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Today’s lede: Large gas-fired merchant plant seeks FERC intervention in Calif. power market. CXA La Paloma, owner and operator of a 1,124-megawatt gas-fired, combined cycle power generation facility in Kern County, Calif., is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to intervene in California’s electricity market to require the California Independent System Operator “to implement and enforce a reasonable and transparent centralized resource adequacy procurement regime,” or RAP (See FERC Docket No. EL18-177, filed June 20).

In its FERC complaint, La Paloma argues a RAP, which would encompass many of the design features in the PJM Interconnection market and other regional wholesale power markets across the country, is needed to fix “fundamental problems” with the design of California’s wholesale power market, overseen by the ISO, which result in “market problems and inefficiencies.”

La Paloma says these problems stem from actions California regulators took in the aftermath of the turn-of-the-century market meltdown in California, which represent “numerous short-term, stopgap initiatives that have resulted in an inefficient system that favors more recently constructed power generation facilities, including many renewable plants that only generate energy intermittently. As a result, existing generators are not able to operate profitably and many are shutting down or being forced into bankruptcy.”

“Power plants like La Paloma are a source of much needed reliable and flexible generation,” Joseph Williams, La Paloma’s attorney, says in a press release. “However, the current market design is inadequate for those plants to survive. While existing plants with flexible capacity are leaving the market, the state is encouraging the construction of new power generation facilities that are unable to generate on demand and actually exacerbate the need for more flexible, reliable generation. We are asking FERC to direct CAISO to implement a Centralized RAP to address the need for flexible resources and provide for a fair opportunity to compete in a centralized, nondiscriminatory procurement process.”

The merchant generator wants FERC to direct the ISO to adopt “an auction-based, free-market system rather than relying on stopgap procurement practices.” This would ensure capacity enters the market when and where it is needed, unnecessary or uneconomic capacity retires and capacity prices are more transparent over the long term.

“CAISO has previously considered developing a functional, long-term system of centralized resource adequacy procurement, yet has taken no material steps to do so,” Williams says. “In fact, development of centralized resource adequacy procurement in California would not be novel. FERC has approved the transition toward centralized resource adequacy procurement in several other regions, noting the efficiency and reliability benefits that a more centralized structure provides.”


CBS report looks at growing wind energy industry in Texas. CBS This Morning took a deep dive into the contrast between growing wind energy production in deep-red conservative Texas and the pro-coal agenda of the Trump administration – an agenda being spearheaded by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who deserves credit as the former governor of Texas for helping to enable the state’s energy transformation.

John Dickerson set up the feature report, by National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep, by noting Labor Department statistics showing that “solar panel and wind turbine technicians are the two fastest growing careers in the country.” He spoke those words against a graphic illustrating that the Bureau of Labor Statistics sees the growth rate for solar voltaic installers increasing 105 percent from 2016 to 2026. Over the same decade’s time, the statistics bureau sees the rate of growth for wind turbine service technicians increasing 96 percent. The next two fastest-growing jobs, according to the statistics bureau, are home health aides (47 percent) and personal care aides (39 percent).

“Texas is where you’ll find the most of those wind energy jobs,” Dickerson continued, speaking against a graphic citing an American Wind Energy Association statistic that Texas has more than 24,000 wind industry-related jobs.

In the feature report, Inskeep travels to the panhandle of Texas, where wind energy production is booming, and to Georgetown, a suburb of Austin, where the city’s Republican mayor, Dale Ross, has been getting a media attention for the town moving to become 100 percent supplied by renewable energy, primarily wind. “Surprisingly, one person who made this possible was President Trump’s Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the guy who’s now been ordered to promote coal,” Inskeep notes.

The NPR news host goes on to note how the proliferation of wind energy in Texas is thanks largely to the $7 billion Competitive Renewable Energy Zone, or CREZ, initiative, that built transmission lines to bring wind energy from wind-production areas in the north and west of Texas to electricity consumption sinks in the state’s south and east (click through here). “It happened under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was governor then,” Inskeep says.

The report then cuts away to Inskeep’s interview with Georgetown’s GOP mayor. “This was first and foremost a business decision and if you win the business argument then you’re going to win the environmental argument,” Ross tells Inskeep. “It’s a totally different landscape,” Ross continues, noting that four coal-fired power plants have closed in Texas just this year, and that in the ERCOT market, Georgetown can procure wind- and solar-derived energy for $18 per megawatt-hour, while the prevailing rate for coal-fired electricity is $25/MWh.

“This is the economics of the matter,” Ross says. “You have that choice which one are you going to buy?” This prompts Inskeep to make a reference to Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal.” To which Ross quips, “I may be able to teach Mr. Trump something when it comes to renewable energy.” The report then cuts away to a clip of the president at a Feb. 18, 2017, rally in Florida declaring “. . . very clean coal. We are going to put the miners back to work. The miners go back to work.”

Inskeep also interviews former Vice President Al Gore, who since losing the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush has made a career of promoting renewable energy as a means of forestalling the effects of global climate change. “Market forces are moving the entire energy marketplace toward renewable energy,” Gore says. “I’m hoping they’ll follow the lead of Dale Ross rather than Donald Trump.”

Cutting back to Ross, the mayor gave Perry as governor credit for the state’s clean-energy transformation. “Without his leadership we wouldn’t be having renewable energy here,” Ross says. “Maybe he doesn’t want to take credit for it because his boss is a big coal guy.” Inskeep then clarifies that the Energy Department confirmed that Perry does take credit for the success of clean energy in Texas, and that promoting wind and solar are a key part of his job as Energy Secretary, but that Perry is “under pressure” to do something about economic forces leading to the shutdown of baseload coal.

“The public debate is all about coal jobs. it’s all about traditional energy. That’s where President Trump has driven it,” Inskeep says to close out the segment. “But the reality is there are very few jobs there.”


FERC’s McIntyre expresses confidence that Energy Department will make ‘right decision’. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Kevin McIntyre was the featured speaker at Tuesday’s Natural Gas Roundtable event in Washington, D.C. In a srum with reporters, he expressed faith that Energy Secretary Rick Perry would make “the right decision” in carrying out President Trump’s June 1 directive to take “immediate steps” to provide financial succor uneconomic coal and nuclear plants in competitive markets (click through here).

According to a memorandum obtained by Bloomberg News, the administration is weighing using DOE’s emergency authority under Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act, and presidential national security authority under the 1950 Defense Production Act, to intervene in competitive wholesale power markets and stem a pending tide of coal and nuclear plant retirements in the name of national security (click through here). All five sitting FERC commissioners at a recent Capitol Hill hearing expressed the view that there is no national security emergency justifying extraordinary intervention in the markets (click through here).

At the luncheon, McIntyre said any policy action being weighed by a governmental body should not go forward until the legal implications have been carefully weighed, Jasmin Melvin reports for Platts. “Once that has been undertaken, that amounts to a set of lay markers within which policy decisions can be made,” McIntyre reportedly said.

In the scrum with reporters after the lunch, Melvin reports, McIntyre said the standards for invoking emergency authority to address power issues “are spelled out pretty clearly not only in the relevant statutory provisions but also in DOE’s existing regulations.” McIntyre said that ultimately, “the law assigns that role to [Perry], so if anyone’s going to make the decision — right or wrong – it’s going to be him. And I trust that he will make the right decision.”

Melvin also quoted McIntyre saying during the scrum with reporters: “I think it’s important for us to remind ourselves that nothing has happened” yet. Although the leaked memo proposes avenues the administration could take, “that shoe has not dropped [and] we don’t know whether it will.”

But industry sources say the Energy Department was taken aback by the near-universal lack of support for exercising emergency powers to prop up coal and nuclear plants and is contemplating what steps can be taken to do an “end run” around the pro-markets FERC. McIntyre previously has said publicly that, should the administration call for supporting uneconomic plants, that FERC would fall back on old-fashioned cost-of-service ratemaking proceedings to determine compensation (click through here).

But that’s not what the utilities want. They want an above-market rent without opening their books to scrutiny. In each of the various states that have moved to prop up nuclear plants, whether Illinois, New York, Connecticut or New Jersey, the utilities have not opened up their books to regulators or policymakers. Exelon CEO Chris Crane, speaking to Utility Dive after McIntyre’s remarks, said his company does not support such an approach (click through here). “We would much prefer a market fix that is based off of a design basis that says, ‘Here’s your vulnerability and here’s what plants should be compensated at,’” Crane told Utility Dive at the Edison Electric Institute’s annual conference in San Diego.

Meanwhile, Politico interviewed Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, shedding some light on DOE’s current thinking. “We have very specific requirements under the law to do things like inventory critical infrastructure, particularly the infrastructure that serves our military installations. We take that role very seriously,” Brouillette told Politico, alluding to the national security justification cited for market intervention. “In the opinion of many policymakers, the [resiliency] problem has gotten a bit worse. It is beginning to have an impact on the security of our infrastructure. I want to make sure this is clear. Is it an economic security issue that we’re talking about? The answer to that is ‘probably’ at this point. If we’re talking about reliability, the lights still come on. But if you’re talking about resilience, we’re coming to a point where we as a country are going to have to address the resilience of our grid.”

“The National Security Council and, in particular, the deputies level … have been very active and there’s been a very engaging debate about the threat and what it means for the resilience of the grid. There’s not a debate about whether or not there is a threat. There has been no decision and we’re not just working backward. We’re not trying to justify a decision that was made by anyone.”–us-ferc-chairman-confident-doe-to-make-right-26976759


See also:

‘Restructured’ by any other name would smell as sweet. The following is a viewpoint from former FERC commissioner Tony Clark: What’s in a name? When it comes to electricity policy today, plenty; and it pays to keep that in mind when reading the breathless commentary surrounding the Trump administration’s potential lifeline to faltering nuclear and coal generators. To hear many in the energy and environment policy trenches describe it, you would be forgiven if thinking the Trump administration is proposing nothing less than the end of electricity markets and the restructured utility model. If that is true, it is late to the game, because the breakdown of the restructured utility model has been accelerating for years. While I am glad many are awaking to the realization that there are serious structural challenges in the restructured utility model prevalent in much of the Eastern U.S. capacity market regions, let’s not feign surprise that we are where we are. In reality, action by the Trump administration would be no more or less a threat to electricity restructuring than the many existing public policies, subsidies and mandates that are routinely labeled by their supporters as “investments.” It’s all a matter of perspective.


Half a cheer for Trump coal order. Critics have better fixes for grid stability, but try getting them past NIMBYs. Donald Trump doesn’t qualify even as a George W. Bush substitute, much less a Cato Institute acolyte, when it comes to adhering to the principle of nonintervention in markets. This we knew going in. But his latest on behalf of coal miners at least waves a fig leaf in the direction of a genuine problem. A presidential missive this month to the Energy Department could eventually result in grid operators, in the name of national security, being ordered to buy power from large coal and nuclear plants that otherwise would be shut down due to unprofitability. Such an order is somewhat unprecedented, but the fainting spells of energy lobbyists are hard to take, especially from a solar-and-wind promoter at the American Council on Renewable Energy who complained of “arbitrary market interventions.” Energy decisions are already highly politicized. That’s the problem, especially the mandates in many states to keep ratcheting up the share supplied by intermittent power sources. This has been coupled in the past decade with an epochal squeezing out of coal and nuclear in favor of cheaper natural gas.


Moore: Left’s free market for energy just hot air. All of a sudden, everyone on the left wants “free markets in energy policy.” As someone who’s advocated for that for, oh, about three dec­ades, this riff should be music to my ears. But is laissez-faire energy policy really what liberals are seeking? First, some context. A few weeks ago, liberal activists leaked a draft of a Trump administration directive that would order utilities to purchase coal and nuclear power as part of their energy mix. There are good arguments for and against this policy, but what was fascinating was the indignant response from those on the left who hate fossil fuels. “Crony capitalism!” they shrieked in unison. This could cost hundreds of millions of dollars? That’s bad, for sure, but have you ever heard the Los Angeles Times rail against subsidies for wind and solar power? I haven’t. The Obama administration’s policy was to bankrupt coal, oil and other fossil fuels through regulation, while enriching their renewable energy pals in Silicon Valley with subsidies. Remember Solyndra? The company that was going to revolutionize solar power went bankrupt after the Obama administration gave it hundreds of millions of dollars. All told, $150 billion was pipelined into the green empire under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and most of the money funded such fiascoes. But now Trump is accused of “picking winners and losers”?



America needs coal and nuclear power for energy diversity. In the face of rising electricity demand, Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently unveiled a plan to preserve some of the nation’s key coal and nuclear power plants. It’s a sensible move since the nation’s power grid can’t rely solely on natural gas, wind, and solar. What America’s families and businesses need is a diverse mix of energy sources as a hedge against unexpected changes in energy cost or availability.  And since it’s important to protect consumers from high energy costs—and to keep the nation’s power grid running—it’s important to avoid the premature retirement of coal and nuclear power plants.


Energy development: free market purists vs the state. Governments commonly provide subsidies or other support mechanisms for energy development to align the market with strategic goals, especially with regards to decarbonisation. But some argue that state intervention is a poor substitute for a free market dictated by consumer needs. How does the free market vs. state support debate shake out, and does it all boil down to perceptions of the urgency of the climate change crisis? In an essay appearing in the March/April 2018 issue of Foreign Affairs, Council on Foreign Relations director of energy security and climate change Amy Myers Jaffe issued a warning call to the U.S. (click through here).  Jaffe’s article, along with the editorial she wrote for the Houston Chronicle (click through here), argued that the US is in danger being left behind as it enjoys the benefits of its domestic oil and gas production boom, while its chief international rival China transitions powerfully towards renewable energy sources and technologies, supported by billions in direct government funding, tax credits and other subsidies. Without a proactive government willing to “devise policies to help innovation and promote the adoption of technologies that can rival Chinese products”, Jaffe maintained, the US risks getting mired in the fossil fuel energies of the past while China sets the terms of the global clean energy future. “The United States risks frittering away its dominance of the global energy market,” Jaffe wrote. “But with strong leadership and a long-term commitment, it can secure its energy future for decades to come.”


The value of markets. Organized wholesale electricity markets were created to address ever-increasing electricity prices and to encourage innovation through free-enterprise competition. PJM Interconnection’s markets have done just that. Competition has helped to create a less expensive, more reliable and cleaner grid that can offer market-based solutions to changes in public policy and the industry


ScottMadden’s energy industry update examines FERC’s inquiry into resilience. ScottMadden Inc. has released its latest edition of The Energy Industry Update. Themed “Recalibration,” this report focuses on the strategic drivers propelling our industry, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s inquiry into resilience in the bulk power system. In January 2018, FERC rejected a call from the Department of Energy (DOE) to promulgate a rule requiring wholesale power markets to price generation resources that provide system resilience, defined by DOE principally as those with on-site fuel supply. FERC, however, acknowledged the importance of resilience and initiated a new proceeding to investigate resilience in bulk power systems, receiving comments from regional transmission organizations and independent system operators in mid-March, with comments due from others by mid-May. “We think that every stakeholder wants a resilient and robust electric power system,” says Cristin Lyons, partner and energy practice leader at ScottMadden. “The challenge, however, is to arrive at a common and candid assessment of the issues the changing power resource mix presents, including costs and benefits.”


Other electric industry news items of note:

New Analysis: U.S. electric power sector continues transition to clean energy, reducing emissions. The nation’s largest electricity producers continue to transition to clean energy sources and, correspondingly, reduce air pollutant emissions, including contributors to climate change, according to the latest comprehensive analysis of U.S. power plant emissions, “Benchmarking Air Emissions of the 100 Largest Electric Power Producers in the United States” (click through here). The analysis notes that this shift has been accompanied by a decoupling of economic growth and carbon emissions; from 2005 to 2017, electric sector CO2 emissions decreased 24 percent while GDP grew by 20 percent. Power plant emissions of other air pollutants such as sulfur dioxides (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and mercury also continued to decline. According to the analysis, coal and natural gas accounted for 49 and 20 percent, respectively, of electric power production in 2006. Only a decade later, a significant shift in market dynamics is evident: in 2016, 30 percent of electric power came from coal, while 34 percent came from natural gas–marking the first time that natural gas overtook coal as the largest source of electricity in the U.S. In terms of renewable energy, in 2016, 13.5 percent of electricity came from renewable sources like wind, solar and hydropower–a figure which rose to 17.1% in 2017. The percentage of the U.S. electricity generation mix derived from renewable sources is expected to continue rising as the cost of renewables continues to decline, as illustrated in Ceres’ recent report, In Sight of the Clean Trillion: Update on an Expanding Landscape of Investor Opportunities. “It is encouraging to see the progress that U.S. electric power companies have made in accelerating the transition to the clean energy economy, especially given the increased role that the sector will need to play to achieve our longer-range decarbonization goals,” said Dan Bakal, director of electric power at Ceres.

MidAmerican Energy passes 50 percent mark in renewable energy. MidAmerican Energy Company provided its Iowa customers with more than half of their electricity from renewable sources last year, the Iowa Utilities Board has verified. Through a board vote to approve the amount of renewable energy the company provided to its Iowa customers in 2017, the IUB verified that MidAmerican Energy served 50.8 percent of its retail electric load using renewable generation. MidAmerican Energy expects this percentage to grow annually as the company completes additional wind projects. “MidAmerican Energy has achieved an exciting milestone as a renewable energy leader,” Adam Wright, MidAmerican Energy President and CEO, said. “We have now crossed the 50-yard line and we’re moving closer to the goal, which is the vision we announced in 2016 to ultimately provide 100 percent renewable energy for our customers.”

The natural gas industry has a leak problem. The American oil and gas industry is leaking more methane than the government thinks — much more, a new study says. Since methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, that is bad news for climate change. The new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, puts the rate of methane emissions from domestic oil and gas operations at 2.3 percent of total production per year, which is 60 percent higher than the current estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency. That might seem like a small fraction of the total, but it represents an estimated 13 million metric tons lost each year, or enough natural gas to fuel 10 million homes. Thanks to a boom in hydraulic fracturing in states like Texas and Pennsylvania, natural gas has quickly replaced coal as the leading fuel used by America’s power plants. It has also helped, to some extent, in the fight against climate change: When burned for electricity, natural gas produces about half the carbon dioxide that coal does. The shift from coal to gas has helped lower CO₂ emissions from America’s power plants by 27 percent since 2005. But methane, the main component of natural gas, can warm the planet more than 80 times as much as the same amount of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period if it escapes into the atmosphere before being burned. A recent study found that natural gas power plants could actually be worse for climate change than coal plants if their leakage rate rose above 4 percent.

New Orleans city council approves first steps toward ‘community solar’ power program. The New Orleans City Council took the first steps Thursday toward creating a “community solar” program in the city, designed to make solar panels available to renters and low-income residents. In a victory for clean-energy advocates, the council voted unanimously to begin shaping the rules for such a program, which would allow residents to “subscribe” to a portion of the power generated by solar panels on warehouse roofs or on unused land. They will receive credits on their energy bills in exchange. The council hopes to approve a final set of rules by the end of the year.

Unbuilt R.I. power plants makes money anyway. The proposed Clear River Energy Center is already making money even though the fossil-fuel project has neither been approved or built. The proposed power plant is still pending before the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), but the nearly 1,000-megawatt facility was awarded a contract in 2016 to sell a portion of its electricity to the power grid starting in 2019. The natural-gas/diesel-fueled power plant won’t be ready in 2019, so the developer, Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, sold its power obligation to other energy producers for about half the money it would receive from the operator of the power grid, ISO New England. It’s a one-year payout of about $20 million for the Chicago-based company. “That is $20 million paid by New England ratepayers to Invenergy during one short year, for which Invenergy will do nothing,” said Jerry Elmer, one of the leading voices of opposition against the proposed facility. Last year, Invenergy received some $10 million for selling the electricity obligation it failed to deliver.

AEP gets another approval to build largest wind farm in the United States. A titanic $4.5 billion plan by AEP Corp. to build the largest wind power in the United States has landed another key approval. The Columbus-based utility’s proposed Wind Catcher Energy Connection project has landed required approvals from two of the four states it will ultimately serve. The Louisiana Public Service Commission approved the project on Wednesday, following the May approval by its counterpart in Arkansas. That leaves Texas and Oklahoma to approve the plan. The project would create a 2,000-megawatt wind farm in Texas and in Cimaroon County on the Oklahoma panhandle. About 800 wind turbines supplied by GE Renewable Energy will power the project that would be developed by Chicago-based Invenergy LLC. Invenergy would sell the farm upon completion, expected in in 2020. AEP’s Southwestern Electric Power Co. will own 70 percent of the project with the remaining 30 percent owned by Public Service Company of Oklahoma.


Alabama Power seeks to increase solar fee despite complaint. Alabama Power Company has asked the state Public Service Commission to dismiss a challenge to its fees for residential solar customers and at the same time proposed to increase the amount of those fees. The complaint, filed in April by the Southern Environmental Law Center, argued that the fixed charges assessed by Alabama Power to customers who generate their own electricity — through solar panels or other means — were “unreasonable, unjust, discriminatory, contrary to the public interest and otherwise unlawful.” Alabama Power countered that the fees were enacted in 2013 and hadn’t yet been challenged, and that the PSC has exclusive authority over electricity rates in Alabama. “Both federal and Alabama law recognize the appropriateness of charges for back-up power service, and no one objected to them when they were filed more than five years ago,” Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said in an email. The company’s motion to dismiss the complaint also announced the “contemporaneous filing” of a request for the PSC to increase the amount of those monthly fees from $5 per kilowatt to $5.42 per kilowatt.

Trying to hold electricity deregulation in Texas to its promise. Sixteen years ago, Texas deregulated the electricity market at the urging of power companies and big industrial users. Consumers could shop for the best deals, the companies assured Texas lawmakers, and benefit by getting lower prices. But consumers who shop for attractive electricity deals on, the website run by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, are getting shut out of the very deals described in the promise of deregulation. Several retail electric companies in Houston won’t sell their electricity plans on the state-run website to existing customers or former customers. The bargains are only available to new customers.

California utility expects to pay $2.5 Billion for wildfires. A Northern California utility said Thursday that it expects to pay at least $2.5 billion in connection with deadly wildfires that whipped through wine country last October — some of them ignited by its fallen power lines. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. also warned that its liability could be considerably higher after state fire officials determine the cause of 21 major fires that devastated the region last year. They killed 44 people, destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, and wiped out vineyards, marijuana farms and other agricultural operations. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has determined the cause of 14 fires and found the utility’s downed power lines started several. But state officials have not found what ignited California’s most destructive wildfire, which destroyed more than 5,000 buildings, including 2,800 homes in the town of Santa Rosa that was hardest hit by the deadly flames. PG&E said it is facing more than 200 lawsuits and expects more. One of the law firms suing the utility has hired celebrity activist Erin Brockovich, whose legal fight against PG&E over water issues was portrayed in a 2000 movie starring Julia Roberts. Prosecutors also are investigating whether PG&E should be charged with any crimes if it is found to have failed to follow state safety regulations. A U.S. judge fined the utility $3 million after it was convicted of six felony charges for failing to properly maintain a natural gas pipeline that exploded under a neighborhood south of San Francisco in 2010.

California tries again with 3 landmark clean energy bills. This time things are different. The energy landscape has changed and last year’s obstacles may have shifted for 100 percent clean energy, grid expansion and a storage program. The road ahead looks clearer for clean energy bills that stalled in Sacramento last year. California has championed clean energy and climate change mitigation, but legislators last year failed to pass SB 100, a 100 percent clean energy bill authored by Senate leader Kevin De León and supported by Governor Jerry Brown. The bill would increase the state’s renewable energy goal to 60 percent by 2030, and require entirely carbon-free electricity by 2045. A different bill to regionalize the California grid faltered last year, and one to create a long-term funding program for energy storage disappeared from the agenda before a vote last July. All three have returned to the hearing agenda this June, and evidence suggests old sources of opposition are receding. “I’m cautiously optimistic — I think we have a shot of continuing California’s leadership on clean energy and working with all parties to make it happen,” said Dan Jacobson, state director for Environment California.

Calif. PUC rejects $639 million natural gas pipeline upgrade. The California Public Utilities Commission Thursday rejected a $639 million proposed San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas natural gas pipeline that would have run from Rainbow to Miramar. The 47-mile-long, 36-inch diameter proposed line would have replaced an existing 16-inch pipeline along the Interstate 15 corridor at ratepayers’ expense. However, with a 5-0 vote the commission found that the project “is not needed for safety or reliability,” as SDG&E claimed. SDG&E will now have to conduct a high-pressure water test on the existing line, due to safety regulations passed after a San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion killed eight people in 2010. SDG&E officials claim the test could take up to four years, and impact as many as 125 homes and structures near the line. “Today’s decision denies the public a complete analysis of a project to replace a nearly 70-year-old pipeline in favor of costly testing that will result in significant community impacts with negligible benefits,” the utility responded in a statement.

Anonymous buyer agrees to purchase Redondo Beach AES power plant. After two years on the market, a buyer has emerged to purchase the AES power plant in Redondo Beach, Calif. setting the stage for another contentious land use debate in the city. While the deal has not yet been completed, Mayor Bill Brand confirmed the utility company is working with a single buyer and will likely ink a deal in a month or so. The exact price is unknown. Eric Pendergraft, Director of Business Development for AES, said he could not comment on the sale process as he was bound by a non-disclosure agreement.

Clarendon Hills, Il., opts for renewable electricity for aggregation. Clarendon Hills is going green with its electricity. With the village’s current electrical aggregation contract with Dynegy Energy set to expire at meter reading dates in October, the village board voted unanimously Monday to contract with MC Squared Energy Services to provide renewable energy, which uses Midwest wind to provide its power.

The contract is for one year. Clarendon Hills will receive a designation as a United States Environmental Protection Agency Green Power Community, and all energy produced will be considered renewable energy. This compares with the ComEd offering of 14.5 percent renewable energy, said Peter Nickell, assistant to the village manager. Village Board member Greg Jordan said he firmly supported both continuing with electrical aggregation and contracting for renewable energy. “I don’t see any reason to not continue with aggregation,” he said, noting that residents likely would have to deal with several electricity providers soliciting their business if the village decided to stop using aggregation. “I think that would be aggravating,” he said. “The wind power is environmental and may help sell the village.”

N.J. BPU to vote on JCP&L’s controversial Monmouth power line. Jersey Central Power & Light’s quest to build an $111 million high voltage line between Aberdeen and Red Bank is coming down to the wire. The state Board of Public Utilities is due to decide JCP&L’s request at its Friday public meeting, more than three months after an administrative law judge recommended the board reject it. JCP&L has said the project will bring a third transmission line into Red Bank to serve the area and improve system reliability.

Franklin Co., Pa., commissioners side with Transource opponents. County Commissioners on Thursday took formal action to oppose the Transource power transmission line. Transource is seeking approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for rights of way to erect 13-story-tall monopoles and string high-voltage transmission lines for 29 miles through Franklin County and 16 miles through southern York County. Residents in both counties have organized to fight the project. Commissioner David Keller said the county has no plans to get into the legal fray. “We’re helping to raise awareness and encourage others to support the opposition,” Keller said.

Wyo.’s High Plains Power selects Landis+Gyr for smart grid deployment. Project will start with advanced metering and other supporting applications. Landis+Gyr (Swiss: LAND.SW) announced it has reached an agreement with High Plains Power to provide advanced metering and network technology for the utility’s smart grid deployment. Based in Riverton, Wyo., High Plains Power is deploying about 13,000 meters over a wide geographical area. The utility selected Landis+Gyr’s Gridstream® AMI solution after a successful system pilot project earlier this year. It plans to deploy the multi-purpose RF mesh network as the backbone for advanced metering to start, with plans to add distribution automation in the future. “When looking at updating our current AMI system, we based our decision in part on the ability to support future initiatives for demand management, reliability and all of our operational goals,” said Marlene Morss, Chief Executive Officer at High Plains Power. “Another factor was Landis+Gyr’s proven success with their network in widely dispersed service territories such as ours.”

Dominion Energy, Richmond, Va., leaders deliver AC units to public housing. Dominion Energy and the City of Richmond teamed up to help seniors in Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority communities. They launched an initiative to provide 400 air conditioning units to elderly RRHA residents. Homes in Gilpin Court, built in the 1940s and 1950s have no central air. In addition to providing the units, Dominion is helping to fund the costs to run them. “It means a lot that the city cares about its residents,” a neighbor named Grace said. “We live here [and] heard so many bad things, so it’s a wonderful thing that they’re doing something so wonderful.” We’re told about 80 of the 400 units will be given to Gilpin Court residents. The Remaining 320 will be placed into homes across the Richmond area.

NOPEC offering USDA low-interest program for energy-efficiency projects. The Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council (NOPEC) has been approved to administer a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) low-interest loan program to commercial property owners for energy-efficiency property improvements. NOPEC is the largest nonprofit public retail energy aggregation in the State of Ohio, according to NOPEC officials. Currently, its aggregation supplies electricity and natural gas to more than 800,000 residential and small business customers in 220 member communities in 14 Ohio counties. Officials said the NOPEC program — Savings Through Efficiency Program (STEP) — is made possible through the USDA’s Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP). Officials added NOPEC is the first organization in Ohio — and one of the first in the country — to be awarded money through RESP to help small businesses lower their energy consumption and costs through energy-efficiency upgrades.

