Today’s lede: ‘Greed disguised as green.’ Consumers last week took it on the chin in New Jersey, as Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a measure imposing some $300 million annually in subsidies they’ll be forced to pay to prop up nuclear power plants. But consumers in Minnesota dodged the bullet as legislation died in the legislature that would have carved out a special rate-setting procedure for the state’s nuclear power plants.
Nora Brownell, a commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and at the Pennsylvania PUC when it implemented competitive restructuring of that state’s electricity sector, told the Washington Post that nuclear power needs “a new model without putting an extraordinary hidden tax on ratepayers.” New Jersey’s imposition of consumer subsidies is “uneconomic, unfair and unrealistic” and “will totally screw up [electricity] markets,” Brownell said, characterizing the New Jersey law as “greed disguised as green.”
National Security Council has the lead on power plant subsidies. The White House National Security Council has been brought in to help determine whether the federal government should prop up economically struggling coal and nuclear power plants, Politico reports, citing sources in the natural gas and utility industries. Politico deemed it the “next move” in Trump administration’s efforts to provide out-of-market financial assistance to baseload coal and nuclear power plants. “The council will spend between six to 12 months studying whether the retirement of those power plants poses a national security risk that would warrant the federal government to intervene and use the authorities under the Federal Power Act or the Defense Production Act,” Politico reports.
Take a lesson from down under? Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman Rod Simms is warning policy makers in that country, where utility oversight and rising electricity prices have been a struggle, not to “gold plate” generation assets as they have for transmission assets, Sophie Vorrath reports in RenewEconomy.com.au.
“Australia’s current obsession with ‘reliability’ of electricity generation could lead to the same sort of expensive energy asset gold-plating Australia has already seen in its poles and wires sector, Australia’s competition watchdog has warned,” Vorrath reports.
In comments broadcast on ABC Radio, Simms said there were already too many consumers paying “way too much” for their electricity, in large part due to unrealistic reliability standards placed on network companies in the past. He warned that the current focus on reliable generation – often misrepresented by conservatives in politics and the media as baseload fossil fuel generation, like coal – was excessive, and risked a similar outcome for consumers, Vorrath writes.
“We’ve had excessive reliability standards in the past, and that has pushed up the poles and wires investment operating costs and consumers have paid for that in a big way,” Simms said on the radio program. “Around 40 per cent of the increase in (electricity) prices… is due to higher network charges, so they are a crucial part of the equation. What we want to make sure (with the National Energy Guarantee, click through here) is that there is not an excessive focus on generation reliability, because…. a minute part of any outage is due to generation.”
Usually outages are due to the network, Simms said. “So let’s not overly focus on generator reliability, let’s have a balanced scheme that, yes, achieves reliability… but let’s do it in a way that can also help us lower electricity prices by integrating our energy and our environmental markets.”
Steyer under attack in Michigan, Arizona over RPS ballot initiatives. Billionaire Democratic activist Tom Steyer reportedly agreed to drop his efforts to pass a ballot initiative in Michigan to impose stricter renewable portfolio requirements for electricity suppliers after the state’s leading utilities pledged to ramp up their commitments to renewables like wind and solar (click through here). But that didn’t stop the conservative-leaning opinions page of the Detroit News from carrying a scathing op-ed by Timothy Benson of the Heartland Institute charging Steyer with leading an effort to increase electricity costs for Michigan consumers.
“Tom Steyer, a billionaire former hedge fund manager from San Francisco — who, by his own admission, fell off his ass like Saul of Tarsus and found the one true faith — has all the passion and fiery proselytistic zeal of those who have experienced a Pauline-like conversion. A part of Steyer’s formidable fortune came from his hedge fund’s investments in coal entities overseas, you see, but now, post-Damascus, he is so fervently and fanatically into the crusade of radical environmentalism that he makes Al Gore look like your standard milquetoast Episcopal bishop,” Benson writes. Phew! And that was just the lede.
The piece goes on to complain that Steyer’s efforts to raise Michigan’s renewable portfolio mandate from 15 percent by 2021 to 30 percent by 2030, for which he has reportedly spent some $2 million, will raise electricity costs for Michigan consumers. Benson paints Steyer as an elitist out of touch with the economic struggles of Michigan consumers.
“Thomas Fahr Steyer is an alumnus of the Upper East Side’s Buckley School (annual tuition $45,000), the Phillips Exeter Academy (annual tuition $53,000), Yale University (annual tuition $53,000), and the Stanford Graduate School of Business (annual tuition $68,000). The son of a partner at white-shoe Sullivan & Cromwell, a youth who summered on Nantucket, he has most assuredly never once had to worry about the cost of electricity since his birth on third base. He’s obviously a brilliant man, and his career at Farallon, his hedge fund, is legendary on Wall Street, but he has no conception of the harm his pet policy can have on those struggling to keep food on the table or the lights on in the house. His climate zealotry will be costly to working Michiganians.”
