This Week in Utilities: Biomass Buys and LNG Exports

Utilities (and their dividends) have been busy this week, making moves to maximize profit potential. From biomass buys to LNG exports, here's what you need to know to stay on top of your dividend stocks' latest moves.

Biomass master
Southern
(NYSE: SO  ) has been busy stocking up on renewables over the past couple of months, and this week is no exception. The company announced Tuesday that its Georgia Power subsidiary has signed a 20-year purchase power agreement to add 53 MW of biomass to its generation portfolio.

The electricity will be sourced from Rollcast Energy's new Barnesville, Ga., plant and is expected to pack enough punch to power around 35,000 homes. Rollcast is not a publicly traded company itself, but Atlantic Power (NYSE: AT  ) acquired a 60% equity interest in the biomass company in 2009.

PPL pats itself on the back
PPL
(NYSE: PPL  ) hosted its annual meeting this Wednesday, celebrating its stock market success and strategic improvements over the past year. Chairman, President, and CEO William Spence noted that a recent rise in share price and 40% growth in market cap has made PPL "one of the 10 largest companies in the U.S. utility sector."

PPL's soaring shares are hardly unique among utilities, but its returns have beaten the Dow Jones U.S. Utilities Index by more than 7 percentage points.

<a href="http://ycharts.com/companies/PPL/chart"><img src="http://media.ycharts.com/charts/0e238d253688eacb4affd7f05c453cb1.png" alt="PPL Total Return Price Chart" /></a><p style="font-size: 10px;"><a href="http://ycharts.com/companies/PPL/total_return_price">PPL Total Return Price</a> data by <a href="http://ycharts.com">YCharts</a></p> 

PPL has been hard at work adding on to its regulated businesses and pulled around 75% of its profits from its regulated subsidiaries in 2012. Looking ahead, Spence expects his company to invest $16 billion in its regulated business over the next five years, growing its asset base at an annual rate of around 8%. 

Transmission permission
AEP
(NYSE: AEP  ) announced this week that it has received approval for a $318 million, 156-mile-long 345-kV Texas transmission line.

The project is a joint venture with MidAmerican Energy and will run between Laredo and Edinburg, Texas. The regulatory approval includes a settlement sweep of more than 100 landowners, as well as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

AEP is no stranger to transmission. Its current network includes 40,000 miles of lines, "more than all other U.S. transmission systems combined." Construction is set for 2014, with an estimated 2016 completion.

Foreigners finance LNG exports
LNG exports are heating up in the U.S., and foreign investors want their own piece of the profit pie. Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE  ) announced this week that it has signed up three firms (one French, two Japanese) to help finance its proposed $10 billion LNG export facility.

According to the agreements, each new partner will acquire a 16.6% stake, while Sempra will retain 50.2% majority ownership. In terms of export capacity, the new investors will take on 4 Mtpa, equivalent to around 5 billion cubic feet per day of regasification capacity.

Sempra President Mark Snell called this news a "major step forward" for its export potential. The energy company has already received regulatory approval to export LNG to free-trade agreement counties, but its non-free-trade export application is still under review.

Pending final approvals, Sempra expects to break ground in 2014.

Stay current on electricity
The world of utilities is changing fast, and dividend stocks aren't the stable stalwarts they once were. Be sure to check back weekly for the latest on your portfolio's moves, and you'll be well on your way to electrifying earnings.

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