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Baseload coal and nuclear power plant subsidies, where art thou? (08/31/18)

Today’s lede: Baseload coal and nuclear power plant subsidies, where art thou? Here we are on the eve of the Labor Day weekend. Summer is gone, and still we’ve not seen action by the Trump administration on subsidies for coal and nuclear baseload generation that the president in June ordered “immediate steps” to implement (For background, see here and here). At a campaign-style rally in West Virginia last week, Mr. Trump said his administration would soon unveil “a military plan” that would be “something really special.”

So what’s the hold up? It doesn’t strike us as something they’d feel the need to hold back until after the midterm election. If anything, bring it out before November for coal-state Republicans to campaign on. Presumably, the cooler heads at the Department of Energy (and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission?) are struggling to fashion this market-killing plan in a way that could possibly survive inevitable legal challenge.

While the barrage of opinion pieces, both pro and con, has quieted down, The Hill features a new op-ed from two writers with strong military backgrounds, a perspective that has perhaps not been highlighted as it should, given the administration aims to peg its power plant subsidies on national security grounds.

“The electric grid is vulnerable to emerging and increasing threats, but bailing out uncompetitive coal and nuclear power plants would be a strategic misstep for U.S. energy policy. Not only would it not strengthen grid resilience, it would waste billions of dollars and impede the distributed energy revolution that promises real resilience benefits,” Michael Wu and Kevin Johnson argue in the op-ed.

Wu is a fellow at the Resource Security Program at New America and a principal at Converge Strategies, while Johnson is president of GlidePath Federal Solutions and a board member of the American Resilience Project and Clean Energy Leadership Institute. Wu helped create the Air Force Office of Energy Assurance, and founded the Defense Energy Program at the Truman National Security Project, which developed and advocated for policy supportive of the military’s clean energy and energy resilience initiatives. Johnson is a West Point graduate and Iraq war veteran dedicated to advancing clean energy given the national security implications of U.S. military dependence on fossil fuels.

Ensuring resilience of the energy grid won’t be achieved by extending the lives of uneconomic coal and nuclear plants, but by investing in the country’s aging and increasingly obsolete transmission and distribution grid, the two argue. Most electricity disruptions are due to problems with transmission and distribution infrastructure, not power plant availability. The administration has the “right diagnosis but the wrong prescription,” they say.

“Most of the transmission and distribution power lines in the United States are far past their life expectancy, and were not designed to meet today’s demand or severe weather,” Wu and Johnson write. The grid also is increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks, they note.

“These threats are evolving in the context of a rapidly transforming electric grid. The old centralized model is changing, with batteries, solar and other distributed sources of energy generation and storage growing exponentially. The total capacity of flexible energy resources on the U.S. electric grid is expected to more than double in the next five years. The global energy storage market is set to grow six-fold by 2030, following solar power’s explosive growth. In light of these dynamics, propping up aging power plants that have reached or surpassed their retirement age just doesn’t make sense.”

The Trump administration plans to subsidize plants that can’t compete in the market will cost consumers and taxpayers up to $34 billion over the next two years, and financing this “bailout” will hamper the growth of renewable and distributed energy resources, they point out.

“A more distributed energy grid, with thousands of energy generation and storage sources, will be inherently more difficult to disrupt than one built around large centralized power plants,” Wu and Johnson write. “Smart improvements to the grid system will minimize the risks of cascading outages, such as the 2003 power outage that affected more than 50 million people, or the largest power outage in U.S. history in Puerto Rico last year that knocked down 80 percent of the island’s power lines.”

There are a host of actions we can take that would be less costly and more effective to protect our electric grid, such as implementing cybersecurity standards for distribution grids, mandating cybersecurity standards for natural gas pipelines, and developing market-based, technology-agnostic tools that can be used to prioritize and justify resilience investments, they recommend.

“It seems the only people that seem to want a 20th century grid system to be preserved are companies that stand to directly benefit — an estimated 80 percent of coal subsidies would accrue to just five companies,” Wu and Johnson conclude. “It’s time to get serious about reforming the grid to ensure resilience and protect national security, but this administration’s proposed solutions don’t add up.”


California’s clean energy bill is a ‘very big deal,’ Obama’s energy secretary tells Axios. Ernest Moniz, who headed the Department of Energy during the Obama administration offered praise that California’s lawmakers approved legislation mandating a 100 percent carbon-free electricity supply by 2045.

“Here you have the fifth largest economy in the world saying we’re going to a carbon-free electricity sector in roughly 25 years. That is a very, very big deal,” Moniz said in a conversation with Amy Harder at Axios. But Moniz cited two challenges the state will face.

Developing energy storage will be key to implementing the mandate. “Batteries clearly are making a tremendous impact already when talking about hours of storage,” Moniz said. “But, what about when you need that backup for weeks or months. How are we going to handle that?”

He also cited the potential for NIMBY, given the vast amounts of land use a switch to mostly wind and solar sources will require. “Not in my backyard” opposition to traditional energy sources is nothing new, and renewable resources have not been immune, even though they don’t have the emissions and water impacts of fossil and nuclear resources. There is strong opposition to so-called “industrial” wind based on landscape impacts and noise. “We’re talking, here, a deployment on an unparalleled scale,” Moniz said, citing the need for cooperative land use management involving landowners, environmental groups and other stakeholders.

See also:

California’s top-down approach will only raise rates on consumers. Never ones to shy away from sweeping regulatory mandates, California politicians are now demanding that the state adopt 100 percent renewable energy before mid-century. Proponents however have insisted the 100 percent renewable target is necessary to combat climate change. Unfortunately, California has picked the most expensive way to do it. “The top-down planning approach to renewable expansion is going to be really expensive, and is going to be a lot more than the per unit costs we have seen to date,” says Devin Hartman of the R Street Institute, a D.C.-based free market think tank that has been at the forefront of advocating for competition in electricity. “If we can demonstrate, as the Texas model is, that we can drive pollution reductions in a way that benefits our economic self-interest, that’s a model that the world is more likely to follow. That’s what climate leadership is about.”


California power supply instability affects Arizona. In early August, Mohave Electric Cooperative issued its first energy shortage alert, but many people may have confused the announcement for something else. “First off I want to be sure that we’re very clear that we did not indicate anything about brownouts or blackouts — that came from somewhere else,” said Tyler Carlson, Mohave Electric Cooperative chief executive officer.  When Western Electric Coordinating Council issued an energy emergency announcement, it was to notify the pubic that power suppliers’ conditions could progress to a situation requiring suppliers to shutter loads. MEC then issued the appeal to members to voluntarily conserve during peak hours, he said.  At the end of May, California indicated that they may have possible shortages (through the summer)” Carlson said. “They were looking at the possibility of California blackouts and brownouts and energy shortages and that being the case, it would affect the market.”


Anti-nuclear group wants SONGS spent fuel moved to Camp Pendleton. Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles recently launched a letter-writing campaign urging the California State Lands Commission to authorize the local transfer of spent nuclear fuel at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station to an area further east in Camp Pendleton, Dylan Heyden writes in It’s probably not a bad idea, but moving plutonium-laced spent fuel off site is not something a state agency can order into being. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission would have to authorize something like this, presumably licensing the U.S. Marine base storage facility under provisions of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

“3.6 million pounds of highly radioactive nuclear waste at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Diego is currently in the process of being buried on the beach, just 100 feet from the ocean and a mere few feet above the water table,” the anti-nuclear group’s website says. “Send in a comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and demand a better solution: the nuclear waste should be moved off the beach to a new, above-ground concrete-reinforced temporary storage facility located further east in Camp Pendleton—where it can be protected from sea level rise and potential terrorist attack.”

A sub-group of PSRLA called the Committee to Bridge the Gap has created a petition page, urging concerned citizens to put their name on a letter voicing their discontent. The group claims this revised plan has the support of former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chief Greg Jaczko, U.S. government advisor on nuclear waste Tom English, and retired Navy Admiral Len Herring, according to Heydon’s report. The campaign maintains the failure to even consider the idea of moving the fuel east of the primary ISFSI site would be a serious oversight on the part of those involved in the decommissioning process.


Dominion continues to overearn, and Virginia ratepayers continue to not see refunds. A new report from regulators at Virginia’s State Corporation Commission finds Dominion overearned by some $300 million in 2017. The SCC said Dominion’s base rates produced a nearly 14 percent return on equity in 2017, or nearly 50 percent more than the 9 percent or 10 percent return it should earn, the Associated Press reports. Appalachian Power, the state’s second-largest utility, enjoyed excess revenues of more than $26 million last year.

“A new law passed this year makes it easier for the two companies to hold on to excess earnings rather than refund them to customers. The utilities said the law was needed to spur investments in the electric grid and renewable energy,” the AP report notes.

“As a regulated company, the SCC determines our rates and reviews our earning and from time to time will order us to provide refunds to our customers,” a Dominion spokesperson said. “This year, the additional earnings will be reinvested to help pay for all sorts of things customers have asked for like renewable energy, more reliability and a more modern energy grid – without raising rates. The new bill passed this year is good for Virginia. It will enable us to have fewer outages, more underground power lines and an expansion of renewable energy like the offshore wind turbines we’re planning off the coast of Virginia Beach, the first in the country in federal waters. So we’re very proud to be leaders when it comes to investing in cleaner, stronger, more reliable energy.”


More electric industry news of interest:

Court rejects bid to throw energy proposal off ballot. Arizonans are going to get a chance to decide whether they want to require utilities in the state to produce more of their power from renewable sources. The Arizona Supreme Court late Wednesday rejected various claims by attorneys for Arizona Public Service that the initiative sponsored by California billionaire Tom Steyer lacks sufficient valid signatures to go to voters in November. The justices provided no details about what they found wanting in the APS legal briefs, promising an explanation later. Wednesday’s ruling comes just two days after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Kiley said he found no evidence that initiative supporters had somehow tricked people into signing the initiative petitions. And Kiley rebuffed various efforts by APS to have him disqualify other signatures. The decision drew fire from Matthew Benson, spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, the group that has been financed with more than $11 million from Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of APS. He said both Kiley and the justices got it wrong. But with the Supreme Court having the last word, Benson said the group now will focus on trying to convince voters that approval of the Proposition 127 will increase their electric bills, a contention disputed by initiative organizers. “Everyone supports clean energy,” he said. “The question is whether Arizona voters are willing to double their electric bills in order to approve Prop 127.”

Arizona Supreme Court: Voters will decide renewable-energy rules in November. Voters will decide in November whether Arizona’s Constitution should require electric companies to get half their electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind. Proposition 127, as the ballot measure is known, survived a challenge at the Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday, likely its final legal challenge. The court denied an appeal to a Maricopa County Superior Court decision from Monday that challenged the signatures collected to put the measure on the ballot and description of the measure. The proposal continues to face stiff opposition from the state’s biggest utility, Arizona Public Service Co., and a host of chambers of commerce and other institutions that have aligned with the company. It is backed by the advocacy network funded by Tom Steyer, a wealthy California activist who has pushed similar renewable-energy measures in other states. He also is funding voter registration events in multiple states, including Arizona. Prop. 127 would require electric companies to rely on solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and other renewable power sources for half their supply by 2030, and would not count nuclear towards that goal. “This decision is great news for all Arizonans who want a cleaner, healthier environment for future generations,” said DJ Quinlan, spokesman for the campaign. “This ruling is the final nail in the coffin of APS’ failed strategy to deny Arizonans a choice on clean renewable energy.”

Nevada congressman undecided on Question 3, Nevada’s divisive energy choice initiative. GOP congressman fears Question 3’s potential impact on rural power consumers. Add U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., to the growing list of Nevada politicians with concerns about Question 3, the controversial upcoming referendum on the future of Nevada’s energy market. Recent weeks have seen a bipartisan bevvy of state and federal lawmakers raise misgivings about the proposed state constitutional amendment that would allow consumers to pick their own power provider by 2023. The measure, known as the energy choice initiative, passed overwhelmingly in 2016, but it can’t take effect unless voters approve it again in November. Amodei — asked about the initiative on Monday during a wide-ranging editorial board meeting with the Reno Gazette Journal — said he was worried about how it would affect Nevada’s rural electric cooperatives. The Nevada Rural Electric Association, a nonprofit group that represents several such small power buyers largely in central and eastern Nevada, has come out against the measure. They fear the initiative’s anti-monopoly language could put them out of business. Amodei thinks they might be onto something. “If (Question 3) happens, who’s taking care of Winnemucca? Who’s taking care of Tonopah? Who’s taking care of Ely?,” he asked. “I don’t know what those answers are. I think the co-ops make a good point. They service some pretty important areas of the state. Changing the constitution’s a big deal,” Amodei added. “I just approach that very, very cautiously.”