Meanwhile, Steyer is continuing his efforts to place an initiative on the ballot in Arizona to raise that state’s renewables mandate to 50 percent by 2030. As part of the pushback against that effort, signs have been appearing – apparently fairly ubiquitously – urging voters to log onto “hesgotasecret.com,” a website maintained by a group called Reliable Energy Policy, which is advocating against placing the initiative on Arizona’s ballot, Ciara Encinas reports for KYMA Channel 11 in Yuma.
Those logging onto the site are greeted by a photo of a man whispering into a wide-eyed woman’s ear, along with the caption: “Tom Steyer, a hedge fund billionaire from California, has a – Secret – a few of them, actually, and he’s keeping these secrets to mislead us and millions of other Arizonans to make all of us pay for his personal agenda by doubling your utility bill.”
“This is a grassroots group made up of people who are concerned about the astronomical rise in utility rates that would occur if this initiative were to be put onto the ballot and passed,” Encina quotes Barrett Marson, spokesman for Reliable Energy Policy. “Clearly Tom Steyer wants to bring his brand to across the country,” said Marson.
“Since APS is the only electric provider in the Yuma area, News 11 asked if they were associated with the information campaign. They said no and released a statement that said they do not support the energy initiative,” Encinas reports. “The ballot initiative by California billionaire Tom Steyer is irresponsible and bad for customers. It will dramatically increase electricity bills, kill thousands of jobs, eliminate millions in tax revenue, potentially increase carbon emissions in Arizona and make our state a less attractive place to do business,” said APS.
Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona said that is not the case. “What we would like to see is an honest, open debate about clean energy because Arizonan’s deserve the choice that seems right to them,” said Rodd McLeoz, spokesman for group supporting the ballot drive. “Solar used to be very expensive, but the price has gone down a lot. It’s now cheaper than building a gas plant,” said McLeoz.
Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona needs 250,000 valid signatures for the initiative to be placed on the ballot this November.
Did Southern Co. sell its Florida assets to NextEnergy because of debt load from Kemper, Plant Vogtle? Southern Co. is facing “significant adverse financial consequences” from its failed efforts to develop the Kemper clean-coal power plant in Mississippi and from its mushrooming costs to build new nuclear plants at Plant Vogtle in Georgia, prompting it to sell its Florida utility subsidiary, Gulf Power, plus a natural gas utility and power plant assets also located in Florida to NextEra Energy in a deal valued at $5.1 billion in cash and the assumption of $1.4 billion in debt. That’s what Leonard Hyman, an economist and financial analyst specializing in the energy sector, and William Tilles, a former utility equity research analyst and utility equities portfolio manager, write in their regular column in OilPrice.com.
“Why on earth would a smart management like Southern Company’s sell an asset like Gulf Power when other large utilities in the U.S. are doing just the opposite and aggressively acquiring? Simply put, two technology bets gone wrong and the significant adverse financial consequences thereof,” Hyman and Tilles write, referring to Kemper and Plant Vogtle. In Mississippi, Southern reached a settlement in which its ratepayers will be forced to eat a significant share of the failed clean-coal project, which is now operating as a pureplay natural gas-fired generating station. And in Georgia, regulators have signaled that they aren’t comfortable with consumers picking up all of the over-budget nuclear development project, they say.
Despite its size, regulators requiring company shareholders “to share the pain of over budget nuclear and clean coal construction have put Southern Company under financial pressure. A substantial amount of debt has been incurred to finance these ill-fated projects not all of which will be supported by future returns on these assets,” Hyman and Tilles observe.
Turning its Florida-based properties into cash “will reduce Southern’s considerable debt burden without impairing the company’s core assets or strategy,” they conclude, suggesting that perhaps Southern could sell other assets as well, such as its Nicor gas utility in Illinois.
“For NextEra, this acquisition continues its efforts to add regulated assets. But also concentrates the company’s regulatory risk even more heavily in the state of Florida. While this is not an immediate concern, even the most constructive political and regulatory environments can shift,” Hyman and Tilles write. “But this deal is accretive to earnings per share by perhaps 20 cents (2-3%)—which in an industry with no sales growth is a big deal.”
Potential Gulf Power sale may affect contract negotiation. NextEra Energy announced that it would acquire Gulf Power and Florida City Gas in a $6.475 billion deal. The City of Destin recently voted to extend its current contract with Gulf Power until Sept. 21 in order to continue negotiations with the utility company. The contract, which took effect 30 years ago, was set to expire this month. City councilman Parker Destin, who was appointed by the council as the city’s primary negotiator with Gulf Power, confirmed that the city is still in a contract extension with Gulf Power despite the change in parent companies from Southern Company to NextEra Energy. “It’s really just a changing of the guard,” said Destin. “Representatives from Gulf Power called me and said nothing will change when it comes to the negotiations.” Destin reiterated that his main goal is to provide the best utility deal possible for Destin residents, and said that the acquisition could possibly open up doors to lower utility rates.
Consumers Energy defends financial support for Michigan lawmaker’s political opponent. Consumers Energy confirmed an independent political action committee partially funded by it has contributed $2,500 to back former state Rep. Kevin Daley in his bid to defeat State Rep. Gary Glenn in a race for a state Senate seat, Jay Greene reports in Crain’s Detroit Business.
