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Electric Industry News, April 9, 2018

Mass. Lawmakers to examine competitive retail power provider practices. The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy will hold an oversight hearing in the wake of a provocative report issued by Attorney General Maura Healey that she said justified her call for the state to ban residential sales by competitive retail electricity providers.

Healey cited about 700 complaints among the half million accounts served by competitive suppliers to conclude that customers – particularly low-income consumers – were paying too much and that the residential market should be closed to them.

The state legislative oversight panel said the hearing was intended to “consider immediate protective measures and the implications of those actions,” Matt Murphy of State House News Service reports.

As of yet no date has been set for the hearing.


See also:

Report: Worcester, Springfield top Massachusetts cities for inflated ‘competitive supply’ electricity rates


Opposing sides line up for expensive battle over Nevada’s customer choice ballot initiative. It promises to become one of the most expensive – if not the most expensive – battles over a ballot initiative in Nevada history. Both sides are well financed, and gearing up for a bruising battle over the pending vote this November on a ballot initiative to alter the state’s constitution to allow Nevada electricity consumers to choose among competing electricity suppliers.

The “battle lines are drawn,” Riley Snyder reports in the Nevada Independent. Opponents have seized on the Massachusetts AG’s report (see above) to argue for a “no” vote on the ballot initiative, KTVN reports. AARP of Nevada, the Professional Firefighters of Nevada, and the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers all oppose Question 3, as the ballot initiative is called, the Patch reports.

The Energy Choice Initiative campaign funded by casinos and data center company Switch announced Friday the hiring of consulting firm Left Hook Communications, which is led by Brandon Hall, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s campaign manager in 2010, and Raghu Devaguptapu, an experienced Democratic political operative, Snyder reports in the Nevada Independent. .

Meanwhile, the union- and NV Energy-backed Coalition to Defeat Question 3 announced that AARP and the firefighters and police groups were rallying with them in opposition to the measure. “We are alarmed that Question 3 would provide fewer consumer protections and less access to affordable electricity for seniors,” AARP Nevada state director Maria Dent said in a statement. “In deregulated states, such as Massachusetts, we’ve seen seniors targeted by predatory sales practices that lure them into contracts that actually cost them hundreds of dollars more per year.”

Jon Wellinghoff, the former Nevada consumer advocate who went on to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the Obama administration, is a leading public spokesman for the Energy Choice Initiative campaign. “Competition provides the opportunity to shop around so you can look for the lowest price if you want the lowest price, other people want different kinds of services, they may want renewable energy,” Wellinghoff said.

Question 3 was approved by nearly three quarters of the votes cast in November 2016. To effectively alter the Nevada constitution and allow customer choice in electricity, the ballot measure must be approved again this fall. Nevada policy makers would have until 2023 to set up the parameters of the competitive retail power market.




Libertarian think tank says S.C. consumers should choice in electricity supply. R Street Institute, a libertarian pro-markets think tank in Washington, D.C., has distinguished itself by its increasingly high profile in advocating for customer choice in electricity. In the last year or two, R Street has posted blogs and placed op-eds in numerous newspapers supporting competition in states that have it, and advocating for adoption of competition in states that retained monopoly regulation.

Now the group has posted a blog advocating customer choice in South Carolina, a state with a roiling debate over utility regulation in the wake of a high-profile regulatory failure leaving the state’s consumers on the hook for billions in costs for an abandoned nuclear power development effort.

“South Carolinians spend more on their electric bills than people from any other state, but they shouldn’t have to,” begins the blog post by Marc Hyden, R Street’s Southeast Region Director. “Part of the reason for high costs in the Palmetto State boils down to poor public policy.”

Hyden contrasts South Carolina’s experience of rising costs under monopoly regulation with those of consumers in Illinois and Ohio, where policy makers replaced monopoly regulation with customer choice in electricity. Prior to market liberalization, the states were among those with the high costs in the region. Today they are among the lowest, he notes.

“The recent developments in Ohio, Illinois and elsewhere have clearly demonstrated that freer, competitive electric markets are simply better than the antiquated government-enforced monopolies found in places like South Carolina. As it stands, South Carolina’s energy model burdens consumers with record-high prices, rewards energy providers’ unwise business practices and inhibits more-efficient energy production. Instead of maintaining this system, South Carolinian officials should consider adopting an approach that gives consumers more choices.”