Clark County teachers union backs Nevada’s energy choice ballot measure. Nevada’s largest local teachers union is throwing its support behind the effort to break up the state’s electricity monopoly. The Clark County Education Association announced Monday that it is endorsing the Energy Choice Initiative. The executive board deliberated the issue at a number of meetings and reached a decision on Aug. 18, spokesman Keenan Korth said. “CCEA wants the best for our community and the people of Nevada,” the union said in a statement. “We believe NV Energy has leveraged their monopoly power to overcharge the Clark County School District by millions of dollars every year, whereas a good corporate partner would use their influence to assist the district in times of financial strain.” Question 3, a proposed amendment to the Nevada Constitution on the November ballot, would shift the state from a monopoly-based utility to an energy-choice model in which customers would choose their providers from a market. Several gaming companies in Nevada, including Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and the Peppermill in Reno, have paid multimillion-dollar fees to leave NV Energy and purchase electricity from other sources. The district flirted with the idea a few months ago, after a few companies proposed the idea to the board, but shelved it.

Geothermal industry comes out against Nevada energy choice ballot initiative. The Geothermal Resources Council Policy Committee, an industry association that advocates for public policies that will promote the development and utilization of geothermal resources, has announced its opposition to the proposed Energy Choice Initiative on the 2018 ballot. If passed Question 3 would direct the Nevada Legislature to “establish an open, competitive retail electric energy market” no later than July 1, 2023. Question 3 would “disrupt Nevada’s progress on renewable energy by paralyzing future clean energy projects across the state” by dismantling and deregulating Nevada’s existing electricity system, the industry group said in a statement. Nevada is ranked second in the U.S. for geothermal development.

Governors’ coalition: FERC PJM capacity market order went too far. The Governors’ Wind & Solar Energy Coalition on Wednesday urged the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to abandon its plan to revamp the capacity market in PJM Interconnection to address the effects of state-subsidized energy resources, saying FERC is overstepping its authority. “If the commission preempts or restricts the states’ ability to regulate environmental effects from energy power production, it would constitute a dangerous shift in the balance between state and federal authority,” said the coalition, which includes governors from 19 states.

Four U.S. states with 30-plus percent wind power. Four U.S. states generated 30 to 37 percent of their energy from wind power in 2017. That’s just one of the findings of the Department of Energy’s annual Wind Technologies Market Report, released August 22. Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota were the leaders in terms of how much wind contributed to their state’s overall electricity generation, but 14 states got more than 10 percent of their in-state energy from wind power last year. Texas took the lead in added wind capacity, installing 2,305 megawatts worth.

Report shows North Dakota as leading state for wind energy. New figures from the U.S. Department of Energy show North Dakota as a leading state for wind energy development. North Dakota added 249 megawatts of wind capacity in 2017, ranking eighth in the nation, according to the department’s 2017 Wind Technologies Market Report released last week. The state had a total of 2,996 megawatts of wind capacity at the end of 2017, the report said, making North Dakota 11th in the country for the total amount of wind capacity installed. Wind producers have been using more powerful turbines with longer blades that enhance their capacity, said Alex Fitzsimmons, chief of staff for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the Department of Energy. “We expect to see continued growth in wind energy nationwide, including in North Dakota,” Fitzsimmons said.

Central Washington utility district raises cryptocurrency power rates. Electricity rates for cryptocurrency miners and other evolving-industry firms will increase 15 percent next year, 35 percent in 2020 and 50 percent in 2021 in Grant County. The new Rate 17, adopted Aug. 28 by Grant County Public Utility District commissioners, is designed to charge those customers more than the cost of production to protect the PUD from risk and preserve below-cost rates for core customers such as residents, small businesses and farm irrigators. Other big power users already pay rates that are above the cost of production. Adoption of the new rates follows nearly a year of analysis and public comment. “Your industry is unregulated and high-risk. This is the best way to ensure our ratepayers are not impacted,” Commissioner Tom Flint told a handful of cryptocurrency miners who attended the meeting.

Kentucky PSC denies KU and LG&E bid to deploy smart meters. Commission says utilities provided insufficient evidence to justify expense. The Kentucky Public Service Commission has rejected a proposal by the Kentucky Utilities Co. and Louisville Gas & Electric. Co. to deploy advanced “smart” meters and associated technology throughout their systems. In an order issued Thursday, the PSC stated that, although it “sees benefits in advanced metering,” the two utilities had “failed to provide sufficient evidence to persuade us that the … benefits of the AMS (Advanced Metering System) proposal outweigh the costs here.” The KU/LG&E application was denied without prejudice, meaning that the utilities may submit a similar plan in the future.

Two roads diverging: Pennsylvania lawmakers rethink their renewables mandate. Policymakers are making decisions on how to change the state’s alternative energy portfolio standards by 2021, causing a tension between utilities and distributed solar activists. Pennsylvania leaders have big choices to make about the state’s energy and solar future that will impact its power sector for the next decade. Policymakers must choose how to change the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, which now requires 18 percent alternative energy by 2021. And, if they replace the AEPS’ 0.5 percent carve out, they must choose whether to include 90 percent utility-scale solar or 35 percent distributed solar. At the end of 2017, Pennsylvania was at 0.2 percent solar. A draft plan for 10 percent solar by 2030 was released in July. Its choice of a largely utility-scale solar carve out, or one that includes over one-third distributed solar, has already started a classic solar debate between utilities and distributed solar advocates. “Pennsylvania is working on the energy sector’s next generation and solar should be key,” said Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which hosted the stakeholder-led process that produced the plan. “With its low installed price continuing to drop, solar must be a bigger part of our energy mix to keep us competitive with surrounding states.”

Seattle mayor names Oregonian as choice for new City Light boss. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Debra Smith as her nominee Tuesday for the next CEO and general manager of Seattle City Light, describing Smith as the right leader to improve City Light’s workplace culture, customer service and long-term planning despite coming from a much smaller utility. Smith has served since 2013 as CEO and general manager of the Central Lincoln People’s Utility District, which provides electricity on Oregon’s central coast. She previously spent more than 17 years in various roles at the Eugene Water and Electric Board, also a public utility in Oregon. The nominee has long hoped to join City Light, she said. “This is the big-time right here,” Smith said during a news conference, standing beside one of the utility’s signature yellow service trucks.

Nest and OhmConnect partner to bring grid-responsive smart thermostats to scale. A “Works With Nest” partnership targets PG&E territory to scale up the company’s unusual approach to third-party residential demand response. Nest, the Google-owned smart thermostat and home automation vendor, has deployed more than 11 million devices to date, and it has linked up hundreds of thousands of those device customers in utility energy efficiency and demand response programs. It’s also inked a lot of “Works With Nest” partnerships — integrations with various brands of smart door locks, security cameras, networked lights, smart appliances, smart speakers, and of course, different apps for its home networking ecosystem, now officially part of Google Home. But Google’s latest Works With Nest partnership with San Francisco-based startup OhmConnect is a little bit different, according to Jeff Hamel, director of energy partnerships at Nest/Google. That’s because it’s the first time that Nest has worked with a partner to break into a demand response market opportunity that’s not based on participating in a utility program. Instead, it will go through OhmConnect. Nest will be tapping into OhmConnect’s growing roster of customers getting paid to turn down household energy use to help reduce grid peaks. In April, the startup revealed that it had more than 300,000 customers, the vast majority in California, representing a combined 100 megawatts of load reduction capacity.

Johnny Rockets selects ENGIE Insight to help drive sustainable business results. Restaurant franchise embraces data analytics to lower costs and mitigate environmental footprint. ENGIE Insight has been selected by The Johnny Rockets Group to provide strategic utility expense data management and advisory solutions. According to the Energy Information Administration, restaurants are the most energy-intensive commercial building type in the U.S., consuming three times the energy of the average commercial building per square foot. To identify opportunities for increased resource efficiencies and reduce bill complexity, ENGIE Insight will analyze Johnny Rockets’ resource consumption data, centralize data inputs, advise on energy procurement efforts and develop informed resource management action plans. “We look forward working with Johnny Rockets, providing its corporate locations with our unique mix of data analytics technology and credible expertise to lower resource costs and achieve sustainable business outcomes,” said Martin Sieh, chief operating officer at ENGIE Insight.

Choose Energy offers $3,000 in scholarships for renewable energy ideas. Deregulated energy marketplace Choose Energy, Inc. believes strongly that consumers should be educated about their energy choices. But its commitment to education goes deeper as well: The company is offering scholarships totaling $3,000 to help students pay for college. Choose Energy matches residential and commercial energy users in 15 deregulated states with top electricity and natural gas providers. In deregulated states, customers have their choice of competitive energy suppliers; but the power is still delivered by traditional utilities. Customers may search for plans by price, term length and the amount of renewable energy, among other factors. Students may win the Choose Energy scholarships by submitting the top essays on the benefits of renewable energy vs. “brown” energy, as evaluated by a panel of Choose Energy judges. Two scholarships – one for $2,000 and one for $1,000 – will be awarded. The contest is open to current college undergrads or current graduate students. Essays must be submitted by our online application by 11:59 p.m.October 31.

BlackRock voted to replace Tesla’s Musk with independent chairman. Funds run by BlackRock Inc voted in favor of a recent shareholder proposal that would have required Tesla to replace Elon Musk with an independent chairman. BlackRock-managed funds voted for a measure requiring the chairman be an independent director, according to BlackRock’s filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday. The proposal, which was defeated, would not have affected Musk’s standing as Tesla’s chief executive officer. More than 86 million shares voted against the proposal at a shareholder meeting in June, while fewer than 17 million voted in favor, Tesla said. Some corporate governance activists call for the chairman and CEO roles to be split between two people to improve oversight, and the new filing revealed at least one major investor backed such changes at Tesla. BlackRock’s role in backing the proposal was not previously reported.

Opinion: Now would be the time for Apple to buy Tesla, and kick Musk out of the driver’s seat. The idea of a merger between Tesla Inc. and Apple Inc. has been floated for years as a way to get attention. Now, it may not be so ridiculous. Elon Musk has put an end to his idea to take Tesla TSLA private, but still has a tough road ahead to meet profitability and production projections, especially as Tesla handles expected investigations and lawsuits stemming from Musk’s ridiculous “funding secured” misadventure. Apple, meanwhile, has billions in cash to burn, manufacturing prowess, obvious interests in entering the car market and finding new form factors beyond the smartphone — and the pull to tell Musk his services are no longer needed. Apple has been quietly investing in its own troubled self-driving car project, called Project Titan, according to multiple published reports, and continues to hire engineers from Tesla, a practice Musk once mocked by calling Apple “the Tesla graveyard.” Tesla was much more charitable last week when asked about a recent spate of Apple hires from its ranks, however. Apple does have a lot more money than Tesla, which is running out of cash fast. It also has a chief executive in Tim Cook who knows about dealing with supply chains, mass manufacturing and all the other processes that sound easy when Musk describes them but are nearly impossible when Tesla attempts to perform them.

Warren Buffett: Apple investing in Tesla is a ‘very poor idea.’ It would be a “very poor idea” for Apple Inc. to invest in Tesla Inc., Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chief Executive and legendary investor Warren Buffett told Fox Business on Thursday. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has added to its Apple holdings recently, and Buffett told CNBC also on Thursday he had bought “just a little” more of Apple stock. When asked whether he’d support Apple buying Tesla, Buffett offered his support but was skeptical. “I’d support whatever Tim Cook does, but I think it’d be a very poor idea to get in the auto business,” Buffett said. Selling cars is “not an easy business,” with plenty of competition, no first-mover advantage, and you win one year and lose the next, he said. “It does not give you a permanent advantage,” Buffett said.

The giant UK coal plant converting to green energy. The UK plans to end coal-fired electricity by 2025. But what happens to the massive plants left behind? One facility is pioneering an unusual idea: converting to green energy. The Drax coal plant is the largest power plant in Western Europe. By 2023, its owners plan to stop burning coal entirely. They hope that instead their plant will consume only natural gas and biomass – wood pellets crushed into powder. The European Union has some key targets for reducing pollution in the coming decades and coal power plants have been earmarked for closure by many countries seeking to meet these objectives. In the UK, government plans mean coal-fired electricity generation will end by 2025. A similar story is unfolding elsewhere in the world. Many nations, including the U.S., are moving away from coal as other energies become cheaper and as environmental regulations cool the market for this fossil fuel. But this leaves a big question: what do we do with all of those old power stations?


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Griddy founder sees Millennials as key to success in disruptive innovation of the electric industry (08/30/18)

Today’s lede: Griddy founder sees Millennials as key to success in disruptive innovation of the electric industry. Build an app and they will come? Gregory Craig, CEO and co-founder of Houston-based Griddy Energy, writes in the Houston Business Journal that the secret to success in disruptive technology is to cater to the whims of Millennials. That means reaching your customers through their smart phones.