Glenn, who chairs an influential House oversight panel and is an outspoken advocate of ending Michigna’s 10 percent load cap on competitive access, “contends millions more dollars have been spent by Consumers to back Daley and other politicians who he says will be supportive of the Jackson-based utility’s positions,” Greene writes.
Last week, Glenn refused to apologize to Consumers for referring to the company as “terrorists” (click through here and here).
The confirmation of the utility’s political spending against Glenn come in the wake of the lawmaker’s accusations that Consumers is waging a big-dollar “dark money” political campaign against him as he runs for the state Senate seat. “As a result of our current monopoly system, utility bosses have tens of millions of dollars a year of our money to spend trying to handpick and elect politicians, like Kevin Daley, who they know won’t threaten their state-guaranteed monopoly privileges,” Glenn said in an email to Crain’s. A Consumers Energy spokesman, Katie Carey, confirmed that $2,500 was contributed to Daley in April from CMS Energy Corp. Employees for Better Government, a 28-year-old independent political action committee.
“Consumers Energy stands for the people of Michigan. As a good corporate citizen, we are engaged in the political process, welcome constructive dialogue and support pragmatic policies that are focused on safe, reliable, and affordable energy for Michigan, and we support organizations that provide education and advocacy related to such policies,” Carey said in the email. “Our contributions to Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy came from the company’s general funds and were not reflected in utility customer rates.”
But Carey said she didn’t know whether money contributed by Consumers Energy a 501(c)4 organization founded in 2014 by Consumers and other anti-deregulation groups has been used to support Daley because it is an independent organization with its own board of directors, Greene reports.
Asian Chamber of Commerce calls for ‘no’ vote on Nevada electricity choice ballot initiative. The Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce announced its opposition to Question 3, the ballot initiative in Nevada to change the state’s constitution to end monopoly regulation and allow competitive choice in electricity, the Coalition to Defeat Question 3 announced.
“Question 3 would eliminate current consumer protections, result in higher electricity rates for small businesses and individuals, and put the reliability of our electricity system at risk,” said Sonny Vinuya, president of Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce, which represents approximately 1,000 small business owners in Southern Nevada. “As an organization dedicated to promoting commerce, supporting economic development, and serving as a conduit of business opportunities for Asian American entrepreneurs, we cannot support this risky and costly measure.”
“Consumers and small businesses in deregulated states have faced significantly higher electricity rates, less reliable service, spikes in consumer complaints, and fewer consumer protections. That’s why we are committed to making sure all Nevadans get the facts about Question 3,” said Tracy Skenandore of the Coalition to Defeat Question 3.
Other groups and organizations recently joining the Coalition to Defeat Question 3 include the Professional Fire Fighters of Nevada, AARP Nevada, Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers, Latin Chamber of Commerce-Nevada, and the Nevada Alliance for Retired Americans, among others.
More electric industry news items of note:
Trump scraps plan to sell off federal electricity assets. President Trump has scrapped plans to sell off the assets of many of the nation’s federally owned electric utilities from Tennessee to the Pacific Northwest. A group of Republican lawmakers announced late Thursday that they reached a deal with the Trump administration to kill off the proposal that was included in the president’s fiscal 2019 budget. “It was the right move for the Administration to abandon its plan to sell off Bonneville Power Administration’s assets,” tweeted Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash. “This decision came after I joined w/ several other [Northwest] members of Congress to express our strong opposition to this harmful proposal.”
State Dept. announces talks with Canada to modernize the Columbia River treaty regime. The United States is pleased to announce the start of negotiations with Canada to modernize the Columbia River Treaty regime on May 29-30, 2018, in Washington, D.C. The 1964 Treaty’s flood risk and hydropower operations have provided substantial benefits to millions of people on both sides of the border. The Treaty, a worldwide model for transboundary water cooperation, has also facilitated additional benefits such as supporting the river’s ecosystem, irrigation, municipal water use, industrial use, navigation, and recreation. Modernizing the Treaty regime will ensure these benefits continue for years to come. As negotiations proceed, the U.S. government will continue to engage regional stakeholders, Tribes, state government officials, and other interested groups.
W.Va. customers speak out against Appalachian rate hike. A proposed rate increase by Appalachian Power is being met with criticism by customers, who say West Virginia residents living on fixed incomes will be hard hit. And many also aren’t pleased by part of the rationale for the hike request — that less electricity usage means the power company needs to raise their customers’ monthly bills. Kay Dick, of Wayne, said she doesn’t know one person in her area that is not opposed to Appalachian Power’s request to raise residential customers’ rates by 11 percent. Dick, 66, said she and her husband are on fixed incomes and do everything to try to keep their electric costs down. “They tell us to conserve and we do, and now they want more money due to less usage by customers,” she said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.” Appalachian Power officials, however, say the increase is needed because no matter the level of electricity usage, the company still needs to maintain the infrastructure allowing electricity to be delivered.