Should S.C. residents pick up utility’s tab for environmental violations? Water rates are going up in parts of York County, one state agency says, in order to pay legal fees after a utility company broke environmental laws with illegal discharges into waterways. The South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff is asking the S.C. Public Service Commission to reconsider its recent decision allowing increased rates for Carolina Water Service customers. In May, the service commission allowed increases of between 13 percent and 24 percent for water and sewer, depending on area and service type. The regulatory staff office filed a petition Wednesday, saying the service commission went with rates that Carolina Water didn’t propose until after public hearings. The petition also said the service commission picked a rate “unsupported by the greater weight of evidence” that it should be lower and that it didn’t account for Federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act impacts.

Three big trends in micro electricity grids. As America’s power mix undergoes big changes, a new trend is taking off: microgrids. Microgrids are what their name indicates — small, mostly isolated and equipped with their own power supply. This technology has the potential to make electricity more flexible and resilient, as intermittent renewable energy becomes more widespread and weather becomes more extreme. Mike Gravely, a top official at the California Energy Commission, has developed microgrids around the Golden state for more than a decade. He spoke to Axios about where the industry is going.

Microgrid developer finds fertile ground in the Texas electricity market. Texas is giving rise to innovative microgrid projects as developers leverage opportunity in a state that produces more electricity than any other. A case in point is Electrical Midstream, one of the 12 microgrid developers selected to participate in the Microgrid Financing Connection program, launched at the Microgrid 2018 conference to help match projects with financing. As its name signals, the startup company has its roots in the oil and gas sector, where CEO Mark Fisher previously oversaw design and construction of electrical, instrumentation and control systems.

Sodium- and potassium-based batteries could be key for smart grid of the future. From electric cars that travel hundreds of miles on a single charge to chainsaws as mighty as gas-powered versions, new products hit the market each year that take advantage of recent advances in battery technology. But that growth has led to concerns that the world’s supply of lithium, the metal at the heart of many of the new rechargeable batteries, may eventually be depleted. Now researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have found new evidence suggesting that batteries based on sodium and potassium hold promise as a potential alternative to lithium-based batteries. “One of the biggest obstacles for sodium- and potassium-ion batteries has been that they tend to decay and degrade faster and hold less energy than alternatives,” said Matthew McDowell, an assistant professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering. “But we’ve found that’s not always the case,” he added.

Will Porsche’s electric car push take down Tesla? Fomerly known as the Mission E, Porsche’s Taycan has some impressive specs and is scheduled to go into production in 2019. While Tesla is making strong progress in its production of the Model 3, other car companies aren’t sitting by idly. General Motors Co.  recently said it will up its production of the Chevy Bolt as global demand for the mid-priced all-electric sedan remains high. Further, the Detroit-based automaker says it plans to introduce 20 electric vehicles globally by 2023. It’s not alone either, as Mercedes-Benz has said it plans to introduce 10 electric vehicles by 2022. Others are falling in line, too. One those players? Porsche, which has been pushing forward with its electric car plans. Just this month, it announced that its Porsche Taycan model, formerly known as Mission E, will go into production next year. The company says the new vehicle will look like a Porsche and drive like a Porsche.–14629590

Westinghouse loads fuel in second Chinese nuclear power plant. Westinghouse Electric Company and its customers, China State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) and Shangdong Nuclear Power Company Limited (SDNPC) announced today that Haiyang Unit 1, the AP1000 nuclear power plant located in Haiyang, Shandong Province, China, has begun to load fuel. “This is a great day for Westinghouse, our China partners and the nuclear industry. Haiyang Unit 1 continues to demonstrate our ability to deliver safe, innovative solutions for power generation,” said José Emeterio Gutiérrez, Westinghouse president and chief executive officer. He added, “Westinghouse will continue to deploy AP1000 technology throughout the world and demonstrate our technical leadership in the nuclear energy industry.”


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Today’s lede: California bill to expand ‘direct access’ for C&I customers waits in the wings. Legislation that aims to help the California ISO expand into a regional grid entity encompassing western states was approved by the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee in a 6-1 vote Tuesday, despite a hyperbolic PR campaign by critics of the bill who raised the specter of the turn-of-the-century energy crisis and Enron to argue against passage (click through here).

But there’s another measure waiting in the wings, which likely will generate its own raft of controversy. Senate Bill 237, introduced by Sen. Bob Hertzberg as a transportation bill, was gutted and reintroduced an a bill that would expand “direct access” for commercial and industrial customers over a three-year period, beginning in 2019, Gary Ackerman, the soon-to-be-former Western Power Trading Forum executive director, revealed last week in his Friday Burrito newsletter distributed to WPTF members. Ackerman described the measure as “a potential game-changing proposal . . . that could rock the boat.” The state’s politically potent unions are voicing support for the measure, according to Ackerman.

Direct access, of course, is the term California uses for allowing electricity customers to bypass their incumbent utility provider and purchase electricity from competitive providers. AB 1890, the 1996 law that made California the first state in the nation to open its electricity market to competition, was the state’s first dalliance with direct access. After the disastrously ill-designed market imploded, the state retrenched and allowed very little competitive access.

Hertzberg’s measure to expand direct access for C&I customers comes as the state is wrestling with utility concerns about increasing load defecting to community choice aggregation programs. The California Public Utilities Commission recently issued a “Green Book” report urging a more comprehensive approach to the state’s electricity system, which is being morphed by expansive clean-energy mandates, rooftop solar and load defecting to CCAs, else the state risk repeating the 2000-2001 market meltdown (click through here).

“The state’s electric system has worked well the past 15 or so years, since the Legislature took steps to correct the problems that rose out of the energy crisis, but customers are now getting their electricity increasingly from rooftop solar, Community Choice Aggregators, and other non-utility sources,” CPUC President Michael Picker said when the Green Book was issued in early May. “In the last electricity deregulation we had a plan, however flawed. Now, we are deregulating electric markets through dozens of different decisions and legislative actions, but we do not have a plan. If California policy makers are not careful, we could drift slowly back into another predicament like the energy crisis of 2001.”

See also:

A west-wide grid is needed to control climate change. Climate action and expansion of renewable energy is currently being held back by the inefficient patchwork of how transmission grids are managed across the west.  In order to meet the ambitious climate and clean energy targets of California’s landmark programs, we need to take clean energy to scale. California lawmakers face a major choice in the coming days: give the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) a chance to become a full-fledged western regional grid operator or keep the balkanized, polluting grid management system, currently in place. Opponents raise the fear that this change would allow other states or the federal government to increase influence on California’s energy future, and that the change will somehow harm disadvantaged communities in California. These claims are not supported by the evidence.  NRDC would not be working with a broad coalition to support this bill (AB 813), if any of that were true.


Bill to share control of California’s electric grid advances. Legislation to create a new, regional organization to manage the electricity grid across several Western states survived a vote in a key California Senate committee Tuesday, even as several senators expressed serious misgivings about the bill. Members of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee voted 6-1 to advance the bill — AB813 — which would cede control over California’s power lines to a multistate organization operating a regional electricity market. Only Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford (Kings County), voted against it. And yet, several senators said they were not yet satisfied with the bill. Opponents fear that a regional grid operator, possibly including such coal-mining states as Wyoming and Utah, could undermine California’s clean-energy policies and open California to meddling from a hostile federal government intent on supporting fossil fuels. Supporters consider it a way to spread the use of renewable power throughout the West. And they note that the state’s current grid manager, the California Independent System Operator, already works under federal oversight. Sen. Bob Hertzberg said he voted in favor of the bill Tuesday to give its author —Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena — time to answer concerns about how the new, regional organization would function while protecting California’s climate and energy policies. If those protections aren’t included, Hertzberg said, he would lobby to kill the bill, which now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I generally like the notion of regionalization,” said Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. “But I’m very unhappy about the way this bill has proceeded.”

See also:



Transportation electrification coalition issues blueprint. The Natural Resources Defense Council is hailing a blueprint – The Transportation Accord – agreed to by a diverse coalition of interests to advance electrification of the transportation sector (click through here).

“The purpose of the accord is to provide guidance on how America’s utilities can successfully help overcome barriers to transportation electrification and encourage their customers to go electric,” Noah Garcia writes in an NRDC blog post. “The Accord outlines how to accelerate electric cars, trucks, and buses to benefit all electric utility customers and transportation users while supporting the evolution of a cleaner electricity grid and stimulating innovation and competition for U.S. companies.”

Joining NRDC in supporting the accord were General Motors, Siemens, Consumers Union, and Advanced Energy Economy. “This diversity reflects the broad support that transportation electrification enjoys from automakers, bus manufacturers, electric utilities, EV charging companies, labor, business associations, consumer advocates, public health organizations, and environmental groups,” Garcia writes.


Community solar seen as cost-effective avenue to ‘zero net energy’ homes. A flexible approach to meeting Zero Net Energy (ZNE) goals could benefit consumers and the environment, according to research conducted by The Brattle Group sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council (click through here).

They explain that ZNE homes are designed to produce as much energy from clean on-site energy sources as they consume each year. The research compares two approaches to meeting a ZNE goal for new housing developments: requiring solar installations on each home to offset annual electricity use or a community solar program in which homeowners receive a share of a combined solar array. The assessment found a considerable cost and efficiency advantage from the economies of scale offered by community solar.

“This research suggests that when we take a more expansive and flexible approach to reducing carbon emissions and residential development, both consumers and the environment can win,” said Keith Dennis, principal for end-use energy efficiency at NRECA.

“The study points to a good policy option to reduce the costs of meeting a Zero Net Energy goal. For utilities and solar developers moving forward, partnering with housing developers may serve as a new business model for community solar projects,” said Dylan Sullivan, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “For community solar to be a viable option in meeting a building code like California’s, homeowners, builders, and code officials will need assurance that the community solar project serves the building for the long-term.”

“There are a lot of opportunities to improve the way we generate and consume electricity,” said Ryan Hledik, a principal at The Brattle Group and co-author of the study. “Our study highlights how a systems-oriented approach can both increase the benefits and reduce the costs of emerging energy policies.”


Other electric industry news items of note:

Mass. officials seek supplemental report Vineyard Wind project. With the largest purchase of offshore wind resources in the country on their doorstep, state officials say they want more information to provide proper environmental oversight. On Friday a certificate was issued for Vineyard Wind’s April 30 draft environmental impact report, but because the company has now moved ahead to negotiate an 800-megawatt contract with three electric utilities companies a more comprehensive report is needed, according to Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. Massachusetts has an “interest in and obligation to provide a rigorous, robust and transparent environmental review process for the largest single procurement of offshore wind by any state in the nation,” Beaton wrote in the certificate. The company, an equal partnership of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables, plans what is expected to be a $2 billion construction project to install 50 to 100 wind turbines in federal leased waters 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, with three energy export cables to make landfall on Cape Cod. The sale of offshore wind power from the wind farm to the electric utilities on the mainland is part of a larger initiative by state leaders to reach a capacity of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2027.

Bill capping retail supplier rates for low-income customers passes Massachusetts Senate.  The Massachusetts Senate passed S2545, which largely relates to clean energy, but was amended to include new customers protections for retail electric customers, including a cap on retail supplier rates for low-income customers. The bill awaits action in the House. Per the adopted amendment, each retail electric supplier shall, “guarantee that each low-income customer shall pay a rate that is either equal to or less than the fixed basic service rate charged by the low-income customer’s electric distribution company for the same period of time.”

Puerto Rico governor signs bill to privatize power company assets. Puerto Rico’s governor signed a historic bill Wednesday to privatize the U.S. territory’s troubled power company in a move many hope will help minimize power outages that have followed Hurricane Maria and stabilize the production and distribution of energy amid an 11-year-old recession. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is one of the largest U.S. public utilities, and the bill allows for the sale of its power generation plants as the company faces more than $9 billion in public debt and relies on infrastructure nearly three times older than the industry average. It also allows the government to create public-private partnerships for the transmission and distribution of power as well as for services including billing and meter-reading. “We’re here to make transformational changes for Puerto Rico,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said, adding that he believes the law will help attract more investment. “It’s no secret that Puerto Rico’s economic development has remained stagnant in recent decades.”

Appeals court orders Calif. PUC to produce emails in San Onofre investigation. State appellate judges have ordered the California Public Utilities Commission to produce at least some of the disputed emails exchanged between regulators and the Governor’s Office in the run-up to a 2014 deal that charged ratepayers $3.3 billion for the nuclear plant closure. In an opinion issued late Tuesday, the 1st District Court of Appeal gave commission lawyers 10 days to produce many of the communications withheld for years under exemptions from the California Public Records Act. “The CPUC did not meet its burden of ‘demonstrat(ing) a clear overbalance on the side of confidentiality’ between the public interest in nondisclosure and the public interest in disclosure,” the ruling states. Judges said the commission must produce all records withheld under the deliberative process privilege, an exemption state lawyers cited in refusing to release at least 40 documents related to the 2012 shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station north of Oceanside. But the opinion only directs the commission to produce some of the dozens of emails to and from the Governor’s Office first sought by the San Diego law firm Aguirre & Severson in 2015.

N.H. Gov. Sununu vetoes bills backing biomass, solar development. Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed two energy-related bills designed to subsidize development of biomass and solar energy, citing their expected cost and stating they’d send New Hampshire “in exactly the wrong direction.” Critics of the move say it will cost jobs and economic opportunities, particularly in the North Country. In his veto statement on Tuesday, Sununu said the two bills would cost Granite State ratepayers approximately $100 million over the next three years in higher electricity costs, placing a strain on the elderly, those on fixed incomes and businesses. “These immense projects should use incentives already available and compete on their own merits,” Sununu said in a statement. The vetoes are consistent with Sununu’s recently released energy policy, which places reducing rates above developing renewables as a policy goal. House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, said both bills received bipartisan support and called them “two pieces of legislation vitally important to jobs and energy production in New Hampshire.”


Louisiana utility regulators approve wind farm project. State utility regulators Wednesday allowed a northwest Louisiana electric company to purchase part of the nation’s largest wind-power project. The $4.5 billion “Wind Catcher” project in the Oklahoma panhandle began construction last December and is expected to start generating electricity in 2020. The Louisiana Public Service Commission allowed the Shreveport-based Southwestern Electric Power Co., better known as SWEPCO, to increase customers’ monthly bills to pay for a portion of the wind farm’s power (click through here to read SWEPCO’s application to the commission). SWEPCO’s share will be 1,400 megawatts, enough to power about 350,000 homes.

Worthington, Ohio, electric aggregation going before voters this fall. Worthington voters will decide this fall on whether they want to pool their buying power for power. Worthington City Council voted Monday night to place an electric aggregation issue on the Nov. 6 ballot, which would allow the city to negotiate a bulk price for residents and businesses. In a statement, the city said that the goal is to lower household electric bills and promote green energy usage. If approved, the suburb of 14,500 wouldn’t see any additional levy or taxes, it said in the statement. The city says it would require a no-cost opt-out option for residents and businesses as well. Worthington residents who have their own contracts with separate electric suppliers would not be eligible, it said. In a post on his blog following the vote, Worthington council member David Robinson said the city wants to reduce its carbon footprint by 20 million pounds of coal per year — the equivalent of taking 4,000 automobiles off the road. “There are immediate benefits: electrical aggregation will enable us to quickly reduce our carbon footprint,” he wrote. “And there are longer term gains: raising awareness, sparking the imagination, and demonstrating that we can successfully take significant action at the local level will set the stage for further action in moving us toward a clean energy future.”

Colorado regulators raise Xcel’s energy-efficiency target by 25 percent. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has raised the energy-efficiency bar for Xcel Energy Inc. even as Colorado’s biggest power utility sought to hold it steady. Under a 2007 state law, investor-owned utilities, like Minneapolis-based Xcel, have to implement programs to cut the demand for electricity-known as “demand-side management” or DSM- in return for financial incentives. In setting the targets for the next five years, Xcel’s subsidiary, Public Service Company of Colorado, had sought a goal of 400 gigawatt-hours of electricity reductions, the same as the last five years. A gigawatt is enough energy to power 230 average homes for a year. Xcel executives have said that the easy energy savings, the “low hanging fruit,” have been attained and that each year, it gets more challenging and expensive to wring out DSM savings. But energy-efficiency and environmental groups called for a higher bar, and the PUC this month agreed and voted to raise the target to 500 gigawatt-hours. “While Public Service has historically argued for lower energy savings goals based on a ‘changing marketplace,’ we conclude that the Company’s achieved annual DSM savings demonstrate a remarkably stable market for cost-effective electric DSM,” the commission said in its ruling.

Utility buys land for substation to power Foxconn. American Transmission Co. has purchased land to build a proposed electrical substation for the $10 billion Foxconn Technology Group complex in southeast Wisconsin. ATC confirmed Monday that it purchased 33 acres of land in Mount Pleasant for $2.4 million, according to media reports. ATC wants to build a new substation east of the Foxconn complex and connect it with high-voltage power lines. The utility plans to add lines between Kenosha County and Racine County. Foxconn is expected to use about 200 megawatts of electricity, which is six times more power than the next-largest factory in the state, according to ATC. The Taiwan-based company plans to manufacture advanced liquid crystal display panels for commercial and consumer uses, including televisions. ATC needs to get approval for the project from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. Construction of the substation and the $117 million electric transmission lines could begin in the fall.

Hogan taps new Maryland Public Service Commission chair. Gov. Larry Hogan named Jason M. Stanek the incoming chair of the state’s Public Service Commission in an emailed release Wednesday. Stanek most recently served as senior counsel to the energy subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee. He will fill the position following the departure of current PSC chairman W. Kevin Hughes on June 30. Stanek previously spent 16 years in senior position at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Tulane University and a Juris Doctor degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, School of Law. “Jason Stanek’s impressive career working in positions related to energy and utility policy demonstrates his vast experience and understanding of these complex issues,” Gov. Hogan said in the release. “He is knowledgeable in nearly every aspect of the utility industry, and I have no doubt that he will serve Maryland well in this new role.”


Jack Shreve, 85, stood up to utilities on behalf of Florida consumers. The former Merritt Island lawmaker held the job of Public Counsel longer than anyone else in state history. Jack Shreve, a long-time champion of the rights of Florida consumers in cases involving telephone and utility companies seeking higher rates, died June 12. He was 85 and was a long-time resident of Tallahassee. Shreve served two terms in the state House as a Democrat from 1970 to 1974, representing Brevard County. After he left the Legislature, he ran the Office of Public Counsel for a quarter of a century, acting as the people’s lawyer on behalf of consumers in utility rate-increase cases. The post was created during an energy crisis in 1974. “I love the job, and I’ve been at it for 25 years,” Shreve said in a Times story when he retired in 2003. “A lot of people retire to try to get away from work, but I don’t feel that way. But it’s probably time for me to go.”

Mercedes-Benz turns coal power plant into energy storage system with electric car batteries. Daimler, through its subsidiary Mercedes-Benz Energy and with partners, is turning a coal power plant into a large energy storage facility using over a thousand modules from its electric car battery packs.  Like Tesla and its ‘Tesla Energy’ division, Mercedes-Benz is leveraging its experience with battery packs for electric cars into making stationary energy storage projects. They created a ‘Mercedes-Benz Energy’ subsidiary and launched several projects. One of them was a residential battery pack to compete with Tesla’s Powerwall. Earlier this year, the company killed the project after admitting that their product was too expensive and overengineered for its application. While they got out of the residential market, they are still going strong with bigger-scale projects. Their latest project was unveiled today and it consists of a 8.96 MW/9.8 MWh project using a total of 1,920 battery modules installed in Elverlingsen on the site of the former coal-fired power station that was built in 1912 and recently shut down. “The large storage plant is therefore a symbol for the transformation in the storage and use of energy – away from fossil electricity grid supply and towards a sustainable extension of the e-mobility value chain that reduces CO2,” Daimler said. The battery modules would have normally found their ways into about 600 third generation electric smarts. The project is going to be used for primary balancing power on the German grid, which has added a significant amount of renewable energy in recent years.

Billionaire George Soros points the way to a 5%-yielding utility stock. Sensing opportunity, George Soros picked up 225,000 shares of the electricity utility in Q1. Dominion’s problems will pass and investors that follow Soros’ lead will be glad they did. In June 8th’s “2 Billionaires Have this 4.1% REIT In Their Portfolios” we learned that two of the world’s richest men, George Soros and Bill Gates, both owned shares of Crown Castle International (CCI). Today, we analyze an even higher-yielding investment made by Mr. Soros that investors should strongly consider: Dominion Energy (D). Electricity utilities have long been favorites of dividend investors. The reasons for this are simple. In exchange for putting up the capital to provide power to thousands of households, regulators guarantee them a reasonable rate of return – predictable profits that can be paid out in the form dividends.

The City of London will run on 100% renewable energy by October 2018. The City—also known as the Square Mile—is an enclave that comprises the historic center of London. Spread over 1.12 square miles, it’s also London’s primary business district. And now, as of October 2018, the area will also be known for something else—clean energy. From that date, the City of London will source all of its energy from renewable sources. By installing solar panels on existing buildings, buying clean energy from the grid, and investing in solar and wind energy, it’s a transformation that will challenge other areas of London to step up. The City of London Corporation, the governing body of the area, owns social housing across the city, as well as several academies and markets in addition to 11,000 acres of green space, which means their reach across the whole of London is quite extensive. “We are always looking at the environmental impact of our work and hope that we can be a beacon to other organizations to follow suit,” stated Catherine McGuinness, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee. “By generating our own electricity and investing in renewables, we are doing our bit to help meet international and national energy targets. This is a big step for the City Corporation and it demonstrates our commitment to making us a more socially and environmentally responsible business.”

Coal-fired generation is facing a limited lifespan in Australia. Just like Malcolm Turnbull, Snowy Hydro chief executive Paul Broad likes to monitor his mobile telephone to keep track of what is happening in the wildly erratic Australian electricity market. Much attention has been paid to the volatile price spikes in which a megawatt hour of electricity can hit a cap of $14,000, as it did last month when a shortage of coal, wind and solar power squeezed the market. For Broad, it is just as important to know when prices move in the opposite direction. Sometimes generators will offer to pay up to $1000 a megawatt hour for someone to take their power. It is a brutal ­reality that has been wrecking the economics of coal-fired generators, which cannot simply switch off when wind and solar swamp the market. When that happens, Snowy Hydro pumps like crazy, effec­tively being paid to shift water ­uphill to produce electricity to sell at a later time when supplies are short and prices are high. “The way the system works, the way the market works, is that renewables get preference for coming on,” Snowy Hydro chief operating officer Roger Whitby told a Senate estimates hearing last month. “So with the wind blowing a lot, the renewables will get preference. That’s why you get the minus $1000. The short-run marginal cost for a wind generator is zero. The short marginal cost for coal is not. So the economics of the coal plant is that they can’t get that flex right.”



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Today’s lede: N.H. governor vetoes biomass subsidies, net metering expansion. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu alienated his fellow Republicans in the Legislature and the state’s politically potent forestry industry with two vetoes of bills that he said would have imposed higher electricity costs on consumers. The action came after Sununu earlier this year issued an energy plan that cited lowering electricity costs in the state as a top objective.

Lawmakers are expected to pursue a veto-override vote, setting the stage for an intense political dogfight. Ethan DeWitt reports in the Concord Monitor that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Molly Kelly accused the governor of “blocking job creation” and “hurting businesses and municipalities.”

The vetoed measures were Senate Bill 365, which would require utilities to purchase power from six biomass power plants in New Hampshire struggling economically as cheap fracked gas has depressed New England electricity prices, and Senate Bill 466, which would expand the state’s net metering program to allow larger resources to participate. Sununu said he supported net metering, but decried SB 466 as a handout to large-scale energy developers, DeWitt reported. Sununu said he rejected SB 365 because of the “immense subsidy” it would create for the biomass companies. Together the two bills would have imposed $110 million in costs on electricity consumers over three years, the governor said.

“I love the governor, he’s a friend of mine, I support him, but I disagree with this veto. There’s bipartisan support for both of these bills,” DeWitt quoted politically powerful Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, who was asked to speak to whether he would pursue a veto override. “And we’ll see where it goes.”

If the biomass plants are forced to close, “this is going to be a huge hole in a $1.4 billion industry. The ripple effect of this is going to be big,” said Jason Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owner’s Association, noting that 40 percent of the trees cut and sold commercially in New Hampshire are used to fuel the state’s biomass plants.

But Joe Doiron, the deputy director of the governor’s Office for Strategic Initiatives, said that hiking rates also carries hidden costs, DeWitt noted. “When a business cannot expand because they are concerned about energy costs or when a family has to forgo a purchase because of a high electricity bill, jobs are lost and growth is stunted,” said Doiron, who serves as the state energy program administrator. “Although these losses are not as visible as those from the subsidized industry, they are no less important and no less real.” Unsustainable subsidies are not the path forward, he said, calling for the biomass power plants to find new ways to compete.

Sununu offered no insight as to his intent regarding a third politically sensitive billl, SB 377, which would maintain subsidies scheduled to sunset for the Burgess BioPower plant in Berlin, Bob Sanders reports in the New Hampshire Business Review. “The bill might be spared because of two amendments tacked on to the measure,” Sanders writes.

The fate of the bills will likely evolve into an election-year political football, as the comments above from Sununu’s Democratic opponent would suggest. “The vetoed bills had the strong support of the NH Clean Tech Council and the NH Timberland Owners Association, but the Business and Industry Association opposed SB 365, and had concerns, but did not take a position on, SB 446,” Sanders reports. The libertarian Josiah Bartlett Center praised the governor for not giving in to “tremendous pressure from public interest groups.” Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire, a Koch brothers-sponsored group, issued a statement thanking the governor for the veto.



Penn State study sees no price spike from nuclear shutdowns. Low natural gas prices will work to keep electricity prices low for Pennsylvania consumers, even if two of the state’s nuclear power plants shutter because they can no longer compete in the competitive market, Penn State University economist Seth Blumsack concludes. Exelon is considering closing its operating Three Mile Island reactor, near Harrisburg, while FirstEnergy is threatening to close its Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station west of Pittsburgh, promting a legislative debate over demands from the two utilities for consumers subsidies to keep the uneconomically plants operating.

Blumsack said power prices will stay depressed for years to come “because energy use has plateaued and efficient natural gas power plants — which are nowhere near peak production — have recently come online. That situation is coupled with extremely low natural gas prices,” PSU said in a press release announcing the economist’s findings.

“There’s just so much extra generation capacity in this region,” Blumsack said. “These nuclear power plants are big, but even if you were to lose these big power plants there’s so much other generation capacity that can produce electricity at costs competitive with the nuclear plants that the market outcomes aren’t going to change and the reliability of the grid won’t be compromised.”

Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts, a diverse coalition of public interest groups, power generators, and business and industry associations (click through here), welcomed the report’s findings. “This independent research clearly shows that there is no emergency as the nuclear industry has tried to fabricate in Pennsylvania over the last 18 months. Pennsylvania’s electricity markets are strong, the grid is reliable and consumers will continue to benefit from advancements in new, cost-effective and more efficient power generating resources fueled by continued competition.”

Natural gas prices would have to increase by 300 percent at Appalachian trading hubs for nuclear power to again be competitive, Blumsack found. Natural gas prices are now one-fourth the level that they were a decade ago. The growth in renewables, which has higher up-front costs yet lower generation costs, has also made nuclear power less competitive.

“The competition is really fierce and it’s essentially being driven by really low natural gas prices,” Blumsack said. “In inflation-adjusted terms, we haven’t seen natural gas prices this low in decades. There’s so much production potential that it’s tough to think about a scenario that’s going to increase gas prices by more than 50 percent in the next decade.”


Nevada advisory group adopts energy choice implementation recommendations. Nevada’s 25-member Governor’s Committee on Energy Choice, chaired by Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, approved a final set of recommendations on how to enact customer choice in electricity, should voters in November approve a ballot initiative to change the state constitution and end monopoly protections for utilities, Riley Snyder reports in the Nevada independent.

“The final 51-page report is the result of more than 30 meetings and presentations over a year and a half, and includes 28 suggestions ranging from how to encourage renewable energy production in a retail market to best practices for educating customers on how to navigate a new marketplace,” Snyder writes. “Although the committee’s report isn’t binding, it marks the culmination of a year’s worth of presentations and study on the ramifications of the ballot question and how to deal with them. But the dozens of recommendations still underscore the tall task facing lawmakers in 2019 and beyond of how to successfully transition the state’s electric market.”

For further details, see Snyder’s report in the Indy:


Other electric industry news items of note:

Coal is being squeezed out of power industry by cheap renewables. Coal will be increasingly squeezed out of the power generation market over the next three decades as the cost of renewables plunges and technology improves the flexibility of grids globally. That’s the conclusion of a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which estimated some $11.5 trillion of investment will go into electricity generation between now and 2050. Of that, 85 percent, or $9.8 billion, will go into wind, solar and other zero-emissions technologies such as hydro and nuclear, the London-based researcher said. Better batteries, which allow grid managers to store power for times when it’s neither breezy nor sunny, will allow utilities to take advantage of plunging costs for solar panels and wind turbines. The ability of natural gas plants to work at a few minutes notice means the fuel will become the choice for most utilities wanting guaranteed generation capacity. “Coal emerges as the biggest loser in the long run,” said Elena Giannakopoulou, head of energy economics at BNEF. “Beaten on cost by wind and PV for bulk electricity generation, and by batteries and gas for flexibility, the future electricity system will reorganize around cheap renewables.” Gas will keep much of its market share, BNEF says. The nature of plants being built in the future will shift to peaker units that utilities can switch on and off quickly and away from the baseload plants that tend to operate around the clock.

