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Electric Industry News, April 13, 2018

Today’s lede: Group outlines $12 million in television ad buy to fight Nevada ballot initiative. An NV Energy-backed group opposed to the pending Nevada ballot initiative that would open the state’s electricity market to competition plans to spend $12 million on television advertising to persuade Nevadans to vote “no,” Riley Snyder reports in the Nevada Independent, calling the advertising budget for a statewide ballot initiative “unprecedented.”

Coalition to Defeat Question 3 campaign manager Peter Koltak says the group has reserved a statewide cable and broadcasting advertising buy of more than $12 million between September and election day in November, calling it an “initial marker” for the campaign. The group plans additional significant advertising buys — including digital — in the future, Snyder reports.

“We’re fully committed here to making sure people are fully educated about risks and costs of deregulating the energy market,” Koltak told Snyder.

It remains to be seen if the Energy Choice Initiative group advocating for passage of the ballot proposal, largely funded by the Las Vegas Sands and data center firm Switch, will utilize their deep pockets to match the advertising blitz planned by opponents. Snyder previously reported that the opposition group had a $30 million war chest to combat the ballot question.

Snyder quoted a statement from Yes on 3 spokesman Bradley Mayer calling the planned advertising buy “a lot of ratepayer money.”

Mayer’s email to Snyder also asserts that the opposition is “misleading the public and trying to convince the 73% of Nevadans who already voted for energy choice that they shouldn’t have the right to simply choose their energy provider to lower power bills, promote renewable energy and create jobs is expensive.”

Voters overwhelmingly approved Question 3, as the ballot initiative is called, in a November 2016 vote. To effectively change the state’s constitution and allow electricity competition, the ballot question must receive a second nod from the state’s voters in the November’s election.


N.J. legislative package with nuclear subsidies awaits governor’s signature. As expected, New Jersey lawmakers yesterday approved a legislative package including a measure to provide $300 million annually in consumer subsidies for nuclear plants in the state. It is expected to get Gov. Phill Murphy’s signature, given that it is paired with provisions requiring renewables, energy efficiency and offshore wind.

The New York Times trumpeted New Jersey’s “big step toward renewable energy,” while giving a parenthetical nod to the nuclear subsidies. “The bills, which require power companies in New Jersey to generate 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and subsidize existing nuclear power plants, mark one of the biggest new policy steps that any state has taken toward cutting greenhouse gases since President Trump was elected,” the Times’ Nick Corasaniti and Brad Plumer gush.

They quote Murphy as calling nuclear “the biggest bridge we have to our clean energy future.” Murphy also welcomed the “thousands of jobs” supported by the state’s nuclear power plants, operated by Public Service Enterprise Group and Exelon.

The Times noted the Natural Resources Defense Council’s support for the legislative package, but ignored the concerns of state-based environmental groups. Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club derided the legislation as providing “green cover” for nuclear subsidies.

“The whole bill is just an excuse to subsidize the nuclear power plants,” Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said in a statement reported by Michael Sol Warren of NJ Advance Media. “PSEG are getting $300 million a year whether they need it or not.” The report also quoted N.J. Rate Counsel Stephanie Brand: “There has been no demonstration that PSEG’s nuclear plants are in financial difficulty other than bald assertions and ultimatums issued by the company.”

The Electric Power Supply Association, a national group representing competitive merchant power providers, called the legislation “deeply flawed” and urged Murphy to veto it.

“Should it become law, a bailout of New Jersey’s profitable nuclear power plants would undermine competition in the broader PJM markets and thus unfairly harm competitors who depend on those markets. A New Jersey nuclear bailout makes it more urgent than ever for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to swiftly implement effective countermeasures to protect the integrity of PJM’s energy and capacity markets,” EPSA president and CEO John Shelk said in a statement.

The legislative package passed easily with “virtually no debate,” Tom Johnson reports in The action puts Gov. Murphy “in the position of signing into law measures that consumer advocates and some lobbyists predict will dramatically increase energy costs for consumers and businesses in a state already among the most expensive in the nation for those expenditures.”

“This is a good day for New Jersey and for those who care about the state’s air quality and economy,” Johnson quoted PSEG spokesman Michael Jennings.

Axios cited a note from ClearView Energy Partners calling a federal court challenge “highly likely” should Murphy sign the consumer subsidies for nuclear into law. It noted legal challenges pending against zero-emissions certificates to support nuclear generation in Illinois and New York, adding, “We think New Jersey lawmakers structured its nuclear subsidy with the ZEC lawsuits in mind.”

A previous New Jersey law requiring consumers to subsidize for a billion-dollar natural gas-fired generating plant was overturned by the courts. That plant was built anyway, without the subsidies, earning a return on investment from PJM’s competitive wholesale power market.



