International Studies

Universities Cancel Classes in Israel

Citing security concerns, many U.S. schools have cancelled study programs in Israel. Other travelers appear more cautious than scared.
By: | August 27, 2014 • 4 min read

Amid the turmoil in the Middle East, a number of major American colleges and universities have cancelled fall semester undergraduate study programs in Israel.

Although a cease fire was recently announced, UMass Amherst had already cancelled all study for undergraduates in Israel for the fall semester, due to the fighting in the Gaza Strip, university officials announced.

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The university said its International Risk Management Committee made the decision based on advice from the U.S. State Department, insurance companies, risk management consultants and other sources.

Insurance companies cover students for health, accidents, security and even evacuation, for some colleges.

New York University suspended its Tel Aviv program for the fall semester after being approached by some students and their families who expressed concern about the situation in the region.

“The safety of these 10 students was our foremost concern in our deliberations about whether or not to disrupt the academic program,” the university said. “We look forward to resuming classes at the Tel Aviv site in January.”

Other schools that have suspended programs in Israel or the West Bank include Trinity College in Hartford, the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Claremont McKenna College in California, and Penn State, according to the Associated Press.

Colleges told the AP that security was the top concern.

“The State Department recommends that U.S. citizens consider the deferral of non-essential travel to Israel and the West Bank,” according to the department’s latest travel advisory for the region.

“Israel is certainly on our list for civil unrest” at Middleburg, Va.-based Wallach & Co. Inc., providers of international travel insurance, said Belinda Smallwood, office manager.

“Basically, there are certain countries that go on the civil unrest list and underwriters can choose whether they want to add more war risk coverage,” she said.

John W. Cook, president of East Hartford, Conn.-based QuoteWright.com, said coverage for travel to Israel is still available, but the following exclusions are common to all travel insurance policies: declared or undeclared war, or any act of war; and any government regulations or prohibitions.

“So cancellations or interruptions caused either directly or indirectly by the military action will probably not be covered,” said Cook, whose firm’s website allows consumers to compare, review and buy travel insurance.

Thomas R. Petersen, vice president, Petersen International Underwriters

Thomas R. Petersen, vice president, Petersen International Underwriters

Thomas R. Petersen, vice president of Valencia, Calif.-based Petersen International Underwriters, said his firm has noticed that Israel has made an “incredibly strong push to say how safe it is to be in Israel.”

“When you get rockets lobbed near to the airport, it’s getting awfully close, but that doesn’t seem to penetrate a lot of people’s thinking,” said Petersen, whose firm is a Lloyd’s of London cover-holder that handles all forms of special risk insurance administration.

Petersen said his firm has not seen a decrease in sales of travel medical policies for Israel. “What we have seen is an increase in inquiries in war and terrorism coverage,” he said.

“I would say compared to normal it’s probably, on average, a 500 percent greater amount [of inquiries] compared to last year,” Petersen said. “Is that 50 more inquiries? Probably. I know it’s a significantly higher number of people asking about war and terrorism coverage than they ever have in the past.”

Indications are the same number of people in general still plan to travel and they don’t fear it, Petersen said. “They may be more cautious as opposed to scared,” he added.

Petersen noted that many of the requests his firm receives for travel medical policies are from fairly young people.

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“A lot of them in theory have to be students, because a lot of them stay for six months or nine months or a year at a time,” he said. “I mean they’re not going just to see the Wailing Wall and then getting back here. They’ll be spending time there.”

Wallach & Co.’s Smallwood said the firm’s global health care plan for undergraduate students studying abroad lasts up to six months.

“You purchase it by the week and it’s $250,000 in coverage with a $100 deductible per illness or injury,” Smallwood said. “It covers accident and sickness coverage, which includes medical evacuation and repatriation.”

The standard rate would be $9 per week. In Israel, Wallach would have to know where a student was going to be located to determine a quote, Smallwood said.

Israeli educational programs are not the only victims of civil unrest. UMass Amherst also suspended programs in Syria, and St. Lawrence University in New York called off its program in Kenya, citing a State Department travel advisory.

Steve Yahn was a freelance writer based in New York. He had more than 40 years of financial reporting and editing experience. Comments can be directed to [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Alternative Energy

A Shift in the Wind

As warranties run out on wind turbines, underwriters gain insight into their long-term costs.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 6 min read

Wind energy is all grown up. It is no longer an alternative, but in some wholesale markets has set the incremental cost of generation.

As the industry has grown, turbine towers have as well. And as the older ones roll out of their warranty periods, there are more claims.

This is a bit of a pinch in a soft market, but it gives underwriters new insight into performance over time — insight not available while manufacturers were repairing or replacing components.

Charles Long, area SVP, renewable energy, Arthur J. Gallagher

“There is a lot of capacity in the wind market,” said Charles Long, area senior vice president for renewable energy at broker Arthur J. Gallagher.

“The segment is still very soft. What we are not seeing is any major change in forms from the major underwriters. They still have 280-page forms. The specialty underwriters have a 48-page form. The larger carriers need to get away from a standard form with multiple endorsements and move to a form designed for wind, or solar, or storage. It is starting to become apparent to the clients that the firms have not kept up with construction or operations,” at renewable energy facilities, he said.