Missouri bill revamping utility rate structures awaits governor’s signature. A bill that critics say will result in significantly higher electric rates for Missouri residents needs only the signature of Gov. Eric Greitens to become law. The Missouri House of Representatives last week passed Senate Bill 564 by a vote of 125-20. The legislation affects all of the nearly 2 million customers of investor-owned utilities in the state, including Empire District-Liberty Utilities, Ameren Corp. and Kansas City Power and Light. Under the bill, companies would be given more flexibility as to when and how they change their rates, in response to declining electricity usage, but state regulators and consumer groups say the result would be much higher bills for residential customers. The Missouri Public Service Commission staff recently released an analysis of the impact the measure would have on the state’s residential ratepayers. That analysis projects an increase of nearly 10 percent over a 10-year period beginning in 2019. Revenues for the utilities would go up $282.5 million over that time as a result of the bill, the staff analysis said. A spokesperson for Empire on Friday night said the company was not familiar with the PSC staff analysis, but that it believes the bill is an overall positive for consumers.
Missouri utility’s ambitious wind energy plan facing pushback. Proponents of cleaner energy in coal-reliant Missouri had lofty expectations in 2016, when Algonquin Power & Utilities bought Empire District Electric Co. At the time, Empire claimed it could build 800 megawatts of wind energy, close a 200 megawatt coal plant next April — about 16 years early — and save ratepayers as much as $325 million over 20 years. The utility said it could do this with a substantial investment from a tax-equity investor, by tapping the federal production tax credit and saving $20 million it otherwise would have to spend to make federally mandated environmental upgrades to the power plant it has proposed closing. Under the proposal, wind’s share of generation for Empire customers would have increased from 14 percent in 2016 to 51 percent by 2023. Coal’s share over that period would have fallen from 49 to 21 percent. “It’s great to see a utility embrace this stuff,” said James Owen, executive director of Renew Missouri. However, the state’s Office of Public Counsel and the staff of the Missouri Public Service Commission are skeptical. They don’t trust Empire’s estimates of the future price of wind on the wholesale market, and they maintain that the utility has structured the deal so that the tax-equity investor – as yet unnamed – will be paid off during the first 10 years, leaving only crumbs behind for ratepayers. The City of Joplin also is worried about the possible loss of 55 jobs at the Asbury coal plant.
Baker adviser helped energy firms land big Mass. contracts. The top political adviser to Governor Charlie Baker also provided strategic and communications advice as a paid consultant to two companies that recently landed massive clean energy contracts in Massachusetts. Jim Conroy, an experienced political strategist who managed Baker’s 2014 campaign and is a key adviser on his reelection bid, also worked with Vineyard Wind LLC and Central Maine Power Co., helping the companies beat out competitors for what will be two of New England’s biggest energy projects. Conroy helped Vineyard Wind, a joint venture owned by Connecticut-based Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, to win contracts that would enable a wind farm to be built with as many as 100 turbines spinning about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Conroy also helped Central Maine Power land contracts so the company can build a nearly 150-mile power line to import electricity from Hydro-Quebec in Canada through western Maine for Massachusetts. Central Maine Power, also owned by Avangrid, won the contracts after Eversource Energy’s rival project, Northern Pass, was rejected by regulators in New Hampshire. Conroy, who is not a registered lobbyist, confirmed the arrangements to the Globe. He said he started working on both projects last year and provides help with big-picture communications strategy and branding. Baker administration officials say Conroy did not — and could not — influence the procurement decisions. “The governor’s office does not control the project selection process, as state law requires the utility companies to choose projects based on strict guidelines such as cost, permitting, and environmental impact,” said Baker’s communications director, Lizzy Guyton. “The evaluation team, comprised of the utility companies, selected projects for both renewable energy procurements based on numerical rankings for price criteria submitted by the bidders.” Guyton also noted that an independent evaluator selected by the attorney general has monitored the entire process.
Massachusetts lawmakers heed the call of businesses and advance clean energy proposals. “Companies and investors across Massachusetts have embraced clean energy as a business decision to help cut energy costs, reduce exposure to the volatility of fossil fuel prices, and stay competitive. Increasing the RPS will provide additional policy certainty for the clean energy industry, while supporting new investments and driving economic growth across the Commonwealth. We encourage the legislature and Governor Baker to follow the lead of the business community and pass an RPS increase to achieve 50 percent renewable energy supply by 2030.”
Three Mile Island’s future looks bleaker as it fails at power auction. The future of Exelon’s unprofitable Three Mile Island nuclear power plant looks even bleaker after company said today it failed at an annual auction for the future sale of its electricity. In addition to TMI, Exelon’s Dresden and Byron plants (both in Illinois) did not clear in the 2021-2022 auction to supply the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regional power grid, known as PJM Interconnection. Failing to clear the auction means the plants are not able to produce power at a price the market is willing to pay. Exelon says TMI has been unprofitable for six years. A year ago, Exelon said it would prematurely close the plant, which is near Harrisburg. It has one functional reactor after the other partially melted down in 1979. It is set to close in September 2019—15 years before its operating license expires. TMI employs about 675 people. Like coal, the nuclear industry has struggled amid slowing demand for electricity and competition from a glut of cheaper natural gas and renewable energy.