Bill lifting net metering cap advances in South Carolina. Meanwhile, it doesn’t appear that such a wholesale revision of utility regulatory policy is in the offing in South Carolina, although some lawmakers have advocated for it. For now, they appear to be content with nibbling at the edges, such as the legislation to remove a cap on net metering that passed in the House.

H4421, the Electric Consumer Bill of Rights Act, would end South Carolina’s limiting of net metering to 2 percent of aggregate peak-load capacity at each of the state’s utilities.

“This is all about making sure residents have solar as an option to lower their energy bills, and we’re pleased the House answered with a resounding yes,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association, Washington, D.C.-based industry trade group, “We urge the state Senate to do what’s right for jobs and consumers, i.e. take up and pass the bill without delay. Doing so will allow South Carolina to continue its rapid solar growth, give homeowners choice, and provide affordable electricity options and jobs.”



See also:

Two South Carolina utility regulators leaving; no shortage of potential replacements


Credit ratings firm Moody’s sees upside for FirstEnergy’s competitors. As the Trump administration weighs FirstEnergy’s request for extraordinary relief under Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act for the utility’s financially ailing power plants, Moody’s Investor Service has issued an analysis finding that closure of FirstEnergy’s plants should result in some economic “upside” for merchant generators who continue to operate in the competitive wholesale market.

“Its new analysis suggests that letting the FirstEnergy plants close as scheduled would raise prices for other power plants looking to bid in next month’s auction by regional grid operator PJM Interconnection, which would improve earnings. That’s good for other power plants, such as coal-powered ones, that are facing economic hurdles,” veteran energy report John Siciliano reports in the Washington Examiner.

Moody’s noted that although “federal or state subsidies could ultimately rescue these plants, repeated efforts to gain state-sponsored financial support in the past two years have failed.”

FirstEnergy formally asked the Department of Energy to exercise its emergency authority under the Federal Power Act in the run up to a recent bankruptcy filing to protect its competitive generation company from creditors. The request has engendered considerable opposition from competitive merchant power providers and environmental advocates. PJM Interconnection has said there is no immediate threat to the reliable operations of the power grid to support such a request, a point of view echoed by the Moody’s analysis.

“We do not believe that [closing the FirstEnergy power plants] will have much effect on the energy market and so far we have not seen an uptick in the forward energy market,” Moody’s said. But the impact on PJM’s capacity market would be more significant, Moody’s concluded.

At a speech in West Virginia this week, President Trump promised that his administration would “look at” the Section 202(c) request, but offered no timetable for a decision.

See also:

Moody’s: Newest San Antonio coal plant economically challenged

FirstEnergy Solutions bankruptcy could take years; consumer impact review begins

Will FirstEnergy Seek Compromise With Renewables Supporters to Keep Nuke Plants Open?

The market forces shutting down coal plants are also closing carbon-free nuclear plants—and clean energy advocates are split on what to do about it.

Taxpayers shouldn’t foot the $8 billion bill to bail out a failing energy company

Coal emerges as power champion of the winter


Firearms manufacturer argues against 100% renewables mandate. New England’s environmental activists ignore the realities of the region’s energy challenges in arguing in favor of complete reliance of renewable energy sources, Tom Sullivan, senior vice president of operations for Sturm, Ruger, and Co., Inc., argues in an op-ed published in New Hampshire’s Concord Monitor. Such advocacy represents “a stunning abdication of responsibility for sound public policies to protect both the environment and the economy,” he says.

“While responsible environmental policies are necessary, to assume that somehow New Hampshire and New England can quickly move from natural gas to 100 percent renewable energy, while avoiding any new transmission to deliver renewable energy, is naïve and dangerous,” he writes, describing New England’s electricity costs as a threat to jobs in the region as employers look to other regions for lower electricity costs.


Newspaper takes sour view of Ariz. Efforts to nullify renewables ballot initiative. The Arizona Daily Sun’s editorial board is taking a dim view of efforts by Arizona lawmakers to insulate the state’s utilities from a proposed ballot initiative financially supported by billionaire activist Tom Steyer that would establish a 50 percent renewables mandate by 2030.

As the editorial notes, first state lawmakers passed a law signed by Gov. Ducey that made penalties for failing to meet the renewables mandate nominal. But after legislative attorneys raised concerns about the measure constitutionality, lawmakers took a different tack and approved a utility-backed measure putting a competing initiative on the ballot that would allow the Arizona Corporation Commission to nullify the renewables mandate if it raises electricity costs or impacts the well-being of the state.