Indeed, pull up Griddy’s website and you’ll see a prominent picture of a smart phone with the slogan, “Griddy, it’s on.” Craig’s business model for Griddy is to offer customers direct access to wholesale prices for electricity in return for a $9.99 per month fee.

“The success of any disruptive business model in today’s world typically lives and dies on the back of one demographic — the often misunderstood and frequently bemoaned Millennials,” Craig writes. “When we built Griddy to be a disruptive force in the deregulated electricity market, we realized how critical it would be to cater to their needs and appeal to their tastes. To do this, we first had to understand what was important to them.”

To reach this demographic, Craig says companies must understand their negative perception of the status quo, that they value transparency, and that their preferred method of communication is through their phone. Griddy’s business model is centered on interacting with customers through its app. Almost all Griddy customers use the app monthly, and the company enjoys a 60 percent open rate on emails to its “members,” as Craig calls his customers. “The idea of seeing your bill in the mail is a very antiquated one,” he writes. “Did you know that, according to, 20 percent of Millennials don’t even use desktop computers anymore?”

Companies that want to be successful disruptors also cannot rest on their laurels, but must constantly innovate, Craig says. Companies constantly must ask, “What can your service or product do differently than its competition?” While competitive retail suppliers often tout the promise of innovation in competitive electricity markets as suppliers vie for customers, Craig is dismissive of the degree to which innovation is actually occurring in the competitive electricity supply industry. “In electricity, the most innovative thing any company has done is offered free nights and weekends. We have a product that is purposely built to cut out costs and we know it works great for our members.”

Now is the time to invest in technology to connect to this wireless generation, Craig concludes. “Your website should be responsively designed at the very least and, depending on your product or service, a mobile app might be crucial. Once your technology stack is built, you can’t just congratulate yourself on a job well done. The Millennial generation expects constant improvement, so you must plan for an ongoing evolution to continuously provide more and more value. Finally, ensure that your communication strategy is built with in-app push notifications and email at its core.”


Ohio utility regulators issue ‘roadmap’ to navigate disruption in the electric industry. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has issued a blueprint for how it will address disruptive technologies and innovation in the electricity sector, such as electric vehicles and energy storage that are expected to take center stage in power grid modernization. PowerForward: A Roadmap to Ohio’s Electricity Future is meant to guide the regulatory agency “into a very bright future where we embrace innovation and change for the betterment of Ohioans,” PUCO Chairman Asim Haque says in a forward to the document.

“The grid has to be modernized, its infrastructure and method of delivery are many, many decades old,” the Columbus Dispatch quoted Haque saying after the commission voted to approve the report. “Our utilities already have, and will continue to, make filings to push their modernization objectives, and so this roadmap is very timely — it will help the commission make educated, informed decisions on these utility filings.”

Haque said the commission’s conservative approach is to let markets dictate how change happens, with a focus on customers, Mark Williams reported for the Dispatch. “The report is based on a year-long effort by the commission and its staff aimed at understanding how the grid can be modernized through innovation and how that innovation can best serve consumers. The report is not binding,” Williams writes.

PowerForward envisions taking a “platform” approach to utility regulation that promotes customer choice through performance-based ratemaking that provide incentives for desired outcomes. “One of the objectives of PowerForward is to reconsider the distribution grid as a platform that creates the opportunity for entities to provide innovative products and services to customers,” the document states. “Ratemaking, especially performance-based ratemaking, can be used as a framework to create incentives and disincentives for certain behaviors.”


Anticipating disruptive change, TVA plans new $300 million power control center. The Tennessee Valley Authority will build a new $300 million system operations center in Tennessee backed up by another $300 million investment in some 3,500 miles of fiber optic lines to support a new energy management system, Dave Flessner reports in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to build a in southern Meigs County as part of one of the biggest upgrades of TVA’s power grid in the utility’s 85-year history,” Flessner writes.

“With all of the new solar rooftops and other distributed energy that may be coming, along with smart meters and other new technologies, what will be critical from a central operations standpoint is that we can have visibility, can predict — and in some instances can control — all of those things,” said TVA’s Aaron Melda. “We think this will be transformative and will provide us a platform for the future to position TVA to provide the most competitive and reliable power.”


More electric industry news of interest:

FirstEnergy Solutions closing its last Ohio and Pennsylvania coal-fired power plants. FirstEnergy Solutions on Wednesday night announced it plans to close its last Ohio coal-fired power plant, the W.H. Sammis plant on the Ohio River in Stratton, and its last Pennsylvania coal plant, the Bruce Mansfield plant on the River in Shippingport. The company blamed the regional wholesale markets overseen by grid manager PJM Interconnection. It set June 1, 2021, to close Bruce Mansfield and June 1, 2022 to close Sammis. “Our decision to retire the fossil-fueled plants was every bit as difficult as the one we made five months ago to deactivate our nuclear assets [in 2020 and 2021],” said Donald Moul, President of FES Generation Companies and Chief Nuclear Officer, in a prepared statement. Moul added that the wholesale market system — in which PJM dispatches the lowest priced power first — does not value the old coal and nuclear power plants. The company, along with its parent FirstEnergy Corp., has asked the Trump Administration to intervene in the markets and order the plants to continue operating despite their higher-priced power compared to electricity generated by new gas turbine plants and, at times, wind farms. The costs would be passed to consumers. Moul said the company could reverse its decision if Trump takes action, a move that is sure to be challenged in federal court because markets in deregulated states are, by law, competitive.

Oklahoma coal plant’s future bleak amid cheaper power. An independent coal-fired electricity generator and its about 100 employees in eastern Oklahoma face an uncertain future as the power market becomes more competitive. The AES Shady Point plant in Le Flore County could close as soon as January, the Oklahoman reported . Shuttering the 360-megawatt plant may be the company’s only option after being notified this month that Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. won’t proceed with another extension of its long-running power purchase agreement with AES Shady Point, Vice President Lundy Kiger said Tuesday. “As an independent, it would be difficult for us to bid into the larger market as a power producer,” Kiger said. “But we see ourselves as a hedge against an increase in prices for natural gas. In the next couple of years, we could see that happen, and if it does, that would put coal in a better situation.”

An all-renewable energy grid ‘definitely feasible’ for California. But at what cost? California already gets about one-third of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources, and appears on its way toward hitting the 50 percent mark in another decade or so. But creating an all-renewable electricity grid — completely free of traditional energy from natural gas or other fossil fuels — could be a monumental task. Stepping up California’s efforts to combat climate change, the state Legislature on Wednesday passed SB 100, requiring utilities to generate all their electrical power from renewable sources by 2045. The Senate voted to approve the bill 25-13, one day after the Assembly narrowly passed it. Authored by Sen. Kevin de León, the legislation goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who’s generally been a leader on global warming initiatives but hasn’t said whether he’ll sign it.

Legislative panel advances California utility wildfire liability bill. California utilities regulators would have the option of letting power companies charge their customers for some of the costs of lawsuits stemming from disastrous 2017 wildfires under legislation that will go before the Assembly and Senate this week. It would allow utility ratepayers to be charged even if the utilities were found to be negligent or unreasonable in building, maintaining or operating their equipment. The provision would apply only to wildfires in 2017, which was the deadliest and most expensive fire season on record. Dozens of people were killed, and thousands of homes destroyed. California utilities are held entirely liable for fires sparked by their equipment, even if they followed all safety standards. Pacific Gas & Electric Co., has warned that it faces potentially crippling legal liability from those fires, some of which have been traced to PG&E equipment. In legal claims where utilities are blamed for wildfires, the legislation would direct the Public Utilities Commission to charge investors as much as possible without harming ratepayers, such as by forcing utilities into bankruptcy. The commission could then decide whether to allow the utility to pass along the remaining costs to customers through a surcharge on bills that would last for decades. The legislation angered ratepayer advocates, food processors and other large electricity customers. The Ratepayer Protection Network, a lobbying group representing their interests, said the legislation caps the liability for utility investors but not for their customers. “We cannot give a blank check to PG&E to bail them out on the backs of ratepayers,” spokeswoman Becky Warren said in a statement.

Chairman ‘may be out’ at Arizona Corporation Commission chairman. Tom Forese may be out at the Arizona Corporation Commission after running an uninspiring campaign that publicly cost him a partnership with his fellow incumbent. Meanwhile, early voting returns suggest Justin Olson will keep his seat. The commissioner had been running on a slate with Forese, who is currently the chairman of the commission, and dodged rumors of their split for weeks. But the rift became public when Olson criticized Forese’s record during a debate hosted by The Arizona Republic, which Forese did not attend. Now, Olson is leading the Republican pack for his chance at re-election in the Nov. 6 General Election, and Rodney Glassman may claim the second nomination. The two have pulled ahead of Forese and Republicans Jim O’Connor and Eric Sloan. Olson and Glassman will almost certainly face off against Democrat Sandra Kennedy, who has easily pulled ahead in the Democratic primary. But Democrats Bill Mundell and Kiana Maria Sears are less than 1 percent point apart from each other in early voting returns, making the second Democratic nomination too close to call at this point. Kennedy and Mundell, both former commissioners, ran as a team on the promise of restoring public trust in the body responsible for regulating public utilities. Whichever two candidates ultimately win in November, the election means a shakeup at the commission that could hold serious consequences for the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service. The company spending practices in previous elections cast a shadow on the commission and its members, Forese perhaps most notably among them. Now, the commission may soon revisit retail electric competition rules, threatening APS’s position as a regulated monopoly.

Citizen’s Utility Board warns consumers: Beware green power offers. The Illinois consumer advocate urges people who want to help the environment to consider alternatives to “100 percent green” offers from power suppliers. Caveat emptor. That’s the message from Chicago’s leading consumer advocate on energy costs to residents who want to improve the environment and are signing up with green-power providers to do so. The Citizens Utility Board, in a “consumer alert” yesterday, said there are better ways for consumers to put their money where their environmental hearts are than to sign up with electricity marketers peddling “100 percent green” power. The warning comes as the group reports getting more questions from consumers about these offers amid rampant confusion in the marketplace. “It can be very difficult to figure out if you’re paying what you should be paying for what you’re getting,” CUB Executive Director David Kolata said in an interview. “Signing up for a ‘green’ plan does NOT mean your home will be directly powered by solar or wind energy,” CUB said in its alert. “When you turn on the TV or charge your cellphone, there’s no way to guarantee that the electricity is coming from renewable energy. The power grid is constantly being fed by thousands of sources, from coal plants to wind and solar farms.” Appealing to consumers’ desire to improve the environment is a highly effective way for retail electricity suppliers to convince customers to pay too much for electricity, Kolata said. In a statement, he added, “Green plans are a legitimate choice for consumers who fully understand what these offers are, but nobody should think that they have to pay more on their electric bills to protect the planet.” Better ways to help, CUB advised, include investing in home improvements that cut back on power consumption.

Nevada Resort Association backs Energy Choice Initiative, Question 3. Nevada’s largest casino industry trade group is throwing its support behind the effort to break up NV Energy’s electricity monopoly. The Nevada Resort Association announced Friday that is endorsing the Yes on 3 campaign for Question 3, also called the Energy Choice Initiative, group President Virginia Valentine said. “We support a yes vote on Question 3 because we believe that our employees and residents should have the same opportunity for choice that we had,” Valentine said in a statement.

Utilities spending about $520 million to repair systems after Hurricane Harvey. In the year since Hurricane Harvey devastated the western Gulf Coast with high-speed winds and record rain totals, electric utilities have spent about $520 million to repair damage and harden systems in preparation for the next major storm, and that work continues. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated total damage around $125 billion, similar to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The area the storm hit first was mainly served by American Electric Power’s Texas transmission and distribution subsidiary, where the number of outages peaked at about 220,000 customers. Earlier this month, AEP Texas asked the Public Utility Commission of Texas to determine that about $379 million in transmission-and-distribution related costs associated with Harvey “were reasonable and necessary and eligible for recovery,” a utility spokesman said. AEP Texas also sought a similar determination for an additional $36 million in costs associated with earlier weather events.

Florida regulators may change rules allowing utilities to collect more expenses. State regulators voted unanimously today to revisit a rule that could lead to higher utility customers’ bills. The rule, which hasn’t been changed since 1995, restricts how much utilities can seek from ratepayers to reimburse them for economic development expenses, such as marketing. Currently, utilities are allowed to collect either 95 percent of approved economic development costs from customers, or the amount approved by the PSC in the utility’s last rate case, whichever is larger. But the amount they collect cannot be more than $3 million in approved costs from customers, or 0.15 percent of gross annual revenues, whichever of those two is smaller. The rule covers expenses such as participating in trade shows, marketing, research and working with state and local government agencies to develop “strategic plans” for economic development activities.