Bitcoin backlash as ‘miners’ suck up electricity, stress power grids in Central Washington. Public hearings for rural electric utilities are rarely sellout events. But the crowd that showed up in Wenatchee two weeks ago for a hearing about Bitcoin mining in Chelan County was so large that utility staff had to open a second room with a video feed for the overflow. The turnout wasn’t surprising. Chelan County, along with neighboring Douglas and Grant counties, has been at the center of the U.S. Bitcoin boom since 2012, when the region’s ultracheap hydropower began attracting cryptocurrency “miners.” These entrepreneurs earn Bitcoin by solving increasingly complicated mathematical problems established by the shadowy creators of the digital currency. The process, which the industry calls mining, involves trillions of computer calculations and sucks up huge amounts of power. As a result, an area famous for apples, wheat and conservative politics has been transformed into a kind of cyber-boomtown, with Bitcoin mining operations that range from large-scale, state-of-the-art warehouses to repurposed cargo containers to backyard sheds. By the end of this year, according to some estimates, the Mid-Columbia Basin could account for as much as 30 percent of the global output of new Bitcoin and large shares of other digital currencies, such as Litecoin and Ethereum. But as in any boomtown, success has come at a cost.
PUD’S dilemma in supply of power to bitcoin Miners. It is rarely that the public hearing for rural electric utility becomes sell-out event. But contrary to the usual precedents, a large crowd turned out at Wenatchee two weeks ago for a hearing about Bitcoin mining in Chelan County. Chelan County and its neighbouring Douglas and Grant counties, has attracting cryptocurrency “miners.”, due to the region’s ultra-cheap hydropower, ever since U.S. Bitcoin boom of 2012. Statistics show that by end of the year, the Mid-Columbia Basin could account for about 30 percent of the new bitcoins globally and also a higher share of older crypto, including Litecoin and Ethereum.
Bitcoin miners are crushing power grids In Washington State as electricity demands skyrocket. One of the biggest criticisms of cryptocurrency, and Bitcoin in particular, is the highly volatile nature of digital coins. However, that’s for investors and miners to worry about. A larger concern that is starting to draw increased attention is the power usage that comes from mining cryptocurrencies on a large scale. Over in Washington, where power is relatively cheap compared to other parts of the country, there’s a twofold concern—that power bills will go, and that electric utilities will not be able to keep up with demand.
Rouses Point, N.Y., imposes cryptocurrency ban. Village trustees in Rouses Point have voted to impose a 24-month moratorium on cryptocurrency-mining operations in the village. “Our priority is always in keeping the best interests of the taxpayers in mind,” Mayor Thomas Batha said in a statement about the ban on operations involving cryptocurrency, block-chain or similar data. “Data mining has the potential to really disrupt our village. At the moment, these substantial power users provide no compensating increase in jobs and do not yet have any discernible benefit to village residents,” he said. “We need some time to work through this issue.” The law includes provisions for possible civil penalties of up to $1,000 a day for violations. Due to the affordable electricity rates in Rouses Point, dozens of requests have been fielded by village officials from cryptocurrency miners. The City of Plattsburgh, which also has appealing electricity rates, also has imposed a cryptocurrency moratorium.
Did NH Supreme Court miss ‘the forest for the trees’ in Eversource gas case? Without that separation, deregulation does not exist and there is no free market for competitive electric prices. Deregulation has subjected consumers to more of the volatility in the electric market but allows the “educated consumers” to benefit significantly over the old integrated system. Last week’s Supreme Court said the PUC erred when it said the fundamental principle of restructuring is to separate generation from distribution and transmission. The Supreme Court said the law does not elevate separation above the other principles and insisted reducing electric rates was the primary consideration which allows flexibility with projects like Access Northeast. The decision was not unanimous as Senior Associate Justice Gary Hicks said, “the majority misses the forest for the trees.”
Sununu: NH Legislature has a lot to be proud of. We are working hard to lower our electricity rates – some of the highest in the nation – and some of the bills passed this session will chart New Hampshire’s course forward. These bills will allow for greater transparency and accountability to the ratepayer to ensure we are taking responsible, cost-effective steps to protect our environment. They will empower New Hampshire’s policymakers to strongly negotiate on our behalf throughout New England. These sound policies will lay the foundation to prevent rate-hikes now and in the future. Our goal is simple: to lower rates, to secure our electric system, and to take practical steps to protect our environment.
Vermonters being asked to sign up for water-heater technology. Water heaters may not be something people often think about, but the team at a local company wants to be on the one to revolutionize how they work. “A conventional water heater basically heats up in big, bulky 20-minute chunks,” said Mads Almassalkhi, the co-founder of Packetized Energy. Almassalkhi says that happens even when someone isn’t home or and when it’s not being used. And when a water heater decides it’s time to heat up may not be the best time for the electric grid we all use. “The notion of peaks happening in the afternoon is really becoming and old story and that’s not really true anymore,” said Almassalkhi. “Peaks are happening whenever the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.” Green Mountain Power representatives say when people are using a lot of energy during those peak times, the electric utility must turn to generators that are more costly to operate and use the dirtiest fuels. Almassalkhi says he wants to stop that. His product is called the Mello. It sits right on top of a water heater and is smart enough to know when it’s a bad time on the grid to ask for a big chunk of electricity.