The editorial noted that a utility analysis supported concerns about the economic and reliability impacts of such a renewables mandate, but cited contrasting studies suggesting that renewables offer cost savings Arizona consumers as well as produce jobs.

“Republicans and utilities like [Arizona Public Service] who want to stonewall renewables need to come up with better arguments – or just come clean on why the status quo is so much better,” the editorial concludes. ”So far, the move toward solar and wind has not bankrupted any utility nor sent energy bills soaring in any of the states where renewable portfolios have been tried. The current standard in Arizona is 15 percent renewables by 2020. If 50 percent by 2030 makes the November ballot, we’ll hope for a more robust and honest debate on the issues than has taken place so far.”


Utility study finds Montana’s consumers pay a cost for net metering. Customers with rooftop solar provide a small benefit, but not enough to warrant compensation they receive under Montana’s net metering law, concludes a Navigant Consulting study for NorthWestern Energy that was mandated by state lawmakers last year.

“Montana’s largest utility company concluded that the energy rooftop solar delivered back onto the grid had a net value of about 4 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s about a third of what net-metering customers are currently compensated,” Tom Lutey reports in the Billings Gazette.

“This thing’s really going to affect Montana’s energy future,” Montana Renewable Energy Association executive director Andrew Valainis says, suggesting that rapid adoption of rooftop solar by Montana homeowners and businesses will be impacted.


Writer explains co-op unhappiness with Tri-State G&T. Werner Heiber, writing in the Durango (Colo.) Herald to urge support for candidates to the La Plata Electric Association’s governing board, provides an excellent summary of the blowback Tri-State Generation and Transmission faces due to its bets on coal investments that have driven costs to co-op customers up by 87 percent over the last decade and a half:

“Major reasons are threefold: The ill-advised purchase of a coal mine instead of purchasing coal, attempting to build the now-canceled Kansas coal fired power plant resulting in a $100 million loss, and that coal is now the most expensive energy source.”

Heiber explains that Tri-State is now challenged by the imperative to sell expensive coal-generated electricity for years to come when wind-generated electricity sells for less than half the cost of coal “with PV solar not far behind.”

See also:

Colorado co-ops consider dropping their energy provider

A cooperative that serves four Western states could soon be losing customers amid concerns it’s not moving away from coal quickly enough.


Apple voices opposition to Clean Power Plan repeal

“As a large consumer of electricity who has successfully pursued a clean energy strategy, we believe the Clean Power Plan codifies and enhances positive long-term trends in the electricity market,” Apple Global Energy Lead Robert Redlinger writes in the statement. “The Clean Power Plan provides a national framework enabling states to ensure that renewable generation resources and more traditional forms of electricity generation are used in an integrated manner to support a reliable and resilient electricity grid.”


Other news of note:

As N.J. bails out nuclear industry, utility rates may go down . . . or up

If you pay a utility bill in New Jersey, price changes appear to be on the way, but whether they’re going lower or higher overall is much murkier.


Calif. Draft Would Adopt Fees, Security Levels for Municipal Aggregations

Central Maine Power Welcomes Audit, Says High Bills Are Explainable

Vermont Utility Regulator Orders Review Of Gas Pipeline

Tesla Powerwall is chosen for a virtual power plant in Lebanon, N.H., but Sunrun wants in

Pennsylvania Driving Toward an Electrifying Win

Lawmakers need to level the playing field for Pa’s electric-driving future | Opinion

Electric vehicles will transform the power grid. Will Illinois be ready?

An Illinois Commerce Commission discussion looks at how EVs will affect the state’s grid, utilities and customers.


“Want to change the world?!” Tesla is hiring a barista in New York

Maryland Senate passes bill to strip ‘green energy’ label from Baltimore trash incinerator

CenterPoint completes Houston transmission line project

The two key questions about going to 100% renewables in Los Angeles

Will it be solar or more solar in Hollywood? And can solar star without fossil fuel backup?

United States: Federal Court Upholds FERC’s Expansive Use Of Anti-Market Manipulation Rule In Power Market “Gaming” Case

Implementing Cybersecurity for the Smart Grid Is a Must

Harrop: Trump deregulation — sadly — is not for the birds

How Google and Walmart work with utilities to procure clean power

The Netherlands Built the World’s First Offshore Wind Power without Subsidies

Japan’s gas market deregulation reverberates widely

Liberalization of power, gas retailing not sufficiently benefiting consumers


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