Gulf Power asked Florida regulators for rate reduction for 2019. Gulf Power announced Wednesday it was seeking approval with the Florida Public Service Commission to reduce rates for 2019 by approximately $9.6 million. Gulf Power filed two requests, one that reflects the remaining tax savings the power utility received from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and one to reduce prices based on reduced fuel, conservation and environmental cost, the company said in a press release.

Consumers Energy rate hike to net Michigan utility extra $10.6 million. Consumers Energy natural gas customers will see a bill increase this fall, but the hike is much smaller than the utility first proposed. Customers will see a combined $10.6 million increase starting Sept. 1, as approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission earlier this week. That’s 6 percent of Consumers’ original asking of $178.2 million.

With utilities increasingly moving to decarbonization, EEI provides members sustainability template. A spate of major power companies—including American Electric Power and Southern Co.—have acquiesced to investor pressure and announced drastic cuts to their generating fleet carbon emissions over the long term. Industry group Edison Electric Institute (EEI) this week launched an official industry-designed template to help its member utilities better inform investors about their environmental, social, and governance  and sustainability initiatives. EEI’s ESG/Sustainability reporting template launched August 27 is a voluntary resource aimed at helping the trade group’s investor-owned electric company members to provide the financial sector with more uniform and consistent ESG/sustainability data and information. Investors, asset managers, and ratings agencies say that information is increasingly important in assessing corporate performance and risk.

This month brought the collapse of two emblematic energy storage firms. In the U.S., lead-carbon battery maker Axion Power International filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In the U.K., grid-scale storage system developer Camborne Energy Storage went into administration. Both firms ran aground after failing to secure cash to fund operations.

How far do you have to run after a small modular nuclear meltdown? It turns out you don’t have to run at all. First, they really can’t melt down. Second, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission just agreed that any emergencies that could possibly occur at a small modular nuclear power plant probably won’t even get past the fence. No need to come up with huge evacuation plans for nearby cities or anyone living near the plant, like we did for older plants. You can just stand there at the fence and watch what’s going on. The NRC’s openness to reducing the EPZs for SMRs came in evaluating a Tennessee Valley Authority’s application for an early site permit to determine a reasonable Emergency Protection Zone for their proposed new small modular reactor site near Clinch River. TVA’s application included information on NuScale’s SMR which is the most detailed and the farthest along of all reactors. Of course, the process is still ongoing and no final conclusions have been made since this was just the first step in the application and TVA hasn’t chosen a final design. But there’s no indication that it won’t be.

Understanding the Moltex nuclear plant which will be built in Canada. In July, 2018, Moltex was selected by New Brunswick Energy Solutions Corporation and New Brunswick Power to progress development of its SSR-W (Stable Salt Reactor – Wasteburner) technology in New Brunswick, with the aim of deploying its first SSR-W at the Point Lepreau nuclear reactor site before 2030. The agreement provides $5 million of financial support to Moltex for its immediate development activities and Moltex will open its North America headquarters in Saint John and build its development team there. The Moltex SSR-W reactor will use Candu fuel assemblies for its Canadian prototype. The design does not use complex controls for managing risks, the Stable Salt Reactor – Wasteburner design eliminates risks. The non-nuclear portion of the plant uses standard high-temperature natural gas plant turbines and other systems. Those have proven costs and build times from many projects. The SSR design permits all complex and hazardous high-pressure equipment to be outside the nuclear island, indeed outside the licensed nuclear site in many cases. Thus it has costs similar to those in natural gas-powered stations, which are dramatically lower than in nuclear stations.

The Costco of power supply: Aussie energy retailer promises wholesale prices. One of Australia’s smallest energy retailers has launched what it calls the country’s “most transparent” power plan, with customers given access to Costco-style wholesale rates. Energy Locals, which currently operates in New South Wales, the ACT and south east Queensland, has revealed a new membership-based offer that’s designed to challenge the dominance of AGL, Origin and EnergyAustralia. “Addressing the cries from Canberra for more transparency and honesty in the energy sector isn’t hard,” Energy Locals founder and CEO Adrian Merrick said. “Unless you’re a big energy company.”


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Gains in distributed energy have experts suggesting adoption of direct current in buildings (8-29-18)

Today’s lede: Gains in distributed energy have experts suggesting adoption of direct current in buildings. In the early days of the electric industry, there was a blood-on-the-floor debate over direct current versus alternating current. Thomas Edison advocated direct current, which would have required building many small power plants near customers. But industrialist George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla insisted alternating current was the batter approach, which would allow building large generating plants to serve large customer loads, providing economies of scale not possible with DC power.

Edison waged a hard-fought battle against Westinghouse and Tesla, arguing AC was too dangerous. In fact, his efforts included literally shocking displays, such as the electrocution of animals on stage, which in turn led to the first electric chair execution. But Westinghouse and Tesla prevailed in the debate after successfully underbidding Edison to win the contract to electrify the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1983. And soon after they built the first large-scale hydroelectric generating facilities at Niagara Falls, which within a decade allowed the supply of electrons to New York City, rendering Edison’s groundbreaking small generating plants in the city obsolete.

For nearly a century the Westinghouse-Tesla model prevailed, promoting economies of scale that over time helped decrease the costs of providing electricity and allowing widespread electrification of the economy. But today those large-scale economies are being undercut by newer, cleaner customer-centric and smaller-scale generation resources. With the widespread adoption of distributed generation technologies like rooftop solar and fuel cells, Perhaps Edison will belatedly win the debate after all.

Now experts are calling for widespread adoption of direct current in buildings, in part because of the widespread proliferation of DC power systems like rooftop solar. Carnegie Mellon University’s Brock Glasgo and colleagues consulted 17 experts in a variety of industrial and academic fields to identify the advantages of a more widespread adoption of DC power systems while acknowledging potential challenges, and published their results in IOS Science’s Environmental Research Letters.

“Increasing adoption of distributed generation, improving power electronics, and growing electronic loads in buildings have led researchers to propose increased use of direct current power distribution systems in buildings. As these systems have proven safe and reliable in other applications, they are now being considered for more widespread use in commercial and residential buildings,” Glasgo and his colleagues report.

In Physics World, Glasgo cites a three-prong argument in support of direct current. “Firstly, we now have semiconductor-based power electronics that function as DC-DC transformers and are nearly as efficient as modern AC-DC and DC-AC transformers,” he says. “Secondly, we’re seeing consistent growth in the installation of solar [photovoltaic] and other distributed generation sources that generate DC. And thirdly, a growing fraction of the electricity consumed in modern buildings is either consumed as DC or passes through a transient DC state on its way to being consumed.”

Eliminating unnecessary DC-AC and AC-DC conversions by distributing direct current would simplify building-level power supply and save energy, according to Glasgo. Nevertheless, Glasgo’s effort identified two primary obstacles: (1) unfamiliarity with DC among industry professionals, and (2) the dearth of DC devices and components in the market.

“The AC grid has been in place for over 120 years, and all of the physical components, the design, maintenance, construction, operation, and end users’ interactions with the electric transmission and distribution system are based on a long history and the physics of AC,” Glasgo says. “A transition to DC-powered buildings will depend on far more than the technical feasibility of the systems themselves.”

The experts consulted by Glasgo call for training engineers and electricians on DC systems and identifying niche uses where DC power distribution provide a clear advantage over AC. The resulting building pilot projects would help establish the market for DC devices and components. “The professionals responsible for DC power systems and the markets needed to support them will need to undergo a major transformation before [DC power systems] can be employed to more efficiently, safely, and reliably meet the demands of future buildings,” Glasgo says.



California poised to enact 100 percent renewable energy mandate. The California Assembly late Tuesday adopted its version of Senate Bill 100, a measure to require the state to obtain 100 percent of its electricity supply from renewable and zero-carbon resources by 2045. The Assembly-adopted changes will require the state Senate to revisit the measure, which would then send the bill to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. The Legislature is set to adjourn Friday, putting the Senate’s action on a fast track. California isn’t the first state to adopt a 100 percent mandate. Hawaii beat them to it. But the state’s economy, roughly the sixth-largest in the world, dwarfs that of the 50th state.

“This is a pivotal moment for California, for the country and the world,” the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune exulted in the New York Times.

Critics panned the mandate as costly, and for failing to target the transportation sector’s contribution to climate-altering emissions. “One fact you cannot dispute: this does increase the cost,” said Republican Assemblyman Bill Brough. “You cannot dispute that this is going to be passed on to the ratepayers.” Utilities objected to being singled out while the transportation sector, which contributes to two-thirds of the state’s  emissions, gets a free ride. “You need to make sure you’re looking at the underlying cause,” Pedro Pizarro, president and chief executive of Southern California Edison parent Edison International, told the Times.

But environmental groups and clean energy advocates touted the economic engine the mandate will provide by creating investment and jobs. “California embraces renewable energy for economic and job creation reasons as much as for environmental reasons,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro of the California Solar and Storage Association. “Decarbonizing our grid is low-hanging fruit,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo. “We need to make our cutting-edge innovation our standard. We have an opportunity to create amazing change in our state.”


Advocacy group jumps into debate over renewable energy mandate on Nevada’s ballot. Nevada is among the states billionaire Democratic activist Tom Steyer has targeted this year with funding to support ballot initiatives to raise the state’s renewable energy mandate. He reportedly dropped similar efforts in Michigan earlier this year after the state’s utilities agreed to voluntarily raise their renewable energy sourcing commitments, and he continues efforts in Arizona where an active debate over the ballot question is under way.

But unlike in Arizona, in Nevada no active opposition had emerged to the Steyer-funded ballot initiative drive – until now. “With fewer than 70 days to go before the 2018 election, the first formal opposition to a ballot measure raising Nevada’s renewable standards has emerged from a California-based nonprofit,” Riley Snyder reports in the Nevada Independent. “A new website and social media accounts opposing Question 6 — which would raise Nevada’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030 — have been set up in recent weeks by the Coalition of Energy Users, a conservative-leaning nonprofit best known for opposing a proposed increase in gasoline taxes and supporting the oil and gas industry.”

The ballot question would amend Nevada’s constitution to require a 50 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2030. Under current state law, the renewables mandate is 25 percent by 2025. A bill to raise that standard to 40 percent by 2030 was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval after lawmakers approved it in 2017, Snyder notes. To effectively alter the state’s constitution, the ballot measure would need to be approved by voters in November and again in the 2020 election.

The Coalition of Energy Users is attacking the ballot question as a jobs killer that will raise electricity costs in the state by serving as “essentially regressive tax on energy” that would particularly impact low-income consumers. The group also targets Steyer personally, labeling him an out-of-state hedge fund billionaire.

Nevadans for a Clean Energy Future, which is promoting the ballot question with more than $2 million from Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action, provided Snyder with a statement accusing the group of engaging in a “smear campaign” that will keep Nevada reliant on “dirty” fossil fuels.

Eric Eisenhammer, a Republican political operative, is listed on the group’s website as chairman. He is the owner of Dauntless Communications, a public affairs and digital strategies company, with offices in Reno and Roseville, which has been active on political projects at both the state and federal level, including major proposition and candidate campaigns, Eisenhammer says in his LinkedIn profile. He describes himself as “knowledgeable about energy and tax policy and . . . talented in community outreach to diverse coalitions, digital strategies, web development and email and social network marketing.”

Also on the group’s board is former three-term Republican California Assemblyman Dan Logue, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2014. He helped spearhead an unsuccessful voter initiative that sought to undo California’s landmark climate change law, AB 32.

Another board member is Betty Plowman, who an internet search turned up as author of a post on, a website dedicated to eliminating the California Air Resources Board, which the website deems a “rogue state agency.” She also regularly writes diatribes against “Comrade CARB” in the Solano County, Calif., Daily Republic. According to LinkedIn, she is the membership director at the California Dump Truck Owners Association.

See also:

‘Deregulation’ label for Question 3 proves divisive in Nevada. When it comes to Question 3, the politically charged energy- choice measure on the ballot in Nevada, a political line has been drawn over a single term: deregulation. The group opposing the measure has flooded airwaves across the state with ads claiming Question 3 will bring about “electricity deregulation,” higher energy rates and fewer price protections. Opponents have even invoked the Enron energy scandal that rocked California in 2001. But the campaign backing the measure that would shift Nevada’s current regulated monopoly to an open, competitive market derides the use of the word, claiming it falsely describes what the Energy Choice Initiative would do if approved by voters for the second time this November. “They’re trying to scare people,” said Jon Wellinghof, policy analyst for Yes on 3. Opponents argue that the changes proposed in Question 3 have historically been referred to as deregulation. “This is deregulation. This policy has always been known as deregulation,” said Peter Koltak, spokesman for the No on 3 campaign. Between the two sides, the fight over the measure had already drawn more than $30 million in campaign funding as of the end of May, unprecedented for a ballot measure in Nevada.