FERC says N.J. must bear full cost of $1.2 billion transmission line. BPU argues reliability upgrade mandated by regional grid operator benefits New Jersey and New York, but FERC says Garden State must foot the bill. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has denied a bid by New Jersey officials to overturn a decision in a multistate dispute concerning who gets saddled with the costs of a $1.2 billion transmission upgrade. In a decision rendered last Thursday, the federal agency denied a complaint by the New Jersey Board of Utilities in a case state officials argued unreasonably left ratepayers here bearing the cost of a reliability upgrade mandated by the regional grid operator, PJM Interconnection.
N.Y. utilities to spend $1.25 million on composite utility poles. The New York State Public Service Commission, along with Rochester Gas and Electric, the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation and other parties have a proposed a settlement over the way the two utilities responded to a March 2017 windstorm in the area. The storm caused power outages to more than 250,000 customers and Governor Andrew Cuomo had ordered the PSC to investigate the way the two utilities had prepared and responded to that storm which left some customers without electricity for days. The settlement calls for RG&E and NYSEG to spend $3.9 million in a series of projects to “increase resiliency and improve emergency responses in the areas impacted by the March windstorm.” Approximately $1.25 million of that money will be used to install utility poles made of composite material such as fiberglass, which are a more durable alternative to traditional wooden poles. According to Democrat and Chronicle, more than 900 poles, most of which were made with wood, snapped or fell over during the 2017 windstorm.
California’s rooftop decree may be hasty. Don’t let the sun shine in just yet. It has the feel of a political gesture, something that Gov. Jerry Brown and other politicians can tout as part of their “resistance” to President Donald Trump on climate change policy, and that Brown can crow about when he hosts a global climate conference next fall before vacating the governorship. Tellingly, the new decree is being sharply criticized by the state’s leading energy experts, who – with perfect logic – complain that it’s being done in haste without adequate notice and study, rather than part of a rational energy policy, and has potentially adverse impacts.
Bills addressing utilities’ role in wildfires head to Calif. Senate for a vote. A pair of bills from Senator Bill Dodd, (D-Napa,) that will help protect people from wildfires sparked by utility lines or equipment, cleared the Senate Appropriations committee Friday and heads to the full Senate next week for a vote, Dodd’s office announced. “We know downed power lines have caused devastating fires in the past,” Dodd said. “And last fire season made clear the need to be innovative and proactive about protecting the public. These bills will help us achieve these goals and strengthen the utilities grid while preventing future disasters.” Senate Bill 901, which passed 7-0, requires utilities to adopt emergency shutoff plans to de-energize lines at risk of falling down in high winds or other natural events. Senate Bill 1088, builds a framework for strengthening utility infrastructure to prevent future catastrophes, by requiring the Office of Emergency Services and Public Utilities Commission to develop new standards to “harden” infrastructure to protect against damage during storms, floods, mudslides, wildfires and earthquakes. It passed 4-2. “We must do whatever it takes to save lives and prevent the kind of destruction we’ve seen throughout the state,” Dodd said. “It’s absolutely critical that we take these important steps to avoid another disaster.”
Valley Clean Energy to launch June 1. On June 1, 2018 local leaders and community members will celebrate the launch of Valley Clean Energy (VCE). Thanks to VCE, over 60,000 electricity customers in Woodland, Davis, and unincorporated Yolo County will have the power to choose cleaner, more cost effective electricity when VCE launches. VCE is the new locally governed not for profit electricity program that is committed to delivering cost-competitive, clean and reliable electricity. Valley Clean Energy is set to deliver on this commitment with a 2.5% lower generation rate than PG&E while providing higher levels of renewable energy. In total, based on current PG&E rates, VCE will save its customers approximately $1.8 million dollars in the first full year of operation. This is possible because as a not for profit entity, VCE is designed to put its revenue back into the local economy to keep its rates competitive and invest in local projects that benefit the communities served by the program. Customers in Woodland, Davis, and unincorporated Yolo County will be automatically enrolled in VCE’s standard program. They will see their electricity generation rates reduced by 2.5% and know that 42% of their electricity came from renewable sources. Customers can also choose to upgrade to VCE’s UltraGreen 100% renewables program for 1.5 cents/kWh more than the standard VCE rate. As a community choice program, customers can also choose to opt out at any time and remain a full customer of PG&E.
Lincoln, Neb., electric system eyes economic incentives, discounts for big users who curb power use at peak times. As part of an effort to reduce peak loads, staff at LES are proposing a program in which Lincoln’s largest users of electricity could agree to have their service interrupted during peak load times, when energy use reaches all-time highs, in exchange for lower monthly bills. The interruptible service program would be available as a rider for at least some of the 280 firms in the light and power class of users. The program would benefit LES by helping reduce future costs that accompany those power-used peaks. “What really drives our costs is building new facilities” to make sure LES can handle the peak load times, said Zachary Wilkerson, the utility’s supervisor of rates and analytics.
