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Electric Industry News, April 18, 2018

Democratic gubernatorial candidates oppose Nevada electricity choice ballot question.  Nevada’s top two Democratic gubernatorial candidates have announced their opposition to the voter initiative on November’s ballot that would open the state’s monopoly-protected electricity sector to competition, Riley Snyder reports in the Nevada Independent.

Clark County commissioners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani both confirmed with the publication that they planned to vote against the Energy Choice Initiative, despite having voted in favor of it when the matter first came before voters in 2016. The measure, adopted then by more than 70 percent of those voting, must receive voter approval a second time before the state’s constitution can be amended to permit electricity choice.

Despite prior comments in favor of the ballot question, it is perhaps unsurprising that Sisolak announced his opposition at an AFL-CIO conference earlier this week. Unions have long been opposed to competitive electricity reforms, which they see as a threat to union jobs.

“After listening to the concerns of Nevadans across the state, I believe Question 3 is harmful to Nevada and I cannot support it,” Sisolak said in a statement provided the Nevada Independent. “I have long had concerns about the negative impact the initiative could have on consumers, labor, the environment and our economy. Question 3 risks the reliability of our electricity system, threatens the jobs of hardworking men and women and could slow our growing renewable energy sector. It provides too much risk without guaranteeing rewards of lower rates for consumers.”

A spokesman for Giunchigliani told Snider the former state lawmaker “opposed deregulation in the Assembly, and she’s seen this experiment hurt consumers and jobs. As she said previously, she has serious concerns that this would hurt ratepayers again and these concerns have not been addressed. She will not be supporting this initiative this year.”

Yes on 3 spokesman Bradley Mayer predicted voters “will not be swayed by special interest groups that are pressuring candidates” to oppose the ballot measure.

Snider writes that the leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Adam Laxalt, has previously indicated he would supports the ballot question.

“With the absence of a competitive energy market in Nevada, we deny our customers the freedom to lower their electricity costs,” Laxalt reportedly said at a National Energy Marketers Association meeting in Las Vegas last year. “And that is why we must open our energy market to consumers both large and small.”


FERC commissioners promise to address coal state lawmakers’ concerns. An appearance by all five Federal Energy Regulatory Commission members before a House oversight panel on Capitol Hill allowed coal-state lawmakers to express their support for out-of-market interventions to stem an ongoing wave of coal-fired power plant closures.

The FERC commissioners received pointed questions regarding a unanimous decision earlier this year rejecting a proposed rule forwarded by Energy Secretary Rick Perry that would have forced consumers to subsidize uneconomic coal and nuclear power plants in the nation’s competitive wholesale electricity markets.

Veteran energy reporter John Siciliano reports in the Washington Examiner that lawmakers “hounded” the FERC commissioners over the issue of power plant subsidies, with lawmakers from West Virginia unsurprisingly at the forefront.

Rep. David McKinley, a West Virginia Republican, cited FirstEnergy’s efforts to move its Pleasants County, W.Va., merchant power plant into ratebase, a move that West Virginia state regulators found was not in ratepayers’ interests. McKinley said that absent federal support the plant likely will shut down with devastating economic consequences for plant workers and the county’s tax revenues.

“If this power plant closes down, [there’s a] very high likelihood that the coal producer that supplies that power plant will similarly declare bankruptcy,” McKinley said. “Wouldn’t it be more efficient and prudent to try to find a vehicle, a means [under the Federal Power Act or] some modification of that, so we can keep some of our marginal power plants operative?” Siciliano quotes McKinley asking the FERC regulators.

The FERC commissioners defended their decision to reject the proposed rule forwarded by the Trump administration, and pointed to a pending fact-finding initiative they launched instead to weigh concerns about maintaining grid “resiliency” should baseload coal and nuclear plants be supplanted by intermittent resources like wind and solar, and by natural gas-fired plants with what coal and nuclear supporters argue have supply dependency and price volatility concerns.

FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre called the resiliency question “one of the trickiest areas” the commission is engaged with, Jasmin Melvin writes for S&P Global Platts.  But those concerns are “very much within the scope of the matters that we will be looking at as we make our decisions going forward,” he promised the House lawmakers.

“I think, over the course of time, Secretary Perry will be proven right,” Melvin quoted Neil Chatterjee, who otherwise defended FERC’s decision rejecting the Energy Secretary’s rule proposal. “We are going to ultimately have resilience challenges in this country, and we need to be prepared for them. I think this [pending FERC] docket will allow for that.”


See also:

Closing nuclear power plants would increase air pollution: report


N.C. high court judges hear arguments on challenge to Duke’s monopoly. Lawyers representing a clean-energy advocacy group that installed a rooftop solar system on a Greensboro church as a challenge to Duke’s monopoly status in North Carolina argued before the state Supreme Court that their client, NC WARN, is not selling electricity to the public, just to the church.

NC WARN’s attorney, Matthew Quinn, argued that for the group to be a utility it has to sell electricity to the public. A single contract with the Greensboro church does not constitute selling to the public, he argued, according to various published accounts.