Transition to competitive market in N.H. now complete as Eversource finalizes sale of its hydropower facilities. The long transition to a fully competitive market in New Hampshire is now complete as Eversource has completed the sale of its nine hydroelectric facilities in the state to an affiliate of Hull Street Energy, LLC. Eversource previously divested its remaining fossil generation. The state’s original restructuring law in the late 1990s had called for full divestiture, but lawmakers relented in the mid-2000s, allowing Eversource to retain its generation and to put into ratebase an expensive scrubber installation at the utility’s Merrimack coal-fired station.

That plant was quickly rendered uneconomic as lower-cost natural gas became the price-setter in the New England market. As costs for the plant increased, supply from competitive providers became for economically attractive, leading to a decline in the number of customers responsible for the costs of the scubber, which in turn led to even higher prices. This so-called “death spiral” set the stage for a 2015 agreement calling for Eversource to fully divest.

“The completion of this sale is the final milestone in the deregulation of the electric utility industry in the Granite State, which will provide a number of important benefits to our customers,” Eversource New Hampshire President Bill Quinlan said.

In a tweet, the New England Electric Power Generators Association lauded the spinoff. “A long-past due for consumers has arrived with the last major rate-base generation in New England put out into the marketplace. This is the result of years of work by many with great engagement from policymakers & stakeholders in #NH.”



CORRECTION. The lede in the Aug. 28, 2018, edition of Electric Industry News has been corrected. According to Colorado PUC Commissioner Wendy Moser, the PUC vote on Xcel’s plan to move away from coal and invest in renewables was unanimous. The Denver Post reported the vote as being 2-1.


More electric industry news of interest:

Large electricity users continue push for competitive clean energy options in Virginia. A letter signed by a dozen large electric users — from hospital systems and colleges to major companies — calls for more clean energy options in Virginia, where attempts to loosen policies governing competition have been mightily opposed by the state’s dominant electric utilities. “A key ingredient for increasing renewable energy deployment in the commonwealth is to increase access and choice for large energy users such as businesses, hospitals and universities to procure cost-competitive renewable energy,” says the letter, which was sent last to week to the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy as a comment on Virginia’s 2018 Energy Plan, intended to provide a vision for energy policy over the next 10 years. The letter, which also calls for implementing mandatory renewable energy portfolio standards, more energy efficiency programs and other policy goals, was signed by Adobe Systems Incorporated, Bon Secours Richmond Health System, Emory & Henry College, JLL, Mars Incorporated, Nestlé USA,, Inc., Sweet Briar College, Unilever, Virginia Wesleyan University, Washington and Lee University and Worthen Industries. Large businesses have pushed for both utility and non-utility programs for meeting their renewable energy goals and increasingly fighting to aggregate load across their operations in utility service territories, as Walmart is battling to do now before the State Corporation Commission. “Virginia should encourage utilities to offer flexible, cost-competitive renewable energy options such as green tariff programs, but should also allow customers to access non-utility power purchase agreements in order to keep Virginia’s renewable energy market competitive and satisfy different customer preferences,” the letter says. “Large energy users in Virginia should also be able to aggregate their load across the commonwealth and procure less than 100 percent renewable energy if they so wish.”

U.S. renewable energy sources surpass nuclear in first half of 2018. U.S. renewable energy sources accounted for nearly 20 percent of the country’s net electrical generation during the first half of 2018, according to new figures from the US Energy Information Administration, and narrowly beat out that provided by nuclear power.

Solar companies flock to Illinois, bringing jobs, enthusiasm and some questions. Wellspring is among more than a dozen companies that have started or significantly expanded solar operations in Illinois because of FEJA, which mandates the state develop about 3,000 MW of solar by 2030, up from about 74 MW when the bill passed in late 2016. With the Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) that form the basis of the incentives becoming available next year, and provisions to facilitate large-scale community solar development, the boom is only expected to continue. “With the great incentives starting in Illinois, that’s a market where you want to be,” said Wellspring’s Arlin Yoder.

Now is the time for a public electric utility in Maine. Gordon Weil, Maine’s first public advocate, argues that a state public utility would address the crisis of confidence in Maine’s major electric utilities and bring lower rates. An alternative exists to deal effectively with the crisis of confidence in the major electric utilities and achieve that goal with lower rates, he writes. The two investor-owned utilities could be replaced by public power. The utilities would be owned by their customers, and they could cut rates, having no need to collect from their customers a profit or coverage of their tax bills.

FERC rules Southern California Edison can’t treat storage customers differently. The Federal Energy Regulatory Committee last week denied proposed revisions to Southern California Edison’s wholesale distribution access tariff that would have treated customers with energy storage devices differently from those without them. During times of peak demand, SCE sought authority to curtail electricity service to customers with energy storage devices before it did so with other retail customers. FERC said that would be “unduly discriminatory” and violate Section 205 of the Federal Power Act. FERC wrote that SCE did not study alternatives or give wholesale and retail customers the chance to upgrade their systems in order to gain charging access.

Olson, Kennedy lead in Arizona Corporation Commission primary election; Forese trails. Republicans Justin Olson and Rodney Glassman and Democrat Sandra Kennedy were leading their respective races in early election results for the Arizona Corporation Commission on Tuesday. Commission Chairman Tom Forese did not appear likely to keep his seat in the GOP primary. Five Republicans and three Democrats are on the ballot in the primary election for two seats on the commission. The outcomes will affect people across the state. The two eventual winners from both parties will face off in the general election. The second-place spot in the Democratic race was a close race in early results Tuesday night.

Upstate N.Y. electricity consumers may have to help pay for downstate wind turbines. The Twin Counties, along with other upstate communities, may be asked to help pay for transmission of power from proposed wind turbines the state is looking to build downstate through higher utility rates. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced July 12 the state is moving forward with plans to build wind turbines off the coast of New York City, or Long Island, as part of his initiative to generate 2,400 megawatts of new offshore wind power by 2030. Much of the wind power generated in the state comes from the northern and western regions. The governor’s overall goal is to obtain 50 percent of the state’s electricity from renewables by 2030. The first phase includes obtaining approximately 800 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2019. Representatives from local utility companies confirmed that it is possible that local power customers could end up paying for transmission costs of proposed turbines through rate hikes. “Under the current rules, we believe that there could be some cost impacts for our customers,” Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corp. Media Relations Director John Maserjian said. “The initiative is in its early stages, and the costs will depend on which facilities are built and when, so we’re uncertain of the amount. The cost for each customer would likely vary with their energy use.”

Iowa Utilities Board prepares for electric cars. The Iowa Utilities Board is seeking feedback on potential regulatory treatment and guidance of electric vehicle infrastructure in Iowa. The board will take comments until Sept. 17 and will conduct a public workshop Oct. 17 in the board’s hearing room, at 1375 E. Court Ave., Des Moines.

More Michigan electricity rate cuts approved. The Michigan Public Service Commission has approved nearly $9 million in electricity rate cuts for customers of Indiana Michigan Power Co. because of utility savings from the federal corporate income tax overhaul. The panel on Tuesday said I&M residential customers who use an average of 500 kilowatt hours will see their monthly bills go down $1.82 beginning in September.

Switching to gas power plants more expensive than coal, according to mining industry study. A recent study for the mining industry found the cost of shutting down coal-fired power plants and replacing them with gas-fired plants would far exceed the cost of maintaining the coal plants. The study by Arlington, Virginia-based Energy Ventures Analysis involved three plants located in the nation’s largest wholesale electricity market. It estimated the cost of building new gas plants at $5.7 billion and found consumers in the region would, as a result, pay $2 billion more annually for electricity. The study estimated at about $130 million per year the cost of keeping existing coal plants running. The power plants studied — in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — represent 10 percent of the total coal-fired capacity in the region, said Hal Quinn, president and chief executive officer of the National Mining Association, which commissioned the study. Only a portion of Indiana is in the 13-county market that includes the power plants that were studied. The Wabash Valley and Duke Energy’s Indiana territory are not; they are in a separate market. “However, if a similar case study were done for that region, you would likely see similar results,” Quinn said. “The extent and breadth would require further analysis.”

Offshore wind energy market projected to exceed $60 billion by 2024. In recent years, the offshore wind energy market has been ablaze and all indications are that it will only continue to grow. According to report by Global Market Insights Inc., the offshore energy market—windfarms constructed on bodies of water—will surpass $60 billion by 2024. The reason for the expected growth is the worldwide quest for more sustainable and cleaner energy sources. Currently, the largest offshore wind energy farms are in Northern Europe and Germany, but the market is gaining steam with the U.S. and China also investing heavily in the offshore wind energy market, according to Global Market Insights. “In the current scenario, wind energy is considered among the mature energy sources, since its first deployment in Denmark,” said Ankit Gupta, who is the research manager for energy and power with Global Market Insights. “The Global Wind Energy Council in 2016 claimed that the unconventional energy system will be led by wind. Subject to the fact, offshore wind industry has been gaining momentum, as to contribute majorly in achieving renewable energy targets across the globe.”

GE Power continues to deteriorate threatening investment grade debt rating. Management expects the GE Power market to be stable. It is continuing to decline at about 12% per year. Electrical generation from all sources, including renewables, is declining in the developed world. Management anticipates that actions it is taking will increase Power margins by 5 percentage points, while actual margins are declining. The company’s market share in new gas turbine generators is declining. GE is a Sell. General Electric (NYSE:GE) believes the Steam and Gas electric generation market will be stable for the next few years, after having fallen 50% in 2016 and 2017. Markets rarely act that way. The market for gas turbine electrical generation is continuing to fall, making a plan based on the market flattening a false hope. The GE June power forecast is 10% above the first-half level, and the business is expected to produce a half billion dollars less operating income. Future years will be even weaker.

Elon Musk’s woes deepen as Tesla rivals prepare to launch new electric models. Tesla’s woes are set to intensify over the coming weeks as deep-pocketed European rivals prepare to unveil a string of new models which are likely to intensify global competition in the market for electric cars. While Tesla, whose chief executive and billionaire founder Elon Musk was forced to abandon a plan to privatize the company this weekend, has been dealing with its own challenges meeting stringent production targets, Germany’s top car-makers are preparing to reveal a series of advanced electric SUVs that will go head-to-head with its models.

Germany reaches 100,000 home battery storage installations. A household just outside Berlin has become the recipient of the 100,000th grid-connected residential battery energy storage system in Germany. Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Thomas Bareiß attended an official event to mark the system’s commissioning in Eichwalde. Bareiß hailed the event as an “important milestone” that Germany has reached in its energy transition – referred to domestically as the Energiewende.


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Phasing out coal for renewable energy in Colorado, mandates for clean energy in California, energy markets versus mandates, grid resiliency and more (08/28/18)

Today’s lede: Colorado regulators approve Xcel’s plan to ditch coal for renewables. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has approved a plan to place in ratebase Xcel Energy’s plan to retire two coal-fired power plants and dramatically ratchet up the state’s reliance on renewable energy resources, Judith Kohler reports in the Denver Post. Critics say plan to retire coal-fired plants early will cost electricity consumers millions.

Xcel filed the plan with regulators in June. It will phase out 660 megawatts of coal-fired generation at the Comanche 1 and 2 units in Pueblo while adding some 1,100 megawatts of wind, 700 megawatts of solar, 275 megawatts of battery storage and 380 megawatts from existing natural gas sources, Kohler reports. It is expected to reduce carbon emissions by nearly 60 percent by boosting the utility’s renewable resources to 55 percent of its generation mix.

“Xcel says the plan will invest $2.5 billion in eight counties and save customers about $213 million, thanks to the declining costs of renewable energy,” Kohler writes. “Utilities commissioners, staff and supporters said the low costs of wind and solar and the improving technology of batteries that store energy from renewable sources present “a rare opportunity” to advance an energy program that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions while promoting a clean-energy economy.”

However, Commissioner Wendy Moser took issue with the pace of the coal phaseout. Shutting down the coal plants earlier than planned isn’t “going to be free,” Moser said, predicting “customers will pay higher rates” as a result.

“The Colorado Energy Plan Portfolio is a transformative plan that delivers on our vision of long-term, low-cost clean renewable energy for our customers, stimulating economic development in rural Colorado, and substantially reducing our carbon emissions,” Alice Jackson, Xcel Energy Colorado president, said in a written statement. “We are excited to move forward.”


R Street Institute op-ed urges California to sidestep 100 percent renewables mandate. Weighing into a major legislative debate in the waning days of the California legislative session, two R Street Institute writers warn the state would make a “major mistake” by implementing Senate Bill 100, a law requiring 100 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy and zero-carbon resources by 2045.

“The cost of renewable power has fallen dramatically over the last decade. As a result, what was once a boutique power source is poised to become a major player in electrical markets,” Josiah Neely and Devin Hartman of the R Street Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank at the forefront of advocating for competitive electricity markets, write in the Orange County Register. “Unfortunately, some in government and the environmental movement have misinterpreted these market advances as evidence that a transition to renewable energy must be driven by government fiat.”

