McCarthy says the agency made changes when developing its rules on mercury pollution in 2012 after utilities complained, and says she "wouldn’t be surprised if we made significant” revisions to the carbon proposal.
McCarthy notes "confusion" around the targeted 30% emission cuts, saying it’s not a goal of the plan but an estimate of what the EPA thinks can be achieved.
The utility sector is among the day's best performers after the annual capacity auction at PJM Interconnection, which runs the largest U.S. power grid, forecasts payments to electricity producers will jump to $120/MW-day vs. $59.37 in the previous 12-month period and expectations of $75-$100.
The higher capacity price is a boon to power producers, which rely on the payments as baseline revenues; the auction results are viewed as another endorsement of natural gas.
The outlook is particularly favorable for Exelon (EXC +3.9%) and FirstEnergy (FE +6%), according to S&P's Aneesh Prabhu; PPL Corp. (PPL +2.9%) also benefits, especially considering that the price in its region was expected to fall.
The price for Public Service Electric & Gas' (PEG -0.2%) utility territory in northern New Jersey was set at $215/MW-day, down from $219 a year earlier.
The problem is that owners can only cut so much of a facility's emissions by increasing efficiency, so a lot of the reduction could have to come by "going outside the fence," such as by deepening the use of renewable energy, improving grid efficiency and encouraging customers to use less electricity.
Trying to compel operators to rely on such external measures could run afoul of what the government is allowed to do under the Clean Air Act.
Public Service Enterprise Group (PEG -0.1%) unveils a $12B five-year capital spending plan, including an additional $2B in utility transmission investments to $6.8B, in an effort to boost earnings growth at its utility segment.
PEG expects its capital spending program to result in a double-digit increase in utility business earnings through 2016.
PEG also will make additional investments to strengthen New Jersey's electric and gas systems against severe weather, if approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, which is expected to make a decision in April.
The Select SPDR Utilities ETF (XLU +0.4%) has already had a nice run this year - up 9% from an early January low - but technician Michael Kahn sees more gains ahead, noting it popped out of an 8-month trading range last week and money is flowing in (based on a gauge measuring volume on up days vs. down days) for the first time in nearly a year.
Stocks such as Public Service Enterprise (PEG +0.5%) and CMS Energy (CMS -0.1%) are mirroring the ETF's chart, but Kahn sees better opportunities in names closer to 52-week lows. Of note in this category are PG&E (PCG +0.9%) - just out of a trading range and above its 200-day moving average for the first time since the summer - and Southern Co. (SO +0.1%). After moving sideways for six months, Southern has rallied to the top of its range and is pausing at its 200-day moving average. Any continued strength would break both the trading range and the 200-day.
Public Service Enterprise's (PEG +2.6%) Q4 earnings fell 11% on mark-to-market and storm-related impacts, but adjusted profit improved and exceeded expectations.
The PSEG Power subsidiary said operating earnings fell 8.7% Y/Y to $115M on an increase in operating and maintenance expense associated with planned and unplanned outage-related work that offset benefits from stronger margins.
The PSE&G utility segment posted operating earnings growth of 92% to $144M amid higher revenue and lower operating and maintenance expenses from the year-earlier period that included Sandy-related restoration expenditures.