Third-party liability also remains competitive, Long noted.

“The traditional markets are doing liability very well. There are opportunities for us to market to multiple carriers. There is a lot of generation out there, but the bulk of the writing is by a handful of insurers.”

Broadly the market is “still softish,” said Jatin Sharma, head of business development for specialty underwriter G-Cube.

“There has been an increase in some distressed areas, but there has also been some regional firming. Our focus is very much on the technical underwriting. We are also emphasizing standardization, clean contracts. That extends to business interruption, marine transit, and other covers.”

The Blade Problem

“Gear-box maintenance has been a significant issue for a long time, and now with bigger and bigger blades, leading-edge erosion has become a big topic,” said Sharma. “Others include cracking and lightning and even catastrophic blade loss.”

Long, at Gallagher, noted that operationally, gear boxes have been getting significantly better. “Now it is blades that have become a concern,” he said. “Problems include cracking, fraying, splitting.

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“In response, operators are using more sophisticated inspection techniques, including flying drones. Those reduce the amount of climbing necessary, reducing risk to personnel as well.”

Underwriters certainly like that, and it is a huge cost saver to the owners, however, “we are not yet seeing that credited in the underwriting,” said Long.

He added that insurance is playing an important role in the development of renewable energy beyond the traditional property, casualty, and liability coverages.

“Most projects operate at lower capacity than anticipated. But they can purchase coverage for when the wind won’t blow or the sun won’t shine. Weather risk coverage can be done in multiple ways, or there can be an actual put, up to a fixed portion of capacity, plus or minus 20 percent, like a collar; a straight over/under.”

As useful as those financial instruments are, the first priority is to get power into the grid. And for that, Long anticipates “aggressive forward moves around storage. Spikes into the system are not good. Grid storage is not just a way of providing power when the wind is not blowing; it also acts as a shock absorber for times when the wind blows too hard. There are ebbs and flows in wind and solar so we really need that surge capacity.”

Long noted that there are some companies that are storage only.

“That is really what the utilities are seeking. The storage company becomes, in effect, just another generator. It has its own [power purchase agreement] and its own interconnect.”

“Most projects operate at lower capacity than anticipated. But they can purchase coverage for when the wind won’t blow or the sun won’t shine.”  —Charles Long, area senior vice president for renewable energy, Arthur J. Gallagher

Another trend is co-location, with wind and solar, as well as grid-storage or auxiliary generation, on the same site.

“Investors like it because it boosts internal rates of return on the equity side,” said Sharma. “But while it increases revenue, it also increases exposure. … You may have a $400 million wind farm, plus a $150 million solar array on the same substation.”

In the beginning, wind turbines did not generate much power, explained Rob Battenfield, senior vice president and head of downstream at JLT Specialty USA.

“As turbines developed, they got higher and higher, with bigger blades. They became more economically viable. There are still subsidies, and at present those subsidies drive the investment decisions.”

For example, some non-tax paying utilities are not eligible for the tax credits, so they don’t invest in new wind power. But once smaller companies or private investors have made use of the credits, the big utilities are likely to provide a ready secondary market for the builders to recoup their capital.

That structure also affects insurance. More PPAs mandate grid storage for intermittent generators such as wind and solar. State of the art for such storage is lithium-ion batteries, which have been prone to fires if damaged or if they malfunction.

“Grid storage is getting larger,” said Battenfield. “If you have variable generation you need to balance that. Most underwriters insure generation and storage together. Project leaders may need to have that because of non-recourse debt financing. On the other side, insurers may be syndicating the battery risk, but to the insured it is all together.”

“Grid storage is getting larger. If you have variable generation you need to balance that.” — Rob Battenfield, senior vice president, head of downstream, JLT Specialty USA

There has also been a mechanical and maintenance evolution along the way. “The early-generation short turbines were throwing gears all the time,” said Battenfield.

But now, he said, with fewer manufacturers in play, “the blades, gears, nacelles, and generators are much more mechanically sound and much more standardized. Carriers are more willing to write that risk.”

There is also more operational and maintenance data now as warranties roll off. Battenfield suggested that the door started to open on that data three or four years ago, but it won’t stay open forever.

“When the equipment was under warranty, it would just be repaired or replaced by the manufacturer,” he said.

“Now there’s more equipment out of warranty, there are more claims. However, if the big utilities start to aggregate wind farms, claims are likely to drop again. That is because the utilities have large retentions, often about $5 million. Claims and premiums are likely to go down for wind equipment.”

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Repair costs are also dropping, said Battenfield.

“An out-of-warranty blade set replacement can cost $300,000. But if it is repairable by a third party, it could cost as little as $30,000 to have a specialist in fiberglass do it in a few days.”

As that approach becomes more prevalent, business interruption (BI) coverage comes to the fore. Battenfield stressed that it is important for owners to understand their PPA obligations, as well as BI triggers and waiting periods.

“The BI challenge can be bigger than the property loss,” said Battenfield. “It is important that coverage dovetails into the operator’s contractual obligations.” &

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]