Falling battery costs to push solar, wind to 50% electricity by 2050. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that solar PV capacity will grow 17-fold, and wind six-fold, by 2050, to account for nearly half of global electricity generation. Investments will reach $11.5 trillion. Cost reductions will drive this charge, particularly in the battery market. Despite this, the electricity sector is still failing to bring CO₂ emissions down to the required levels. In its 2018 New Energy Outlook, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) sees skyrocketing growth in the global solar and wind energy markets up to 2050. Overall, it anticipates that solar and wind will account for nearly half of global electricity generation by this date, driven by “precipitous“ cost reductions –  leading to levelized costs of electricity (LCOE) falling 71% by 2050, following a 77% decrease between 2009 and 2018, says BNEF –  and “cheaper and cheaper” batteries.

Ga. Supreme Court keeps challenge to Georgia Power fees alive. The putative class action accuses Georgia Power of improperly collecting fees that are supposed to be based only on actual power usage by including other assessments, including the $6 billion “nuclear fee” the General Assembly and Public Service Commission authorized the utility to tack onto customers’ bills to prepay for two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. The Georgia Supreme Court has kept alive a putative class action claiming that Georgia Power Co. has been improperly collecting tens of millions of dollars in additional fees it adds to bills to fund two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, and mandatory environmental expenses. The justices agreed with the Court of Appeals that the plaintiffs did not have to take their dispute to the Public Service Commission prior to suing because the PSC’s authority and rulings are not being challenged. Georgia Power has been charging its customers an additional fee since 2009 to prepay the cost of two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. The fees were supposed to generate more than $6 billion.

Colorado Supreme Court restores Xcel’s lawsuit against Boulder muni effort. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a dispute over Boulder’s creation of a municipal electric utility should be heard in district court. The state’s highest court disagreed with previous rulings by both the Colorado Court of Appeals and Boulder District Judge Judith LaBuda in the 2014 lawsuit brought by Xcel Energy. In its original lawsuit against Boulder, Xcel contended that the City Council’s decision to form the utility was premature, and the city had not done enough work to show a utility could meet the city charter’s requirements. LaBuda, however, ruled that the city was within its rights to create an energy utility. The Court of Appeals in 2016 reversed LaBuda’s dismissal of the lawsuit, finding instead that Xcel’s lawsuit had been filed prematurely. In a 17-page ruling (click through here), the Supreme Court agreed with Boulder’s assertion that the Court of Appeals erred in its ruling, but it also agreed with Xcel that the company asserted a viable claim against the city. The matter is now sent back to district court for a decision.

W.Va. county commission, city to challenge utility rate increases. Kanawha County commissioners and the city of Charleston say residents should be receiving reductions in their bills rather than rate increases from utility companies since the companies will be getting millions of dollars in tax breaks. The county and city on Monday filed a formal notice of intent to participate in the state Public Service Commission’s investigation of the 2017 Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and the resulting savings to utility companies, according to a news release from the county commission. The news release said Appalachian Power and West Virginia American Water have filed rate increase requests with the PSC, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in tax savings large privately owned utility companies in West Virginia will receive through TCJA. “The power company and the water company should withdraw their absurd rate increase requests,” Commission President Kent Carper said. “Both companies are saving millions because of the new tax law, and to ask for a rate increase now is double dipping brought to a new low.”

Regulators approve rate increase for Emera Maine customers. Maine regulators approved a rate increase for Emera Maine Tuesday morning, but less than the utility originally requested. The Maine Public Utilities Commission’s chairman and two commissioners said the distribution portion of a customer’s bill could be raised 5.34 percent, or a total of $4.48 million in revenue across all customers, as of July 1, 2018. Emera had originally asked for a 12 percent increase, or $10 million across all customers. The distribution part of the bill is the cost to get electricity to consumers. “Most of the difference between the request and what was granted is because of the tax cut act,” said Judy Long, spokeswoman for Emera.

New York man arrested for stealing electricity. A 70-year-old man is facing a felony charge for allegedly stealing power through an elaborate underground bypass system in an effort to limit his utility bills, state police in Dutchess County said. Hyde Park resident David Rundall was taken into custody on Thursday, June 14 and charged with third-degree grand larceny following an investigation into stolen utilities.

General Electric gets booted from the Dow. For the first time in 110 years, General Electric will not be a member of the elite Dow Jones Industrial Average. S&P Dow Jones Indices announced on Tuesday that the iconic maker of light bulbs and jet engines will be replaced in the 30-stock index by Walgreens Boots Alliance. GE (GE) was an original member of the Dow in 1896 and has been in it continuously since Nov. 7, 1907. Being ousted from the Dow is the latest indignity for GE, which is dealing with a serious cash crisis caused by years of bad deals. GE has replaced its CEO, slashed thousands of jobs and cut its coveted stock dividend in half. Last year, GE was the worst-performing stock in the Dow, losing almost half of its value. GE is down by another 25 percent this year. “We are focused on executing against the plan we’ve laid out to improve GE’s performance,” a GE spokeswoman said in a statement. “Today’s announcement does nothing to change those commitments or our focus in creating in a stronger, simpler GE.”

Fuel cell company Bloom Energy prepares for market debut. Alternative energy company Bloom Energy intends to raise upwards to $100 million in an IPO, but specific details aren’t yet known. Bloom Energy isn’t currently profitable, having posted net losses exceeding $260 million in 2017. Bloom Energy is powered by federal subsidies for fuel cell technology, and could suffer seriously in the marketplace if said subsidies are cut in the future. The company hasn’t followed through on pledges to create jobs in exchange for local tax cuts, signifying possible hurdles on its road to success. Bloom Energy (BE) will soon be hitting the open market on the NYSE in a bid that could see the alternative energy company gleam in more than $100 million from eager investors if all goes according to plan. The company intends to use the money it gains from its IPO to fund future expansions that will help it grow its presence on the international market, but exact pricing details have yet to be revealed to the general public.

Tesla’s battery tech is unrivaled. Tesla is reducing its cobalt needs to zero — and that gives it a major edge over rivals as Model 3 scales to 5,000 units a week. One of the biggest challenges to Tesla Inc.’s long-term growth has nothing to do with the company’s Model 3 production line in Fremont, CA, or with competition from traditional automakers. Instead, it has everything to do with pulling a somewhat obscure chemical element. I’m talking about cobalt.


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Today’s lede: California bill seeks to pave way for CAISO expansion in the West. Legislation that would help the California Independent System Operator’s ambitions to expand to other states in the Western U.S. apparently has legs, spurring critics to emerge. Essentially, Assembly Bill 813 (click through here) would help address issues largely preventing the single-state California ISO from expanding to become more of a west-wide regional transmission organization. With governance dominated by the state of California, entities outside of the state aren’t likely to join an expanded ISO and a more seamless western regional electricity market. The Assembly bill reportedly is scheduled to be heard today by the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee.

A 2016 California ISO assessment found that expanding into a regional grid entity would enable the state’s 50 percent renewables mandate by 2030 while saving electricity consumers $1.5 billion during the same timeframe. “We believe the findings in these studies will help drive the formation of a new, more efficient, cost-effective, and greener western electric grid,” ISO CEO Steve Berberich said in a press release issued at that time (click through here). “It’s also clear that a regional grid allows California and other states to eventually exceed their renewable goals, including California’s 50-percent mark.”

So the bill is seen as a necessary avenue for California to reach its outsized renewable energy and climate goals by providing a market for excess renewables generation inside of California, and establishing a larger footprint for grid balancing and backup generation (It would also help establish a west-wide organized power market that would better enable growing renewables development outside of California). Yet it is exactly these points that critics are seizing upon, arguing that California would cede its political dominion over the ISO governing board to a regional board answerable to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They want instate renewables kept home, and they don’t want fossil-fuel based generation imported into the state.

Gary Ackerman, the soon-to-be-former Western Power Trading Forum executive director, wrote last week in his Friday Burrito, an influential industry insider newsletter, about “rumblings” in Sacramento that AB 813 is “gaining momentum” after California’s politically potent unions agreed to some concessions in a revised bill unveiled last week. “AB 813 still has language that proscribes California joining any multistate grid platform that has a centralized forward capacity market,” Ackerman noted. “Some people believe that the [Gov. Jerry] Brown administration is pressuring labor and the IOUs to embrace the bill and its regionalization concept in exchange for the Governor supporting a separate legislative proposal to indemnify the utilities for wildfire damage as long as the utility in question has followed CPUC-approved maintenance procedures regarding tree trimming.”

The apparent wind beneath the wings of AB 813 has critics coming out of the woodwork, citing the specter of the turn-of-the-century California market meltdown and Enron.

Kevin Smith, writing for the Southern California News Group (click through here), cites a recent report by Consumer Watchdog attacking the legislation entitled, “Betting against the house: How California’s leaders could gamble away our energy future on a western power trading casino” (click through here). “California leaders are being pressed by former allies of Enron and energy traders who ripped off the state to gamble away California’s energy future on the revival of a plan for a Western regional power trading system that will benefit billionaires and Wall Street and put ratepayers and the environment at risk,” the group says.

“Billionaire investors such as Warren Buffett, energy companies, and Wall Street banks see big profits off power exports to California, including coal power, that a regional power trading market would facilitate,” the report says. “They see big opportunities in building expensive new transmission lines underwritten largely by Californians to vastly expand a speculative commodities market in which contracts for electricity, whether dirty or clean, are bought and sold like pork bellies. But giving up control over California’s own power grid threatens new forms of Enron-style market manipulation that led to California’s disastrous energy crisis two decades ago, rolling blackouts, shrinking clean energy and efficiency investments, and a tab of some $40 billion to Californians. When traders run the casino, the house always wins and consumers are left at great risk.”

A similar attack was waged by Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, in an op-ed published in the San Francisco Chronicle (click through here). “Regionalizing California’s grid would increase speculation and raise energy bills for Californians,” Hauter writes. “While speculation in a financial instrument pegged to electric transmission is already costing Californians more than $700 million, the problem could grow worse in a Western market with even less oversight.”

She likened the plan AB 813 would enable to “the electricity deregulation of the 1990s that allowed corporations such as Enron to treat California’s energy system like a casino, which resulted in Californians being overcharged and blackouts caused by manipulation.” She concludes, “California’s choice is stark: The state will either give up control of its grid and energy future — jeopardizing public health, clean air, clean water and the climate — or California will control its destiny and lead the nation to a transition to clean, renewable energy. The Legislature must not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

A more muted review was offered by Dan Walters, a former columnist for the Sacremento Bee, who writes in the Mercury News (click through here), “Californians were sold a bill of shoddy goods 22 years ago and are still paying the price in higher electricity bills. This is a very complex issue that isn’t sexy clickbait for the media, but they should be paying more attention. And politicians had better think very carefully before they vote for another power play just because it looks good on paper.”



National security and baseload power plant subsidies. Both Axios and Politico are reporting the comments of Bruce Walker, assistant secretary for the Energy Department’s Office of Electricity, on a new episode of the Columbia Energy Exchange podcast (click through here) in which he appears to indicate there is secret national security information driving the Trump administration’s plans to intervene in competitive wholesale electricity markets to financially buttress uneconomic baseload coal and nuclear power plants.

“The Department of Energy is uniquely situated in that it is part of the intelligence community. And as part of the intelligence community we make classified intelligence decisions. We utilize information that we have to secure, from a national security perspective, the United States,” Walker says on the podcast. “We understand the vulnerabilities based on our position within the intelligence community,” he said. “So, we’ll continue to work and evaluate our strategies and when we’ve decided what that strategy is, we’ll act on it.”

Axios sees Walker’s comments as DOE “positioning itself at a time when many critics from various quarters say the potential aid is unneeded and accuse the administration of grafting a new post-facto rationale onto their longstanding goal of saving coal plants.” Politico notes that Walker told reporters in February that his office “would never use” emergency authority under Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act to stave off a mere economic issue.

“We’re not only looking at coal, nuclear generation, we’re looking at all generation and we’re looking at how the grid comes together, which is why my team has been focused on developing the North American resiliency model which is focused on understanding and highlighting the interdependencies of the different systems,” Walker said on the podcast.

If Axios is correct and secret national security threats are driving the administration, how then exactly do they justify unprecedented market intervention? “A memo circulated at the National Security Council earlier this month cited possible attacks on natural gas pipelines among the justifications for DOE’s latest national security approach to protecting coal and nuclear power — which are also facing unrelenting competition from cheap natural gas,” Politico notes.

Concerns about potential cyberattacks on natural gas pipelines were cited by both Energy Secretary Rick Perry and DOE Under Secretary Mark Menezes in recent weeks (click through here) as justification for intervention to provide baseload coal and nuclear above-market rents. Cybersecurity for pipelines is overseen by the Transportation Security Administration, the same Homeland Security agency that frisks passengers at airports. But if that’s a driving concern, why not beef up the federal cybersecurity oversight for pipelines rather than intervene in well-functioning competitive electricity markets? That’s certainly an approach advocated by FERC commissioners Rich Glick and Neil Chatterjee, both former Capitol Hill legislative staff, in op-eds published by Axios (click through here) and the Houston Chronicle (click through here).


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Is one subsidy really any better? It’s not a surprise to hear gas and renewable industries attacking the plan. But it is truly odd to hear renewable energy interests directly attacking subsidies as a destabilizing influence on energy markets. After all, they have marinated for decades in multiple billions of subsidies, credits, and market carve-outs. In fact, renewable energy received 45 percent of all federal energy subsidies in 2016 ($6.7 billion in 2016, on top of the $30 billion received from 2010 to 2013). Could the protests from renewable advocates simply be cognitive dissonance? Or, could they honestly believe that no one but them should benefit from market-destabilizing government intrusion? Either way, it’s difficult to take seriously their sudden concern for the primacy of free markets. The Trump administration is right to be concerned about grid resiliency and its potential impacts on national security. It’s also correct to argue that fuel diversity and fuel security are the best means of promoting grid resilience, because if one generation source fails, you still have other options. But, the administration runs off the rails when it suggests that the planned closure of coal and nuclear plants is a national emergency that must be addressed with subsidies.


Coal and nuclear are hedges against volatile natural gas prices. Anyone who thinks this country no longer faces the threat of runaway energy prices should consider that almost 115,000 megawatts of “base-load” electricity-generating capacity from coal plants has been shuttered since 2010 — and replaced largely with natural gas. Several nuclear plants have also closed due to competition from natural gas. Today, more than 70 percent of the electricity in California, Texas, Florida, and New England is produced from natural gas. A few states are entirely dependent on natural gas. A reliable supply of base-load electric power is crucial for our economy and to protect consumers from the destructive effects of wide swings in gas prices. Saving coal and nuclear plants is an essential part of the solution. The administration must act quickly and decisively while there is still time to prevent gas prices from rising to levels akin to those last seen during the oil crisis of the 1970s. Without action, we face a continuing threat to our energy security and economy, and more bitter political recrimination to assess blame.


Dumb Energy. Wind and solar electricity are renewable energy.  How nice to pluck energy out of the air and the sky. It’s a scam.  Big money men and screwball dreamers, otherwise called environmentalists, are behind the scam. Apparently, it has not dawned on the believers in the scam that solar does not work at night, and wind works only when the wind is blowing.  The core characteristic of wind and solar is that they are erratic sources of electricity.  The supply is randomly intermittent.  Who in Hell thinks this dumb energy is a good way to supply electricity? The wind and solar promoters, in order to accommodate their dumb energy, demand that the electric grid be re-engineered to become a “smart” grid.  Perhaps the idea is that if the grid is smart enough, the dumb energy will be canceled by the smart grid.  That’s actually what the smart grid people have in mind.


More electric industry news items of note:

China hits pause on Appalachian energy investment citing trade war concerns. Brian Anderson was hoping not to be alone at the podium at the Westin Convention Center on Monday morning. He was hoping to be flanked by officials from China Energy Investment Corp. and to watch the crowd’s eyes widen as the CEO of the Chinese giant announced its first few projects in the U.S. This was to be the first tangible milestone of a bombshell agreement announced in November between China Energy and West Virginia — one that promised the possibility of nearly $84 billion in Chinese investment in the tri-state area in shale gas and chemical manufacturing industries over two decades. What better venue for the mic-drop than the Northeast U.S. Petrochemical Construction Conference, perhaps even upstaging the much-anticipated annual update from Shell Chemical Co. on its ethane cracker complex in Beaver County. Three weeks ago, Mr. Anderson, who directs the West Virginia University Energy Institute, got the call he was expecting. The trip to Pittsburgh was canceled. The reason: a pending trade war between the U.S. and China.

National Grid expands energy-efficiency program. Solar batteries are now part of an energy program that helps National Grid customers in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York reduce their electricity use during hot, summer days. As part the program ConnectedSolutions (click through here), National Grid has started sending electronic signals to batteries in people’s homes to feed more of its stored energy into the electrical grid when energy use peaks between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Paul Wassink, senior engineer at National Grid, said extra energy from the batteries means less power is coming from traditional energy resources, which he said is beneficial in the long-term. “There will be less pollution in the air, there will be a smaller electrical system, there will be fewer power plants, and electricity rates will go lower over time,” he said.

The cost of filling up the tank with electricity. The southern California electric vehicle owner is paying the equivalent of just $1.85 per gallon. Things are looking pretty sunny for this driver. While it may look like California electric vehicle drivers are getting a great deal, they aren’t necessarily. The prices paid by California’s electric vehicle drivers are higher than they should be. This is likely slowing electric vehicle adoption. According to data reported in June by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), wholesale electricity prices averaged a just $43 per megawatt-hour ($0.66 per gallon equivalent) in 2017. Nighttime prices were even lower, as shown below in a chart from the CAISO. That means southern California electric vehicle drivers were paying at least triple the cost of producing electricity.

Pa. regulators zap Fla. electricity supplier with $30,000 penalty over marketing practices. State regulators have approved a $30,000 civil penalty under a settlement with a Florida electric generation supplier over the company’s marketing and sales practices. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission unanimously approved the deal Thursday with American Power & Gas of Pennsylvania LLC, several years after it began investigating the company’s marketing and sales practices as a statewide licensed electric generation supplier. The settlement terms include American Power revising its marketing practices to potential customers, paying a civil penalty of $30,000 and ensuring that its training programs for sales representatives remain compliant with PUC regulations. American Power, of Seminole, Fla., is an energy marketing company. It does not own power plants but buys electricity on the wholesale market and resells it. Messages seeking comment were not returned Monday, but the company filed a statement earlier this year saying it cooperated with investigators and supported the PUC’s settlement decision. State regulations hold electricity suppliers responsible for their sales and marketing practices.

N.J. bill aims to clear the way for utility tree trimming. Cutting bureaucratic red tape that could prevent or delay utilities from cutting back vegetation from power lines in the intent of a bill sponsored by state Sen. Steve Oroho, R-24th Dist. “Having consistent, dependable power is paramount to New Jersey families, particularly during nasty weather conditions,” Oroho said in a statement. “Overgrown trees and shrubs often tend to be the culprits when your power goes out during a storm. Removing some of the bureaucracy will help utility companies to engage in the preventative maintenance that’s needed to guarantee access to lifesaving utilities regardless of the elements.”

SCE&G customers could see lower gas bills later this year. The federal reforms that slashed corporate tax bills late this year are helping to lower utility bills for some South Carolina Electric & Gas customers. The SCANA Corp. subsidiary said it’s seeking approval from state regulators to trim the base rates it charges for natural gas by $22.6 million, or an average of about 5.3 percent. Residential customers would see their monthly bills decline by about 7 percent, $4.09 based on yearly average usage.

Direct Energy Business Adds Unrivaled Energy Monitoring Capabilities. Direct Energy, one of the largest energy and energy-related services providers in North America, today announced customers based in PJM will now have access to site level energy monitoring capabilities on PowerRadar™ available with Fixed Energy Plus Solution. With Fixed Energy Plus from Direct Energy Business the supply charges are fixed, and demand-based charges are passed through in a transparent way as customers will be able to see these itemized costs on their energy bills. This gives customers more opportunity to control their capacity and transmission costs with targeted peak load management and energy efficiency efforts in response to peak load notifications they receive when there’s a probability of a high peak demand day. Customers will also have access to their usage data via the PowerRadar platform to better understand how their energy consumption programs are performing by providing customers with the insights they need to make informed decisions to lower their future capacity and transmission costs; hence, lowering their overall energy spend. “With hotter-than-normal weather forecast for summer in the PJM region, now is the time for businesses to be thinking about how to reduce their electricity bill. Fixed Energy Plus provides our customers with new levels of transparency into the bill, access to industry leading software to monitor usage in real time and the tools to help them manage their spend with confidence,” said John Schultz, President Centrica North America and Direct Energy Business. “We are proud to offer our customers more ways to reduce exposure to price volatility as well as offering the tools and insights they need to lower the total cost of their power.”

Dominion Energy – Time to start buying into the long-term story. Dominion Energy Inc. (D) has had a very rough year of negative market events surrounding the company including legislative issues with the SCANA Corporation (SCG) merger, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC revised MLP regulations, and environmental concerns for its Atlantic Coast Pipeline, all in a rising interest rate environment. All of these events means that Dominion now trades at a terrific valuation, with a large sustainable dividend with very nice potential upside over the coming years, as almost all of its current issues are temporary and will be solved or dealt with effectively in the coming years. With debt reduction a primary goal of the company after its recent merger and expansion plans, investors will be more inclined to get on board after its final equity raise later this year as it sorts out its issues. The stock might or might not be bottoming out right now, but the stock is a great value for long-term holders regardless.

How a Florida utility became the global king of green power. NextEra became a renewable-energy Goliath using tax subsidies to help finance projects around the country and avoiding debt—staying quiet about it all. Who is the world’s largest operator of wind and solar farms? It’s also America’s most valuable power company. Still stumped? It’s by design. “That is a marketing problem…that we foster intentionally,” Michael O’Sullivan, NextEra Energy Inc.’s head of renewable development, told University of Notre Dame students in 2015.

Elon Musk says Tesla shorts will get blown up — he even predicted exactly when. Bank of America billed last week as “the world economy’s most important week of the year,” but the stock market didn’t exactly reflect that. In fact, investors bracing for the worst came out of last week’s potentially damaging flow of news with nary a scratch as the S&P 500 SPX, -0.89%  finished the stretch mostly flat. For those betting against Tesla TSLA, -4.52%  , however, any reprieve could be short-lived, at least if what the boss had to say on Sunday is any indication. While Musk is reportedly busy on the factory floor “almost 24/7” trying to help fix bottlenecks and get Model 3 production up to his targeted 5,000 a week, he’s not about to let the opportunity to rattle some cages go by the wayside, so there he is, dropping another bold prediction for the stock. Musk’s done his many times before, to be sure. In 2012, he warned of a “tsunami of hurt” that was coming for Tesla shorts, and, over the next year the stock surged almost 500%. Last month, he predicted the “short burn of the century” after he bought a big chunk of Tesla shares for himself. Anyway, what makes his latest prediction rather unique is that he put a timeline on when he believes the stock will rally. To the day. The number just so happens to coincide with when the quarter comes to a close and the company reports those highly anticipated delivery and production numbers.


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Today’s lede: Ad wars get under way in battle over energy choice ballot question in Nevada. Nevada’s broadcasters are going to fare well between now and November as both sides in a pitched battle over retail electricity choice ballot question take to the airways to influence voters. More than 70 percent of those voting in 2016 approved the ballot initiative that would alter the state’s constitution to end monopoly regulation and allow electricity consumers to choose among competing providers. To effectively change the constitution, voters must approve it again this November, setting the stage for pitched war to win voters’ hearts and minds.

Nevadans for Affordable, Clean Energy Choices got their first ad on the air a week ago urging Nevada voters to “break up” with NV Energy, the state’s main electric utility company. The ad, titled “It’s Over,” featured Nevadans facing the camera, citing their reasons for wanting to break up with NV Energy, ranging from taking customers for granted to wanting to “see other providers,” Riley Snyder reported in the Nevada Independent.

“Competition means lower rates,” Snyder quotes from the ad. “Break up with NV Energy’s monopoly by voting ‘yes’ on Question 3.”

The group told the Indy its first-week ad buy would total $400,000, the first volley in a barrage of more than $10 million in ads between now and the general election. “The group supporting the ballot question has been almost entirely funded by two companies, Las Vegas Sands and Switch, which have poured a combined $23.4 million into the ballot question since 2015,” Snyder writes.”The group opposing the ballot question, which has been entirely funded by NV Energy to the tune of $12.6 million, has already begun airing ads and has pledged to spend up to $30 million to defeat the measure, including $12 million in television ad reservations.”

Coalition to Defeat Question 3 fired back with an ad raising the specter of the 2000-2001 California energy crisis and Enron. The ad, “California’s Mistake,” cites the turn-of-the-century turmoil to warn that approving the ballot question risks having Nevada take a similar trajectory, Snyder reports. “California tried electricity deregulation and found out it’s a costly mistake,” the ad intones. “It led to higher rates, rolling blackouts, consumer fraud and the Enron energy resale scandal, costing Californians billions.”

The ad also noted a new supporter of the “no” campaign, the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, which came out publicly in opposition to the ballot question given concerns about its potential impacts on rural electric cooperatives. “Nevada farmers and ranchers depend on affordable, reliable electricity, and we are deeply concerned that Question 3 could possibly put our families, businesses and communities at risk,” federation president Bevan Lister said in a statement. “Question 3 has the potential of hurting rural electric cooperatives that many of our farmers and ranchers rely on for daily operations, whether it’s to run irrigation systems that keep crops growing or to help farmers maintain healthy livestock.”



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In energy choice debate, Colorado River Commission considers bill draft on hydropower contracts. Last week, the Colorado River Commission board was set to vote on an item that would have allowed the commission to put forward a bill draft request for the 2019 legislative session to address hydropower if Question 3 passes. Before the Legislature convenes, state agencies — and elected officials — are allowed to make bill draft requests to indicate what statutes they want changed during the session. Commission staff, on Tuesday, said the agency might need tweaks in the statute for “more flexibility to serve its customers,” according to the agenda item. The vote was tabled to the board’s next meeting in July because of time constraints. But the discussion highlights the rigid system that governs federal hydropower and questions around what Nevada’s hydropower portfolio would look like under a restructured market. “This is all a new undertaking,” said Jayne Harkins, who directs the commission. “We want to keep the hydropower here for the benefit of the state.”


Station Casinos, biofuels company apply to leave NV Energy. Station Casinos is the latest casino company looking to leave NV Energy and purchase power on the open market, according to an application it filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada last week. Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels, a California-based company constructing a biorefinery in Northern Nevada, also applied on Wednesday to leave the utility, according to a separate filing. The two companies join many power-intensive businesses, from Wynn Resorts to Switch, that have sought to part ways with the utility in the past three years. If its application is approved, Station Casinos, which owns 10 properties in Southern Nevada, will no longer get power from NV Energy after December, a blow to the state’s largest utility, which is fighting a ballot initiative to break apart its monopoly as the only power provider to most residents and businesses. Station Casinos and Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels informed the utility of their decisions to purchase power on the open market late last year. “We are pursuing exiting NV Energy as our provider of power as we believe this to be in our company’s best interest to purchase power from providers on the open market,” Lori Nelson, a spokeswoman for Station Casinos, said in a statement. “If approved by the PUC, we will continue to be in partnership with NV Energy as the distributor of our power supply.”


Everything you need to know about NV Energy’s solar proposal. What kind of event could bring together Nevada’s governor, lieutenant governor, a congressman, two gubernatorial candidates and dozens of Assembly and state Senate members? Far down the list of anyone’s guess would likely be the unveiling of NV Energy’s 2018 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a lengthy, data-heavy planning document the utility is required to submit to state regulators every three years detailing how it plans to meet future electric supply and demand. But members of Nevada’s political elite crowded the Springs Preserve last week to hear utility CEO Paul Caudill unveil details of the utility’s 2018 IRP, including six proposed agreements to develop six new photovoltaic solar farms throughout the state and several major battery storage projects, doubling the state’s renewable energy production by 2023. Unmentioned during the event but clearly present throughout the utility’s IRP filing was the specter of Question 3, a proposed constitutional amendment that would end NV Energy’s monopoly control of the state’s electric market and require the state set up and switch to a competitive retail market by 2023. NV Energy, which has donated millions of dollars to a PAC opposing the ballot question, states in the IRP application that the expansive planned move toward more renewable generation wouldn’t go forward if the ballot measure passes, as the amendment would prohibit the utility from owning generating stations or entering into power purchase contracts with outside firms.


Nevada voters can take the lead on renewable energy development. In 1997, Nevada became one of the first states in the U.S. to adopt a minimum requirement for green energy production. Today, however, other states have zoomed past us in setting such standards. In fact, Nevada’s requirement for 25 percent of our energy to come from renewable sources no longer ranks us in the top 10. We’re trailing New Jersey, of all places. New Jersey! So it’s commendable that a group known as Nevadans for Clean Future Energy has been working on an initiative to boost Nevada’s minimum to 50 percent by 2030. The group is circulating a petition that would put the initiative on a statewide ballot. Tuesday is the last day the group can collect signatures. Organizers say they’re confident the petition drive will be successful, which is good to hear. The initiative deserves a spot on the ballot.