Sunrun white paper urges regulatory reforms to promote clean energy. Residential solar, storage and energy services company Sunrun has developed a white paper urging consumer-centric regulatory reform to better enable clean energy development, Andy Probert writes in Greener Ideal.

The white paper, Affordable, Clean Reliable Energy: A Better System Created by the People, For the People, “includes a raft of recommendations, such as incentivizing home batteries, supporting low-income access programs, maintaining simple and stable rates, and letting the competitive free market work to deliver innovation and affordability,” Probert reports.



Conservative think tank pans renewables ballot measure in Michigan. A proposed ballot initiative in Michigan that, if approved by voters, would require the state to obtain 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, should be rejected in favor of market-based solutions, Kenneth Artz reports for the conservative Heartland Institute.

Noting concerns that renewables are less reliable and economical than more traditional electricity sources and Michigan’s limited ability to develop wind and solar, Artz quoted extensively Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, who advocated for a market-based approach to renewables development.

“If we push Michigan to produce 30 percent of its electricity with less reliable, more expensive electricity sources, every Michigan resident’s pocketbook will suffer,” Hayes said, predicting reliability and affordability repercussions.

“Markets should make these decisions, not state legislators,” said Hayes. “The state legislature’s job should be to say, ‘We need this much electricity, and we need this level of clean air and clean water.’ How to get there should be left up to markets.”

Hayes also saw renewables as benefiting from the Mackinac Center’s long-time objective of ending Michigan’s 10 percent capacity limit for customers served by competitive suppliers other than the incumbent utility.

“We should start by removing the cap on our choice program and allow energy producers to compete in an open market,” said Hayes. “This is the best way to ensure the people of Michigan are getting clean, reliable, affordable electricity at the best prices.”

The renewables measure, which still must obtain the requisite number of voter signatures before it can appear on the ballot, is being funded by billionaire Democratic activist Tom Steyer.

See also Heartland’s Sterling Burnett in the Detroit News:

Tax reform delivers cheaper electricity


Water spills to help migrating fish seen increasing electricity costs. A federal judge’s order directing that water be “spilled” at hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River system to help migrating salmon and trout, rather than be used to generate electricity, is sparking concerns about consumers costs in the region.

The National Wildlife Federation won the judge’s order earlier this month over the objections of federal agencies in charge of the dams, arguing that the spills would cost the Bonneville Power Administration $40 million, Arla Shephard Bull reports in the Kitsap Sun.

“Public power customers are once again being asked to pick up the bill for more tinkering with the management of the river system,” said PUD No. 3 manager Annette Creekpaum. “This experiment will cost local electricity customers (in Washington state’s Mason County) about $500,000.”


“We have no way of knowing if this experiment will be successful,” said Steven Taylor, PUD No. 1 manager. “NOAA Fisheries data suggests that spilling more water may increase dissolved gases in the river, which is actually harmful to fish.”

In Washington, D.C., a House committee advanced legislation to overturn the judge’s order requiring water to be spilled.


Critics chide failure of net metering bill in S.C. House. A measure to end South Carolina’s 2 percent capacity limit on net metering in the state was approved by a majority of state House lawmakers twice, but failed on a technicality requiring a two-thirds majority vote. Efforts to alter the measure’s provisions to sidestep the state constitution’s super-majority mandate failed to garner a majority vote.

South Carolina Electric & Gas lobbyists “turned on the charm, and one by one they wooed back their wandering representatives,” writes Cindi Ross Scoppe, associate editor at The State. “No one should be fooled into thinking that SCE&G is no longer one of the most powerful lobbying forces in our state.”

“It’s clear utilities will stop at nothing to continue to keep making profits. And when customers install solar panels, utilities lose revenue” John Tynan, executive director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, writes separately in The State. “That’s right. This is about competition and the market at work. All of us are subject to these realities. But it seems the utilities and their supporters in the House believe utilities should be exempt from this basic tenet of economics.”

Meanwhile, Thad Moore reports in Post and Courier that the South Carolina Energy Users Committee, a group of large consumer manufacturers, asked regulators to temporarily reduce rates for consumers while lawmakers deliberate how to respond to the state’s monumental nuclear investment failure.

“The motion parallels a bill still pending in the state Senate: It would cut electric rates by 13 percent — about $19 a month for the typical household — until utility regulators decide whether SCE&G can charge customers for its failed V.C. Summer nuclear project over the next two decades,” Moore writes.


“Shareholders have benefited disproportionately from the failed nuclear construction,” the motion filed with Public Service Commission says. “Ratepayers are entitled to protection from any further injury from SCE&G’s failures.”