Minnesota overhauls interconnection standards to streamline clean energy. While state regulators took significant steps, some decisions were deferred. On May 24, Minnesota made new strides for clean energy and became the third state in the Midwest in the last three years to adopt wholesale reforms to their state interconnection procedures — creating a more transparent and effective interconnection process for customers. The updated rules are the result of more than two years of work at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), in partnership with Fresh Energy and the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC). In May 2016, the three organizations jointly petitioned the PUC to initiate a proceeding to establish new interconnection standards that better align with where the current market for distributed generation is and achieve greater consistency with national best practices. The request stemmed, in part, from the state’s early challenges connecting community solar garden projects to the grid, which led to major backlogs and increased delays and costs for consumers and communities. This coalition of groups was also looking to streamline the interconnection process for rooftop solar systems, which constitute the vast majority of interconnection applications in the state.
NorthStar tries to reassure NRC on financial questions. NorthStar Group Services has tried to reassure federal regulators that it has the financial wherewithal to decommission the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and handle the long-term storage of its radioactive nuclear fuel. In filings made earlier this week with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NorthStar said one change, designed to provide an “assurance” rather than a corporate guarantee, increased its contribution to a “parental support agreement” by $15 million, from $125 million to $140 million, among other changes in its detailed and complex 74-page response. NorthStar wants to buy the shuttered nuclear power plant in Vernon for a nominal amount from Entergy Nuclear, and in exchange get the plant’s $552 million decommissioning trust fund. The company promises it can decommission the nuclear plant quicker and for much less than Entergy, which has estimated a $1.2 billion cost. NorthStar needs approval from both the Vermont Public Utility Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Hearings earlier this month in Montpelier before the PUC concluded, with the Scott administration supporting the sale after NorthStar and Entergy made concessions in March.
How greener grids can stay lit. A new index to guide utility demand bidding could balance electricity distribution and lower consumer costs as California solar-panel mandate takes effect. Without careful management, these sources, known as distributed energy resources, or DERs, have the potential to cause unreliable power delivery, or even outages, and lead utility companies to overcharge customers. A new paper by electrical engineers in the Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering at the University of California, Riverside, offers a way to account for uncertainties introduced by both the electricity market and DERs so utility companies can balance the distribution grid and find the fairest customer rates. One way managers of the electricity market ensure equitable distribution of power is by offering incentives for customers to reduce, or defer, power consumption during peak hours. Customers can choose to use less electricity or shift their use to a distributed source, such as rooftop solar panels or batteries. Customers can also make more electricity available during peak loads by selling to the utility excess electricity generated by their rooftop solar panels. Consumers can thus exert a strong influence on the wider electricity grid and market. The problem, according to the researchers, is that the organizations overseeing the grid as a whole, known as independent system operators, or ISOs, do not dispatch, and often can’t see, the location of network DERs. They only see transmission lines and resources connected to them, such as collective demand at the substations and power plants. They determine market conditions based on the big picture without knowing details that might have important consequences in the power grid. “ISOs see the electricity up to the substation that feeds it into a consumer network but are blind to what happens among the thousands or millions of customers after that point,” explained Ashkan Sadeghi-Mobarakeh, a UC Riverside doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering and first author of the paper. “The demand of each customer at each location has a different local impact on the distribution network.”
Guest Opinion: Little reactor is a big edge in nuclear energy’s global race. NuScale Power continues on track to build the first small modular nuclear reactor in America — even faster than expected. Two weeks ago, NuScale’s design completed the Phase 1 review of their design certification application by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That’s a huge deal because Phase 1 is the most intensive phase of the review, taking more hours and effort than the remaining five phases combined. NuScale sailed through in a year, faster than any design in history. NRC’s final approval is expected by September 2020. The first customer is certainly ready. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) will own the first NuScale plant, a 12-module SMR or 12-pack, and place it at the Idaho National Laboratory. It will be operated by our own Energy Northwest, one of the most effective and experienced nuclear operators in the world. This first application will take advantage of the SMR’s ability to completely help the Utah wind farms, removing the need for natural gas or hydroelectric to back them up.
Solar energy’s good for environment, business in Lake County, Il. At the end of January, the proverbial switch was flipped and a measured decision by the CEO of World Bioproducts LLC in Libertyville immediately began paying off. The 450 solar panels covering a sizable portion of the flat roof of the expansive 50,000-square-foot building began converting sunlight to electricity to power the company’s industrial-sized refrigeration units, boilers and heating/air-conditioning system. “On a sunny day, we’re generating more than we need,” says Bob Ward, a microbiologist by training who founded the food safety company — his third startup — about 10 years ago. That’s when his electric meter figuratively begins to run backward and the excess electricity being produced is notched as a credit against future bills. He won’t say how much the array cost but expects it to pay for itself in about five years. And while there is an environmental benefit, the move to solar ultimately was a business decision made possible by incentives that are fueling strong interest in solar as an energy source.
