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Business news briefs — July 12

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ENERGY

AEP plant to close in 2015

American Electric Power is planning to close a coal-fired power plant near Beverly, Ohio, that had been slated for conversion to run on natural gas.

The Columbus-based utility said Friday that Muskingum River unit 5, with capacity of 585 megawatts, will stop operating in 2015.

“Due to the cost of compliance with environmental regulations and current market conditions, AEP has determined that it is unlikely to make the capital investment to refuel the unit,” AEP said in a statement.

The company is taking this action at a time when wholesale electricity prices remain low, and Ohio’s power demand has been close to flat.

The Muskingum River plant, located near Marietta, has five coal-fired generating units. AEP’s previous plan was to shut down the first four units, which have a combined capacity of 840 megawatts, and convert the fifth and largest unit to run on natural gas. With this announcement, the entire plant will be closed.

About 95 employees will be affected. The company will take a one-time charge of $150 million to $170 million to cover costs related to this latest move.

Valero gas expansion

Valero Energy Corp. plans to become a major player in the petrochemicals industry by building a $700 million methanol plant at its St. Charles refinery near New Orleans, a spokesman said. The San Antonio refiner will take advantage of low-cost natural gas from shale formations such as the Eagle Ford to produce methanol, used to make a range of products, including plastics, textiles, solvents and paint.

Natural gas is used to produce methanol and has been priced below $4 per million British thermal units (BTU) for months, down from an average $9 per million BTU in 2008.

RETAIL

Dollar General store opens

A relocated Dollar General store is opening in Akron today.

The Dollar General store at 1560 Brittain Road in Akron opens at 8 a.m. today. It replaces the store at 49 Midway Plaza in Tallmadge.

Twinkies at Walmart

Walmart and other retailers are making Twinkies available this weekend, even though Hostess says it asked stores to wait until Monday to start selling the spongy yellow snack cakes.

The world’s largest retailer announced Friday that the cakes were available at about 1,600 stores and that about 3,000 of its 4,000 U.S. stores should have them by Sunday morning. It had not been determined when Akron area stores would begin stocking shelves.

Hostess trumpeted a July 15, or Monday, return in its marketing. Supermarket operator Kroger, which owns Ralphs, Fry’s and Food 4 Less, also said the cakes were available in about a quarter of its more than 2,400 stores Friday and that the figure would expand over the weekend.

Hostess said in a statement that it shipped out products to give retailers the same opportunity to display the product on Monday.

“Hostess has not, and is not, giving any particular retailer exclusivity or preference to have products first and is making a great effort to fulfill orders equally and timely to everyone,” the company said in a statement.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

New Sprint services

Sprint Corp., fresh from a takeover by Japan’s SoftBank Corp., introduced new unlimited service plans, an effort to tout the mobile-phone carrier as a lower-cost alternative to Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc.

The new Sprint Unlimited Guarantee assures customers that they will have unlimited calls, texting and data use for as long as they have their phone lines, Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint said Friday in a statement. The idea is to stand out from the carrier’s larger U.S. rivals, which are switching to tiered plans — where customers pay more when they use more data.

“This puts an exclamation point on our unlimited commitment as AT&T and Verizon move away from unlimited,” Dan Hesse, Sprint’s chief executive officer, said. “What we are saying with this plan is, ‘If you come over, we will guarantee unlimited for life.’ ”

The new program provides an early glimpse at Sprint’s strategy under the control of SoftBank, which acquired 78 percent of the company in a $21.6 billion deal. The transaction, which closed Thursday, includes a $5 billion cash infusion that will help Sprint bolster its network and potentially make acquisitions.

Sprint also rolled out new plans called My Way and My All-In. With the My Way program, customers get unlimited data on smartphones for $30 a month and on regular phones for $10 a month. With the All-In plan, subscribers get unlimited talk, text and data, as well as 5 gigabytes of mobile hot-spot use for $110.

Compiled from staff and wire reports


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