Sunday, December 10, 2017
Business

TECO owner Emera sees profits ahead in Florida's hotter weather, rising population

Emera, the Canadian power company that now owns Tampa's TECO Energy, reported $101 million in net income (in Canadian dollars) for the quarter ended June 30 compared to $208 million a year ago.

But the overall financial performance of the Nova Scotia-based power company — sharply enlarged via its $10.4 billion purchase of TECO in July 2016 — was marred by the recent June 29 accident at TECO's Tampa Electric plant at Apollo Beach in Hillsborough County. Five workers died as a result of burns from molten slag that gushed from a containment tank.

According to a Tampa Bay Times' investigation, over the last two decades, more workers have died at Tampa Electric's power plants than at those run by any other Florida utility. No other utility had more than three deaths, including much larger companies like Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy. Tampa Electric had ten, including the five who recently perished.

"Our financial success this quarter is overshadowed by the accident at TECO's Big Bend facility and our deepest condolences are with the families of those who passed and were injured," Emera CEO Chris Huskilson stated late Thursday in remarks released with the company's quarterly earnings.

"This tragic incident has impacted all of us across Emera deeply and we are more focused than ever before on having world class safety programs, where all of our employees go home safely every day," he said.

RELATED COVERAGE: In an instant, molten slag gushed over workers at Tampa Electric power plant.

Friday morning's teleconference by Emera officials with analysts focused mostly on the power company's business prospects but added a few details of the status of the TECO accident in June. Emera chief operating officer Scott Balfour said investigations of the event by both internal and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are under way and likely to take "many months" to complete.

"Until then, we will not know for certain or comment on the causes."

Balfour also said Tampa Electric has set up a Tampa relief fund with matching contributions to help the families of those who died or were injured.

Emera cited Florida's higher temperatures — described as 13 percent above normal — as beneficial to increased demand for electricity. The company also said it wants to swap out more of Tampa Electric's coal plants in favor of new ones powered by natural gas. (Duke Energy Florida is also building a large natural gas plant in Citrus County, another indicator of the attraction of cheaply priced natural gas as the major fuel of choice to generate electricity in Florida.)

Emera, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, praised the growth prospects of the TECO acquisition in Florida. Executives pointed to the now familiar description of Florida enjoying an influx of new residents of as many as 1,000 a day. Whatever the exact figure, Emera leaders suggested Florida's growth opportunities remain promising.

Earlier this year, Huskilson announced plans to retire in 2018. Stepping up to lead the company will be COO Balfour.

This story was updated Friday morning to include highlights of the Emera quarterly conversation with analysts.

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