Hydro One and Avista file a settlement agreement in Oregon merger case. Hydro One Limited (“Hydro One”) (TSX:) and Avista Corporation (“Avista”) (NYSE:) today announced the achievement of an important milestone in the regulatory approval process of their proposed merger. The companies have filed an all-parties, all-issues settlement agreement in the merger proceeding before the Public Utility Commission of Oregon. This represents a full settlement which all parties have agreed is consistent with the public interest and will provide net benefits to Avista’s Oregon customers. The settlement agreement is subject to review and approval by the Oregon commission. “This is yet another key milestone as we navigate the path toward completing this transaction,” said Mayo Schmidt, President and CEO, Hydro One.
Rivals rise up to threaten Tesla’s battery business. Tesla’s enjoyed surprising success using lithium-ion battery tech to protect utilities from blackouts. Now Lockheed and others want in on that business. Everywhere you look in the field of battery technology, Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) seems to be there already. The company’s even building a battery gigafactory in the Nevada desert to keep its battery empire well-supplied, and one of the reasons for this is that Tesla is rapidly outgrowing its origins as a car company, and finding new ways to make money by building huge, utility-scale energy storage complexes to help electricity companies shore up the stability of their electric grids. It’s a lucrative business — and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) wants in.
GridWatch will power the smart networks of the future. Our Start-up of the Week is Limerick-based GridWatch, an Irish energy company that specialises in smart energy grid monitoring. “The GridWatch team has created patented sensors that enable power utilities to better manage their smart grid distribution networks with the mass deployment of grid monitoring technology that supports network management and power network data analytics,” explained Dr John O’Flaherty, CEO and technical director of GridWatch. GridWatch is an electronics and software company that emerged from MAC, the National Microelectronics Applications Centre in Limerick, and provides smart data monitoring for energy utilities. GridWatch was recently selected as one of only 15 international companies to participate in Free Electrons, which describes itself as the world’s first accelerator programme that connects energy start-ups with global utilities.
Out of sync: APS seeks biomass energy plant proposals before USFS has cutting plan ready. APS is looking for new proposals that would use the small trees and branches from Arizona forests to generate a small portion of the energy the utility sends to customers around the state. The idea is to provide a market for woody material that needs to be thinned from overcrowded, high-risk forests in northern and eastern Arizona in order to reduce the risk of severe wildfires, improve forest health and benefit watersheds. There’s one big problem, though, according to the head of the state’s only utility-scale biomass power plant. It will be much more difficult for interested companies like his to respond to APS’s request because the Forest Service hasn’t put forward a large-scale tree thinning contract that would provide a guaranteed supply of biomass — generally small trees, treetops and branches, said Brad Worsley, president and CEO of Novo Power. Without a long-term assured fuel supply, his company faces major headwinds in getting financing for a new bioenergy project and in getting the final bid award from APS, Worsley said.
Blue-Green Summit Profile with the Tea Party’s Debbie Dooley. Debates between policymakers and experts about better approaches to environmental protection and bio-diversity preservation highlighted the EU’s Green Week. New Europe’s Violetta Rusheva talked to Debbie Dooley, one of the co-founders of the Tea Party – a splinter group of American conservatism that broke with mainstream Republican politics in 2009 by after their platform of far-right populism, libertarianism, nationalism, constitutional activism, and American exceptionalism. The movement first emerged out of anger over Washington’s bail-outs of failing banks, insurers, and auto companies, which quickly put the Tea Party at odds with the US’ traditional centrist political factions. Dooley sat down to discuss her views on the state’s role in the protection of the environment and as well as the power of the free market and competition.
Taiwan emerges as offshore wind’s next power base with 3.8 gigawatt tender. One of the most important renewable energy sectors, as we move forward and continue to shift away from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, is the offshore wind industry, which boasts high-yield renewable energy generation done at increasingly lower costs, and done so safely away from the majority of witnesses. It is the perfect clean energy technology. The offshore wind industry has, for the most part, been centred firmly in Western Europe. As of the end of 2017, the United Kingdom led the way with a total of 6,386 megawatts (MW) worth of offshore wind power installed, followed by Germany which boasted 5,355 MW. Denmark and the Netherlands each boasts over 1 gigawatt (GW) worth of offshore wind, and Belgium is not far off that marker either. Unsurprisingly, China is the regional ‘odd one out’ with 2,788 MW worth of offshore wind installed at the end of 2017, taking third place and the only non-European country to have over 100 MW worth of offshore wind. That, however, may soon quickly change.
Israeli government delays vote on power reform, talks about cows instead. Ministers realize that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t want to assume responsibility for the measure in the absence of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
South Africa’s Eskom utility must go, say energy experts. Sinking in debt, Eskom – as both a national generator and distributor of electricity – is the biggest stumbling block to developing affordable, clean power in South Africa, and should be unbundled. This was a broadly consensual view among financiers, business owners and energy experts at the African Utility Week conference in Cape Town. “Take transmission away from Eskom and put it into an independent transmission and market operator. This could be a subsidiary of Eskom initially, as a first step,” said Professor in UCT’s Graduate School of Business’s Infrastructure Reform and Regulation Management Programme, Anton Eberhard. Eberhard has presented before the public enterprises committee state capture enquiry into allegations of corruption and capture at Eskom.