A better approach would be for California to emulate Texas by fostering competitive forces to drive costs down and give consumers the freedom to choose their energy sources, the R Street institute writers argue. “Indeed, evidence already suggests this is hugely important in the effort to drive affordable decarbonization,” they maintain.

A top-down renewable portfolio approach, as adopted in SB 100, “is almost certain that an aggressive RPS over the next two decades will be expensive — and likely very expensive,” they suggest. “The rising frequency in solar curtailments by the California grid operator already illustrates the early stages of this challenge. Should government-driven deployment of renewable energy lead to a cost explosion or serious reliability issues, it could serve to generally discredit renewables in the eyes of the public.”

To successfully promote renewables and other forms of clean energy, growth must come “organically, rather than being pumped full of artificial subsidies,” they continue, citing the competitive electricity market in Texas as a pathway to rapid decarbonization and renewables integration.

“This model is the favorite of economic conservatives, energy consumers and is turning heads in the environmental community,” Neely and Hartman conclude. “Pragmatic environmental groups and clean energy foundations have started to recognize these facts and are pivoting more toward competitive markets and away from RPS as a preferred tool. An affordable clean energy future requires unleashing market forces rather than restrictive central planning.”


Texas Public Policy Foundation pans California’s ‘magical thinking’ on renewables. Bill Peacock, vice president of research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, takes aim at California’s pending legislative proposal to mandate 100 percent renewables to argue against federal subsidies for renewables and the Trump administration’s putative plans to subsidize baseload coal and nuclear plants. Markets, not subsidies or mandates, will ensure the affordable supply of electricity, he maintains in The Hill.

Meeting all of California’s electrical needs with solar power would require about 219,000 megawatts, more than exists in the entire world today, and relying on wind turbines to meet the mandate would require a 16,000-square-mile physical footprint, Peacock maintains (For a rebuttal by Stanford University’s Mark Jacobson, click through here). Peacock also notes that renewables like wind and solar require fossil fuel-fired backup generation for periods when the sun doesn’t shine of the wind doesn’t blow.

But Peacock doesn’t stop at deriding California’s “magical thinking.” He also takes aim squarely at the administration’s plans to subsidize baseload coal and nuclear. “Proposals at the federal level to provide subsidies to coal and nuclear generation move us no closer to an affordable, reliable, and secure source of energy than does California’s. And the reason for the failure in both instances is simple — they don’t rely on the market to help us get the job done.”

Nevertheless, he does pat the administration on the back for its repeal of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which he asserted “is another positive shift toward energy markets.”

Moving forward, Peacock calls for the federal government to “use its legitimate Interstate Commerce Clause authority” and stop California and other states from imposing renewable energy mandates. “Most important of all, Congress could immediately eliminate the federal Production Tax Credit, which greatly distorts markets and will cost taxpayers another $50 billion dollars before it expires in 2029,” he suggests.

“The only magic we need to achieve a secure grid that provides an affordable and reliable supply of electricity is to make some regulations, mandates, and subsidies go ‘Poof!’ so that generators, grid operators, and consumers can use the market to meet our energy needs,” Peacock maintains.


Policy experts say Trump administration taking wrong path to boost grid resiliency. A thorough look at the issues surrounding power grid resilience reveals that coal and nuclear bailouts are little more than political posturing, while genuine resilience policy improvements are attainable, Burcin Unel and Avi Zevin of the New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity write in The Hill, a publication widely read by lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill. The experts advocate an evidence-based approach to ensuring grid resilience.

“There are no well-established studies showing that increasing the availability of generators with ‘fuel security’ attributes will enhance the resilience of the electric system,” Unel and Zevin write. “The vast majority of outages do not result from fuel-supply disruptions, but rather from disruptions to transmission and distribution networks. Keeping certain power plants from retiring will do little to address these problems.”

The Trump administration instead should adopt an approach that measures resilience based on proven performance metrics, they maintain. “Policymakers can focus on metrics such as the economic value of outages or the costs to replace infrastructure [rather than] myopically focusing on a single electric-system component (fuel disruption) and a single threat (cyberattack),” which risks exposing the grid to other threats and ignoring improvements that could be “more consequential.”

But rather than waiting for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to evaluate rational market-based options, the Department of Energy is contemplating the use of “emergency” authorities that would “forgo markets, fail to balance costs and benefits, and address only a small part of the resilience puzzle. This approach is not necessary or appropriate to meet the longer-term grid resilience challenges we face,” the authors say.

“Instead of moving forward with an ill-considered bailout of specific generators, the Trump administration should slow down and let the regulators, grid operators, and electric utilities that are truly interested in resilience take the lead,” they conclude. “These actors are well equipped to undertake robust, evidence-based analysis; smart investments; and sustained and deliberate coordination and planning. Only then will the nation wisely spend its resources to prepare the electric system against future shocks.”

Unel and Zevin are the authors of the report, “Toward Resilience: Defining, Measuring, and Monetizing Resilience in the Electricity System.”


House Democrat pans Trump administration’s replacement for Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The Affordable Clean Energy plan put forward by the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency to replace the Obama administration Clean Energy Plan sacrifices energy innovation and job creation in order to financially benefit coal-industry political allies, Rep. Jerry McNerney suggests in an op-ed published in The Hill.

“While the Clean Power Plan carved out a national agenda to reduce carbon emissions and encourage the use of clean energy sources, this new proposal passes the buck off to the individual states. It would give them broad authority to increase emissions in exchange for minor efficiency improvements, and it contains loopholes big enough to drive a diesel-powered tractor trailer straight through,” McNerney writes.

He cites Department of Energy and Labor Department statistics to refute the administration’s claims their alternative to the Clean Power Plan will promote jobs, and warns that it will contribute to increasing emissions that are destabilizing the planet’s atmosphere and causing extreme weather events like droughts, floods and fires.

“The president is rolling back decades of progress and leading our country – once a shining example for energy innovation and leadership – down a dark path,” McNerney writes, suggesting the plan is a “last-ditch effort to provide life support for coal plants that could not otherwise compete against other sources of power generation” in order to provide “a giveaway to the coal industry” and the Trump administration’s “industry friends.”

McNerney, a former engineer active in the wind energy sector, sits on the House Committees on Energy and Commerce and Science, Space and Technology.

See also:

Power of, by and for the people. Let the people decide how to power their businesses and homes. That’s the essence of the EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule, announced last week as the replacement for President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The Affordable Clean Energy Rule respects how America’s founders limited authority of the federal government for good reason. Americans want cleaner, more sustainable, more affordable energy. As they demand it, governments, public utilities, and entrepreneurs will respond by meeting the demand. Free markets provide with benevolence; dictates provide malevolent force and “irreparable harm.” Americans deserve more of the former, less of the latter. Our founders established the federal government to serve the states, not lord over them with unaffordable mandates. This plan assists states, consumers, and the market in achieving cleaner air with guidelines, proposed technologies, and incentives that work for diverse regions of the country. With this plan, the laboratory of states should pursue the most efficient sources of power while competing to achieve the cleanest air. It means power of the people, by the people, for the people.


More electric industry news of interest:

Wind energy prices continue to fall due to technology advancements and efficiencies. A recent report published last week by the US Department of Energy and prepared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) found that wind energy pricing remains attractive due to technology advancements and cost reductions. The new report, the Department of Energy’s (DoE) 2017 Wind Technologies Market Report, found that newly built wind projects across the United States provided energy at an average of around 2 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), thanks a combination of technology advancements and cost reductions. As such, wind power capacity additions continued to accelerate through 2017 and, across the country, a total of 7,017 megawatts (MW) worth of new wind capacity was installed in 2017, with $11 billion invested in new plants. Overall, wind power accounted for 25% of all new US capacity additions in 2017.

Average U.S. wind price falls to $20 per megawatt-hour. Wind prices have dropped by $50 per megawatt-hour in eight years, new DOE research shows. The middle of the United States continues driving wind prices lower. Cheap projects located in the country’s windy center have drawn the national average down to $20 per megawatt-hour, according to a new report from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The report calculates a decline in average wind prices from about $70 per megawatt-hour in 2009, to $20 per megawatt-hour in 2017 — a $50 decline in an eight-year period.

Solar now makes up more than 10 percent of electricity in five states. Massachusetts has joined California, Hawaii, Nevada and Vermont in the club of states where solar represents 10 percent or more of in-state generation. Solar made up 2.4 percent of total generation in the United States during the first half of 2018, with solar and wind together making up slightly less than 10 percent. Data released today for the first half of 2018 shows solar representing more than 10% of in-state electricity generation in a fifth state, as further evidence that the energy transition is underway.

Last-minute amendments prompt fresh debate over bill that would expand California power grid. The bill that would revise how California regulates the state power grid was amended late last week, prompting a fresh round of debate over the fate of the legislation. The new language posted online Saturday gives lawmakers nine months to consider how specifically the California Energy Commission would expand the electric grid to as many as 14 western states. The amendments also do away with a requirement that additional renewable-energy sources be constructed in California, a section that was added early this year to win support from organized labor. The changes came as the state Legislature scrambles to consider hundreds of bills before the legislative session expires Friday. Supporters of the expanded-grid concept said the amendments will help convince wavering lawmakers to support the so-called regional grid. “We think the amendments are improvements to the bill and will improve its prospects further,” said Ralph Cavanagh, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The amendment guarantees that the California Legislature will have a full opportunity to review and evaluate the final governance proposal.” Cavanagh and other supporters say expanding the state power grid into a multistate network will improve efficiency and allow California to sell excess solar and wind power to other states.

Editorial: A plan to protect California ratepayers and fire victims. Following the Great Recession, when financial institutions “too big to fail” needed hundreds of billions of dollars to stay afloat, Congress required annual stress tests to ensure that large banks can withstand another economic crisis. Wildfires are shaping up as a similar threat to California electric utilities, and state lawmakers are looking at stress tests as a safeguard for victims, ratepayers and utilities. A framework crafted by a special legislative committee, and endorsed by North Coast legislators as well as a group representing North Bay wildfire victims, would allow utilities to borrow money at low interest rates to pay property owners for fire-related damage — if it was necessary to keep the utility from going under. No one would benefit if PG&E, or one of the state’s other electric utilities, was forced into bankruptcy.

Pa. PUC approves tentative implementation order for alternative ratemaking. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) recently approved a Tentative Implementation Order for Act 58 of 2018, which would allow for alternative ratemaking for natural gas distribution, electric distribution and water/wastewater companies. The Commission is requesting comments on its proposed interpretation and implementation of the new law. Act 58 of 2018 allows utilities to seek PUC approval of alternative rates and rate mechanisms such as decoupling mechanisms, performance-based rates, formula rates and multiyear rate plans or a combination of these alternatives. The law amends Chapter 13 of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Code. The commission’s tentative order would allow public utilities to petition the PUC to consider alternative ratemaking mechanisms as part of their base rate proceedings.

The battle for cheap solar power heads to the sunny South — but utilities are fighting back. This April, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), filed a complaint against Alabama Power to the state’s Public Service Commission, the power company’s regulator. The complaint argues that Alabama Power’s fee for small-scale solar users is “unfair, unreasonable, unjust, discriminatory, contrary to the public interest, and otherwise unlawful.” “It appears to be the most punitive charge on rooftop solar customers by any regulated utility in the country,” says Katie Ottenweller, a senior attorney for SELC and leader of the center’s solar initiative. Alabama Power has not only tried to get the complaint thrown out but also proposed hiking the charge for customers with their own solar power by nearly 10 percent. A spokesperson for Alabama Power, Michael Sznajderman, says that the higher fee would help cover the cost of providing back-up service to customers who generate their own energy but remain connected to the grid. The barriers built into Alabama’s energy market are just one example of the political, financial, and regulatory dynamics that can block low- and middle-income households from using rooftop solar power in the Southeast. But this tug-of-war between utility companies, regulators, and solar advocates isn’t just about money. “It’s a real social justice issue,” says Greer Ryan, a renewable energy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based environmental organization. “Anything that makes it less economical for people to go solar is going to be harmful for low- and median-income consumers,” she says. It’s like raising taxes on people who can least afford it — putting green energy out of reach for everyone but the wealthy.