Will this year’s PSC election represent a sea change for Georgia electricity oversight? This year’s elections for Georgia Public Service Commissioners are being roiled by the backlash over captive consumers shouldering the mushrooming costs of Southern’s Vogtle nuclear power plant expansion and demands that the state favor renewables over the old coal and nuclear standbys. The new commissioners the voters ultimately select could help cement the state’s move to solar energy, James Bruggers writes in Inside Climate News.

“Over the past five years, Georgia has become one of the nation’s leading states for solar power, but it didn’t get there in the usual way,” Bruggers writes. “It doesn’t offer tax credits, and the legislature has never created a state renewable portfolio standard requiring utilities to sell renewable energy. There is no net-metering law to let solar homes sell excess energy back to the grid at retail prices.”

Instead, Bruggers gives credit to “an early Trump supporter who leads the state’s Public Service Commission,” Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, who has encouraged Southern’s Georgia Power utility “to invest in clean energy by ensuring that solar is included in the utility’s long-term power plans, updated every three years. “McDonald could have more solar support joining him on the regulatory commission soon. Solar advocates expect a voter backlash this fall against the all-Republican, elected commission over a costly nuclear power plant expansion.”

Bruggers suggests that if voters “boot one or both of the PSC members on the ballot and replace them with pro-solar Democrats, that would solidify a solar-friendly block on the commission—likely leading to more utility-scale solar [and] potentially influenc[e] the General Assembly to take a fresh look at giving rooftop solar a boost.”

“The cost overruns have become an issue,” said University of Georgia political science professor Trey Hood. While it’s hard for any Democrat to win statewide office Georgia, “people can directly connect the dots” between the PSC and their power bills, he said.

“Georgia is at a clean energy crossroads,” said Jennette Gayer, state director of the group Environment Georgia. “We have the potential to continue to grow our clean-energy footprint. The question is, do we flatline or continue that upward trajectory.”

The commission doesn’t view its solar requirements as a type of mandate, Bruggers writes. “It’s an agreement between Georgia Power and the PSC,” said commission spokesman Bill Edge. There were no subsidies involved. Georgia Power has expanded its solar capacity through competitive bidding, helping to keep costs down, Edge said.

“It’s market driven,” McDonald said. The initiative was carried out as solar technology was advancing and prices for solar panels were falling, he said. “It was like a perfect storm.” With the cost of solar energy in Georgia dropping from 13 cents per kilowatt-hour to below 4 cents in the last five years, McDonald said he expected continued growth.

The gains of the last five years were made in part because people who are not normally political allies have worked together, or at least rowed their separate boats in the same direction, Bruggers writes.

“You respect each other’s differences and you understand everybody has a right to believe what they believe, and you focus on what you have in common,” said Tea Party activist Debby Dooley, who leads the Green Tea Coalition that includes environmental and clean-energy activists. “It’s all about the message,” she said. “Free market, competition, choice, expanding the energy portfolio and energy mix. I don’t want excessive regulations.”

Some lawmakers might be receptive to her arguments, Bruggers writes. But they’re monitoring the political winds and watching Plant Vogtle. “I wasn’t a big supporter of solar, but the economics have drastically changed,” said Republican State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler who has been critical of the nuclear plant spending. “He echoed Dooley in saying Plant Vogtle’s problems have voters looking for other energy choices and acknowledged he’s thinking about introducing legislation with implications for solar power,” Bruggers writes.

“I give a lot of credit to Bubba,” the Sierra Club’s Georgia Director Ted Terry said. “It’s just a good time to be in this space,” he said. “There is so much happening with this technology.”


Distributed energy seen as pathway to grid ‘resilience’ in Hawaii. The notion that solar plus storage technology plus intelligent local distribution services could short-circuit lengthy blackouts is appealing to many across the Hawaiian island archipelago, which is currently grappling with the system strain caused by unprecedented floods on Kauai and volcanic activity on the Big Island, Heather Clancy writes in GreenBiz.

“Our existing system is highly vulnerable,” Hawaii Public Utility Commissioner Jay Griffin said during a VERGE Hawaii session on the benefits of electrification, including transportation as well as heating and cooling. “The ability to fuel ourselves with electricity produced here — not just to have electricity but to fuel our transportation — that seems to me a much more resilient than the one we have today.”


Kansas newspaper editorializes against Westar rate increases. Advocacy groups are right to oppose rate hikes sought by Westar Energy, the state’s leading electricity provider, according to the Lawrence Journal-World editorial staff. “The Citizens Utility Ratepayer Board, or CURB, a state agency that represents consumers in utility rate cases, and staff members from the Kansas Corporation Commission filed testimony last week asking the KCC to reject Westar’s request for a $17.2 million rate increase. Instead, the groups believe Westar should cut rates for Kansas customers by anywhere from $69 million to $125 million,” the editorial notes.

“CURB’s evidence strongly supports the need to decrease rates for all Westar customers and we hope the KCC will adopt our recommendations in this rate case,” CURB consumer counsel David Nickel said in a statement. The editorial notes that both the KCC staff and CURB argued that Westar should not be allowed to recover costs associated with the Western Plains wind farm. “Westar acknowledges that this investment is not necessary to provide service to Westar’s customers,” Nickel said. “Therefore, CURB believes it unfair to saddle the ratepayer with the risk of the investment.”

In addition, both KCC staff and CURB are recommending smaller fees than Westar is proposing for customers who use solar panels and other self-generation systems, the editorial notes. “Westar argues the fees are needed for residents with their own solar because those customers still use the company’s power distribution grid but buy a lot less electricity. Westar’s rationale for the rate hikes is misguided. If the Western Plains wind farm couldn’t produce a return on investment without a customer rate hike, then Westar shouldn’t have made it. And it’s disheartening to see the company propose rate policies that punish those who have invested heavily in energy efficiency, such as homeowners who have installed solar panels.”


More electric industry news items of note:

Cyber security rules needed for pipelines: FERC commissioners. If you have turned on the news or picked up a paper lately, you have probably seen reports that foreign enemies are increasingly launching cyber-attacks on America’s critical infrastructure, including energy facilities. To address these threats, electric grid operators must comply with mandatory standards overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that protect against cyber and other attacks that threaten the reliability of our electric service. Natural gas pipelines are not subject to similar standards. But given the increasing threats we face, the time has come to establish them for natural gas pipelines.

Department of Energy announces $18.5 million for offshore wind research. The U.S. Department of Energy announced the selection of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to administer an $18.5 million offshore wind research and development consortium. The consortium is a cooperative innovation hub that will bring together industry, academia, government and other stakeholders to advance offshore wind plant technologies, develop innovative methods for wind resource and site characterization, and develop advanced technology solutions for installation, operation, maintenance, and supply chain. The overall goal of the consortium created by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is aimed at reducing the cost of offshore wind in the U.S. “There is enormous potential for offshore wind in the United States,” said Timothy Unruh, EERE’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power. “Through this consortium, DOE seeks to support fundamental research to accelerate the development of affordable offshore wind technologies.” With only one commercial offshore wind plant operating in the United States, further research is needed to address U.S.-specific conditions.

Fear-mongering by Calif. utilities won’t produce clean energy. As we expand consumer choice and accelerate our push toward community-based power and greener energy, it’s not surprising that investor-owned utilities are doing everything in their power to hold on to their monopolies in California. As they do, an unholy alliance of corporate executives and some state bureaucrats have resorted to scare tactics and dragging their heels when it comes to democratizing our electrical grid. That fear-mongering was front and center in a recent Viewpoints article by San Diego Chamber President Jerry Sanders (“Community choice is not delivering on clean energy,” June 5). While not surprising, given that the chamber’s board includes executives from the local utility, San Diego Gas and Electric, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest we are on the brink of another electricity crisis. Sanders is simply parroting a line from corporate utilities. Unfortunately, we have seen the lengths to which investor-owned utilities will go to keep their market share and protect their profits. In 2006, they spent more than $40 million on a failed statewide ballot initiative to make it more difficult for communities to create local alternatives.

Valley Clean Energy buying power from Calif. flood control district. Valley Clean Energy, the new Community Choice Energy provider for the cities of Woodland, Davis, and unincorporated Yolo County, began receiving deliveries of energy on June 1, from the Indian Valley Hydro Project. The announcement was made during the kick-off of the new energy program in Davis on June 1, however, the announcement on Thursday offered more specifics. The Indian Valley Hydro Project is a 3 megawatt local renewable small hydroelectric project located at the Indian Valley Reservoir on the east slope of the Coastal Range.

Stanford researcher says $776.5M for electric transportation may burn utility customers. As the director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford, Michael Wara wants to see the transportation system in California shift to electric vehicles (EVs) as quickly as possible. But he thinks the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) made a mistake when it directed the state’s big three investor-owned utilities to develop and construct EV infrastructure projects to the tune of more than $775 million. Wara’s concern? That the commitment comes when there is still uncertainty about how much financial responsibility utilities bear in the aftermath of deadly wildfires, such as the blazes that ripped through large areas of Northern and Southern California last fall, and what that could mean for ratepayers’ monthly power bills. “I think we’re looking at really punishing rate increases for customers, associated with paying for that liability” that could run into the billions, Wara said. A spokeswoman for the CPUC defended the unanimous vote cast May 31, saying the five commissioners cut the original EV proposals by $200 million and eliminated the ability of utilities to make a profit on some of the infrastructure investments. “The CPUC cannot stop moving forward with clean energy policy while we wait what could be multiple years before we know the range of financial impacts from the wildfires. Instead we need to move forward with sound clean energy policy and readjust those decisions if needed later based on future facts.”

Why solar mandate will add to California’s high cost of housing. The solar mandate is an extreme tool for energy and environmental regulation far beyond tax incentives, education programs, and renewable standards for utilities. The mandate eliminates consumer choice and assumes only one option on all new homes with very limited exception. This is not a question of solar being a viable energy source. Utilizing sunshine is one of several promising alternative sources for “green” energy. Residential rooftop solar has a role to provide but far from the most cost effective or efficient option. Still developing and somewhat unreliable, solar panels imposed on not just some but every new home is a redistribution of costs forced on everyone.

Putting a price on carbon gains momentum in Mass. Senate approves legislation, National Grid lends its support. Massachusetts moved closer to embracing an economy-wide price on carbon, as the Senate approved an energy bill with a “market-based compliance mechanism” and one of New England’s largest utilities said the pricing carbon is needed if the region is going to have a chance of meeting its greenhouse gas emission targets. The Senate on Thursday passed legislation authorizing what is essentially carbon pricing but called it a “market-based compliance mechanism” instead. Massachusetts, as part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, already puts a price on carbon in electricity generation, but the Senate bill would extend that approach to the rest of the economy, including transportation. The measure now goes to the House, where its prospects are uncertain. Putting a price on carbon got a big boost when National Grid, one of New England’s largest utilities, called for putting an economy-wide price on carbon and rapid electrification of the transportation sector. The utility said both initiatives, as well as a host of others, are needed if the region is going to have a chance of meeting its carbon emission goals for 2030 and 2050. In a white paper released Friday (click through here), the utility said the Northeast is currently not on track to achieve either of the consensus emissions targets – a 40 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Atlantic City Electric seeks rate increase to recoup costs of grid modernization. If BPU signs off on $99.7M filing, residential customers of Atlantic City Electric would see average monthly bill climb by about $11. Atlantic City Electric is asking New Jersey regulators to approve a new rate request in which the utility is seeking to recover $99.7 million in costs to modernize its electric power grid. The request, filed to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities on Friday, aims to recoup costs incurred repairing its system from major storms and other expenses related to increasing the reliability of its grid. The filing is the latest among New Jersey’s electric utilities responding to directives from state regulators to modernize their delivery systems and reduce long outages experienced by customers, especially in the wake of damaging storms.

N.J. police warn of phone scam targeting Atlantic City Electric customers. Cape May Police issued a warning Saturday to residents about a phone scam targeting Atlantic City Electric customers. In a warning posted on the Cape May Police Facebook page, the department said they have been receiving many calls about the scam. The post tells potential victims not to provide any information to the caller. “Remember that utilities or the IRS will not have you pay a bill with pre-loaded credit cards. If you believe the call may be legitimate, find a phone number on a past bill and call the company back,” the post states.

Solar is about to get much more popular in Illinois. For years, developing solar was expensive, but prices have been falling rapidly. said Anthony Star, director of the Illinois Power Agency, an independent state agency that develops electricity procurement plans. “The future for solar looks good,” Star said.

Electricity promotional deals aren’t just a Texas thing. Texans aren’t the only ones bombarded by free nights and weekend deals for electricity. Retail electricity sellers are becoming more commonplace around the nation, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy. Competitive power marketers —the electricity sellers that offer $500 gift cards, free thermometers and other gimmicks to encourage consumers to sign up —supplied about 21 percent of the nation’s retail electricity in 2016, nearly double the amount from a decade earlier. At the same time the share of electricity sales from regulated investor-owned utilities dipped to 52 percent in 2016 compared to 62 percent in 2005. In Texas, 66 percent of electricity is supplied by power marketing companies, according to the Energy Department. Only two others states get more of their electricity from the competitive power market including No. 1 Massachusetts at 89 percent and No. 2 Connecticut at 70 percent.

How we could bring ‘Independence Day’ to Pueblo, Colo., ratepayers. Since Pueblo’s Electric Utility Commission currently is studying the options for leaving Black Hills Energy, it behooves Puebloans to take a close look at the world of public power. Nationwide, the American Public Power Association reports that more than 2,000 munis serve 45 million people, or about 15 percent of the nation’s electricity customers. A number of large cities — including Seattle, Orlando, Fla., San Antonio, Los Angeles and Sacramento, Calif., — have munis. On two fronts — lower energy bills and higher reliability — munis are the clear-cut winners, both nationally and locally. Nationwide, energy bills for muni customers average 13 percent lower than investor-owned utilities. Outage time, the best measure of reliability, is roughly an hour per year per customer for munis compared to about two hours for IOUs, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. Here in Colorado, munis charge rates that average roughly 10 percent lower than IOUs. Most muni customers pay bills that are considerably lower than those we pay Black Hills, which is an IOU. Very few of the state’s munis own power generating plants. Instead, they either buy their power through long-term contracts with power authorities or from wholesaler suppliers on the open market. Our grass-roots group, Pueblo’s Energy Future, stresses that the key step moving forward is for Pueblo to gain local control of its own electricity operations.

Cryptocurrency miners continue to power up In Massena, N.Y. Cryptocurrency miners continue to build in Massena. Cheap electricity is the key to hunting for Bitcoin. Thousands of small computers whir away, each sucking enough electricity to power an average home. Coinmint plans to spend big money to install even more at the former Alcoa East smelter. “Somewhere around $700 million will be the total invested here and our goal is to get that done over the next 12 months here,” chief technology officer Prieur Leary said.

Montana delays bitcoin mining ban, further crypto electricity cost inquiries necessary. Bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining activities have been expanding all over the world, and many places have decided to ban these activities. The truth is they consume important amount of energy that could be used for villages, towns or industrial parks. A Montana county has decided to delay its decision about banning bitcoin mining activities because they say they do not understand how it works and the impact it can have in the long term. Jean Curtiss, commissioner of the Missoula County Commission explained that they couldn’t decide what to do with mining activities, after a two-hour hearing on June the 14th. Proponents and opponents of crypto mining activities exposed their views and opinions on how to better regulate the industry. The commission had to cast a vote on a proposed ban to cryptocurrency mining activities in the region. But the decision has been delayed until August. The county said that they need more time to review details before taking a decision. “We all understand that we don’t understand. We don’t know all the impacts in the future or the long game,” Curtiss said.

Bitcoin mining craze bypasses Oregon. One penny. Or, if you prefer, 0.000001 bitcoin. That tiny amount is the reason a cryptocurrency “mining” craze that upended small communities in Washington state has passed over Oregon. Oregon’s electric rates are cheap by national standards but not compared to Washington’s best prices, which are typically lower by 1 cent per kilowatt hour. That doesn’t sound like a lot of money but it is in the world of bitcoin, a digital currency generated by power-hungry computers.

Bitcoin price to reach $60,000 in 2018. Phillip Nunn, CEO of The Blackmore Group and Wealth Chain Group, piqued the interest of the cryptocurrency and investing communities in January of this year when he made a prediction that the price of Bitcoin, in the year of 2018, would reach a bottom of $6,000 and a high of $60,000. At the time of the prediction, the price of Bitcoin had pulled back a large percentage of its run-up to an all-time high in mid-December of almost $20,000 and was sitting at just over $10,000. The first half of Nunn’s prediction came true in the first week of February when the price of Bitcoin briefly fell below $6000. Now, many are becoming skeptical that Bitcoin will be able to return to its $20,000 all-time high in 2018, let alone come anywhere close to $60,000. Nunn remains confident, however, citing his unwavering belief in the underlying blockchain technology as the vehicle that will take Bitcoin and others to new highs in the coming years.

Bitcoin could break the internet, central bank overseer says. The Bank for International Settlements just told the cryptocurrency world it’s not ready for prime time — and as far as mainstream financial services go, may never be. In a withering 24-page article (click through here) released Sunday as part of its annual economic report, the BIS said Bitcoin and its ilk suffered from “a range of shortcomings” that would prevent cryptocurrencies from ever fulfilling the lofty expectations that prompted an explosion of interest — and investment — in the would-be asset class. The BIS, an 88-year-old institution in Basel, Switzerland, that serves as a central bank for other central banks, said cryptocurrencies are too unstable, consume too much electricity, and are subject to too much manipulation and fraud to ever serve as bona fide mediums of exchange in the global economy. It cited the decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies — Bitcoin and its imitators are created, transacted, and accounted for on a distributed network of computers — as a fundamental flaw rather than a key strength.

A Reckoning for Power Giants: Siemens May Sell Its Gas Turbine Business. The world has changed. “I think that the whole industry has significantly been underestimating the rise of renewable energy.” That golden age of gas predicted by the International Energy Agency isn’t really materializing for the world’s biggest turbine makers. Faced with a decline in demand for new gas power units, Siemens is now considering the sale of its turbine business. Bloomberg originally reported the news. This follows GE’s decision to cut 12,000 jobs in its power generation business. The power giant is also reportedly considering a buyer for its multibillion-dollar gas engine business. Renewables now make up the majority of investment in new power generation, far outpacing spending on fossil fuels. This year could be one of the toughest for gas turbine makers in over a decade. According to figures from the U.N. and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, renewables (excluding large hydro) accounted for 157 gigawatts of electricity capacity additions last year, while fossil fuels only accounted for 70 gigawatts. The global gas power market actually lost 12 gigawatts of net capacity in 2017, as retiring plants outpaced new ones. “I think that the whole industry has significantly been underestimating the rise of renewable energy,” said Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser.

Sizing up Tesla’s $10 billion debt stack. Electric-car maker has borrowed heavily to fund its big aspirations. Tesla Inc. is growing faster than any other auto maker—just not always in ways stockholders would want. The company’s debt has surged just as fast as sales, while profits remain elusive. The electric-car maker booked a record $11.8 billion in revenues last year, as it began to launch its highly anticipated Model 3 sedan, up nearly sixfold from 2013. That growth has led stock investors to bless Tesla with a $57 billion market value, which rivals much larger companies like Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. CEO Elon Musk predicted last week that production of the Model 3 would hit 5,000 cars a week in June and the company would start generating cash flow in the third quarter. Tesla’s cash bleed has accelerated since the Model 3 rolled out last year. But Tesla has also taken on more than $10 billion of debt to make up for manufacturing problems—and to recapitalize Mr. Musk’s home-solar company SolarCity—and $1.25 billion falls due next year. That makes Tesla’s fight to generate profits much more urgent than some shareholders might realize. Mr. Musk said Tuesday that the company would cut about 9% of its workforce to save money.

Kia is planning to take electric cars to India in 2019. The South Korea-based automaker Kia is planning to introduce electric cars to India towards the end of 2019. According to the company, a 1 billion dollar green car plant is coming up in southern India to manufacture the electric vehicle. Kia doesn’t currently have any of their cars in the Indian market. It’s a huge move to decide to start with an EV.

Smart grid will allow 170 UPS electric trucks to charge without costly upgrades. UPS’s London fleet of electric delivery vans increased from 65 to 170 without an expensive upgrade to the power supply grid. Because simultaneous charging of so many vehicles exceeds the site’s capabilities, UPS decided for a smart grid management (sounds like delayed charging to us) combined with an energy storage system. UPS, which uses more than 300 electric and more than 700 hybrid vehicles, recently ordered 125 Tesla Semis. There are no technical details about the project, but an additional 100 EVs easily could demand hundreds of kW if not a MW of additional power depending on the on-board chargers. For now, the supplier, UK Power Networks Services, uses new lithium-ion batteries, but in the future used, second-life batteries from vehicles are envisioned.

Disputed power tariff regime in Norway may trigger battery storage market. A proposed capacity-based power tariff in Norway that will make it expensive for subscribers to overconsume electricity could trigger demand for battery storage, the country’s water resources and energy regulator (NVE) told Reuters. The new tariff, proposed by NVE and due to take effect from Jan. 1, 2021, is designed to replace the current volumetric regime, as under the current system consumers have more capacity available than they actually use, making network investments inefficient, said NVE. Under the new system, consumers may turn to energy storage solutions rather than pay the heavy premiums if their energy needs exceed their preset levels, helping develop Norway’s relatively small battery market.

Norway looks to build its first offshore floating wind farms. Norway’s Petroleum and Energy Minister Terje Søviknes will meet next week with companies and other stakeholders to discuss the potential construction of offshore floating wind farms in Norwegian waters, Søviknes told Reuters on Friday. “Wednesday next week I will have a meeting with different stakeholders in offshore wind and discuss both the opening process and the regulatory framework,” the minister said, adding that he hoped the parties could come up with a proposal by the fall.

Kansai Electric’s nuclear power plants not impacted by Osaka quake. Kansai Electric’s nuclear, thermal and hydro power plants had not been impacted by the strong earthquake that hit the city of Osaka in western Japan on Monday morning, the utility said.

British reliance on French energy increases by more than quarter. The UK’s reliance on importing French power to keep the lights on has increased by almost a quarter this year in further evidence of Britain’s energy cost crunch. Energy prices in Britain are now around a fifth higher than they were this time last year on the wholesale market. Meanwhile, across the Channel, nuclear power plants have flooded France with cheap electricity which is being sold at a tidy profit to struggling British suppliers. “French nuclear plants have been far more reliable this year to date than last year,” said Jamie Stewart, the ICIS Energy analyst, “which has kept a firm lid on French power prices.”

Brexit: What leaving the EU internal energy market would mean. Pricier power, interconnector issues, and renewables requirements. With Parliament’s decision to reject continued membership of the European Economic Area after Brexit, the UK looks increasingly likely to also leave Europe’s internal energy market. If that happens, electricity bills will probably rise and vital planned power capacity may be threatened.

From Norway to Portugal: Europe’s largest intraday power market is on. The new market, called Cross-Border Intraday or XBID, came online after years of development and testing and is a collaboration between a number of power exchanges and transmission system operators across Europe. Europe’s largest intraday power market, launched on Tuesday to trade electricity between 14 countries, has had a smooth start and offers traders better access to energy resources and volumes, Norway’s Statnett power grid told Reuters. The new market, called Cross-Border Intraday or XBID, came online after years of development and testing and is collaboration between a number of power exchanges and transmission system operators across Europe. “In principle, trades can be made directly from Portugal to Norway, if transmission capacities are available. Increasing the market allows for more trading and better access to resources for doing that,” Statnett’s spokesman Henrik Glette said. XBID allows electricity trading between Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden, and more countries are due to join it in 2019. “The first days have shown positive results, and the system has performed well … This is a major step towards an integrated European power market,” said Glette.

Australian gov’t weighs intervention in retail energy price-setting. The Australian government is considering imposing caps on energy prices for retail customers as power prices have skyrocketed over the last several months. This has led to a massive erosion of trust in the nation’s largest energy companies. Confidence in the industry is now even lower than in the banking system and in telecommunication services providers. Australian Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said he would impose retail price controls on private-sector energy companies unless they take steps to lower electricity costs for their customers. The government is concerned that rising power prices could impair consumer sentiment and purchasing power, which could, in turn, cost Australia’s GDP several percentage pints. “We need to see prices come down more,” Frydenberg stressed. “Prices have moved, but certainly it’s not enough. We want to see prices come down more and we’re confident that will be the case.”

Energy retailers commit to change as Frydenberg puts them on notice. Australia’s electricity retailers have acknowledged the industry must change to restore trust with the community as Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg warned the government could introduce tougher laws to protect consumers.


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Today’s lede: Critics say electricity customers shouldn’t get the bill for utility mistakes. Whether wildfires in California, or failed nuclear investment in South Carolina, electricity consumers often are on the hook for utility mistakes, Ivan Penn reports in the New York Times.

Penn, who recently left the L.A. Times for the New York Times, focuses much of his report on the ongoing debate in California over utility liability for the catastrophic and deadly wildfires last year in the state’s wine country caused by downed utility wires, but he also cites the South Carolina nuclear development debacle, Duke’s seeking to saddle its North Carolina customers with the costs of its coal ash environmental mess, and Florida utilities’ failed investment hedge on natural gas for which the state’s utility regulators allowed  $6.5 billion in losses to be reimbursed by customers, not shareholders. He somehow fails to mention the costs Florida customers absorbed for aborted nuclear development in Florida and Southern’s failed clean-coal development at the Kemper facility in Mississippi.

“Every other business in America, if they make bad decisions, they go out of business,” said Steve Campora, a lawyer representing California wildfire victims. “For some reason, there’s this notion that the utilities ought to be propped up.”

“They just kept doing it and kept losing,” Charles Rehwinkel, the Florida Legislature’s deputy public counsel, said of the 15-year-long losing bet the state’s utilities made as fracked gas sent prices tumbling. “There was a seismic change in the price of natural gas and they just kept losing money,” he told Penn. “Once they start it, they can’t stop. It’s more addictive than crack.”

The piece offers terrific insight into the ongoing debate over wildfire liability for utilities in California.

See also:

Nuclear power won’t Survive without a government handout. Once upon a time, if you were an American who didn’t like nuclear energy, you had to stage sit-ins and marches and chain yourself to various inanimate objects in hopes of closing the nation’s nuclear power plants. Today … all you have to do is sit back and wait.  “Is [nuclear power] dying under its own weight? Yeah, probably,” said Granger Morgan, professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. Morgan isn’t pleased by this situation. He sees nuclear energy as a crucial part of our ability to reduce the risks of climate change because it is our single largest source of carbon emissions-free electricity.


Walmart reportedly receives patent for cryptocurrency-based electricity system. Walmart, long an advocate for open competition in electricity markets, has been awarded a patent for a cryptocurrency-based system designed to help consumers better optimize energy usage by household appliances and other devices, CCN (formerly Crypto Coins News) reports.

“According to the patent, residential homes or even large, multisite organizations could use a blockchain or another type of distributed ledger to build a network of energy-consuming devices. They could then assign each device a set amount of bitcoin or another cryptocurrency, which it could use to purchase energy from the utility provider over a set billing period, such as one month,” the publication reported.

“Each unit of cryptocurrency may represent a unit or a portion of a unit of energy,” the patent said, adding that the “cryptocurrency may be a bitcoin, an altcoin, or a derivative of a bitcoin, or any digital currency.”

If an individual device exceeded its allocation of cryptocurrency, another device on the network could share its funds with the first device to ensure that it continues to function during the billing period. However, these transactions — which would be recorded on a distributed ledger — would also demonstrate to device owners that a particular device is consuming more energy than it should, the publication said.

“Currently, energy providers deliver energy to locations that inefficiently use the energy, which leads to increased energy costs for consumers,” Walmart’s patent explains. “The increased costs result from various appliances and devices that consume energy at higher levels than the appliance or device may actually need to function or perform certain tasks. Smart appliances and devices are now available to consumers that can operate more energy efficiently, but still consume more energy than needed or economically practical.”

Walmart is not the first company to design a system that uses cryptocurrency technology to manage the efficiency of an electrical grid, CCN notes, citing the Australia-based startup Power Ledger, which is building a platform that allows users to buy and sell solar electricity in real time.

See also:

William Shatner wants bitcoin miners to boldly go to this solar-powered mining facility in Illinois. In Captain Kirk’s universe, starships fly around at the speed of light and can effortlessly beam people from one place to another thanks to scientific advances that let humanity produce massive amounts of energy. Fictional or not, that type of technology could be useful for bitcoin. Unlimited energy would solve one of bitcoin’s major issues: The enormous amounts of electricity required to produce new pieces of the popular virtual currency, which can only be created using immense computing power. Of course, we’re a long way from mastering matter-antimatter reactions. But one company is pushing to make bitcoin mining a bit more sustainable — and William Shatner is among those at the helm. Shatner is a spokesman for Solar Alliance, a Canada-based solar energy company that on Wednesday said it had acquired a 165,000 square-foot warehouse in Illinois. Its plan? To equip the warehouse with a 3-megawatt solar panel array and rent the space to bitcoin miners. Based in Murphysboro, Ill., the solar array would aim to reduce the amount of electricity that the bitcoin farm must pull from other sources, such as the regular electricity grid. “As an advocate for solar energy, I was intrigued by the potential for it to power cryptocurrency mining operations,” Shatner said Wednesday in a release.


