News Watch – Not your Father’s utility industry

This won’t be a regular UFTO feature, but I was awestruck by a couple of headlines today, and thought I’d pass along a comment. After the wild “dot com” style run up of a several fuel cell stocks lately (you know the drill — no earnings, huge valuations), another couple of amazing stories are breaking.

Gates Buys 5% of Avista

Avista’s stock has more than doubled this week, after it was announced that Bill Gates had taken a 5% stake in the company. It’s been trading in the mid to high teens for the last year, dropping below 15 at the beginning of January. Today it closed at 47. Of course, they were also benefiting from the fuel cell excitement, with their Avista Labs effort in PEM.

Sierra Pacific in Huge Telecom Deal

The other story was out late Friday in an article in Infoworld: a huge alliance of Hewlett Packard, Oracle, TelecommUnity Systems, and — are you ready for this — Sierra Pacific Power! The article claims that the utility is using $1/2 billion from the $1.6 billion sale of power plants to provide their stake in this huge plan to put fiber to the home and supply voice, data, and television services. (Recall that Sierra Pacific Power just merged with Nevada Power last July, and the new company is now buying Portland General Electric from Enron.)

The article was posted 6 pm Pacific time Friday, and I found it at

It will be very interesting to see how the companies respond to this “scoop”–and how much of it turns out to be right. (For example, the article says “Sierra Pacific Power Co.”, which is actually a regulated subsidiary of “Sierra Pacific Resources”, the holding company. One wonders what other details might be suspect.)

Since the story broke well after the markets closed, so no action on the stock (SRP closed very near its 52 week low, but we’ll see on Monday).