Letter: Time to reassess Michigan’s energy policies. This fall, the election of a new governor and other state policymakers will hinge on several issues, like what energy and infrastructure policies they’ll support to strengthen Michigan’s economy. That means looking at abundant and increasingly cleaner forms of traditional energy like oil and natural gas and alternative sources like solar and wind. That’s why the Legislature and the utility commission here, like in other states, are examining their energy policies’ impact on end-use consumers like families, businesses, manufacturers and farmers. In Michigan, for instance, an average homeowner-owned PV rooftop system reportedly receives $17,993 in taxpayer and net metering incentives, or 91 percent of the system’s total cost. In contrast, an average third-party-owned rooftop solar system receives $21,701 in taxpayers and net-metering incentives, equal to 130 percent of the system’s cost. With the state projected to add over 800,000 more residents over the next three decades, plus new businesses with more employment opportunities, Michigan will need to maintain a modern and flexible, affordable electricity mix to ensure it can meet growing demand — which is why it’s paramount policymakers reassess policies and incentives that align with ever-changing market conditions. – Chris Ventura, Consumer Energy Alliance

Medford, Mass., poised to implement municipal aggregation. The city will soon submit its draft electricity aggregation plan to the state for approval. Medford will submit an energy aggregation plan to the state for approval this fall, bringing the city one step closer to implementing municipal electricity aggregation. Using the bulk buying power of many households in the city, Medford has proposed an aggregation plan that aims to lower the cost of electricity for ratepayers, make electricity costs more stable and consistent, and increase the city’s renewable energy consumption. The Medford City Council authorized the city to develop the energy aggregation plan in February, and passed a second draft of the plan at the Council’s Aug. 14 meeting. Once the city submits the plan to the Department of Energy Resources and the Department of Public Utilities, it will take two to six months to go through the review process, according to the city’s Energy and Environment director Alicia Hunt. “We’re just waiting for the minutes of the Aug. 14 meeting to be certified. Then the proposal will be sent to the state for approval,” Hunt said.

Texas co-op group announces alliance with Bryan muni. Texas Electric Cooperatives recently announced an alliance with Bryan Texas Utilities, the Lone Star State’s fifth-largest municipally-owned electric utility. “This is an important alliance for TEC,” said Johnny Andrews, chief operating officer of TEC Manufacturing & Distribution Services. “The alliance partnership initiative was built around the idea of strengthening consumer-owned utilities in an increasingly competitive market. TEC looks forward to working with BTU to maximize the opportunities that this partnership can bring to both organizations.” The agreement with BTU marks TEC’s 25th alliance partnership, and the third new alliance announced in 2018. “Partnerships strengthen everyone involved,” Andrews explained. “Each new alliance increases the negotiating power of the groups who are already partners. It’s something that has direct and concrete benefits for all our members.”

FirstEnergy Solutions seeking bankruptcy court approval to sell its customer contracts. Entire communities across Ohio and Illinois that signed contracts with FirstEnergy Solutions for power at discounted prices should have a new supplier this fall. Constellation NewEnergy, an affiliate of Exelon Corp., is on track to become that supplier if Judge Alan Koschik of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio approves a negotiated deal following a Sept. 21 hearing. The sale, once approved, of FES contracts to Exelon means that 263 Ohio communities and cities, including Akron, Youngstown, Ashland, Aurora, Barberton and Bay Village, Silver Lake, Streetsboro and Stow will automatically become Constellation NewEnergy customers.

Facebook’s new energy pledge. Facebook plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 75% in 2020 and power its worldwide operations solely with renewable energy by the end of that year, the company said Tuesday. Data centers for major tech companies suck up lots of power — those operations accounted for the vast bulk of Facebook’s 2.46 million megawatts of electricity use last year. That’s enough to power over 228,000 average American homes, according to a back of the envelope calculation using Energy Information Administration data on average residential power use. Facebook, according to its website, was responsible for 979,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent last year, and roughly two-thirds came from powering data centers. Tuesday’s announcement is the tech giant’s first greenhouse gas target. And it expands on a prior pledge of getting 50 percent of its power from renewables, which the company says it reached last year. Facebook said it will use a variety of contracting methods, such as renewable energy tariffs and direct power purchase agreements, to meet its renewables target.

Why Bloom Energy’s successful IPO is so important for the fuel cell market. Fuel cells make a comeback. Fuel cells have been with us since the early days of the space program, but limited applications, high costs, and a long history of overpromising and underdelivering have provided plenty of ammunition for an army of skeptics. Maybe that is finally changing. Last year, Amazon’s purchase of $70 million worth of fuel-cell forklifts from Plug Power hinted that a billion-dollar market for fuel cell technology might be possible. Bloom Energy’s recent successful IPO suggests a second, much larger market may be emerging.

Bloom Energy stock downgraded: What you need to know. Credit Suisse’s not keen on this fuel cell specialist’s valuation. One week ago, Wall Street began publishing ratings on recent fuel cell IPO Bloom Energy Corporation (NYSE:BE). One week later, one analyst is already downgrading it.

Tesla wins against Ontario gov as judge rules that phase-out of EV incentives is discriminatory. In Ontario, a judge has sided with Tesla and agreed that the government was discriminating against the company when it excluded Tesla from the phase-out period of the removal of the province’s EV incentives. Now it is up to the Ministry of Transport to make things right for the Tesla buyers.

Say what!? A wind turbine in Japan got blown over by — the wind. If you thought blustery conditions would be perfect for a wind turbine, then think again. Strong gusts brought by Typhoon Cimaron on Friday, August 24, caused a massive wind turbine in western Japan to topple over. The 60-meter-tall turbine was located in a park on Awaji Island, 275 miles west of Tokyo, but was wrenched from its base in the early hours of Friday morning as the typhoon pummeled a large part of the Japanese archipelago. Built in 2002, the turbine had been out of commission since May last year after being struck by lightning, according to the Japan Times. News footage showed how the turbine had been torn from its base by the strong winds, with its 20-meter-long blades badly damaged by the impact with the ground. It’s not yet clear if the base had been weakened in some way prior to the typhoon.


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Today’s lede: Self-generation appears to be latest cryptocurrency craze. Crytocurrency miners have sparked backlashes from New York to the Pacific Northwest as the highly data-intensive, and hence energy-intensive, industry has flocked to low-cost electricity areas to host the banks of servers they use to produce bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies. The typically municipal utility electricity providers, which enjoy low-cost electricity thanks to state- or federally subsidized hydropower, have sought to reverse the trend by adopting special rates for cryptocurrency miners that effectively make the business uneconomical.

Now the cryptocurrency mining industry appears to have adopted an “if you can’t beat them, join them” strategy. DPW Holdings has announced plans to restore a hydroelectric dam In Valatie Falls, N.Y., with the anticipated electricity output dedicated to cryptocurrency mining, XBT Betwork reports. “The dam will be fully dedicated to the mining facility owned and operated by Super Crypto Mining,” the publication reports. “The farm will have access to a clean, renewable and cheap source of electricity, therefore, giving it a competitive advantage in the country.”

The development in New York follows a similar announcement by Soluna, which plans to build a 900-megawatt off-the-grid solar facility in Morocco dedicated to blockchain computing (click through here). Greentech Media reports experts offered a guarded reaction to the $2.5 billion project, but that Soluna is confident it will find investors willing to invest due to its low-cost energy supply.


Exxon issues RFP for wing, solar energy supplies in Texas. Giving it a bit of a man-bites-dog treatment, Bloomberg News, citing sources familiar with the matter, reports that Exxon Mobil Corp. is seeking to buy renewable energy for delivery in Texas.

“The largest U.S. oil company sent out a request for proposals with a June 8 deadline, inviting solar or wind power suppliers to pitch contracts that would last 12, 15 or 20 years, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg and people with knowledge who asked not to be named discussing confidential matters,” Bloomberg reports. The documents indicate Irving, Texas-based Exxon, is soliciting at least 100 megawatts and would consider proposals for more than 250 megawatts.

“I have never seen an oil and gas company doing a corporate [power-purchase agreement] anywhere near that size,” said Kyle Harrison, a New York-based analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “If you’re seeing the biggest oil and gas companies going out and making investments in clean energy, it shows that renewables are cost-competitive.”

Exxon not been among its Big Oil competitors, such as Royal Dutch Shell and BP, in making a shift to investing in renewable energy technologies, Bloomberg notes. Exxon CEO Darren Woods said earlier this year that the company’s investment dollars will follow John D. Rockefeller’s bet-on-what-you-know mantra.

“But as the price of renewable power declines, the company may see the value in consuming wind or solar, even if it eschews producing that kind of energy,” Bloomberg notes. “Texas is the biggest wind-producing U.S. state, with power prices occasionally going negative on windy days, and solar power is cheaper than coal in many parts of the world.”


AP report highlights trend in utility investment away from power plants. The investment research firm SSR projects that increased investment in the distribution grid will be the primary source of growth for most utilities over the next five to 10 years. Those investments mean a stream of new revenue that could last decades, the Associated Press reports.

“Utilities have long based their business on building power plants and selling the juice to customers, adding a regulator-approved profit margin to pay for it all. But the need for big generation projects has fallen after decades of energy conservation, fewer factories and the swapping of coal-fired power plants for cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas,” AP’s Emery DaLesio reports. “So electricity companies are telling Wall Street they’re shifting their business plans. Now they’re having customers pay to replace aging equipment, block malicious hackers, minimize outages, accommodate the upsurge of wind and solar power and allow consumers more control over when and how much power they use.”

“Old infrastructure needs to be replaced. It’s that simple. And that’s terrific for the industry, because companies do earn a very competitive rate of return on new investment and so there’s a reason to invest,” said Ronald Silvestri, managing director of global equity research at investment management firm Neuberger Berman. “This gives the sector a very long tail of attractive growth for many years.”

More than three dozen regulated electric companies last year devoted almost half their more than $120 billion in total capital spending to grid improvements, according to the Edison Electric Institute.


New Maryland PSC chairman relates how he paid competitive supplier 70 percent premium over utility default rate. Recently appointed Maryland Public Service Commission Chairman Jason Stanek said last week that his electricity rate from a competitive retail supplier was 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, meaning he paid roughly 70 more for electricity than if he’d opted to take default service from his utility supplier, according to a report in

“I keep going back to the fact that I believe consumers bear some responsibility,” the website devoted to news on retail electricity competition quotes Stanek as saying. “And I would like to think I’m a little more sophisticated than the average member of the public in choosing retail choice. But then that is a decision that I made, when I signed up with retail choice supplier ‘A,’ they provided me with some benefits that I took, and I went in knowing that I was signing up for a variable rate that could change from month to month.”


More electric industry news of interest:

Editorial: N.J. utilities turn ‘buy more, pay less’ rule on its head. Utility companies cite various reasons when they apply for general rate boosts, and this latest filing is no different. Mentioned in comments by a spokesperson for Atlantic City Electric, an Exelon Corp. division, are things like recovering expenses of upgrading its grid, equipment depreciation and replacement costs, plus this showstopper: “compensate for declining sales.” In other words, if you’re one of the company’s 550,000 customers in several South and Central Jersey counties, here’s your reward for switching to efficient LED lighting, shelling out thousands for the latest energy-miser central air conditioner, and spending every weekend in late fall sealing up windows and cracks to keep winter out: “You’re buying less, so we’re going to charge you more.” We’re not immune to the fact that, for utilities, fixed costs dictate some need to adjust non-fuel pricing to fit sales trends. On a visceral level, though, this makes all of the companies’ ceaseless efforts to push conservation on customers seem ironic.

Michigan residents, businesses must fight for solar energy rights. Until recently, everyone who invested in solar, including schools, families and small businesses, had the right to receive a bill credit equal to the amount that the utility charged for selling electricity to the public. Now, DTE Energy wants to slash that credit, along with any hope that Michigan customers can continue to save money with solar. Michigan residents already pay the highest electricity rates in the Midwest.  Over the last 10 years, residential electric rates have increased 44 percent, even as the average income in Michigan has dropped. While utility rates have gone up this last decade, the cost of solar power has decreased by 85 percent over the same period of time, making solar a cost-effective option for homeowners, businesses and schools to reduce their energy bill. While solar technology becomes more affordable, policies like net metering that make it possible for individuals and business to use it are increasingly under attack. Michigan lawmakers must step up to ensure that all residents have the option of generating their own electricity and are protected from attempts by big utility companies to take that right away.

PG&E identified as utility that lost control of confidential information. As a result of 2016 failure, 30,000 records about PG&E’s cyber assets were exposed on the internet. San Francisco-based PG&E Corp. was identified Friday as the large utility that authorities had fined in May for losing control of a database with confidential information about its systems and leaving it exposed on the internet for 70 days. The breach happened in 2016 and, until this week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had declined to identify the utility that it fined $2.7 million earlier this year, a small amount compared with a potential fine of as much as $140 million. Heavily redacted documents released Friday showed correspondence among regulators related to the incident, which referenced PG&E, but they provided no additional details. However, other previously available documents provided information about the incident, so together they show how PG&E’s systems were exposed. In a written statement, PG&E said that “once we learned of the exposure, we communicated proactively with the appropriate government agencies and regulators and have since worked with them on corrective actions.” It added that its cybersecurity measures are “robust and consistent with the best practices being employed in the industry.” PG&E’s identity was revealed because of a Freedom of Information Act request filed to FERC by Secure the Grid Coalition, a nonprofit group focused on critical infrastructure protection.

