and half from St. Louis Ship, to move coal up and down the river from its terminal at Metropolis IL. AEP had planned to burn a lot of western coal or Illinois Basin coal, but things changed and those boats tended to spend a lot of time tied up at Lakin.

After the sale, all those Dravo boats will be gone and only two St. Louis Ship boats will remain in the AEP fleet.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

AEP to sell most of its river operations to ACBL

This is big. I'm trying to get more details.

From the news release:

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Oct. 1, 2015 – American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP) has signed an agreement to sell its commercial barge transportation subsidiary, AEP River Operations LLC, to American Commercial Lines (ACL), owned by Platinum Equity, for approximately $550 million.
AEP River Operations is a commercial inland barge company delivering about 45 million tons of products annually, including 10 million tons of coal. AEP River Operations has 56 towboats, 2,301 barges and 1,090 employees. The company is headquartered in Chesterfield, Missouri, with operations in Paducah, Kentucky, and Convent, Algiers and Belle Chasse, Louisiana.
AEP announced in March that the company was exploring strategic alternatives for AEP River Operations, including a potential sale. AEP acquired the business, formerly known as MEMCO, in 2001 from Progress Energy.  
“AEP is focused on delivering customer and shareholder value as a regulated utility company. AEP River Operations has an incredible legacy of success, but operating a commercial barge transportation company no longer fits well with our strategy,” said Nicholas K. Akins, AEP chairman, president and chief executive officer.
“ACL has been in the barge transportation business for 100 years and is one of the premier liquid and dry cargo barge lines in the country. ACL shares our commitment to safety and customer service, and several members of their management team know first-hand the exceptional value and potential of AEP River Operations’ employees and fleet,” Akins said.
Upon close of the sale, ACL will acquire AEP River Operations by purchasing all the stock of AEP Resources, the parent company of AEP River Operations. ACL will assume all assets and liabilities of AEP River Operations.
AEP expects to net approximately $400 million in cash after taxes, debt retirement and transaction fees. The company will invest the proceeds in its regulated business. AEP expects to record a net gain of approximately $125 million from the sale in the fourth quarter of 2015, subject to working capital and other adjustments.
The sale of AEP River Operations is subject to regulatory approval including federal clearance pursuant to the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976. The sale is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2015. Morgan Stanley was the advisor for AEP during the strategic evaluation of AEP River Operations.
AEP will retain ownership of its captive barge fleet that delivers coal to the company’s regulated coal-fueled power plants owned by Appalachian Power, Kentucky Power and Indiana Michigan Power. AEP has signed a contract with ACL to dispatch and operate AEP’s captive barge fleet through the end of 2016. The captive barge fleet delivers about 19 million tons of coal annually to AEP’s regulated power plants. The fleet has 12 towboats, 498 barges and 229 employees.
AEP is still conducting an independent strategic evaluation of its competitive generation business. No decision has been made about the future of that business.  

Non-coal news roundup, 10/1/2015

According to this article, the new Ohio River bridge at downtown Louisville could be open for traffic by this coming January.

The New York Times weighs in on the algae bloom. I was up on the bridge yesterday morning, and the muddy river looked almost like a honeycomb with circles of brown water surrounded by rings of green. There's still some algae along the shore despite the cool weather and now rain, which is supposed to get worse this weekend.

And if you want to read a primer on sand used in hydraulic fracturing, check out this piece, which mentions the river down in it.

Coal roundup

The other day I went out looking for boats, but I didn't see any. I figured they were all still waiting in line at Lock 52.

Traffic is down here because coal is down. Here are some coal-related stories that came up in my Twitter feed this morning that may help explain some of that.

The Wall Street Journal looks at the impact of an oversupply in international coal markets on one company in particular. Excerpt:

Like other commodities, the coal market is mired in a glut. In recent months, the oversupply in coal has been exacerbated by rising output from troubled mining companies, which have been able to slash costs. That has dashed hopes for a recovery in prices either this year or next, traders and analysts say, and has put pressure on miners that took on debt to snap up assets when prices were higher.

Then there are a couple of articles from SNL Financial. First up is a look at how the retirement of a number of coal-fired power plants is affecting specific mines.

In 2014, the coal sector sold 3.7 million tons of coal to power plants that are now slated for closure by the end of this year. In total, about 5% of 2014 coal deliveries went to plants that are now expected to shut down in 2015. More U.S. coal buyers are slated to come offline every year through 2020.

I did a much, much shorter analysis a week or so ago.

Increased use of low-cost natural gas, clean air regulations and other factors have led to a 25 percent decrease in the use of bituminous coal in U.S. power plants in the past five years.

This is more long-term, but the EPA has issued a new rule that eliminates the discharge of certain metals in wastewater from power plants. You can figure it will affect coal-burning plants a lot more than those that burn gas.

The final rule is the first nationally applicable limit on the amount of toxic metals and other harmful pollutants that steam power plants are allowed to discharge, and is the first update to the effluent guidelines in over 30 years. The rule targets coal- and natural gas-fired, nuclear and other power plants that use steam.
I'm guessing we'll hear more about the impact of this rule when utilities such as AEP, FirstEnergy and Duke release their third-quarter earnings reports over the next six weeks.