Publication cites unnamed sources to predict Sununu will veto subsidies for biomass generation. Michael Graham, writing in the publication NHJournal, cites anonymous sources to report that New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has decided to veto pending legislation providing consumer subsidies for home state biomass energy producers. Sununu recently issued a state energy plan in which lowering the state’s electricity costs is a top priority (click through here).

Graham cites “multiple sources” close to the governor as confirming Sununu will veto at least one – maybe two – of a trio of bills recently approved by state lawmakers to require consumers to prop up biomass-fueled electricity production, a key constituency in a state with a struggling forestry industry.

Senate Bill 365 would require utilities to pay above-market rates to the state’s six biomass power plants, and other small-scale renewable facilities like hydroelectric dams, the cost of which is passed along to consumers in their electric bills. Senate Bill 446 would expand the state’s net metering program and allow biomass power plants to participate in the program that typically pays homeowners for rooftop solar generation at above-market rates. And Senate Bill 577 would extend a mandate for Eversource to purchase output from the Burgess Biopower plant in Berlin at above-market rates.

“The one bill all but certain to escape a veto is SB 577, which protects some $30 million in ratepayer subsidies to the politically-protected Burgess Biomass plant in Berlin,” Graham writes.

“If the governor vetoed all three bills, that would be a huge win for New Hampshire ratepayers,” Marc Brown of the New England Ratepayers Association told NHJournal. “It would save customers about $60 million a year.”

“This is an issue about jobs in the North Country,” said state senator Bob Giuda (R-Warren) during a floor debate.  “We don’t need oil from Iraq or natural gas from Texas,” he said. “The wood is ours.”

See also:

NIMBY strikes N.H. again as another green energy project is blocked. So exactly how do the people of New Hampshire plan to get their power? Currently anti-pipeline activists like the folks at Echo Action are trying to block any expansion of natural gas into the Granite State. And yesterday the people of Concord packed a zoning board meeting to ensure that a large-scale solar project was blocked from their community. It worked–the city shot it down in a 4-1 vote. From the Northern Pass project that would have brought green-generated electricity from Canada to New England, to the Spruce Ridge Wind project in Grafton, New Hampshire activists and NIMBY neighbors are blocking the growth of New Hampshire’s energy infrastructure. As the state’s economy continues to boom, so will its energy needs. What’s the plan?


Plunging solar costs make off-the-grid farming more attractive. As on-farm solar becomes more competitive with retail electricity, solar panels may be a common sight across U.S. farm fields and livestock operations, according to CoBank, a national cooperative bank providing loans, leases, export financing and other financial services to agribusinesses and rural power across the country.

“As sure as the sun rises, the price of solar will fall,” said Taylor Gunn, CoBank lead economist. “The U.S. farm economy is currently at the bottom of a business cycle, which has slowed the adoption of on-farm solar generation. But when markets reverse, we expect interest in on-farm solar to increase.”

A new report from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange Division predicts that solar energy use will accelerate among ag producers when the cost of installing and operating distributed solar energy systems is the same or less than commercial electricity rates. This rate convergence is known as “grid parity.” Grid parity is based on the levelized cost of energy (LCOE), which calculates the cost of building and operating a solar generation system. “In most states, grid parity for on-farm solar will likely occur by 2025 to 2030, and could happen even sooner in areas with strong solar resources,” Gunn said. “State-level net metering policies will continue to spur growth of on-farm solar.”


‘Idaho First’ – state regulators hear concerns about foreign ownership of Avista. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission was greeted by “a polite but skeptical crowd” questioning how the proposed $5.3 billion acquisition of Avista by Toronto-based Hydro One will benefit Idaho ratepayers, Becky Kramer reports in the Spokesman-Review.

“As an American citizen, I don’t think it’s good to have American infrastructure owned by a foreign entity,” said Summer Bushnell, a Post Falls resident. Glenn Bledsoe of Rathdrum advocated for “Idaho First, America First. Keep foreign interests out of our utilities.”

About 75 people attended the 2 1/2 hour hearing in Coeur d’Alene. It was the last of three hearings held by the Public Utilities Commission, which must give its approval to the sale, Kramer reports. “Speakers brought up Canada’s signature on the Paris Climate Accord and tensions between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over trade,” she writes.

Kramer noted the recent Ontario elections, where populist leader Doug Ford won a majority, was part of Hayden resident Larry Spencer’s testimony. The government of Ontario owns a 45 percent stake in Hydro One, and Ford has threatened to fire the chief executive officer and replace the utility’s board of directors. “It’s subject to not just capitalism, but politics,” Spencer told the commission. “Tumultuous dealings with Hydro One are not new. I’m concerned that they’ll be picking Avista’s board of directors.”


Other electric industry news items of note:

SEIA welcomes Mass. senate passage of clean energy bill, urges state house to follow. The Solar Energy Industries Association welcomed the Massachusetts Senate’s passage of a clean energy bill that will help bring solar jobs back to the state, and urged the state House to pass the solar elements of the proposal. The bill (Senate Bill 2545) eliminates caps on net metering, increases the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard by an additional three percent each year, and reverses the Department of Public Utilities’ decision allowing the utility Eversource to charge its solar consumers extra fees. “This bill fixes policies that have caused one of Massachusetts’ strongest industries to shed jobs and stifle businesses and consumers who want to go solar,” said Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs. “We commend the state Senate for advancing this legislation, and we urge the House to do its part. By taking up key parts of this bill, the House can help bring thousands of solar jobs back to the Bay State, unlock millions of dollars of investment currently in limbo, and prevent consumers from being charged discriminatory fees when they embrace solar and other renewables.” SEIA’s latest Solar Market Insight report, released Tuesday (June 12), shows Massachusetts is projected to see a drop in solar installations this year. The state lost 3,000 solar jobs from 2016 to 2017, a 21 percent reduction. Because of the state’s net metering caps, many projects are stalled, causing companies to shift their capital elsewhere in the Northeast. Senate Bill 2545 fixes many of these issues and will help return Massachusetts to its spot as one of the U.S.’s solar leaders.

Massachusetts utilities sign deal key to CMP power line project through Maine. Massachusetts utilities signed an agreement Thursday to bring hydropower from Quebec through Maine via a new 145-mile transmission corridor. The agreement is a necessary step for Central Maine Power Co.’s New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project. The Augusta-based company wants to build a transmission corridor to bring renewable power from Hydro-Quebec to markets in Massachusetts, where regulators have adopted strict clean-energy goals. Key to that proposal is the agreement with Massachusetts electric distribution companies to buy the power at a rate that makes the project financially feasible. “The conclusion of these negotiations marks a significant step forward for the NECEC and the people of Maine, who will realize lasting economic benefits from this initiative, including new job creation and targeted investments such as expanded broadband access in western Maine,” Douglas Herling, CMP president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. The distribution companies will now seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities for the 20-year power contracts. The $950 million project is controversial in Maine, where environmentalists and others warn of natural vistas ruined by the sight of high-power transmission lines, especially around the Kennebec River Gorge, over which the corridor is expected to pass.  NECEC will need several government permits in Maine, environmental reviews by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and international border crossing authority from the State Department.


Firm studies impact of rate cuts on SCE&G, avoids bankruptcy question. A long-awaited report about the financial ramifications of rate cuts for South Carolina Electric & Gas ducks a key question that regulators have been asking: Would the lost revenue force the embattled utility to file for bankruptcy protection? The answer isn’t clear cut, according to a new analysis by the accounting firm Baker Tilly. Bankruptcy is a legal process driven by business decisions, so SCE&G’s finances alone don’t dictate its future, the firm said in a report filed Tuesday with state regulators. If the utility isn’t allowed to collect $37 million a month for its failed nuclear project, Baker Tilley says it can’t predict what would happen because bankruptcy isn’t “always the result of recording accounting entries.” That takeaway mirrors a previous analysis commissioned by the Office of Regulatory Staff, the state’s utility watchdog agency. That study, written by one of South Carolina’s top bankruptcy lawyers, predicted a one-in-three chance of SCE&G filing for bankruptcy protection. SCE&G has testified that bankruptcy is a real option because it took on billions in debt to finance the construction of two reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station north of Columbia. And it has argued that one-in-three odds represent a big gamble for one of the state’s biggest utilities. The Baker Tilly report shed some light on the financial trouble that could follow a forced rate cut. If SCE&G was forced to stop charging ratepayers for the reactors and refund the money they’ve already paid, the company would be worth less than the debt it owes.

Responding to retail power marketer growth trends. Looking back at recent signs that retail switching has been leveling off; looking forward to how municipal, cooperative and investor-owned utilities will be responding to the growth of retail power marketers. In this column back in October 2016, I highlighted how the $57 billion in annual electricity sales revenue for retail power marketers had surpassed the sales figure for municipal utilities ($56 billion). (See “How Mature Are We in Engaging Customers in New Ways?”)  How well are retail power marketers continuing to nip at the heels of the #1 position still held by investor-owned utilities? While a June 12, 2018, analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that some of retailers’ earlier growth trend is continuing, there are additional indications that the median level of retail switching has been leveling off despite the fact that competitive power marketers continue to increase their share of U.S. retail electricity sales in some states. There are many questions to consider, the answers for which vary as a function of which state is under consideration, since rules in state-by-state markets vary, and retail power marketers have market share in so many states.  States where power marketers have a strong presence and/or where retail choice has been offered include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin. At the forefront of concerns to incumbent “pipes and wires” utilities is the question of what happens to the typical customer’s view of the utility that traditionally provided them transmission and distribution of electricity service, when that customer no longer has direct interactions with them except during outage-related calls.

Michigan’s largest utility to propose virtual power plants and renewables in IRP. Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest utility, plans to unveil an integrated resource plan (IRP) this week that elevates virtual power plants as a means to meet new energy needs. Virtual power plants aggregate distributed energy resources and orchestrate their operation via a central control system. Virtual power plants use distributed energy resources, controlled by a central authority. Due to the Michigan Public Service Commission June 15, the IRP calls for virtual power plants in the form of demand response, energy efficiency, and grid modernization tools. Consumers Energy expects the virtual power plants to reduce energy demand 22 percent by 2040. While the proposal increases distributed and renewable energy resources, it calls for shutting down two of the utility’s centralized coal-fired units at the Karn Generating Complex near Bay City in 2023. The increase in clean energy is part of the a broader company strategy to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent and eliminate the use of coal to generate electricity by 2040. “Our vision considers people, the planet and the prosperity of our state and the communities we serve. This IRP will help guide key decisions in the coming years to make us a cleaner, leaner company for the Great Lakes State,” said Patti Poppe, president and CEO of Consumers Energy and CMS Energy. “This is a pivotal moment in our company’s long, proud history — and this plan charts a course for us all to embrace the opportunities and meet the challenges of a new era.”

Kane County, Il., signs new electricity deal for unincorporated areas. Keeping the lights on will get a little cheaper for some Kane County residents starting in August. County officials signed a new, two-year deal with southern Illinois-based Dynegy Energy Services, LLC to be the new, non-ComEd electricity supplier for unincorporated residents. The savings come as part of the electric aggregation program created three years ago. The initial contract was also with Dynegy. It resulted in about $301,000 in savings for residents and businesses who stayed in the program for the entire two years. Last year, Baltimore-based Constellation NewEnergy, Inc., agreed to a one-year deal with the county. That deal resulted in cheaper electricity for residents compared to ComEd, but the margin was not as significant. Residents saved an average of about $40.44 on their annual bills. The new deal, which reunites Kane County with Dynegy via a competitive bid, will see rates expected to shave $95 off the average electric bill in the first year alone. That saving comes thanks to a 7.026 cents per kilowatt hour rate. That’s less than the 7.08 cents residents in the program pay now. And it’s much less than the 7.75 cents ComEd started charging June 1. There’s also a new option for residents willing to pay more for green energy.

Conn. regulator assesses $250,000 civil penalty against retail supplier. The Connecticut PURA adopted a final decision in which PURA determined that Choice Energy, LLC failed to comply with state law when it abruptly discontinued its contractual savings guarantee with 17,630 existing customers. PURA also cited state law violations related to the suppliers’ use of the undefined and misleading term “effective rate” in its guarantee for 30,271 new and existing customers, and in providing an allegedly misleading description of the price to compare in its savings guarantee issued to 17,630 customers when it switched to 100% green energy in 2012. For the alleged violations PURA assessed civil penalties totaling $250,000. Choice Energy provided a statement to expressing its disappointment with PURA’s action and calling the “extraordinarily high fines” unwarranted and inappropriate. “The matters in question dated back to early 2013 and before. Choice Energy fully cooperated with CT PURA’s investigation at all times since the docket was opened in July 2014. Choice Energy prides itself of our track record in transparency with our proactive use of a Schumer-box like disclosure well before it was even raised by the Authority for consideration as a requirement,” the company said. “Choice Energy management has decided not to further contest the fine in the interest of continued good working relationship with CT PURA and being able to refocus 100 percent of management’s attention on customer service going forward.”

Texas muni to install ‘smart meters’ in 2019. The Lubbock City Council and Lubbock Power & Light Electric Utility Board approved the implementation of advanced meters for LP&L electric customers in Lubbock. Today’s City Council vote follows action taken by the Electric Utility Board on May 29, 2018, approving a contract with Itron, an industry leader in advanced metering for utilities and cities. “LP&L is committed to upgrading our system and investing in modern technology,” said LP&L Electric Utility Board Chairman Greg Taylor. “The metering technology currently employed by LP&L passed its relevant life decades ago. With the implementation of advanced meters, LP&L will be joining the vast majority of our fellow Texas utilities in providing our customers more information and control over their energy usage.”

Central Hudson rate hikes OK’d by New York PSC. The state Public Service Commission on Thursday approved a Central Hudson proposal that raises customers’ usage rates but reduces the monthly fixed rate that customers pay for electricity. Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian noted the new usage rates are lower the utility initially requested. Under the three-year plan approved by the Public Service Commission, usage rates for electricity will rise by 1 percent the first year, 2.8 percent the second year and 4 percent the third year. Natural gas usage rates will rise 1.5 percent the first year, 3.6 percent the second year and 4.4 percent the third year. The fixed month rate for electricity, currently $24, will drop by $3 the first year, another $1 the second year and another 50 cents the third year. “We think that the approval of this rate request is good for Central Hudson and for customers because it allows us to continue to make the needed investments in our electric and natural gas systems,” Maserjian said. “It expands energy-efficiency programs and allows us to adopt and implement new technologies that will improve the efficiency of the energy delivery system … and reduce environmental impacts.”

Pennsylvania PUC issues split decision on Sunoco’s Mariner East pipelines. The company can resume transporting fuels in one pipeline, the state public utility commission rules, but works remains halted on two others. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Thursday reversed an administrative law judge’s order and allowed Sunoco Pipeline L.P. to resume transporting liquid fuels through a pipeline but upheld a halt to construction on two other pipelines. In May, PUC Judge Elizabeth Barnes said Sunoco failed to take reasonable steps to warn people and protect them from danger and ordered the company to stop work on the Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2X pipelines in Chester County’s West Whiteland Township and halt the use of Mariner East 1 pipeline to transport liquid fuels through the area. Thursday’s action, which came on a 3-2 vote, continues an injunction against construction of Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2X until lifted by the PUC, while authorizing the resumption of operations on the Mariner East 1 pipeline. “While there is insufficient evidence to support a finding that ME1 is being operated unsafely in West Whiteland Township, I do find that there is sufficient evidence to support a finding that the construction on ME2 and ME2X should remain halted until Sunoco meets the requirements that will be imposed by this motion,” PUC Chairwoman Gladys Brown said in the motion.

PPL, Met-Ed customers will see bill credits related to Trump tax cuts. Following federal corporate income tax reform, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission ordered utilities to pass along tax savings to customers via bill credits. PPL Electric Utilities customers will get a monthly refund of 7.05 percent on the base distribution portion of customers’ bills, up considerably from the 0.56 percent reduction ordered by the PUC in May.

Samsung targets 100 percent renewable energy use by 2020. Samsung has announced plans to power its US, Europe and China operations entirely by renewable energy sources within two years. It’s already making good on its sustainability commitment in Korea, where the company is installing 42,000 square meters of solar panels in its Digital City, and is working on generating geothermal power at Pyeongtaek campus and Hwaseong campus by 2020. It’s an ambitious but achievable goal, no doubt spurred by the environmental credentials its rivals already boast in this area. Apple says it’s now powered entirely by renewable energy, Google is offsetting all of its operational energy through wind and solar, and T-Mobile has already announced plans for 100 percent renewable energy by 2021. It makes financial sense, too, given reports that renewables will likely be cheaper than fossil fuels in just a couple of years’ time. Samsung has some catching up to do, but better late than never.

Retail energy industry disruption: Start-up leverages gig economy for industry shakeup. Viv, a new technology company aimed at lifestyle betterment, announces the launch of AutoPilot, an energy product that is posed to disrupt the retail energy industry without ever being a supplier. This announcement solidifies the launch of the for-purpose company and its mission to improve the lives of their customers, Life Consultants, and communities. With over 1,000 independent Life Consultants already onboard to spread the word about energy choice, AutoPilot is being recognized as an industry force to watch. Committed to radical transparency and putting the customer at the center of its business, Viv is disrupting the retail energy industry through its flagship product, AutoPilot, powered by its sister company, Utiliz. AutoPilot acts like a “financial manager” for energy, tracking personal renewal dates, monitoring energy markets daily, constantly identifying savings opportunities, and automatically switching participants to ensure they are always on the right plans at the end of renewal terms. To get started, customers simply need to send a copy of their latest energy bill. From there, saving money becomes a completely automated process. AutoPilot is blazing new trails in the energy space, as it represents the first time that customers in deregulated areas can choose their energy suppliers, without hassle or constant monitoring; they can just set it and forget it. As a socially responsible company, Viv also ensures that 50% of its customers’ usage is renewable—at no extra cost.

Liquid-air energy storage: The latest new ‘battery’ on the UK grid. New energy-storage solution solves some problems but creates others. A first-of-its-kind energy-storage system has been added to the grid in the UK. The 5MW/15MWh system stores energy in an unusual way: it uses excess electricity to cool ambient air down to -196°C (-320°F), where the gases in the air become liquid. That liquid is stored in an insulated, low-pressure container. When there’s a need for more electricity on the grid, the liquid is pumped back to high pressure where it becomes gaseous again and warmed up via a heat exchanger. The hot gas can then be used to drive a turbine and produce electricity. The system is called Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES, for short), and if you’re thinking it sounds remarkably like Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES), you’re right. LAES takes filtered ambient air and stores it so it can be used to create electricity later, just like CAES. But LAES liquifies the air rather than compressing it, which creates an advantage in storage. Compressed-air storage usually requires a massive underground cavern, but LAES just needs some low-pressure storage tanks, so it’s more adaptable to areas that don’t have the right geology.

Tesla’s officially out of downtrend territory – Here’s where it goes next. Buyers are back in control of the price action on all timeframes when it comes to Tesla. The surge in Tesla Inc.’s (TSLA – Get Report) stock price continues. Since the start of June, shares of Tesla are up more than 20.9%. But Wednesday’s relatively innocuous 0.58% rally might just be the most important single session we’ve seen this month.

That’s because Wednesday’s close confirmed Tesla’s break above the technically significant $340 price level, officially taking shares out of downtrend territory in the intermediate-term. That shift means that shares of Tesla Inc. are now in uptrends on short-term, intermediate-term and long-term timeframes. That could spell some serious trouble for short-sellers. After all, despite the recent surge in Tesla’s stock price, it remains the most heavily shorted stock in the U.S., with short interest at $12.82 billion, according to S3 Partners. To figure out where Tesla is likely headed from here, we’re turning to the charts for a technical look.

Navigant Research Report shows China is open to electricity market competition and pushing for distributed energy resources. A new report from Navigant Research examines the changes in the Chinese commercial and industrial (C&I) electricity market, and the opportunities they create for distributed energy resources (DER) stakeholders. As markets for wholesale energy and retail grow in China, the Chinese government is finding new ways to deploy renewable energy with an emphasis on distributed power generation. From the start of the industry, China has struggled to integrate its increasing renewables with central grid infrastructure. To resolve this issue, the National Energy Administration and National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced a market-oriented distributed power generation initiative in fall of 2017. “The focus on DER by China’s NDRC represents a new part of the power sector reform in China,” says Roberto Rodriguez Labastida, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “This strategy has the potential to change the Chinese energy industry and eventually fulfill demands of the C&I and retail choice markets at the customer level.” According to the report, the Chinese government is pushing legislation and incentives to encourage competition in the realm of distributed resources.


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Today’s lede: States look at bond issuances to ease the pain of plant retirements. There’s no question the transition to cleaner and more efficient energy sources in the electricity sector is disruptive and imposes economic costs on some. Some states are looking to the bond market, rather than subsidies, as a means of smoothing out the rough spots in the transition, Jim Efstathiou and Joe Ryan report for Bloomberg News.

“Closing old power plants is expensive. State legislators are looking for ways to help pay the bill. As President Donald Trump prepares to pay failing coal plants to stay open, several states are hatching plans to gently put them to sleep. One solution gaining steam among lawmakers, environmentalists, and policy experts can be found in an unlikely place: the bond market,” the duo write. “For utilities, getting out of the coal business can be costly. They have to pay to dismantle generators, and they don’t want to miss out on future revenue by scrapping still-productive assets early. Plus, coal-plant workers will need to be retrained for other jobs. To pay for all that, states could allow utilities to issue special bonds at low rates. While the plan has yet to be implemented, Colorado, New Mexico, and Missouri are among the states where legislation has been debated.”

“If there’s a no-cost option available to the state, I think it would be absurd to not do it,” says Jacob Candelaria, a Democratic state senator in New Mexico. The Bloomberg reporters note that Candelaria sponsored a bill that failed to pass and plans to reintroduce it next year. “No tax dollars would be spent for such bonds, he says, but the debt would be backed by ratepayers. That means the utility can add a special charge to customers’ bills to cover the payments. The predictable cash flow means the bonds can carry lower rates.”

Colorado lawmaker Chris Hansen, who sponsored legislation last year that failed to pass, told Bloomberg that, ultimately, energy customers are responsible for old coal plants. “If we can create a mechanism that saves the ratepayer from having to pay those off in the normal way at full whack, that’s a big cost savings,” he says.

Bloomberg also notes an assessment by Uday Varadarajan of the Climate Policy Initiative in San Francisco that such bond issues for coal plant closures could save utility customers in 13 states $2.5 billion a year in fuel costs.

“There has to be something in it for the shareholders,” says Benjamin Fowke, chief executive officer of Xcel Energy.


Connecticut announces 250 MW of renewable energy development. Connecticut will join its New England brethren Massachusetts and Rhode Island in promoting off-shore wind energy development as part of 250 megawatts of renewable energy to be procured as part of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Clean Energy Request for Proposals.

“We have an obligation to our children and grandchildren to invest in energy projects that reduce the impacts of harmful emissions,” said Gov. Dannel Malloy. “That’s why Connecticut is making investments in the technologies of the future, not of the past. These projects will result in thousands of new Connecticut jobs, helping to grow our economy, while doing so in a clean and sustainable way.”

“DEEP is focused on providing cheaper, cleaner and more reliable energy to the residents and businesses of Connecticut,” said Commissioner Robert Klee. “These six projects accomplish that goal at every step. Offshore wind, anaerobic digestion and fuel cells are the clean, resilient, and diverse energy sources that our state and nation need.  Connecticut is showing the rest of the nation what the future of clean energy looks like.”

Click through here for the press release providing details on the projects the state aims to support.

“The Malloy administration on Wednesday directed the state’s first purchase of offshore wind power, joining Connecticut with southern New England’s drive to generate wind power from the Atlantic Ocean,” Stephen Singer writes in the Hartford Courant. “The state, announcing its renewable energy projects, also made a commitment to fuel cells, which was welcomed by one of Connecticut’s two fuel cell manufacturers.”

The bulk of the award – 200 megawatts – will go to Deepwater Wind. The Connecticut award will add to a 400 megawatts project supported by Rhode Island.,amp.html


Mass. legislation aims to accelerate clean energy development. The Massachusetts Senate is taking up a legislative proposal (click through here) to dramatically expand support for offshore wind and commercial solar, Andy Metzger reports for State House News Service. “The bill is sure to please the renewable energy industry and will likely raise concerns among other business interests in the electricity sector,” he writes.

The 32-section legislation would also require the state to create “market-based compliance mechanisms” to achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions for the transportation sector and the construction industry, according to a bill summary.

“We are extremely excited about what we see as the future in this area,” said Taunton Sen. Marc Pacheco, the bill’s sponsor and Senate president pro tempore.

Rep. Tom Golden, the House chairman of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said he anticipates the House will take action on energy bills this session and “come to some type of agreement” with the Senate. “I’m eager to look through it and find ways that the House and the Senate would agree.”

Metzger notes that less than two months remain before the July 31 end of the legislative session and the House and Senate have yet to finish work on legislation addressing health care, opioids and zoning/housing production among other priorities.



Former Picker aide downplays threat of growing community choice aggregation programs in California. The California Public Utilities Commission’s much-heralded May 3 white paper (click through here) warning of “impending doom” from mounting utility load loss to community choice aggregation  programs is a “false alarm,” Nick Chaset, former chief of staff for CPUC President Michael Picker, writes in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Good things are happening in California’s electricity markets. Community choice aggregators are now providing electric generation service to millions of Californians. CCAs are public agencies that contract for cleaner, low-cost electric supply delivered to you by utilities such as PG&E,” Chset writes. “The CPUC report asks important questions about the future of California’s electricity system, but it misses the mark through its lack of understanding of how CCAs are governed, whom they serve and what they procure. CCAs are a critical part of the solution for California’s challenges.”

Chaset goes into detail regarding the benefits he see community choice aggregation providing in terms of renewable energy,  addressing the needs of disadvantaged communities, reliability, and community-based governance.

“I appreciate the California Public Utilities Commission’s concern around rapid change in the electricity sector, but through my experience and from the track record of CCAs in California, community choice is the solution. Consumers deserve more choice through innovative community programs, renewable options and local control. They shouldn’t be forced into an antiquated monopoly structure pushed by the investor-owned utilities’ self-interest.”


Coalition battling nuclear subsidies in Pa. cites poll results. “An overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians are against state intervention to upend Pennsylvania’s competitive electricity markets by bailing out aging nuclear power plants,” the Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts says in a press release announcing the results of its survey on the subject. “The nuclear power industry has benefited from Pennsylvania’s electricity market deregulation by receiving billions of dollars to transition to competition with revenues much higher than they projected. During this time, energy costs drove manufacturing jobs out of the state. Recently, more affordable, new generation resources have lowered electricity prices for consumers.”

The poll showed that, “while consumers support energy diversity, they are not willing to pay higher electricity bills to prop up uneconomical nuclear plants. Additionally, a vast majority of Pennsylvanians believe competition and consumers should determine the state’s electricity markets,” the press release said.

The poll found that more than 70 percent believe that competition and consumers should determine Pennsylvania’s electricity market, and more than 60 percent responded that they oppose paying more for electricity to support nuclear power plants. More than half said they would be less likely to vote for a political candidate that supported nuclear subsidies.

“More efficient and affordable power generating resources have lowered energy costs and are providing a new lifeline to Pennsylvania’s manufacturers,” said Rod Williamson, executive director, Industrial Energy Consumers of Pennsylvania. “Now that Pennsylvania’s manufacturers are experiencing a competitive advantage based upon energy costs, we cannot afford subsidies to nuclear generation owners that will risk tens of thousands of good manufacturing jobs.”

“Older people on fixed or low incomes already struggle just to make ends meet,” said William Johnston-Walsh, state director, AARP Pennsylvania. “It’s plainly inappropriate to ask them to unnecessarily hand over more of their hard-earned money to large, already profitable power companies.”

According to the group’s flack, the coalition consists of AARP Pennsylvania, the American Chemistry Council, Americans for Prosperity Pennsylvania, Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, Caithness Energy, Calpine, Citizen Power, Industrial Energy Consumers of Pennsylvania, Linde Energy Services, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Moxie Energy, the state branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, NRG, Panda Power Funds, the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council, the Pennsylvania Consumer Energy Alliance, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Tenaska, and UGI Energy Services.

See also:

Pa. Gov. Wolf aims to increase utility bills. Matthew Brouillette, Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs (click through here), placed an op-ed in the York Dispatch opposing Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s effort to pass legislation imposing an severance tax on fracked gas: “For the fourth straight year, Wolf is demanding an additional severance tax that would lead to higher home heating bills for 2.7 million Pennsylvania homeowners. In other words, while federal tax cuts would lower Pennsylvanians’ utility bills, Wolf would spike them. Wolf, who has been peddling his utility tax for four straight years, likes to repeat that out-of-staters, not Pennsylvanians, would bear the brunt of his tax. But his claim is misleading. It suggests a minimal cost to commonwealth residents — indeed, it seems Wolf wants homeowners to believe they will not be affected. This is far from the truth. Given the massive amount of natural gas underneath our state, it’s only logical that we would export the bulk of it. But that obscures the fact that more than half of Pennsylvania homeowners rely on natural gas, and Wolf’s tax would slap these homeowners with higher heating bills.”


