Friday AM June 15th, 2007

Sales of lower-priced homes dip slightly in Houston, although higher-priced home sales show strength...Engineers discuss wind energy and other topics at annual meeting...Tondu Corporation scales back plans for power plant in Corpus Christi...

Single-family home sales in Houston declined in May compared to the same month last year, according to the Houston Association of Realtors, but year-to-date sales are still positive and prices continue showing strength. Problems in the subprime lending market are being cited as possible contributors to the lower sales levels. Sales of homes in the $80,000 to $140,000 price range, which made up 31.9 percent of May sales, were down 8.3 percent compared to May 2006. But sales of homes worth more than $500,000 showed a 14.6 percent increase. Total property sales registered 8,532—a 1.2 percent decrease from a year ago—and property sales reached more than $1.7 billion—a 4.6 percent increase. The median price for homes is at $155,000—an increase of two percent from a year ago. The average single-family home price is at $214,540—a 5.5 percent increase, and an all-time high for the Houston area.

A new U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development advertising campaign focuses on homeownership opportunities for low- to moderate-income African Americans and Latinos, according to the Houston Business Journal. Launching in Houston and nine other markets, the campaign features information about Federal Housing Administration programs.


The Texas Society of Professional Engineers is holding its annual meeting this week, with seminars and panel discussions on project management, professional ethics and emotional intelligence. TSPE's Nancy Blackwell says the organization covers all kinds of engineering, but one topic being discussed is wind energy. Blackwell says Texas is a promising place to test and build wind energy facilities.

"One of the speakers said today, we're about 15 years behind where Europe is with this production capacity, but we have a unique opportunity here in Texas to exceed what they do in Europe because of our shoreline opportunities. And one of the presenters actually was talking about the test platforms that are going out into the Gulf off the coast of Galveston for offshore wind platforms, which are big in Europe. They've been doing them for a lot of years, but we've not really not done those in the U.S., but we're actually looking at developing some technology that's far beyond what they're using in Europe that's much more productive. Germany's a huge manufacturer of the facilities, so much of the west European countries that have shoreline capabilities do that."

Blackwell is a civil engineer, but developing wind energy will require the help of all kinds of engineers.

"Interest-wise, absolutely. You know, I obviously don't do anything with wind technology myself, but it's a very interesting topic. And it affects the economy of the state, which, you know, is very important to all the engineers because our business is tied to the economy of the state, so we're all concerned about where our state's going in those efforts. So, I do think, and in fact they put a slide up on the board that listed all of the different kinds of engineers that they need to be involved in these wind projects, and it's basically every type of engineering that you can think of needs to be involved in these projects. So there's a lot of opportunity over the next couple of years for engineers in all disciplines to get involved in this effort."

The Texas Society of Professional Engineers is meeting at the Omni Hotel through Friday.


Houston-based Tondu Corporation will build a 125- to 250-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant in Corpus Christi, rather than a 600-megawatt coal gasification plant that it now says would cost too much. The company will have the option of adding coal gasification technology at a later date. A cost analysis shows the project would be competitive with a natural gas-fired plant costing around $500 million, while the coal plant would have cost $1.5 billion. Hunton Energy of Houston is building a 1,200-megawatt power plant in Fort Bend County that will use pet coke as fuel in its gasification technology. New Jersey-based NRG is considering a coal gasification plant in Texas, if it can get incentives.


Thousands of acres of southeastern South Dakota farmland could become home to the nation's first new oil refinery since 1976. Dallas-based Hyperion Resources is considering Elk Point in the Southeastern tip of South Dakota for the $8 billion refinery. It's also considering several other midwest sites for the plant. Hyperion executive Preston Phillips says the planned refinery would turn 400,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada per day into low-sulfur gasoline and low-sulfur diesel fuel. Phillips says construction of the refinery would employ an average of 4,500 workers over four years. He says the finished plant would then employ 1,800 workers with an average hourly wage of $20 to $30 per hour. Rumors about the secretive project--dubbed "gorilla'' by nearby residents--have been rampant since word got out that the area was being considered for a large development project.


Chesapeake Energy and a coalition of consumer groups want the Oklahoma Supreme Court to stop state regulators from considering a proposed 950-megawatt coal-fired electrical plant. It's the latest effort to stop a coal-fired plant by Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake, which is the nation's third-largest independent natural gas producer. Chesapeake wants the Supreme Court to block pre-approval hearings on the plant that the State Corporation Commission has scheduled for Friday. The company was part of a coalition that bought more than $1 million in newspaper advertising earlier this year to question plans for coal-fired plants in Texas. The Public Service Company of Oklahoma would own half of the proposed Oklahoma plant, while Oklahoma Gas and Electric would operate the facility and own 42 percent. The Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority would own the remaining eight percent.


The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits held steady last week. The Labor Department says the number of new jobless claims totaled 311,000, unchanged from the previous week. Analysts were expecting to see a gain of 6,000 new jobless claims for last week. The fact that claims remained at the same level and better than expected supports the view that the job market has held up remarkably well in the face of a yearlong economic slowdown. Claims have fallen in six of the past nine weeks. Those declines followed a period of rising claims which had raised fears that the slowing economy was starting to trigger higher layoffs.


Wholesale prices rose sharply for a fourth-straight month in May on higher energy prices, but outside of the volatile food and energy sectors, prices remained largely contained. The Labor Department says the producer price index for May rose nine-tenths of a percent, compared with a gain of seven-tenths of a percent in April. The May headline number is slightly above expectations. But the government report shows the core rate, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, was up two-tenths of a percent. And that's exactly what was expected. The new data suggest that while inflation remains a risk, it doesn't appear to be taking a significant hold in the economy.


Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...