“NC WARN is not interested in selling power. NC WARN is engaged in an altruistic program designed to combat the climate crisis,” the Associated Press’ Emergy Dalesio quoted Quinn arguing before the court’s seven justices.

“This is not altruistic,” Lisa Sorg, writing for Progressive Policy Watch, quoted Duke Energy attorney Dwight Allen. “NC WARN is trying to be a utility.”

The argument did not appear convincing with one of the court’s judges, based on questions he reportedly asked in response to Quinn’s arguments.

“Part of this project is to do multiple replications of this approach. So to say, ‘well it’s just one,’ what about the next one?” AP quoted Justice Paul Newby, who also questioned how NC WARN can claim it wasn’t selling electricity when the contract was called a power purchase agreement. “It seems to me you’re wanting us to ignore the expressed language of the agreement,” Newby said.

At one point, Quinn referred to “the sale of power,” according to Travis Fain, WRAL statehouse reporter.

“I’m not sure you meant to say that,” interrupted Sam J. Ervin IV, one of the elected Supreme Court judges hearing the arguments. Ervin is a former North Carolina utility regulator and chaired the electricity committee for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. He is the grandson of former U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin who played a prominent role in the Watergate hearings.




Another major oil company makes significant investment in electricity. Following on the heels of Shell’s investments in Europe’s electricity sector, France’s Total announced yesterday it has acquired a significant stake in French utility company Direct Energie. It seems clear that fossil fuel producers are looking ahead to a future world in which electric vehicles and other transitional technologies make oil less of a cash cow for shareholders. Clearly this expectation of declining demand for oil also is driving reforms by Saudi Arabia’s leadership.

“Big Oil’s move into the European power market shows the majors are preparing for a future in which fossil fuels are diminished in the energy mix and consumers demand charging points alongside gasoline pumps at fueling stations. For Total, it’s also part of a plan to add customers for its growing natural-gas production and to increase control of its distribution,” writes Bloomberg’s Francois De Beaupuy.

“We now have, among the European oil majors, an unexpected battle emerging for market share in western European gas and power,” Beaupuy quotes Rob West, an analyst at Redburn Europe Ltd. “It is fascinating.”

The question for now is when will we see similar moves into the U.S. electricity sector?


Justice Dept. says Minnesota transmission siting law unconstitutional. Minnesota state law favoring transmission line development by incumbent state-regulated utilities over out-of-state developers is unconstitutional, the federal Justice Department said in a court filing.

Mike Hughlett reports in the Minneapolis Star Tribune regarding a brief filed in support of a legal challenge by LSP Transmission Holdings, which was denied an opportunity to build a transmission line due to a 2012 state law providing utilities a right of first refusal in transmission line development.

LSP wanted to build a 40-mile power line connecting an Xcel substation with a planned substation. Although LSP owns more than 500 miles of transmission, none of it is in Minnesota, so under state law Xcel Energy and ITC Midwest LLC had “first dibs” on the project, Hughlett writes. LSP is challenging the law on interstate commerce grounds, and the Justice Department has now weighed in in agreement.

“Minnesota’s right of first refusal law has an unconstitutional discriminatory effect because it favors in-state entities,” the Justice Department brief said, asserting that the law “causes substantial anticompetitive effects in interstate commerce.”


Other news items of note:

State-federal concerns could dim FERC’s landmark storage order

Wider access to a variety of markets has been hailed as the basis for energy storage growth, but state concerns could thwart an overarching solution.

FERC Affirms Broad Jurisdiction Over Energy Efficiency Resources, Participation

N.H. energy strategy shifts from subsidizing renewables to lowering rates

New N.H. energy plan likes nuclear power, worries about electricity rates, isn’t too interested in trains

N.H. Gov. Sununu cites high electric rates, releases energy plan

Another View – N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu: A new energy strategy for New Hampshire

Illinois Commerce Commission allows co-op customers to participate in 30% cash back program for solar

Ruling means cash-back incentive not restricted to IOU customers

Virginia moves closer to increasing clean energy

SB 966, signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam, has the potential to accelerate advanced energy in Virginia, saving money for customers and boosting job growth, Harrison Godfrey, executive director of Virginia Advanced Energy Economy, writes in the Virginian-Pilot.

Nebraska clean energy activists seek path around Legislature

Activists are pitching a clean power plan directly to utilities instead of trying to sell state lawmakers on it.

Missouri utilities question data collection recommendations in DER report

Grafton, Mass., sees cost savings from aggregation contract

Changes promised for Calif. wildfire bill that sparked utility spending fears

California lawmakers pave path for higher electricity, gas bills

Duquesne Light seeks rate increase for 600,000 customers in Pa.

Sunoco proposes changes to Mariner East 2 construction in Chester County; Pa. DEP sets public hearing

U.S. Wind Power Slows Thanks to Tax Policy Meant to Boost It

  • Turbine installations in 2017 fell 14% to 7 gigawatts
  • Congress extended tax credit, easing pressure on developers

Daily on Energy: Is Trump on a climate collision course with Japan, France?


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