It’s electrifying. The electrification of buildings, ground transportation and portions of U.S. industry could cut total emissions by more than 70 percent, a new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute finds. The report found it’s not enough to convert the grid to emit zero carbon in order to achieve decarbonization goals in many cities across the U.S., as doing so would only cut emissions by 30 percent.

Click through here to read the report.


More electric industry news items of note:

Trump wants to bail out coal and nuclear power. Here’s why that will be hard.  When Mr. Trump came into office, he vowed to revive America’s coal mining industry by rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations. But coal keeps getting edged out by cheaper and cleaner alternatives. At least 15.4 gigawatts of coal capacity is set to retire this year, one of the biggest years on record, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. And the coal units that are left now operate far less frequently than they used to, replaced by natural gas, wind and solar power. On June 1, Mr. Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to “prepare immediate steps” to halt the further closure of coal and nuclear plants. And a leaked internal memo suggested that the administration was considering a drastic intervention in America’s electricity markets to do so. “This intervention could potentially ‘blow up’ the markets and result in significant rate increases without any corresponding reliability, resilience, or cybersecurity benefits,” warned Robert F. Powelson, one of Mr. Trump’s own appointees on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees electricity markets, at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

U.S. electricity commission sees no emergency in power market. All five members of the panel that regulates the U.S. power grid indicated at a Senate hearing on Tuesday there was no emergency in the country’s electricity markets, potentially undermining efforts by President Donald Trump’s administration to save ailing coal and nuclear plants through subsidies. Trump this month directed U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take emergency measures to keep coal and nuclear plants running in order to protect national security. Many of the plants have shut in the face of plentiful natural gas, growth in wind and solar power, and stagnant power demand. More closures are expected in coming years. Kevin McIntyre, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and one of three Republicans on the five member panel, said there was “no immediate calamity or threat” to power plants operating or serving the needs of consumers.

There’s no power grid emergency requiring a coal bailout, regulators say. The idea that the power grid is so frail it’s become a national security crisis got little support from FERC commissioners testifying before Congress.

Preserving fuel-secure electricity resources. Everyone agrees that we need an electricity grid that is not only reliable but also resilient. PJM says that resilience “relates to preparing for, operating through and recovering from a high-impact, low-frequency event.” Fuel security is essential to resilience because it enables the grid to absorb and recover quickly from manmade or natural disturbances that could have disastrous consequences. Having a large supply of coal ― which ranged from 71 to 104 days of burn last year ― stockpiled at coal-fired power plants provides resilience against high impact, low frequency disturbances because on-site fuel supplies minimize the potential for fuel supply disruptions. The debate about resilience and fuel security has led to assertions that we think are misleading or wrong, so we thought it would be helpful to offer a different perspective. This is the first of a series of short pieces that we hope will correct the record.

Consumers Energy to end use of coal. Consumers Energy said Wednesday it will stop using coal to generate electricity by 2040. The announcement comes as the utility company files a plan this week with the Michigan Public Service Commission outlining how it will meet that goal. The company said it will increase its use of renewable resources, especially solar, and begin closing its remaining five coal-fired units in 2023. “We know as an energy company we have an impact on the planet,” said Patti Poppe, president and CEO of Consumers and its parent, CMS Energy, “and we intend our impact to be positive and, in fact, to leave that better than we found it. Michigan can be seen as a leader in clean energy and a leader nationally in clean and affordable energy.”

Michigan utilities plan most energy efficiency ever in state. Michigan can expect lower energy bills, less energy consumption, and less pollution as a result of plans to significantly expand utility energy efficiency programs.  NRDC, the National Housing Trust (NHT), the Michigan Public Service Commission staff, and other interested parties recently reached agreement with Consumers Energy and DTE Energy to achieve more yearly energy savings than ever before by doubling down on energy efficiency programs.

Imported power doomed Dunkirk’s NRG. In New York and elsewhere, when a power plant operator seeks to stop putting power on the grid for economic or whatever reason, they must first be evaluated by the system operator to determine if the power is needed for reliability. When NRG announced that the Dunkirk plant would be “mothballed” for economic reasons, the NYISO determined that the plant was needed for reliability and a “Reliability Support Services Agreement” RSSA was entered between the utility (National Grid) and NRG. A permanent solution is mandated, and the state Public Service Commission authorized National Grid to build a massive substation near the Pennsylvania border that “transforms” electricity from 345,00 volts to the 115,000 volts provided by Dunkirk into the 115,000-volt system that supports the greater Dunkirk, SW NY region. Isn’t the PSC supposed to be concerned about climate change and cleaner air in setting policy for New York state? Approving a multi-million dollar substation that has its primary source one of the largest coal burning facilities in the country would seem to indicate otherwise.

‘Cowardly move’ has NRG at risk. Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello says in this morning’s OBSERVER that the New York Independent System Operator is to blame for putting NRG Energy Inc. Dunkirk plant repowering in jeopardy. Last week, as first reported by this newspaper, NRG officials admitted the conversion of the electric-generation plant from coal to natural gas was at risk due to the high price tag of nearly $114 million to tie the facility back into the grid. Borrello notes in a commentary piece on today’s Opinion page that this is a “shameful move” by an organization with questionable motives and has ultimate authority over the state’s grid and electricity market. Borrello said while the NYISO’s mission is to keep electricity markets stable and prices competitive, it continues to woefully fail in assisting our economy. New York’s electric costs, he said, are in the top 10 for most expensive.

Lino Lakes, Minn., considers community solar garden. The City Council is considering allowing solar gardens in the city’s future, but in order for them to be permitted, some changes to city code are necessary. The topic was discussed at the council’s June 4 work session. Lino Lakes Solar LLC (ReneSola Power) has submitted a text amendment application to allow community solar gardens in the city. Currently, individual property owners are allowed to install solar panels on their houses or buildings by applying for a building permit. However, under city code a community solar garden is not permitted. Kendra Lindahl, of Landform Professional Services, explained the city has received a number of requests from property owners to install one or two ground-mounted solar panels.

Niles, Ill., awards three-year electricity aggregation contract extension to Eligo Energy. Niles village trustees last month renewed their electricity aggregation program with Eligo Energy for a three-year term. Niles participates in an “opt out” electricity aggregation program. The contract awarded to Eligo Energy at the Tuesday, May 22 village board meeting governs the energy supply — one of three parts of a typical ComEd electricity bill — to residential and small business customers. The village is given a better supply rate for residents and small businesses. Eligible customers were automatically switched to Eligo Energy in June 2017, the first year of a one-year aggregation contract, with the ability to opt out of the program and have their energy supply given to them by ComEd or another electricity aggregation company. The three-year contract is expected to save ComEd customers more than $153,000 villagewide for the second year of the contract from June 2018 through May 2019. Included in Eligo’s contract is language guaranteeing its rate would always match or beat ComEd’s electricity supply rate or the village would be allowed to cancel the contract.

Watertown, Mass., announces electricity choice program. The Town of Watertown has begun planning the implementation of Watertown Electricity Choice, a municipal electricity aggregation program. The plan will be discussed at a public meeting at 7 p.m. June 18 at Town Hall, 149 Main St., in the lower hearing room. By purchasing electricity in bulk for Watertown residents and businesses, Watertown will increase the amount of clean renewable energy in the community’s electricity supply, reducing our carbon footprint, while also providing a stable electricity price that can protect residents and businesses from the seasonal swings associated with Eversource’s basic service price. Although cost savings can’t be guaranteed, because Eversource reprices electricity every six months, historically programs of this type have offered modest cost savings over the program’s duration. The program will launch after the town’s aggregation plan is approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.

Palo Alto, Calif., approves electric rate increase. Utility rates in Palo Alto are set to go up by 6 percent in July, an increase that utilities officials attribute largely to growing transmission costs and new renewable energy projects coming online.

Rate agreement to save Oklahoma residential customers on average $4.44 per month. OG&E, a subsidiary of Oklahoma City-based OGE Energy Corp. (NYSE: OGE), reached an agreement today with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission staff and other parties to settle its pending review before the Commission. The agreement provides for recovery of the company’s investment in its new Mustang Energy Center, a state-of-the-art complex that includes seven ultra-modern, highly efficient and environmentally compatible natural gas turbines. While the company invested nearly $400 million in the modernization project, customers will see a net rate reduction of approximate $64 million, or $4.44 per month for the average Oklahoma residential customer.  New rates will take effect July 1, 2018, pending regulatory approval.  The lower amount comes on the heels of an average $13.34 per month fuel cost reduction in March 2018. “We’re pleased the various parties led by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission staff recognize through this agreement the real value and strategic importance of the Mustang Energy Center to our customers, communities and state in the decades ahead,” said OG&E spokesman Brian Alford. “It is important to note the agreement also supports regional energy grid reliability and resiliency while ensuring Oklahoma customers receive the benefit of tax savings that resulted from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.”

PECO customers push renewable energy, better infrastructure at Pa. PUC rate hike hearing. Only about 10 people testified at Tuesday’s Public Utility Commission hearing, but most asked PECO to focus on clean energy and a more efficient power grid. Renewable energy and power grid improvements dominated much of the testimony in a PECO rate increase hearing Tuesday night in Newtown Township. PECO has proposed an electric rate increase that could add up to approximately 3.2 percent more for the average residential customer at the start of next year. As part of the approval process, PECO must hold a handful of Public Utility Commission hearings across its coverage area. Most of the testimony at the hearing at Bucks County Community College included urging PECO and the commission to push toward efficiency upgrades to the power grid and implementing more solar, wind and other renewable energy resources. “The dirty electricity that PECO puts out — or that PECO pays for — is our region’s biggest driver of climate change and increasingly severe weather,” said John Magee, of the renewable energy activist group Earth Quaker Action Team.

Pa. PUC adds sixth hearing on PECO rate case. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has scheduled a sixth hearing to gather public comment on PECO Energy’s proposed $82 million rate increase. The request for the increase was filed in March with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. In May, the commission announced that a series of hearings would be held during June, at five locations within PECO’s service area. The first hearing took place on June 6 in Media. The Public Utility Commission on Monday announced that an additional public hearing will be held in Chester County on Monday, June 18 at 6 p.m. at Penns Grove Middle School Cafeteria, 301 South Fifth Street, Oxford.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. important message for customers: Shutting off power during high wildfire threats. Dear Valued Customer: As part of our commitment to safety, we are reaching out to our customers, like you, who live in or near high wildfire-threat areas. We want to keep you and your family informed and updated of additional precautionary steps that we are taking to address the growing threat of extreme weather and wildfires, such as possible power outages. Please visit today to update your contact information. To help ensure the safety of our customers and communities we are privileged to serve, we are taking action with our Community Wildfire Safety Program. For your safety, it may be necessary for us to temporarily turn off electricity to your neighborhood or community when extreme fire danger conditions occur. We know how much you rely on reliable electric service and would only consider temporarily turning off power in the interest of safety, and as a last resort. If we need to turn off your power, we will attempt to contact you in advance to ensure you have enough time to prepare. We will also provide updates until power is restored.

Inside the dismantling of GE. Starved for cash, an iconic American company takes apart the legacy it spent a century building. GE is slowly dismantling an empire. It was once a sprawling corporation that included NBC, Universal Studios, a giant appliance company and even one of America’s biggest banks. But now the iconic company founded by Thomas Edison is making itself smaller and smaller. And that shrinking has gained urgency in recent months as GE races to raise cash, chip away at a mountain of debt, and plug a huge hole in its pension fund. No business is too sacred for the chopping block, especially because GE’s stock price has been cut in half over the past two years. Even businesses central to its vaunted history — the 111-year-old railroad division and Edison’s light-bulb unit — are up for grabs. “This is a slow-motion break-up of the company,” said Robert McCarthy, an analyst at Stifel.


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Today’s lede: Wait a minute – it’s going to cost how much? Maine regulators have agreed to reconsider a previously approved power purchase contract for a University of Maine pilot offshore wind project intended to test patented technology for deep-water floating wind turbines, a move that had been seen as potentially a deal-killer because it would jeopardize a $40 million grant for the project from the Department of Energy (click through here). But while a setback, the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s action doesn’t spell doom for the project, Tux Turkel reports in the Portland Press Herald.

The PUC is questioning the legal justifications for the contract and whether the project meets the requirements of the state’s 2009 Ocean Energy Act. The PUC is concerned the  project will impose costs on electric consumers.

Despite months of assertions to the contrary, Habib Dagher, the University of Maine professor heading the project, told Turkel that he’d received assurances from DOE that the commission’s review does not put the funding at risk. He also expressed confidence that Maine Aqua Ventus could answer the questions raised by the PUC commissioners and keep the project moving ahead. While the small-scale pilot project’s costs are high, building out the technology to scale wkill be cost competitive.

Dagher pointed to recent announcements of significant conventional offshore wind energy projects to be built in Massachusetts and Rhode Island waters as reinforcing the potential for the floating technology Maine Aqua Ventus project looks to pioneer. That sense was made clear last week, he said, at an international offshore wind conference he attended in Boston. “Everyone there recognizes that floating offshore wind is the next big thing,” Dagher said, citing discussion at a recent offshore wind conference in Boston. “If Maine continues to move forward that will put us in the driver’s seat.”

The Natural Resources Council of Maine condemned the reconsideration of the four-year-old contract by utility regulators appointed by Gov. Paul LePage as a continuation of the LaPage administration’s “anti-wind rampage.” Dylan Voorhees, the group’s clean energy director, cited how Statoil withdrew its proposal to begin building floating offshore wind turbines in Maine in 2013 after LePage pushed the PUC to revisit a power-rate agreement. The company instead invested in a floating wind farm in Scottish waters. “The legacy of that decision still haunts Maine,” he said, “as we see other countries and states to our south move forward with offshore wind, reaping the resulting economic boost. Instead of beginning to repair the damage from that fateful move, today’s decision is deja vu.”



Washington Post tells consumers to ‘do your homework’ when choosing a competitive electricity provider. The Washington Post’s Elisabeth Leamy penned a piece on choosing a competitive energy supplier, urging consumers to be wary of contract renewal terms and short-term introductory rates.

“Deregulation of the energy industry, giving customers alternatives to the old line utilities, was supposed to foster competition and lower prices for consumers. But it doesn’t always work out that way,” Leamy writes. “Depending where you live, you may save money by switching if you do your homework and stay on top of contract renewals. But if you rush into it, you could lose money instead.”

Leamy leads her column by citing a mailer to prospective Maryland customers with a “Special Fixed Rate Offer” of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour. “The wording made it sound like a bargain, but it’s actually one of the most expensive electricity deals in the state, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission website, Leamy writes. She also notes a recent report by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey complaining that customers of competitive suppliers were paying too much and calling for the state to end retail choice for the residential market.

Shutting down energy competition would be a shame because consumers can save substantial money if they know what they’re doing, said Kiran Bhatraju, chief executive of Arcadia Power, which has a program called Price Alerts that helps people find and switch to cheaper, greener energy. Leamy reports that Arcadia found its residential customers in D.C., Maryland and other competitive states were paying 27 percent more than they had to for electricity. By switching them to alternative suppliers, Arcadia told the Post it saved some customers nearly $1,000 a year. “People should be able to save money by switching providers,” Bhatraju said. “The problem is that most people don’t review their options, or they attempt to . . . and end up in a sea of misinformation and confusion.”

The column provides a list of factors to consider to ensure a good electricity shopping experience.–but-do-your-homework-first/2018/06/11/d0493df8-683a-11e8-9e38-24e693b38637_story.html?utm_term=.5a0cc1987b00


Duke agrees to $3.5 million penalty for ‘misleading’ FERC in Progress merger proceeding. Duke Energy has agreed to pay a $3.5 million civil penalty to resolve concerns that it provided the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “intentionally misleading” information in 2012 as part of FERC’s review of Duke’s then-pending application for merger approval with Progress Energy. The information in question was part of a revised market-power mitigation plan provided FERC after the commission initially rejected Duke market power mitigation plan as insufficient. FERC ultimjately accepted the revised market power mitigation compliance plan and approved the merger in June 2012.

As FERC explains in its recent order approving a settlement of the matter, Duke initiated a review of the information in support of the complaince plan shortly after the commission issued the final merger approval. “Duke’s management retained outside counsel and requested that counsel conduct a review of the revised compliance filing in order to confirm the accuracy of the data and analyses submitted with that filing,” the FERC order explains. “This request was made after Duke’s management learned of an anonymous letter submitted to the commission in June 2012 after the commission issued its order accepting the mitigation proposal; the letter claimed that the revised compliance filing contained erroneous and intentionally misleading data.”

Duke presented the findings of the review to FERC and proposed additional mitigations, which the commission ultimately accepted in its October 2014 order denying rehearing of challenges to its merger-authorization order. FERC referred the matter to its enforcement office for investigation, which culminated in the settlement and civil penalty.

In the agreement, Duke stipulates to the facts but neither admits or denies its actions constituted violations of FERC rules, regulations or policies. In addition to paying the civil penalty, Duke agreed to submit annual compliance monitoring reports for two years.


EIA finds that retail sales by competitive suppliers doubled in 10 years. About 21 percent of retail electricity sold came from competitive power marketers in 2016, up from 11 percent in 2005, Power Engineering magazine reports. During the same time period, sales from regulated investor-owned utilities declined from 62 percent to 52 percent in the same time.


Other electric industry news items of note:

Energy regulators: No grid emergency to justify coal bailout. Federal regulators on Tuesday disputed the Trump administration’s claim that struggles facing the coal and nuclear industries threaten the reliability of the nation’s power grid. “There is no immediate calamity or threat,” the Republican chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission told Congress. Existing power sources are sufficient to satisfy the nation’s energy needs, FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre added. Four other commissioners from both parties agreed there is no immediate threat to the grid. The comments before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee contradict a recent White House directive ordering action to keep coal-fired and nuclear power plants open as a matter of national and economic security.

FERC regulators: No security emergency to justify DOE coal, nuke bailout. Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission criticized President Donald Trump’s order to bail out coal and nuclear generators during a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday, saying it could unravel wholesale power markets. All five FERC members told lawmakers they do not believe there is a national security emergency in wholesale power markets that justifies immediate federal intervention. Security concerns underpin a Department of Energy memo on saving coal and nuclear generators that was leaked the day before Trump’s order. FERC is currently addressing coal and nuclear retirements in its resilience docket, but Commissioner Robert Powelson said a “hard and fast mandate” to save the plants could “usurp the marketplace” and force other resources offline.

As subsidies wane, market forces drive the growth of renewables. Competitive bidding on new power installations is becoming increasingly common worldwide, with solar and wind energy now reaching parity with fossil fuels in many countries. But the rise of renewables auctions carries risks, including the elimination of smaller green energy producers.

Nevada’s 2.3-cent bid beats Arizona’s record-low solar PPA price. NV Energy’s portfolio of solar and solar-plus-storage takes the low-price competition up a notch. Records don’t last long in the cleantech business. Just days ago, we were reporting that the Central Arizona Project (CAP) had secured the lowest confirmed solar price in the U.S., when it approved a 20-year power-purchase agreement at $24.99 per megawatt-hour. That’s setting aside an Austin Energy PPA from December that could be lower, but has more ambiguous terms. That Arizona record is already under threat from projects that utility NV Energy selected as part of its integrated resource planning. The portfolio of 1,001 megawatts of solar capacity and 100 megawatts/400 megawatt-hours of energy storage still needs approval from Nevada’s utility regulators.

Michigan gas plant leaves uncertain role for renewable developers. Independent developers claim DTE Energy ignored interconnection requests as it sought to build its own capacity. Renewable energy developers for months disputed DTE Energy’s claim that it did not expect to need any new generation capacity over the coming decade. Now that Michigan regulators have approved the utility’s plan to build a 1,100 megawatt natural gas plant (click through here), DTE’s position will be tougher to challenge. The question of whether a utility needs more generating capacity matters to renewable energy developers because under federal law they earn a better rate for projects when a utility has a need for capacity. Solar developers, in particular, have expressed frustration with DTE’s willingness to work with third-party developers, accusing the utility of stalling or ignoring interconnection requests as it worked on plans to build its own large natural gas plant to replace retiring coal units. A DTE spokeswoman said the company is fulfilling its legal obligations and trying to keep electricity as affordable as possible for customers. The utility’s critics have been partially validated by the Michigan Public Service Commission, which in its ruling on the gas plant said it was “inappropriate” for the utility to tell developers it did not have a capacity need over the next 10 years without getting a determination from the commission. But the gas plant decision leaves an uncertain role for independent renewable developers in the utility’s territory in the coming decade. “Michigan is a market that’s in transformation,” said Kevin Borgia, Midwest policy director for Cypress Creek Renewables, which has filed a formal complaint against DTE’s response to the company’s solar proposals. “There are a lot of opportunities that will present themselves but it’s not really clear where the most specific opportunities are going to arise.”

Op-Ed: Helping New Jerseyans take control of where their electricity comes from. The way electricity is consumed and produced is changing. We no longer need to rely on large, centralized generation to keep the lights on. When Gov. Phil Murphy signs legislation (S-2314/A-3723) that supports our ability to benefit from solar energy, he will empower Garden State residents to be active participants in the energy market. A strong solar market can help all New Jersey residents lower their electric bill by choosing a clean-energy source. The way electricity is consumed and produced is changing. We no longer need to rely on large, centralized generation to keep the lights on. Technology advances like solar energy enable individuals and businesses to produce their own electricity, at less cost than if we were forced to buy from our utility. Our state is smart to recognize this as a benefit for all New Jersey residents.

Oak Park, Ill., poised to advance green initiatives. Board of trustees lean toward LED streetlights. The Oak Park Board of Trustees move one step closer to setting a course for some of the nearly $1 million in green energy funds the village has collected through a voluntary program created in 2015. Trustees discussed the topic in March and directed village staff to return with additional information about ideas, such as using LED green-energy bulbs in streetlights, installing solar panels on Oak Park Village Hall and building a large-scale solar project outside the community. The Community Choice Electrical Aggregation program is voluntary, allowing residents to send three-tenths of a cent per kilowatt hour of their electric bill to the renewable energy fund. Although trustees have not made a formal decision on how to spend the funds — the program generates about $400,000 a year — the board appeared to have consensus on spending about $100,000 a year installing LED light bulbs on streetlights in the village. The program could save the village as much as $25,000 a year in lower electricity costs, according to Oak Park Public Works Director John Wielebnicki.

Time to take ‘time of use’ for a test drive? Summer is a time of year when utility bills often spike, as people crank up appliances and devices such as air conditioners and swimming pool pumps that use lots of energy. With that in mind, it may make sense for utility customers to experiment with the various “time of use” (TOU) pricing plans offered by San Diego Gas & Electric. In an effort to reduce strain on the electric grid and integrate more renewable energy sources like solar into the power system, the California Public Utilities Commission last year directed the state’s three big investor-owned utilities to roll out TOU plans for customers by 2020. As the name implies, “time of use” rates vary throughout the day and night. The more electricity you use when the state’s power grid is at its peak, the more you pay. Conversely, use electricity when demand and energy prices are low, you pay less. The peak hours for SDG&E customers run between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. About 147,000 of SDG&E’s residential customers are already on a TOU plan and eventually most of the nearly 1 million residential customers in SDG&E’s service territory will transition to time-of-use in the next two years. For those whose monthly bills are relatively small, the standard residential pricing plan — that charges customers a flat rate, with prices ramping up when you exceed a baseline amount of energy usage — will remain in effect. But for the vast majority of SDG&E residential customers, a TOU plan may be the most cost-effective way to go.

California looks to next steps as utilities near energy storage targets. As Golden State utilities approach 2 GW of battery capacity, lawmakers are preparing mandates for 2 GW more. As California’s investor utilities draw closer to meeting their mandated energy storage targets, work is already underway to up the ante. One effort involves legislation that calls for an additional 2,000 MW of energy storage in the state. Existing mandates call for California utilities to procure nearly 1,900 MW of energy storage. Earlier this month, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a proposal by San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) for five new energy storage projects totaling 83.5 MW. Adding those projects to the utility’s energy storage portfolio “virtually fulfills SDG&E’s energy storage procurement requirement under AB 2514,” spokesman Wes Jones told Utility Dive via email.

FirstEnergy utilities lead industry in use of drones to inspect protected bird nests. FirstEnergy’s (NYSE: FE) electric utilities are leading the industry with the use of aerial drones to inspect the nests of protected birds of prey.  The drones offer a fast and safe way to survey locations where the birds have started nesting on utility poles and other electric equipment, without disrupting the birds by having a line worker inspect the nest. Birds of prey like ospreys and eagles often seek out tall structures, including electric transmission towers and poles to build their nests, which can measure up to three feet in width.  These nesting habits often place the birds near energized electrical equipment – jeopardizing their well-being and potentially causing power outages.  A typical bird nest inspection requires a line crew to go out to each nesting site to inspect the nest.  This method is not only unsettling to the birds, but time consuming for the crews. “We were initially concerned the drone would startle the birds, but they were more frightened by the people on the ground and didn’t seem to notice the drone in the sky,” said FirstEnergy’s Amy Ruszala, an environmental scientist who was recently on-site for the first nest inspections. “I am excited we are among the first in the utility industry to use drones for nest inspections, and confident other utility companies will use our positive feedback and follow suit.”

Montana PSC votes to approve the Hydro One and Avista merger. Hydro One Limited and Avista Corporation today announced that the Montana Public Service Commission (“the Commission”) has voted to approve the proposed merger, with conditions. “We would like to thank the Commissioners and all the parties that worked together to come to today’s positive decision,” said Mayo Schmidt, President and CEO, Hydro One. Applications for regulatory approval of the transaction are still pending with utility commissions in Washington, Idaho and Oregon. An all-parties, all-issues settlement agreement was filed with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission on March 27, 2018. An all-parties, all-issues settlement agreement was filed with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission on April 13, 2018. An all-parties, all-issues settlement agreement was filed with the Public Utility Commission of Oregon on May 25, 2018. Hydro One and Avista received approval with conditions from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska on June 4, 2018, concluding the merger proceeding in Alaska. Hydro One and Avista received the Federal Communications Commission’s consent on May 4, 2018 to close their merger and antitrust clearance on April 5, 2018 after the expiration of the waiting period under the U.S. Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976, as amended. The transaction received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on January 16, 2018 and from Avista shareholders on November 21, 2017. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States completed its review of the proposed merger on May 18, 2018, and has concluded that there are no unresolved national security concerns with respect to the transaction. Also required is the satisfaction of other customary closing conditions.

Idaho regulators hear concerns about proposed Avista merger. Concerns over Avista Utilities’ proposed merger with Toronto-based Hydro One Limited have been far from lights out. “We’ve received 280 comments — almost all in opposition,” said Matt Evans, public information officer with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. IPUC will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Wednesday at Sandpoint High School, 410 S. Division Ave., and another on Thursday at the Midtown Meeting Center, 1505 N. Fifth St., Coeur d’Alene, at 6 p.m. “There has been a lot of interest in this case in terms of public comments submitted, and the comments are still coming in steadily, so we expect hearty turnout. The majority of those in opposition cite foreign ownership as a factor in their stance.”

Innowatts marks 15 million smart meter milestone. Record number of customers enabled by Innowatts AI-based energy technology platform. Innowatts announced today that its smart meter-enabled eUtility™ energy technology platform is now enabling lower costs and personalizing the energy experience for over 15 million energy consumers across North America. In reaching this milestone in less than four years, the Houston-based energy technology company, which is focused on transforming and streamlining the energy value chain through its machine learning and AI-enabled technology solutions, has reached a level of maturity unparalleled in the industry.

Cypress Creek Renewables, NRG innovate the future of solar power for Texas commercial and industrial customers. New plan brings sustainability and simplicity with fixed-price renewable energy at sites across Texas. Cypress Creek Renewables, one of the largest integrated solar energy companies in the U.S., and NRG Energy announced a joint project where Cypress Creek will develop and operate 25 megawatts of solar projects for NRG to support commercial and industrial customers. The environmentally friendly solar installations will be the foundation of a new type of simplified fixed-price renewable energy plan for large businesses, adding an innovative dimension to a proven product structure. Under the new plan from NRG, customers receive dedicated, locally sourced renewable energy with flexible options that best meet a company’s business, sustainability and procurement needs. The plan features variable term lengths, the ability to procure up to 100 percent of a customer’s electricity usage from a renewable resource and naming rights to the designated facility. Cypress Creek will own and operate the facilities and deliver the electricity generated to NRG and its customers under power purchase agreements. Cypress Creek has a portfolio of more than seven gigawatts of solar projects in development across the country.

Tesla layoffs: Elon Musk says job cuts required to fuel profits. Electric car maker Tesla is laying off about 3,600 white-collar workers as it slashes costs in an effort to become profitable. CEO Elon Musk said in an e-mail to workers Tuesday that the cuts amount to about 9 percent of the company’s workforce of 40,000. “We made these decisions by evaluating the criticality of each position, whether certain jobs could be done more efficiently and productively, and by assessing the specific skills and abilities of each individual in the company,” he said in the message, which was also posted to Musk’s Twitter feed. Tesla did not say how much money the job cuts would save. While saying that Tesla is more focused on producing environmentally friendly cars than making money, Musk ask added that “we will never achieve that mission unless we eventually demonstrate that we can be sustainably profitable.”