Finally, Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility company, has filed with the PSC to intervene in the proceeding to review Dominion Energy’s proposed acquisition of SCANA, SCE&G’s parent company,  Sammy Fretwell reports in The State. Fretwell suggests Santee Cooper may opt to oppose the transaction, but quotes a spokesman as declining to state the utility’s views at this time.


Arkansas utilities argue for changes in net metering. In the latest front in the industry’s pushback against generous net metering programs, utilities in Arkansas are making the case against compensating net metering customers in the state at the full retail rate, Bobby Ampezzan writes Arkansas Public Media. The pushback comes as the number of net metering customers “jumped” 56 percent in 2017, from 632 to 988, a tiny fraction of the 1.4 million customers in the state, Ampezzan notes:

“For more than a year Entergy, SWEPCo and other utilities, along with the Arkansas Attorney General’s office and the full-time staff of the Public Service Commission, have argued that the current 1:1 rate structure is unfair: that is, for every kilowatt-hour supplied a kilowatt-hour is taken off customers’ bills. For one, utilities themselves don’t pay that retail rate; they pay a wholesale rate and should only be forced to ‘buy’ a wholesale rate of electricity back from a customer. For another, the electrical grid as well as administrative costs are rolled into the kilowatt-hour usage rates, and customers who generate their own power and maintain a connection to the grid aren’t paying their share of costs.”

The state’s nascent distributed energy resources industry pushed back. “The overall level of penetration, these [customers] are still very small in terms of the overall load the utility is having to manage,’ says Katie Niebaum, director of the Arkansas Alternative Energy Association. “We’re not at the tipping point that other states like California have had to manage.”


PJM informs stakeholders it will examine energy and reserve market price formation. PJM Interconnection president and CEO Andy Ott sent a letter to stakeholders informing them of the board’s decision to launch two price formation initiatives. One will look at how locational marginal pricing is formulated. The other will address how PJM procures and prices reserves.

“For many years, PJM has employed single clearing price markets to incentivize physical asset owners to act in a manner that reinforces grid reliability. Locational Marginal Pricing in the energy market and the clearing price approaches applied to the reserve markets are rooted in this fundamental principle. In order to maximize the effectiveness of the markets in achieving this objective, the actions system operators take to maintain grid reliability must be reflected as transparently as possible in these market clearing prices,” Ott says in the letter to PJM stakeholders. “While this is certainly the case the majority of the time and there is ample evidence that the PJM markets are working efficiently to reinforce grid reliability, there are also instances where operator actions are not reflected in market prices. Therefore, there is room for improvement in how these energy and reserve prices are formed.”

Ott’s letter observes that PJM’s board “is respectful of the fact that all of these issues are complex and that stakeholders are tackling many issues.”

See also;

PJM draws more investment than ERCOT, despite reserve margin differences

PJM Offers Two Proposals: A Rock and a Hard Place


Other news items of note:

Utilities, DER providers face off over market access at FERC meeting

Utilities, Grid Operators Tell FERC They Need Real-Time Data to Better Manage DERs

It’s unclear how federal regulators will tackle the problem.

Rocky Mountain Institute’s Business Renewables Center assesses growth in corporate renewable energy procurement

Announced Corporate Renewable Deals in the U.S. (2013-2017 — 9 GW in total)

Washington regulators require utilities to offer smart meter opt-outs

Utilities in Washington are preparing for a rollout of advanced metering infrastructure to accompany grid modernization efforts. But state regulators, in an April 10 policy statement, required power companies to allow opt-out options for customers who do not want the upgraded meter.

NRC Wants More Financial Details Before Approving Vermont Yankee Sale

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the potential buyer of the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear plant has yet to show it will have the money available to clean up the site.


Say ‘no’ to nuclear bailouts, Minnesota letter write argues

Mayor writes letter to Texas PUC to dispute planned power lines

How much are import tariffs holding solar back?

Rising interest rates also raise questions, but the solar industry is fighting back

Solar Energy Industries Association President Abigail Hopper said the tariffs would “create a crisis” for the solar industry and threaten its 260,000 American jobs. But while the tariffs are having some negative impacts, the industry and its customers now say their concerns were exaggerated.

Contenders for Ryan’s House Speaker job share energy, environment goals

“I don’t think the oil and gas industry, the solar industry or the alternative coal industry would have a problem with either one of them,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the former Energy and Commerce Committee chairman who has long been allied with the energy industry. Barton said both House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) are “very pro-American energy.”

Study Finds Rising Production Costs, Not Natural Gas, To Blame for Appalachian Coal Mine Closures

Coal Demand, Market Forces, and US Coal Mine Closures

Declining labor productivity has caused more Appalachian coal mine closures and employment losses than has low natural gas prices or electricity demand.



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