‘Competition is really fierce right now’: GM sets sights on electrified, autonomous future. It is little more than a year since all-electric upstart Tesla briefly sped past the long-established General Motors (GM) to become the most valuable US carmaker. But, in the time since, the fortunes of both companies have again shifted as the race to dominate the future of four-wheel mobility continues apace. With Tesla struggling to scale up production in order to the meet soaring demand for its electric vehicles (EVs), Elon Musk’s firm has faced ever tougher questions about its financial viability, and its share price has taken a hit. Meanwhile, as one of many car firms forced to respond to Tesla’s electrifying strategy, GM last September unveiled a new ‘zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion’ vision, which included plans to launch at least 20 new EV models by 2023, and its first autonomous commercial vehicle as early as next year. Once again America’s most valuable carmaker, GM is now making its own ambitious play for a zero emission future.

Union leaders to meet General Electric in bid to save Virginia jobs. Union leaders plan to meet with General Electric Co on Wednesday in a bid to avert closure of a Virginia factory that makes controls for GE’s power plants, the company and the union said on Tuesday. General Electric said last week that it intends to cease manufacturing at the facility and eliminate about 265 jobs because of declining power plant orders. The work will be moved to outside vendors and companies in India and China, the union said. GE said the changes will take 12-to-24 months. The Boston-based industrial conglomerate is under pressure to generate growth and profit in its $35 billion power business after steep declines last year. Low cost wind and solar electricity are slowing construction of new fossil-fuel power plants and forcing closure of old ones. GE’s stock has fallen 44 percent since John Flannery became chief executive in August. The company said in December it would eliminate 12,000 jobs in its power unit.

North Korea has weaponized electricity. Keeping North Koreans in the dark has helped Kim Jong-un and his predecessors stay in power. Last night, President Donald Trump had a historic meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un at Singapore’s Capella Hotel, a five-star resort with beautifully appointed suites, big-screen TVs, and recessed lights.While Kim was safely ensconced in well-lit luxury, his countrymen were not so fortunate. Indeed, the Kim family’s 70-year reign of terror in North Korea has been abetted by its ability to starve its own people of electricity. A staggering 18.4 million North Koreans, some 70 percent of the country’s population, do not have access to electrical power. Indeed, by restricting electricity use, Kim has turned it into a weapon. In February, as sanctions on his country began pinching his regime’s finances, rather than increase the supply of electricity to North Koreans, he began selling it to China. According to the Seoul-based publication Daily NK, the electricity from a hydroelectric dam in the western part of the country was being supplied to a Chinese factory that produces fire-proofing materials. In return, Kim’s regime is getting cash payments of up to $100,000 per month. The Daily NK also reported that “The abrupt choice to export electricity means that the absolute amount of energy supplied domestically will be reduced. Power will continue to be supplied first and foremost to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il idolization sites, munitions factories, and essential government organizations like the Party, and intelligence bodies, etc.”

A single European power market just got closer. The European Union’s vision of a single energy market will move a step closer on Tuesday with the start of a joint market for electricity delivered on the same day. The project, which requires close cooperation between rival exchanges and grid operators, will link 14 national markets from Latvia to Germany and Portugal. Most other European countries are scheduled to join next summer. The markets will be treated as one zone with the power bought and sold between traders in the same way as within a country — as long as the necessary international transmission capacity is available. Connecting intraday markets is the next step forward from the May 2015 start of linking day-ahead markets to help manage the way grids are used. That meant that power from a wind turbine spinning during a breezy day in northern Germany could be bought by a hospital in France. “This can only be good for customers and for Europe’s power exchanges,” said Hans Randen, director for market coupling at trading platform Nord Pool AS in Oslo. “We have spent a great deal of time, money and resource comprehensively upgrading our intraday system.”


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Today’s lede: Trump administration’s planned power market intervention key topic at Senate FERC hearing. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee convened a hearing today with all five members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission testifying, and unsurprisingly a key topic of discussion was the Trump administration’s determination to intervene in competitive wholesale power markets to financially support uneconomic coal and nuclear baseload power plants. But other key concerns for Senate panel members were cybersecurity, liquefied natural gas exports and reform of the 1978 Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act.

Committee chair Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, expressed her concern with the direction the administration is taking to support uneconomic baseload generation, but she suggested the “pace” of FERC’s proceeding to examine concerns arising from rapid changes in the generation resource mix, what she termed the “retirements controversy,” was too slow.

“We’ve got a controversy out there,” Murkowski said, noting that “with so much at stake in such a heavily regulated industry” that “the various interests are locked in” and that “this is mortal combat for some.” She observed that FERC has “collected a lot of information but we haven’t seen that decisive action.” Nevertheless, “it seems the retirements have not reached the point where the quality of service has been noticeably compromised,” Murkowski said. “I certainly favor competition over regulation to achieve the best results,” she said, adding that she would prefer to see a market-based solution to address what she termed “legitimate” grid-resilience issues.

Ranking panel member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who forcefully opposed FERC’s efforts to establish an organized wholesale power market in the Pacific Northwest in the early 2000s, criticized what she termed “a radical proposal to force consumers to bail out coal.” The market-intervention policy of the Trump administration is “wrong” and poses a threat to FERC’s independence, she said. The Department of Energy has conducted “zero analysis” in support of a national security order “that would cost consumers billions,” she complained. “Guaranteeing profits for coal is not the mandate for FERC.”

Chairman Kevin McIntyre’s limited comments related to the administration’s market-intervention plans echoed those he made at last week’s Energy Information Administration energy conference (click through here).  He reiterated his position that FERC’s actions should be guided by “the rule of law” and that the commission is assessing comments on grid resiliency to determine what actions are required. Nevertheless, McIntyre said he agreed with a study’s assessment that the electricity grid and reliability face “no immediate calamity or threat” and expressed the need for FERC “to take a longer-term lens” and assess what the future for the grid will look like.

Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, a native of coal-rich Kentucky and a former congressional aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared to be the most welcoming of the five commissioners in terms of the anticipated market intervention. Chatterjee cited “rapid unprecedented change” in the electricity sector’s resource mix as highlighting the “need for vigilance to preserve reliability.” He expressed concern about the electric industry’s increasing reliance on natural gas supplied via interruptible pipelines, echoing a talking point of DOE in advocating for market intervention.

In response to testimony noting that 90 percent of power grid reliability issues are related to wires issues, primarily state-regulated distribution systems, and that generation accounts for about 1 percent of reliability problems, Chatterjee defended economic supports for baseload generation. Current policy allowing markets to decide the resource mix is “akin to driving a car without a seatbelt,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be an accident.”

“The commission has taken a number of actions over the years addressing resilience,” Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur said. “To date I believe we’ve successfully managed the transition without compromising resilience and will continue to do so going forward,” she said. “Lower prices in markets are a benefit to consumers, not a problem to be solved.” If FERC determines there is a need to address grid resiliency, it will do so in a fuel-neutral manner, she said.

Commissioner Robert Powelson was arguably the most ardent supporter of electricity markets. Powelson noted the “tectonic shifts” in the electricity sector from evolving grid dynamics and consumer preferences. Renewable energy is now part of the bulk power grid system dispatch, he noted, citing statistics illustrating the rapid rise in renewables and natural gas as a percentage of power grid resources. FERC policy does not involve picking winners and losers in terms of grid resources, he said, insisting that deciding resource winners and losers is the role of the market. Competitive markets for electricity have been “a phenomenal success story,” he said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to put FERC in the role of creating moral hazards.”

Commissioner Rich Glick cited FERC’s role in eliminating barriers to market entry for new technologies such as energy storage, and noted that the most recent PJM Interconnection generation capacity auction produced the most diverse array of generation resources in its history. Generation resource diversity “is a worthwhile goal, and one we are increasingly realizing,” Glick said, noting wind generation resource records being set in the Southwest Power Pool and ERCOT markets.

“We cannot try to stop the natural evolution of this industry unless an actual emergency exists,” Glick said. “We have a history in this country of helping those who, through no fault of their own, have been adversely affected by technological and market change. But that is the responsibility of Congress and the state legislatures. It is not a role that the Federal Power Act provides to the Commission. FERC has the responsibility to ensure the reliability and resilience of the grid—and we should take our duties seriously—but we cannot try to stop the natural evolution of the industry by suggesting that there is an emergency, unless there is evidence to suggest that an emergency actually exists.”

Coal-state senators like Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., were ardent supporters of market intervention to support coal, given the prominent role coal mining plays in their states’ economies. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., expressed concern with imposing “unprecedented command-and-control” over power markets. He asked the five FERC commissioners if any of them agreed that there was a national security problem warranting market intervention, and none said there was. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., emphasized the consumer costs such a market intervention poses. Tina Smith, D-Minn., expressed concern about the effect market intervention would have on growing wind power resources in the Midwest, and elicited from Glick the opinion that it “certainly would have a depressive effect on investment in the market.” Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., elicited testimony from the FERC commissioners suggesting that building out the power grid would be a better use of electricity consumers’ money than generation subsidies.

Powelson noted his experience as a Pennsylvania utility regulator during Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged electricity systems across a wide swath of the Mid-Atlantic region. In the aftermath, power plants were up and running but customers were unable to get electricity because of damage to the distribution system, he noted. Glick suggested “we can actually increase our resilience of the grid” by investing in storage and microgrids rather than aging generation plants. “Particularly if we want to protect military bases, we should look at these technologies,” he said.

Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyo., sponsor of a bill to reform PURPA spoke in favor of his effort (click through here). Chaterjee said as a former congressional aide he supports Congress addressing a law that was framed in response to the energy crises of the 1970s to reflect the changed circunstances of today, but that FERC will continue to assess what it can do under its existing authority to reform PURPA rules.

Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, voiced concern about increasing LNG exports affecting domestic natural gas prices and manufacturers benefiting from low-cost natural gas fuels and feedstocks.

To access the written testimony of the FERC commissioners, click here for McIntyre’s, here for LeFleur’s, here for Chatterjee’s, here for Powelson’s, and here for Glick’s.

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Trump’s coal, nuclear bailout no shield from hackers: cyber experts. While the administration had been arguing for months that “fuel secure” facilities were important to America’s ability to rebound from storms and physical attacks, its efforts to link plant closures with protection from cyber attacks appeared to open a new front in its support for the coal and nuclear industries. Chris Bronk, a professor of computer and information systems at the University of Houston, said he could not endorse the idea. “I don’t see where a policy of keeping open aging infrastructure that would shut unless there was federal markets intervention keeps us any safer from cyberattacks,” he said.


FERC’s Glick, Chatterjee team up to urge tighter cyber oversight for pipelines. A bipartisan duo of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission members is urging Congress to enact legislation strengthening reliability standards for the natural gas pipeline network, calling for the Energy Department to have authority to enforce a standards-based regime similar to that which FERC has established for the electric industry. Currentl, the Transportation Security Administration, the Homeland Defense Department agency that screens passengers at airports, is charged with cyber security oversight of the industry.

“To protect against attacks that could compromise electric service, grid operators must comply with mandatory standards” overseen by FERC, the two regulators write in Axios. “The U.S. has no comparable standards for its network of pipelines. As abundant and affordable natural gas has become a major part of the fuel mix, the cybersecurity threats to that supply have taken on new urgency.”

FERC has authority certificate new interstate gas pipelines and set their rates, but not to oversee their security, they note. In May 2017, TSA confirmed that only six full-time employees are involved with securing more than 2.7 million miles of natural gas, oil and hazardous liquid pipelines. “Moreover, despite having the authority to enforce mandatory cybersecurity standards, the TSA relies on voluntary ones,” write Glick and Chatterjee, both former congressional Hill staffers.

“Given the high stakes, Congress should vest responsibility for pipeline security with an agency that fully comprehends the energy sector and has sufficient resources to address this growing threat. The Department of Energy could be an appropriate choice: It is the Sector-Specific Agency for energy security and recently created its own cybersecurity office,” the FERC officials suggest. “The ultimate regulator must have the statutory authority, resources and commitment to implement mandatory standards, as FERC has done for the electric grid for more than a decade. While the electric sector presents different operational risks, the essential starting point for these reforms is standards that are both mandatory and tailored to the pipeline network’s greatest threats.”

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Energy Department’s new cybersecurity agency is a game-changer. With energy systems now massively digitized and interconnected, with attackers at all levels becoming more capable and aggressive, and with current approaches to cyber defense observably not keeping pace, something must give. The U.S. Department of Energy has responded, and by all accounts, the recent major revamp of its grid security strategy is a welcome and winning response. The department’s “Multiyear Plan for Energy Sector Cybersecurity” makes it clear that DOE is fully embracing its role as the Sector Specific Agency (SSA) for the energy sector. Perhaps the most telling manifestation of this update is the announcement of an entirely new DOE organization dedicated to cybersecurity: The Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER).

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Electric utilities examine growing cybersecurity risks as number of connected devices increases. The growing number of connected devices on the electric grid provide benefits in the form of real-time information and enhanced efficiency, but each device also creates additional cybersecurity risks. While electric utilities and the federal government have worked to maintain a strong cybersecurity defense against attacks on the bulk electric system, the increased number of distributed energy resources (DERs), microgrid and internet-connected devices has created its own potential vulnerabilities at the local distribution level. Better equipment standards may be one of the solutions to this dilemma, according to a panel of experts at the Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI) annual convention held this week in San Diego. “With the retail devices and the rate at which they will be integrated into this evolving grid, I do think the industry, particularly those that are going to buy and deploy that equipment or systems, need to have a conversation about calling upon the manufacturers for equipment standards,” Richard Mroz, former president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, said. Without standards, he said, utilities don’t have an understanding of what vulnerabilities the equipment may create.


Shareholder activists sink their teeth into Sempra. San Diego-based Sempra won’t be allowed to rest on its laurels after landing the big-fish acquisition of Dallas-based Oncor. The highly diversified electric utility and natural gas company now confronts demands from Elliott Management and Bluescape Resources to consider divestiture as a means of generating shareholder value. The shareholder activists are fresh from dictating significant retrenchment by NRG (click through here), which has shed investments in competitive sectors in favor of regulated resources (click through here).

Elliott and Bluescape, calling themselves the Sempra Shareholder Group, together own a $1.3 billion or 4.9% economic interest in Sempra Energy. They sent a letter and presentation to Sempra’s board outlining what they deemed is $11 billion to $16 billion in readily achievable shareholder value. “To unlock this value at Sempra, the group highlighted an opportunity for Sempra’s Board and CEO Jeff Martin and his team to adopt a two-step plan that would benefit all key stakeholders.”

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Investors are trying to overhaul Sempra. The message to other utilities: Stick to basics. Billionaire investor Paul Singer targeted California power giant Sempra Energy for a major overhaul Monday, and in doing so, he may have inadvertently delivered a warning to all of America’s growth-starved electric utilities: Stick to basics. Singer’s Elliott Management Corp. and Bluescape Resources Co. called for Sempra — which is based in San Diego and is the parent of SoCalGas — to sell Mexican and South American businesses, spin off its U.S. liquefied natural gas unit and name six new directors. Sempra’s shares soared 15.5% to $117.19, their biggest rally in almost two decades. Before Monday, the shares had declined 12% in the last year. Elliott and Bluescape said their strategy would raise the share price to between $139 and $158. Sempra’s U.S. utilities division, consisting of SoCalGas, San Diego Gas & Electric and Oncor, would have a combined value of as much as $30 billion, according to Elliott and Bluescape. The investors said Monday in a statement that the company’s conglomerate structure holds “no compelling strategic or financial rationale.” “Sempra Energy is committed to an open dialogue with all shareholders,” the company said in a statement. “Our board and management will review their letter and presentation in detail and respond in due course.”


Activist investor Paul Singer just chose Sempra Energy as his next turnaround project. Elliott Management and Bluescape Energy partners want to overhaul Sempra Energy’s board and conduct a strategic review of the utility and energy company. The activist investors say Sempra’s stock has underperformed because it has acquired “valuable but divergent businesses” and lacks focus. If that pairing sounds familiar, it should. Last August, Singer played a pivotal role in Sempra’s purchase of Oncor, in the process, spoiling Warren Buffett’s bid for the Texas utility. By threatening to launch a rival offer for Oncor, Elliott exploited the Oracle of Omaha’s aversion to bidding wars and cleared a path for Sempra to acquire the Texas-based operator of transmission and distribution lines. Now, Elliott and Bluescape Resources — frequent allies in activist campaigns in the utility space — are taking issue with Sempra’s business mix less than a year after Singer helped add Oncor to its portfolio. “Despite the attractive characteristics of its businesses, Sempra shares are deeply undervalued by the market. In our view, this persistent and substantial undervaluation stems from a focus on sheer size that has permeated management and Board thinking,” Elliott portfolio manager Jeff Rosenbaum and Bluescape Executive Chairman C. John Wilder said in a letter to Sempra’s board.

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Forget pure-play renewable stocks. Buy this diversified dividend-payer instead. Diversification is important in investing, but this utility has learned some valuable new tricks that make it a one-stop power shop. If you’re looking to invest in renewable power stocks, you can always pick out pure plays that take advantage of the huge demand for clean energy — and with utility customers inking long-term power contracts as they switch from dirty carbon-based fuels, that might be a winning strategy. However, what if the growth story behind renewables doesn’t live up to today’s hype? That uncertainty is why a diversified company like NextEra Energy, Inc., with utility and renewable power operations, might make more sense for conservative investors.


Despite import duties, U.S. solar market continues to grow. The U.S. solar market added 2.5 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic generation in the first quarter of 2018, representing annual growth of 13 percent, demonstrating “resiliency in spite of the new tariffs on imported modules, the Solar Energy Industries Association reports.

The solar trade group released its U.S. Solar Market Insight Report from GTM Research, which found that solar PV accounted for 55 percent of all U.S. electricity capacity added during the quarter and added more than two gigawatts for the 10th straight quarter. “Overall, the report estimates that solar’s growth in 2018 will mirror 2017’s 10.6 GW before growing more robustly in 2019 and then accelerating in the early 2020s,” SEIA said.

“The solar industry had a strong showing in the first quarter,” said SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper. “This data shows that solar has become a common-sense option for much of the U.S. and is too strong to be set back for long, even in light of the tariffs. States from California to Florida have stepped up with smart policies that will drive investment for years to come.”


More electric industry news items of note:

SCE&G rips S.C. agency for seeking ‘irrelevant’ records in case to cut customers’ rates. SCE&G blasted a state agency Monday for trying to obtain more records as part of its case before the state Public Service Commission to cut the rates of 700,000-plus S.C. customers stung by the bungled V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project. The Cayce-headquartered utility said it has released thousands of pages of documents already. But it said the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff “painted a grossly incomplete and misleading’’ characterization of why the utility has been reluctant to release some documents. Officials with the state Office of Regulatory Staff have said SCE&G misled S.C. lawmakers by claiming that a critical report by the Bechtel Corp. legally was kept confidential because it was prepared for a possible lawsuit against the project’s chief contractor, Westinghouse. The report found an array of problems on the V.C. Summer project site. Regulatory Staff wants documents related to the Bechtel report to help make the case that SCE&G’s customers should have their power bills cut rather than continue to pay an extra $27 a month, on average, for two now-abandoned nuclear reactors that won’t be finished.

Will South Carolina’s net metering fight spread north to Raleigh? North Carolina clean energy advocates are keeping a watchful eye on a battle over net metering underway in South Carolina. The Carolinas share a major utility in Duke Energy, the nation’s second largest, which is why observers say the debate in the Palmetto State could foreshadow a fight over rooftop solar soon coming across the state line. “If I were a customer in any Duke territory that had net metering, I would be watching South Carolina very closely,” said South Carolina-based Tyson Grinstead, public policy manager for the rooftop solar company Sunrun. Thirty-seven states including the Carolinas require retail net metering, in which utilities must buy excess electricity from customers’ solar panels at retail rates. Many of these state policies have been in place for decades, but in recent years they’ve become targets for regulated utilities facing flatlining electricity sales. In South Carolina, a 2014 law requires Duke Energy and South Carolina Electric & Gas to offer retail net metering until rooftop solar is equal to 2 percent of their electricity sales — a cap they’re fast approaching. Solar advocates are pushing the legislature to remove or increase the cap. Duke opposes such a move unless it can pay solar panel owners a lower rate.

ERCOT spokeswoman named to Texas PUC. Shelly Botkin, director of corporate communications and government affairs for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, was appointed by Governor Greg Abbott to fill a vacancy on the three-member panel of the Public Utility Commission of Texas. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to 24 million Texas customers which represents about 90 percent of the state’s electric load. The Public Utility Commission regulates the state’s electric, telecommunication, water and sewer utilities. Botkin replaces commissioner Brandy Marty Marquez who resigned from the commission earlier this year. The term is scheduled to expire Sept. 1, 2019.

Brown, Clark seek another term on Florida PSC. Utility regulators Julie Brown and Gary Clark are seeking reappointment to the Florida Public Service Commission, as candidates face a Tuesday deadline to apply for two seats on the panel. Brown and Clark were among 11 people who had submitted applications as of early Monday afternoon for the $132,036-a-year positions on the five-member commission, which regulates utilities such as Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric Co. The deadline to submit applications to a state nominating council is 5 p.m. Tuesday. The nominating council, chaired by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, is expected to come up with a list of “most qualified” applicants on June 26 in Orlando. After interviews, the council will eventually offer a short list of recommendations from which Gov. Rick Scott will make appointments to the two seats.

PUC seeks eight members for Vermont System Planning Committee. The Vermont Public Utility Commission announced today that it is seeking eight members to serve on the Vermont System Planning Committee – one primary member and an alternate representing each of the following four interests: residential electric consumers, commercial and industrial electric consumers, town and regional planning organizations, and environmental protection. The alternates will attend VSPC meetings when the primary member is not available.

Direct Energy warns of scammers in Ohio falsely associating with company. “Direct Energy has received reports that Ohio business owners are receiving solicitation calls from an entity using the Direct Energy name. Direct Energy is only contacting current business customers via telephone regarding renewal notifications. We understand the phone number being used is 614-555-0169, which is a publicly reported scam number.”

Local governments look to all-electric buildings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Marin County and Palo Alto are pioneers in adopting building codes encouraging all-electric buildings. Governments looking for ways to slash fossil fuel use and meet their greenhouse gas reduction goals are turning to their increasingly carbon-free grids to decarbonize buildings. The Board of Supervisors in Marin County, California recently approved energy-efficiency updates to its green building requirements that include provisions providing a compliance pathway for all-electric buildings. The updated standards apply to new buildings in unincorporated areas of the county. In an interview, Alice Zanmiller, sustainability planner with Marin County’s Community Development Agency, said the move to encourage all-electric buildings is directly connected to the increased availability of renewable electricity in the county.

To hit climate goals, Bill Gates and his billionaire friends are betting on energy storage. The world needs radical new energy technologies to fight climate change. In 2016, Quartz reported that a group of billionaires—including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Mukesh Ambani, and Richard Branson—launched Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) to invest at least $1 billion in creating those technologies. Now, 18 months later, Quartz can reveal the first two startups that BEV will be investing in: Form Energy and Quidnet Energy. Both companies are developing new technologies to store energy, but taking completely different approaches to achieve that goal.

German utilities putting batteries on both sides of the meter. In the past week, developer RES Group has just got a front-of-meter battery project underway for a utility company in northern Germany, while storage system provider Tesvolt has just signed a deal with another utility in the European country to distribute energy storage behind-the-meter for commercial customers. The award of RES Deutschland’s 10MW project was announced following a competitive solicitation process from energy supplier Versorgungsbetriebe Bordesholm (VBB) in January. The project in the Schleswig-Holstein municipality of Bordesholm is funded by the EU and supported by the local state. One of the main aims of the system’s deployment is to provide backup to the local grid in the event of power outages. RES announced that a ground-breaking ceremony was held for the Bordesholm battery last Monday, attended by RES Deutschland and VBB executives. Funded as a pilot project by the European Union in supporting continental aims for decarbonisation, VBB hopes the system will help it reach 100% renewables by 2020 – its share is currently already at 75%.

Tesla wanted competition – Now big names are bringing it. Almost four years ago to the day, Tesla’s Elon Musk threw down the gauntlet to traditional automakers, challenging them to step up and take electric cars seriously. Now, he’s finally getting what he wished for. Two of the biggest names in the industry are about to each launch a car that will take on Tesla’s two top-selling models, and that’s when things are going to start getting truly interesting. Back in June 2014, Musk was bemoaning the fact that electrification simply wasn’t being taken seriously by his mainstream competition. Initially, the outspoken chief executive explained, Tesla’s big fear had been that his rivals would steal the car-making upstart’s technology. Instead, it became clear, the primary risk was that electric cars simply weren’t being taken seriously at all. “At Tesla,” Musk explained, “we felt compelled to create patents out of concern that the big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.” Tesla, as a result, offered up its patents for good-faith use by its rivals. It’s unclear how many – or if any at all – actually took Musk up on that offer. What is abundantly clear, though, is that four years on we’re at the cusp of some real competition to the Model S and Model X.

Cryptocurrencies lose billions in value after an exchange is hacked. The hack of a cryptocurrency exchange in South Korea is being blamed for a sharp drop in bitcoin and other popular currencies, which lost billions of dollars in value. The Coinrail virtual currency exchange was breached over the weekend. Coinrail isn’t a huge exchange – the value of the lost currency is believed to be around $40 million. But the hack added to existing uncertainties in the virtual currency market, and after Coinrail reported losing about 30 percent of its reserves in the attack, bitcoin’s price plummeted. As of midday Monday, bitcoin was down more than 7 percent, to around $6,700, according to the Coinbase exchange. That’s a drop of more than 60 percent since bitcoin’s all-time high of nearly $20,000, which it reached last December. Even with the recent sharp slip, bitcoin has gained more than 130 percent in value since June 11 of 2017.

Quebec freezes crypto mining power requests amid excessive demand. The major Canadian electricity provider will temporarily halt processing requests from cryptocurrency miners to fulfill its obligations to provide energy to the entire province. The provincial government even bared a new framework for this category of electricity consumers.

Earnings plunge for Switzerland’s Axpo as hydro power remains uncompetitive. Lower electricity revenues in Switzerland saw Axpo’s first half earnings plunge 54 percent as the country’s hydro power stations continued to chalk up losses, the utility said Monday. Meanwhile Swiss hydro remained under particular pressure from cheaper continental power. According to the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, the industry made a net loss of CHF 311 million in 2016. “Even if the market premium, which will apply until 2022, is set to reduce this amount to around CHF 200 million per year, there is a lack of funds available to invest in expanding hydro power,” it said. According to Switzerland’s September 2016 Energy Act, operators of hydro plants over 10 MW are entitled to a market premium if they have to sell electricity sub-cost. The support is limited to five years. In total the premium amounts to around CHF 110 million per year, with investment contributions of around CHF 60 million per year.


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Today’s lede: Add potential criminal charges to billions in fire-related liability for besieged PG&E? California officials confirmed late last week that equipment belonging to PG&E was the ignition point for devastating and deadly fires last fall in the state’s wine country, and referred possible violations of state law to the county law enforcement officials, according to news reports. The once-bankrupt utility (click here and here), already buffeted by defection of load to community choice aggregation programs, saw its stock slide further in the wake of the news.


PG&E may face criminal charges after probe of deadly wildfires. PG&E faces billions in potential liabilities from wildfire. “The implications of this for shareholders are not good,” said Michael Wara, director of the climate and energy policy program at Stanford University. “It appears that PG&E is going to bear some fault here.” The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in its Friday statement that PG&E equipment caused at least 12 of the wine country blazes, including the Redwood fire that killed nine; Atlas fire that burned 51,624 acres and claimed the lives of six; and Nuns fire that killed at least two. The agency is still investigating the cause of the Tubbs fire, which became the most destructive in state history and led to 22 casualties. Many of the 12 blazes were caused by tree limbs hitting PG&E’s power lines. In one instance, a fire was ignited by a downed power line after PG&E attempted to re-energize it, the fire department said. Attorneys and politicians were already homing in on the alleged violations. They’re “a wholesale indictment of the failure of PG&E risk management practices,” said Frank Pitre, an attorney who represents fire victims suing PG&E. “I don’t say that lightly.” Since the blazes broke out, San Francisco-based PG&E has lost almost $14 billion in market value. The utility suspended its dividend and withheld its 2018 profit guidance because of the uncertainty over how much it might have to pay for damages. Under California law, utilities including PG&E and Edison International may be held liable for costs if their equipment is found to have caused a fire, even if they followed safety rules. For its part, PG&E said in a statement that years of drought, extreme heat and millions of dead trees had created “a new normal” in California, contributing to more intense wildfires. It’s a climate change-fueled situation that requires “comprehensive new solutions,” the company said.


Downed power lines caused of deadly California wine country wildfires, report says. Power lines owned by San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. are to blame for a dozen wildfires in Northern California’s wine country last fall, the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Friday. Two of the 12 fires killed 15 people. Investigators determined the fires – part of a series that were the deadliest in California history – were caused by PG&E-owned equipment. In eight of the 12 fires included in Friday’s report, Cal Fire said there was evidence of violations of state law and that its findings have been forwarded to county prosecutors. Hundreds of homeowners and relatives of those killed have sued PG&E. “PG&E has been trying to duck responsibility for the fires, blaming everything from climate change to local fire departments and the state’s liability laws,” Patrick McCallum, co-chair of a coalition of people affected by the wildfires, said in a statement. He said Cal Fire’s report “puts the blame where it belongs – squarely on PG&E, confirming it was responsible for many of the fires that devastated so many lives.” PG&E said in a statement that the company believes its “overall programs met our state’s high standards” for maintaining electrical equipment and pruning about 1.4 million trees a year. But because of California’s much longer wildfire season and extreme weather, PG&E said it has made changes including creating a wildfire operations center to monitor extreme weather and fire threats in real time, putting in place a network of weather stations throughout high-risk fire areas and boosting vegetation management.

See also:

California must retain control of its electric grid. The California Legislature is considering legislation, including Assembly Bill 813 (click through here), to turn over the management of the California energy grid to an unelected regional board that would govern a single energy market across the Western United States. The regional board would replace California’s Independent System Operator and would ultimately answer to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, now under the Trump administration. This move could result in a severe setback to California’s renewable energy future. A regional board comprising largely out-of-state interests could load the grid with fracked gas and coal produced by Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico and Colorado. Trump’s FERC, which is unabashedly pro-fossil fuel, would have the final say and has already imposed its agenda on other regional systems in the country.


Deregulation shouldn’t be blamed for California’s grid problems. In early May, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) released a report warning that the emergence of community choice aggregators (CCAs) could potentially destabilize California’s energy grid. This blog post explains the concerns the CPUC has about the increase in community choice aggregation in California. It also traces the origin of CCAs back through California’s regulatory history to show they are the result of repeated government intervention, not deregulation as the CPUC’s report suggests.


Consumer choice has suddenly revolutionized the electricity business in California. But utilities are striking back. Facing real competition for the first time, California’s big three utilities are hustling to produce more power from renewable-energy sources. Nearly 2 million electricity customers in California may not know it, but they’re part of a revolution. That many residents and businesses are getting their power not from traditional utilities, but via new government-affiliated entities known as community choice aggregators. The CCAs promise to deliver electricity more from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, and for a lower price than the big utilities charge. The customers may not be fully aware they’re served by a CCA because they’re still billed by their local utility. But with more than 1.8 million accounts now served by the new system and more being added every month, the changes in the state’s energy system already are massive. Faced for the first time with real competition, the state’s big three utilities have suddenly become havens of innovation. They’re offering customers flexible options on the portion of their power coming from renewable energy, and they’re on pace to increase the share of power they get from solar and wind power to the point where they are 10 years ahead of their deadline in meeting a state mandate.


‘DON’T BLOCK THE MOX.’ Politico reports that a district judge in South Carolina granted the state a preliminary injunction Thursday preventing the Energy Department from winding down the long-troubled MOX nuclear project in the Palmetto State. “Without a preliminary injunction, the State will suffer irreparable harm,” District Judge J. Michelle Childs wrote in the 36-page order, noting how DOE intended to issue a full stop work order to start winding down MOX and terminating employees at the Savannah River Site early next week. Terminating the project is one of the few big decisions where the Trump and Obama administrations are in agreement. The judge vacated a partial stop work order DOE issued in May, blocked any full stop order and were ordered to “maintain the status quo by continuing the MOX Project” until the state’s lawsuit to protect the effort runs its course.


Trump wants energy security to be about electricity, not just oil. The Energy Department is considering invoking three laws to force operators of America’s electricity grid to compensate economically struggling coal and nuclear power plants. Two laws are more than 60 years old: Defense Production Act of 1950 and Federal Power Act of 1935. They give the president broad powers to make domestic-policy changes in times of emergency as determined by the executive branch. The third, a 2015 transportation spending law, gives more authority to the Energy Department to ensure the electricity grid is secure. The administration interprets this partly as including “fuel-secure” power plants — namely, coal and nuclear. “Based on the threats and intelligence that we see, it’s pretty clear that we have some concerns around natural gas pipelines as well as some parts around the electric grid. We’re focused on redundancy. That’s what nuclear facilities in particular, and coal to some degree, provide.”

Main customer of Arizona coal plant goes green. The main buyer of electricity from an Arizona coal plant on the verge of closure said on Friday it will instead source its electricity largely from a solar power project, ignoring an appeal by the U.S. Interior Department to buy more power from the plant to keep it open. The Trump administration has been waging a broad effort to keep aging coal and nuclear plants from retirement, arguing that their closure would constitute a threat to national energy security. On Friday, the board of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a major electricity consumer that supplies water to a large swath of Arizona, voted to sign a 20-year agreement to buy power from a solar project and also agreed to a five-year power deal with utility Salt River Project for electricity from a variety of sources. The vote came despite a plea from the head of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, who last Friday wrote to board members to say that a 1968 law gives Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke power to require the CAP to buy energy from the Navajo Generating Station, or NGS, a 2,250-MW coal-fired power plant that is scheduled to close in 2019. “With the 1968 Act in mind, the Department expects to consider several options going forward, including the feasibility of continued use of NGS-provided power,” the letter from Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Timothy Petty said. Such a move would have delayed the plant’s closure.

Some Republicans want more solar despite Trump’s love for coal. While President Donald Trump searches for a way to save America’s coal country, some in his own party have their eyes set on what’s arguably the exact opposite: making solar shine. Since taking office, Trump has worked to undo his predecessor’s renewable energy-friendly policies, levied tariffs on imported solar equipment and signed tax reforms that depleted financing for clean energy projects. He’s meanwhile pushed for America to use more of the coal-fired power that solar and wind have helped edge out: Just last week, his administration was said to be considering a plan that would force grid operators to buy electricity from cash-strapped coal plants. That’s put some solar-loving Republicans in a tenuous position. The party’s on pace to receive more money than ever from the solar industry this election cycle. “You either believe that market forces will dictate the energy sources or you believe in meddling in the market — you can’t do both,” said Abby Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. She described Trump’s latest plan to force coal plant purchases as an “assault on the market” that would crowd out everything from solar to wind to natural gas projects. Trump is already facing skepticism from within his own caucus, including from Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday, and free-market conservatives aren’t ecstatic.

MAKING WALKER TIP TOE: Politico reports that the Energy Department’s top electricity policy official was put on the spot Thursday when he was asked to square the Trump administration’s push to use federal emergency powers to help struggling coal and nuclear plants with his own comments that suggested his skepticism. In February, Bruce Walker, who has spent his whole career in the electricity sector and quickly won the respect of staff in his office, told reporters that his office “would never use a 202 to stave [off] an economic issue. … It’s not designed for that.” Since then, however, FirstEnergy has filed an emergency request for power plants and DOE drafted a document suggesting that Energy Secretary Rick Perry invoke the so-called 202(c) authorities to keep them running. And when Rep. Don Beyer asked Walker at a House Science Committee hearing if his earlier comments implied that he wouldn’t authorize a 202, Walker would only say that FirstEnergy’s application was under review and otherwise gave the Virginia Democratic terse responses.

Politico also reports that more than 30 Democratic lawmakers are calling it a “false narrative” that the president needs to bail out economically struggling coal and nuclear power plants in the interest of electrical grid resilience. In a letter they call on Energy Secretary Rick Perry to stop such rhetoric and “to cease attempting to use emergency authorities to intervene in planned power plant retirements.”

INGAA ‘deeply troubled’ by Trump administration plan to punish natural gas.  The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America is deeply troubled by the Trump administration’s apparent move to scapegoat natural gas to prop up uneconomic coal and nuclear plants.  “There is absolutely no justification for the extreme intervention in energy markets suggested in the draft National Security Council memo. Such a move would be bad public policy, costly to American consumers and the economy, and legally questionable,” said INGAA President and Chief Executive Officer Don Santa. Natural gas has been enormously important in boosting the US economy, adding new US jobs, bringing cost savings to millions of Americans, revitalizing US manufacturing and lowering the nation’s carbon emissions. Much of the rationale outlined in the draft National Security Council report is fundamentally flawed, particularly as it relates to natural gas pipelines. “The expansiveness of the natural gas pipeline network is a strength, not a weakness,” Santa said. “The network’s ability to access diverse sources of supply and storage across the US and Canada makes the system resilient and significantly reduces the risk to gas-fired electric generators by providing the ability, in most cases, to reroute natural gas in the rare event of a disruption. It’s also important to point out that unlike the power grid, pipeline incidents do not result in cascading outages and widespread losses of service. There is no natural gas equivalent to a rolling blackout.”

Trump’s coal fixation will harm Americans’ health and wallets. Earlier this month, President Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to intervene in electricity markets to prop up failing coal power plants, falsely claiming the effort was needed to protect electricity grid reliability for national security reasons. In truth, the action amounts only to a war on the working- and middle-class energy consumers Trump claims to care about, all to indulge his political fixation with “saving coal.”

Trump order could prop up WV coal plants, but many warn of consumer cost. As West Virginians continue to see their utility bills rise, the regional electric grid serving the state is among those warning that attempts by President Donald Trump’s administration to keep coal and nuclear power plants from closing will lead to higher electricity prices. Gov. Jim Justice and West Virginia’s congressional delegation have lauded the move, making similar arguments relating to energy security. “The security of our homeland is inextricably tied to the security of our energy supply,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in a statement. “The ability to produce reliable electricity and to recover from disruptions to our grid are critical to ensuring our nation’s security against the various threats facing our nation today — whether those threats be extreme weather events or adversarial foreign actors.” Jacqueline Roberts, director of the state Public Service Commission’s Consumer Advocate Division, said “someone has to pay for the subsidies, and that includes [West Virginia] ratepayers.” Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said if the Trump plan manages to be implemented, it would benefit the state’s coal industry and keep at-risk coal-fired power plants open, saving area jobs and tax revenue. But as far as grid reliability concerns go, Burd said the natural gas industry is more than prepared to keep the lights on as coal and nuclear plants are set to shutter. “There are ample supplies of natural gas in this region to supply all current and future power production needs,” Burd said. “There’s just a tremendous amount of natural gas being produced.”

Picking winners and losers. So Trump would pick winners in the energy sector. Why? Because Obama played both sides of the game. He designated coal and power plants fueled by it as losers. He did everything to destroy the coal industry, ranging from air pollution rules intended to make coal-fired electricity prohibitively expensive to regulations meant to wreck mining. Then, he specified “alternative” energy would be winners, with massive federal subsidies — billions of dollars — for solar and wind projects. Remember Solyndra? That cost you and me $535 million and the company still went bankrupt. Icing on the cake for Obama was slashing funds for clean coal technology in an attempt to make it impossible for that fuel to compete. Meanwhile, electricity prices have gone up. Here in West Virginia, they have skyrocketed by 62 percent since 2008, when Obama took office. Understand this about utilities: Their executives don’t care ­how electricity is generated. Even if they have to switch to more expensive technology, state public service commissions usually will allow them to recover that cost, plus add a profit. So yes, Trump may be designating coal as a winner — but only because Obama hit it with the double whammy of trying to kill it while spoon-feeding its competition.

Montana Republicans see hope for Colstrip in Trump protection of coal. President Trump’s plans to prop up struggling coal power plants are getting high marks from Montana Republicans Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte, who see a benefit to Colstrip Power Plant. Daines and Gianforte brought representatives from DOE and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to Colstrip to meet with locals May 30. It was the first day of the senator’s energy summit, which finished the next day in Billings. It’s not clear whether Colstrip would benefit from the president’s order, but Daines said in a Friday email that Colstrip fit the bill of the power plants described by DOE. “The plan as reported recognizes coal plants as critical to reliability and national security — criteria that DOE officials noted about Colstrip during my Energy Summit, but as with many things, the devil is in the details,” Daines said. “Colstrip is essential to the reliability of our power grid and to our energy security, which is why we brought Trump administration officials to Colstrip during the recent energy summit,” Gianforte said. “I support efforts to protect America’s critical energy infrastructure and look forward to reviewing the details of the president’s proposal.”

Wyoming coal could get short reprieve under coal plan. A Trump administration plan that would spend billions of dollars to subsidize aging coal-fired and nuclear power plants may not be much of a boon for Wyoming coal, one of the state’s leading economists said Wednesday. “It’s really unclear how this is going to work out,” said Robert Godby, an associate professor in the College of Business Department of Economics and Finance at the University of Wyoming. “What we do know is this really only affects the places that have competitive coal sale markets.” In other words, Godby said a Department of Energy memo that outlines a plan to require power companies to buy coal-fired and nuclear-generated electricity won’t have a large impact on Powder River Basin operations, which supply about 30 percent of the nation’s thermal coal. “Where this really matters is in the East where they have this competitive wholesale market,” he said. “As far as Wyoming is concerned, our coal-fired power plants aren’t at risk.” If implemented, what the requirement could do for companies mining in the PRB is stave off some potential production drop-offs over the next couple of years, which also could save some mining jobs, he said.

Trump’s new strategy to keep ailing coal and nuclear plants open makes no sense. Commentary by James van Nostrand. President Donald Trump recently ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take “immediate steps” to stop the closure of coal and nuclear power plants. And according to a draft memo that surfaced the same day, the federal government may establish a “Strategic Electric Generation Reserve” to purchase electricity from coal and nuclear plants for two years. Both proposals, which have garnered little support, are premised on these power plants being essential to national security. If implemented, the government would be activating emergency powers rarely tapped before for any purpose. Based on my four decades of experience as a utility regulatory attorney and law professor, I can see why this proposal has caused much controversy, partly because of how energy markets work. To be sure, these industries are in trouble.


Other electric industry news items of note:

PSE&G’s next big ask: $2.5 billion to upgrade electric and gas distribution networks. Utility claims residential customers would see only small bumps in their monthly bills; money would go to boost resiliency, reliability, redundancy. Public Service Electric & Gas is seeking approval to spend $2.5 billion over the next five years to replace and upgrade aging parts of its electric and gas distribution systems. In a filing Friday to the state Board of Public Utilities, the state’s largest utility detailed its plans to strengthen parts of its system to better withstand storms and improve reliability while cutting restoration time for customers during outages. The proposal, touted as an extension of an earlier $1.2 billion resiliency program approved by regulators in 2014, aligns with directives from state officials to utilities to make their systems more resilient and improve reliability. Nevertheless, the filing is expected to come under intense scrutiny given increasing concerns over costs to be absorbed by ratepayers as New Jersey tries to transition more rapidly to a clean-energy economy. That move could boost utility bills — even with depressed natural gas prices. PSE&G said the proposal, if approved, would lead to only modest increases in residential bills — about $4 per month for the typical electric customer, about $5 a month for the average gas customer.

Report: Maine poised to reap new jobs from offshore wind. Maine is poised to capture hundreds of jobs when offshore wind takes off and should adopt policy positions to improve its opportunities, according to a new report. The report by the American Jobs Project (click through here) said Maine is well-positioned thanks to advances in floating platforms developed by the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. It suggests that Maine could see 2,100 jobs if the state adopts “forward-thinking policies.” The report includes recommendations that include restoring an office that fast-tracked wind power projects during the administration of Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. It was dismantled by Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Other recommendations include establishing offshore wind certificate or degree programs to support a skilled workforce and establishing a Northeast Offshore Wind Innovation Center. “The U.S. offshore wind sector is about to take off, and Maine has an opportunity to shape this emerging industry,” Mary Collins, co-author of the report and director of the American Jobs Project in Berkley, California, told the Bangor Daily News.

Next generation offshore wind in U.S. can compete with gas, developer says. Massive offshore wind turbines keep getting bigger, and that’s helping make the power cheaper — to the point where developers say new projects in U.S. waters can compete with natural gas. The price “is going to be a real eye-opener,” said Bryan Martin, chairman of Deepwater Wind LLC, which won an auction in May to build a 400-megawatt wind farm southeast of Rhode Island. Deepwater built the only U.S. offshore wind farm, a 30-megawatt project that was completed south of Block Island in 2016. The company’s bid was selected by Rhode Island the same day that Massachusetts picked Vineyard Wind to build an 800-megawatt wind farm in the same area. Bigger turbines that make more electricity have cut the cost per megawatt by about half, said Tom Harries, a wind analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That also reduces maintenance expenses and installation time. All of this is helping offshore wind vie with conventional power plants. “You could not build a thermal gas plant in New England for the price of the wind bids in Massachusetts and Rhode Island,” Martin said Friday at the U.S. Offshore Wind Conference in Boston. “It’s very cost-effective for consumers.”

U.S. Rep. Harris sounds off again against offshore wind off Ocean City. A house committee supported Congressman Andy Harris’ views on offshore wind in a recently passed budget bill, the Eastern Shore representative announced Wednesday. The language authored by Harris was approved by the House Committee on Appropriations for the fiscal year 2019 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill. “The Committee is concerned that changes may have been made to the proposed wind farm off Ocean City, (Maryland), after review of the project by the State Public Service Commission, and the Committee is aware of the Town of Ocean City’s concerns regarding the height of the wind turbines.” The bill continued by asking the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to consult with Maryland’s renewable energy task force prior to the review and approval of any construction and operations plan.

Wind developer’s payment to Ducks Unlimited raises questions in N.D. A North Dakota wind project that raised concerns with wildlife officials about impacts to habitat is moving forward this summer after the developer made a $557,000 payment to Ducks Unlimited. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department wrote in comments to state utility regulators that a considerable portion of the Foxtail Wind Project in Dickey County would affect native, unbroken prairie that is vital to declining wildlife populations. The agency recommended project developer NextEra Energy Resources develop a mitigation plan to make up for the impacts of the 150-megawatt wind development. But because the agency is still developing how energy offset packages would work, Game and Fish negotiated an agreement with NextEra to offset the impacts through a one-time payment to Ducks Unlimited for native prairie conservation. A bulk of the funding, $500,000, will go to North Dakota landowners for grassland and wetland easements for about 1,000 acres, said Johann Walker, director of conservation programs for the Ducks Unlimited Great Plains Regional Office. The rest, $57,000, will pay for Ducks Unlimited staff to work on the agreements. Game and Fish officials recommended to the Public Service Commission that the wind project move forward after reaching the offset agreement. The commission approved the project and construction was expected to begin May 29.

New Vt. energy efficiency programs will reduce cost of doing business. Vermont Governor Phil Scott celebrated legislation on Friday that enhances businesses, particularly manufacturers, ability to be more energy efficient, while simultaneously helping the state meet its energy goals. “When some of Vermont’s larger energy users told me the way the state had been incentivizing energy efficiency investments didn’t work for them, I knew we needed to take action,” said Scott. “This new tool will help companies like WestRock make investments they simply would not have done under the limitations of the existing energy efficiency program. This new approach will help reduce operating costs, strengthen our economy, and – importantly – help the state meet its energy goals.” The new law, passed by the Legislature last month, directs the Public Utility Commission to create a new Energy Savings Account Partnership Pilot (ESAPP) Program – a three-year pilot that will incentivize energy efficiency investments by businesses that have previously not been able to fully benefit from the state’s electric efficiency programs. It also expands eligibility for the state’s Self-Managed Energy Efficiency Program (SMEEP) and the eligible use of funds within the program.

Residential utility bills coming down in Michigan thanks to federal tax cuts. Relief is on the way for Michigan residents, who will see a reduction in energy bill rates in the coming months. Federal tax cuts passed in December lowered the U.S. tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, which represents a reduction for both Consumers Energy and DTE Energy. For Consumers Energy, this represents a $200 million annual reduction.

California not the only place where messaging from Pelosi & Schumer conflicts with state campaigns. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D), arguably the most progressive governor in the U.S., is running for reelection this November against Republican state Senator Scott Wagner, an early supporter and ally of President Trump. Wolf is making his call to institute a severance tax on natural gas central to his reelection campaign’s message. As with Gov. Jerry Brown’s push to maintain a higher gas tax rate in California, Gov. Wolf’s severance tax, if enacted, would lead to higher energy prices for consumers across the Keystone State.

Lawsuit claims Georgia Power negligent in death of Henry resident. A day before power was cut off, Curry had received notice that her service would be disconnected, her daughter said. Her son pleaded to have an extension on medical grounds. Georgia Power asked for a letter from her doctor, which the family said was sent. The family has filed a lawsuit against the utility accusing GeorgiaPower of negligence by cutting off the power, which powered the oxygen producing machine she depended on. “The actions of the defendant Georgia Power Company in cutting off the power to a critical care patient was done recklessly, willfully, wrongfully, unwarranted, wanton and malicious,” the complaint read. Georgia Power through its spokesperson said they do not disconnect customers for non-pay who are under a valid life-support status. The company did not state whether they received the notice from Atlanta Cancer Care, or discuss details of the case. “While we cannot discuss the specific litigation underway, we are currently considering the facts of this matter and plan to file our response later this month,” said company spokesman John Kraft. Kraft added that the company only resorts to disconnection if all available options including offering advice on available payment assistance programs and services have been explored.–politics/lawsuit-claims-georgia-power-negligent-death-henry-resident/pet4bsNS6KFh2c65WIhyGL/

Green Township, Ohio, warns about energy scammers. Green Township’s aggregation partner Energy Alliances Inc. said solicitors using aggressive sales tactics are sometimes misleading and in violation of Public Utilities Commission of Ohio rules for marketing. The township has posted on its Facebook page that solicitors’ terms and conditions often include low introductory prices and purposely hide, in fine print, the often exorbitant price after the relatively short one- to three-month introductory term. These offers may include hefty early termination fees and/or other terms which may be objectionable to the customer, such as automatic rollover provisions. Many times, door-to-door solicitors ask to see a resident’s Duke bill on the pretext of confirming their current rate, then obtain pertinent information from the bill and switch the account without the resident’s consent or knowledge. Residents should be cautioned to never let anyone trying to sell them something see a copy of their bill. Residents who feel they were pressured into switching can immediately call Duke Energy to rescind their enrollment or wait for the Duke Energy letter acknowledging the switch, then call the number provided to rescind the switch during the allotted rescission period. If a resident feels they were inappropriately switched, they can call PUCO at 1-800-686-7826 and lodge a complaint.

Puerto Rico asks buyers of rickety power system to rewrite rules. Now that Puerto Rico’s massive and moribund public power utility is almost back from the dead, Wall Street is weighing what its parts might be worth. The bankrupt U.S. commonwealth’s investment bankers last week started sounding out suitors for the eight-decade-old monopoly known as Prepa, whose rickety infrastructure was almost erased by Hurricane Maria in 2017. The halting efforts to repair the damage and improve the antiquated grid have been the central obstacle in recovery. Now, the government is so eager to find a solution that it is even asking companies that might privatize the system how they would prefer it to be regulated.

Batteries hasten winds of change for electricity stocks: Barron’s. Bigger, better batteries are speeding up change in the U.S. electricity sector and could help power a rally in Xcel Energy Inc (XEL.O), American Electric Power Co Inc (AEP.N) and other utility and renewable energy stocks, Barron’s reported. After a decade of steep cost declines, wind and solar installations, often paired with battery storage, are increasingly displacing older coal and gas-fired power plants, benefiting battery makers and some utilities, the Barron’s cover story said. Batteries can now store enough electricity to help power small towns when wind and solar supplies ebb, Barron’s said. The United States is expected to install more than 35 megawatts of battery storage through 2025, which could save more than $4 billion in annual operating costs, Barron’s said, citing the Washington-based Energy Storage Association trade group.

Electric-vehicle frenzy sweeps up once-unloved metal: nickel. Once cast aside by investors, nickel has been one of the year’s best-performing assets. The speculative fever for electric-car metals is pushing to nearly four-year highs prices for nickel—a key ingredient in stainless steel. Nickel is the top industrial metal and among the best-performing assets of 2018, with futures contracts on the London Metal Exchange up 21%, as battery manufacturers, mostly in China, and investors across the world hoard the metal in anticipation of a shortage.

Lithium demand is surging but soon supply should catch up. The first wave of the lithium boom has come and gone. This saw tremendous gains for early investors who got in before 2016 and rode the wave all the way through to the end of 2017. Then in 2018 we have had endless negative reports on the sector, many of which seem miss-informed or plain wrong. The underlying theme is that many groups are totally underestimating the speed of change towards electric vehicles, and hence the surging lithium demand. By way of example many see the EV sector as growing slowly, when in reality global electric car sales grew by 58% last year, and by 59% in Q1 2018. The number of EV models available is set to jump from 155 at the end of 2017 to 289 by 2022. Another sign demand there is the 30 new lithium-ion gigafactories on the way. My lithium demand model based on some reasonable assumptions such as 15% EV penetration by the end of 2025 (China already hit 3.7% in April 2018, and global EV penetration should exceed 2% in 2018), forecasts Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (LCE) from Electric Vehicles (EVs) to reach 1.1mtpa by the end of 2025. By way of a comparison in May last year Roskill tripled their forecast for LCE demand to ~1mtpa by 2026. The key to understand is that demand is not just from booming electric car sales. There is plenty more demand from other EVs – e-buses, e-trucks, e-ships and e-boats, e-bikes, soon e-planes, the energy storage and electronics sectors.For now e-buses especially in China have been a huge demand driver for lithium. Soon we will have e-semis and all kinds of electric trucks.

Tesla might have achieved battery energy density and cost breakthroughs. One of the automaker’s most important goal is to achieve a battery pack cost of $100 per kWh. At that cost, the battery pack isn’t a bottleneck to achieve price parity with gas-powered cars, which would make any of Tesla’s vehicles even more competitive. Tesla has always been careful about not revealing its battery cost and CTO JB Straubel reiterated that at the meeting this week. He said: “It’s difficult for us to talk about specific cost numbers. It’s a difficult topic, but we are still very confident that we have the best price and performance of anything out there in the world. If there’s anything better, I don’t know about it and we have looked as hard as we possibly can. We try to talk with every single battery startup, every lab, every large manufacturer. We get quotes from them. We test cells from them. If there’s anything better, we are all ears, we want to find it, but we haven’t found it yet.” But Musk later did reveal a few interesting details and price points. After thinking about it for a moment, Musk added: “We think we have come up with some pretty cool breakthroughs on energy density and cost of the battery pack. It’s going to be pretty great.” The CEO thinks that the company is on pace to achieve a battery cell cost of $100 per kWh by the end of the year depending on commodity prices remaining stable in the next few months.

‘Liquid Air’ technology offers prospect of storing energy for the long term. Four years ago, I wrote about a new start-up energy storage technology company that had partnered with GE. This week, that company, Highview Power, has opened the world’s first grid-scale liquid air energy storage (LAES) plant, offering an intriguing and promising alternative to battery storage. Liquid air energy storage is an exotic-sounding but relatively simple technology process that involves using off-peak or renewable electricity to cool air to -196°C (-320˚F), at which point it turns into a liquid that can then be stored efficiently in insulated, low-pressure vessels. When the liquid air is released, it turns back into a gas and rapidly expands in volume, driving a turbine to generate electricity.

Retail chain Claire’s slashes energy bill by controlling smart lights over standard cable. The latest powerline communication deployment by enModus looks like a small one but shows that wireless is not the only way to avoid expensive retrofit costs. Serving another reminder that IoT lighting does not have to entail cutting edge wireless systems or fancy new Ethernet cabling, fashion and accessories retail chain Claire’s has slashed energy consumption in a section of a warehouse by connecting new LED lights to data-based controls via existing standard electrical wires. Interested in articles & announcements on powerline-based smart lighting? The warehouse in Birmingham, England has deployed powerline communication (PLC) technology from Chepstow, Wales-based enModus to reduce electricity use by 96% compared to the previous lights. The savings come not just from the new batten-style LED luminaires but also from enModus’ intelligent system called Wattwave, which monitors and controls individual lights from a central hub, all through conventional power cables supporting an Internet of Things (IoT) connection to lights in the ceiling ranging in height from around 9–46 ft. The UK’s LED By Vision provided the lights. Neither Claire’s nor enModus would reveal the size of the deployment, believed to be small, but which could serve as the first phase of a wider deployment across the entire warehouse and its offices.

Climate change: Pope urges action on clean energy. Pope Francis has said climate change is a challenge of “epochal proportions” and that the world must convert to clean fuel. “Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization,” he said. He was speaking to a group of oil company executives at the end of a two-day conference in the Vatican. Firms present included ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Norway’s Equinor and Pemex of Mexico.

Pope warns oil executives: Climate change may ‘destroy civilization’. Pope Francis on Saturday issued a dire warning to top oil executives, saying that climate change could “destroy civilization.” At a two-day conference at the Vatican, the pope called climate change a challenge of “epochal proportions,” according to Reuters. He also said that the world must move toward using clean energy and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels. “Civilization requires energy but energy use must not destroy civilization,” Francis said.

Opposing onshore UK windfarms ‘means higher energy bills.’ Ministers told there is no logical argument against turbines in areas that want them. Ministers must come clean to households about the higher energy bills they face if the UK continues to deter new onshore windfarms, the government’s top climate change adviser has said. Lord Deben, the chair of the committee on climate change (CCC), said there was no logical argument against onshore wind turbines in the parts of the UK that want them. The Conservative peer said the technology was the cheapest form of electricity generation and he hoped the government would rethink its opposition to subsidies to it. The government ended subsidies for the windfarms in 2015 but the energy minister Claire Perry has recently said she is “looking carefully” at a U-turn for windfarms built in Wales and Scotland. Last week, the government gave its backing to windfarms on remote islands, such as the Isle of Lewis. Deben told the Guardian: “There is no doubt, and I feel very strongly about it, that onshore wind is the cheapest form of electricity. If the Scots want to have it, on which basis should we say they shouldn’t have it?”