Oregon utility regulators want more say on climate, cost equity issues. Oregon electric utility regulators are set to ask lawmakers for more authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that low-income customers have access to affordable electricity. The Public Utility Commission lists those two “major recommendations” in a new draft report on the future of electricity regulation in the state. The report was ordered in Senate Bill 978 last year and is based on a series of workshops held with a wide range of stakeholders from January through July. A final report is due to the Legislature by Sept. 15. The commission says there was widespread agreement among stakeholders for giving it greater sway on climate and cost equity.

Utility and South Carolina lawmakers clash over who should pick up the costs of abandoned $4.7 Billion nuclear power plant project. This dust-up is part of a larger U.S. dispute over how much public support should be provided to support nuclear power at a time when the industry is struggling to compete with lower-cost natural gas and renewable energy. The South Carolina plant and a similar project in Georgia both encountered massive cost overruns that led to the bankruptcy of nuclear project builder Westinghouse Electric Co.  The company that owns the Georgia plant, which like the South Carolina project also received state support, said earlier this month that it would take an earnings charge to cover more than $1 billion in new cost overruns. “What is happening in South Carolina is reflective of how challenging the economics of nuclear power are across the country,” said Jason Bordoff, a Columbia University professor who was senior director for energy and climate change for the National Security Council.

Charleston, S.C.-area aluminum maker and Santee Cooper head back to court. Century Aluminum is about to get another day in court in its legal tussle with Santee Cooper over power rates at the company’s Berkeley County smelter. The federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the lawsuit Oct. 10, according to the court’s online calendar. The lawsuit is one route Century has taken in recent years in attempts to reduce the amount of money it pays state-owned utility Santee Cooper for some of the electricity powering its Mount Holly plant. Electricity is the smelter’s largest expense, accounting for 40 percent of the cost of producing aluminum. Century buys three-fourths of the smelter’s power on the open market, where it can negotiate low rates. It must buy one-fourth of its power from Santee Cooper, as part of the utility’s agreement to transmit power to the Mount Holly site off Highway 52. Century says it can’t afford to pay Santee Cooper’s higher price, and the utility says it can’t lower the rate without forcing other customers to subsidize the smelter. The appeal stems from a federal judge’s decision last year to dismiss Century’s claims that Moncks Corner-based Santee Cooper violates antitrust laws. Judge Richard Gergel said the utility is a legal monopoly created by the Legislature and, therefore, has the exclusive right to serve the smelter.

Flipping the switch: Nevada County, Calif., hosts discussion on community choice aggregation. Nevada County just took its first baby step toward being in control of its power supply, with lower customer bills and 100 percent clean energy as some of the potential benefits. On Thursday, local government officials and community members got the chance to explore just what it would take to create a community choice aggregation program, at a roundtable hosted by Nevada Irrigation District. These programs are administered by local governments to purchase electricity as an alternative to investor-owned utility sources such as PG&E. Community choice aggregation is the wave of the future, organizers said. Statewide, there are 18 such programs in existence, including in Placer, Humboldt and Alameda counties. “This is an opportunity to define our power future,” said Nevada Irrigation District General Manager Rem Scherzinger. A community choice aggregation program purchases power for its customers and has authority to design its own rate structure and procurement protocols. PG&E would still provide services such as transmission, distribution, metering, billing, collection and customer service. Customers would receive one combined electric bill.

Quincy, Ill., residents could save by opting out of municipal aggregation program. There’s a chance Quincy residents could save money on their energy bill. Officials say for the first time since electric aggregation went into place in 2013, the rate from Ameren Illinois is actually lower than the electric aggregation rate through the city’s supplier, Homefield Energy. This is the first year Ameren’s rate, now 4.95 cents per kilowatt-hour for the typical residential customer, have fallen below Quincy’s price for electricity since the city launched its electric aggregation program in September 2013. What does that mean for you?  You can opt out of electric aggregation and save money on your utility bills.

Understanding Nevada’s energy ballot questions. “Don’t let Nevada become like California” is one of the things we’ve heard regarding the heated battle over whether or not to deregulate Nevada’s energy. Is your head spinning listening to the ads for both sides of the issue? On Sept. 10 everyone is welcome to attend the Douglas County Democratic Women’s luncheon where two guest speakers will discuss the important controversy regarding Questions 3 and 6 on this November’s ballot. Question 3, the “Energy Choice” initiative, will be thoroughly explained and your questions answered by Mike Roberson, Northern Nevada outreach coordinator. Kyle Roerink, communication director, presents the reasons to vote “yes” on Question 6. He will detail how Nevada’s state-of-the-art geothermal facilities are vital to ensuring that electricity demand is met, power bills are low, local communities prosper and Nevada’s economy and environment remain vibrant. Or you might want to talk to someone who experienced energy deregulation in Southern California in the late 1990s. I personally found that they resulted in no “choices” and my DWP bills went through the roof.

What Nevada’s ballot initiatives, Question 3 and Question 6, say about renewable energy. There are two energy-related questions on the ballot this November — Question 3 (known as the Energy Choice Initiative) and Question 6 (known as the Renewable Energy Standard Initiative). If you’ve heard of the former but not the latter, you wouldn’t be alone. Question 3 has dominated public and political conversation. Its well-funded proponents and opponents have collectively shelled out $30 million to make their case as to why Nevada should — or shouldn’t — create an open energy marketplace. By contrast, Question 6 has only one registered political action committee — Nevadans for a Clean Energy Future, which submitted the ballot initiative. It has no formal opponents and has avoided headline-grabbing political theatrics, though its grassroots coalition continues to grow as election day nears. Ballot measures by law cannot be directly related to one another, but there’s no doubt Question 3 and Question 6 could impact one another. Exactly how so remains up for debate, but one aspect of energy policy prominently crosses both measures: renewable energy.

Indiana city won’t restart coal plant despite relaxed rules. A northern Indiana city’s coal-burning power plant won’t be reopening despite the Trump administration’s plan to relax restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from such facilities. Logansport Municipal Utilities shut down its plant in early 2016 after deciding it couldn’t afford updates needed to meet rules established under former President Barack Obama. The plant generated about 30 percent of the Logansport utility’s electricity. Duke Energy has provided it all since the plant’s closure. Some equipment inside the former plant has been sold for scrap. Electric utilities have shut down other coal-burning plants around Indiana in recent years, including in Chesterton, Terre Haute and Peru.

Massachusetts hospital gets $1.8 million state grant to deal with power outages. Heywood Hospital has received a $1.8 million energy resiliency grant through the state Community Clean Energy Resiliency Initiative. The grant for Heywood Hospital was one of nine grants totaling nearly $9.7 million to hospitals around the state to ensure they are able to provide medical services through long duration electricity outages by usng clean energy technologies. The grants, funded by the Department of Energy Resources, are the latest round of the Community Clean Energy Resiliency Initiative, a $40 million initiative focused on community resiliency projects that use clean energy technology solutions to protect from interruptions in energy services due to severe climate events made worse by the effects of climate change. Heywood Hospital’s grant award is for $1,836,773 and is intended to add battery storage and upgrade the electrical automation and control system of the existing CHP system for improved operation during grid outages, according to a statement from the DOER. Funding for the grants is available through Alternative Compliance Payments paid by retail electric suppliers that do not meet their Renewable Portfolio Standard compliance obligations through the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates.

Utilities could sell bonds to pay wildfire debts under legislative proposal. Utilities would be allowed to sell state-authorized bonds to pay for some of the damages caused by wildfires — with ratepayers responsible for repaying the debt — under a wildfire response bill unveiled Friday by state lawmakers. The bonds would only be used to pay out damages that utilities could not afford without being bankrupted, and the determination of that amount would require a stringent “stress test” by the Public Utilities Commission, said Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa. Unlimited use of bond funding was proposed in an East Bay legislator’s bill that state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, dismissed as a “total bailout” for PG&E, which faces billions of dollars in damages from the October wildfires. Dodd is co-chairman and Wood is a member of the bipartisan conference committee on wildfire prevention that conducted a public hearing Friday on a two-page outline of the full bill, which is due for release Monday or Tuesday. The deadline to pass bills is Friday, when the Legislature adjourns for the year.

California wildfire committee considers comprehensive preparedness and prevention plan. The legislative Conference Committee on Wildfire Preparedness and Response on Friday discussed key elements of a proposed committee report that includes provisions for protecting Californians from future wildfires and preventing electric utility ratepayers from bearing unfair costs. “We must stand with past victims, prevent future fires from claiming new victims and protect the long-term interests of every utility ratepayer in this state,” said Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, co-chairman of the 10-member committee. “We can all agree that the status quo is unacceptable and we have a real opportunity to make progress toward these goals.” Key elements of the proposed report included utility fire prevention and planning, forestry and landscape management, new provisions directing the California Public Utilities Commission to take into account additional factors such as the nature and severity of the conduct of investor-owned utilities, and investor-owned utility ratepayer bonds to finance costs put into rates which are the result of a catastrophic fire. The committee will meet again early next week to further consider the proposal that will go into Senate Bill 901 and take additional public input. A link to the Conference Committee website is here:

Wildfires will push up California utility bills, no matter what. For months, California legislators have debated whether and how to help electric utility companies deal with the costs of wildfires sparked by their equipment. But the debate — now entering its final, crucial week — has tended to obscure one unpleasant fact for utility customers: No matter what Sacramento decides, utility bills are likely to rise as a result of recent fires. They will rise regardless of whether the Legislature passes a bill, outlined Friday, that could allow Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to pass on to its customers the costs of settling some lawsuits arising from last fall’s Wine Country fires. The reason bills are almost certain to increase? Insurance. Insurance companies responded to last year’s fires, many of which state investigators say were started by power lines, by jacking up premiums for California’s utilities, more than doubling them in some cases. And utilities typically pass on insurance premium costs to their customers, although they need the permission of state regulators to do so. “Higher insurance costs are going to be a material earnings headwind to California utilities if they’re not allowed to pass those costs along to customers,” said Travis Miller, director of utilities research at the Morningstar financial research firm. “And if regulators do allow them to pass it along, it’s going to be a significant increase in customer bills.”

Protesting the ‘TVA runaround’. Despite low rates, power bills still too high, protesters say. Environmental and consumer groups opposed to changes in power prices and programs by the Tennessee Valley Authority took to the streets Saturday to run around the agency’s power headquarters to protest what they claim is the runaround TVA is giving about power rates and bills. Nearly two dozen protesters conducted the 0.5-kilometer run, billed as the “TVA Run-A-Round,” to offer what they say is a tongue-in-cheek taste of TVA’s own medicine. TVA rates are among the lowest 25 percent of U.S. electricity utilities, and the average cost of delivered power has risen less than a half of a percent per year over the past five years, or less than one fourth the overall inflation rate. “TVA keeps touting its low rates, but in the end, that’s not what you see on your electric bills,” said Laura Humphrey, an energy policy associate for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy who helped organize today’s “run around” the TVA Chattanooga Office Complex. “When you combine rates, usage and the increasing fixed charges TVA is imposing on local power companies, then you have a really high energy burden. We feel like TVA is just giving us the runaround and isn’t addressing the concerns we keep raising.”

Under fire from all sides, Central Maine Power losing the power of its word. Never before in Central Maine Power’s 119-year history has the company been under assault from more directions. CMP is facing a storm of attacks for how it treats and bills its customers and whether it’s telling the truth about problems at the utility. State regulators have launched investigations into storm response, rate charges, company earnings and a proposed transmission line. Attorneys for ratepayers are seeking a class-action lawsuit over extraordinarily high electric bills. They are even alleging corporate fraud – saying CMP trained its workers to blame spiking bills on customers, rather than the company’s faulty billing and metering systems, a charge CMP strongly denies. The company’s new president and CEO, Doug Herling, acknowledges the firestorm, saying “we’re probably the most mistrusted company now.” But his explanation for the public relations nightmare sounds like an alternate reality to CMP’s many detractors. Herling blames social media, news coverage, suspicion of CMP’s foreign ownership and opposition to company initiatives as primary reasons for that mistrust.

From a tiny dam in 1899 to a cog in a multinational corporation: A history of Central Maine Power. Central Maine Power traces its origins to 1899, when engineer William Wyman and a partner hooked up a tiny hydro generator to serve 100 customers in Oakland. Today, CMP distributes power to 600,000 customers but generates no electricity. It has evolved into a small subsidiary of Iberdrola S.A., a worldwide energy company headquartered in a 40-story office building in Bilbao, Spain. CMP’s detractors lament the lack of local control and the foreign ownership inherent in this corporate structure, but it’s part of an almost 20-year-old trend tied to the restructuring of the region’s electric industry.

W.Va. PSC orders utility to return federal tax cut savings to customers. In a ruling from the bench Friday, the Public Service Commission of West Virginia approved joint stipulations and agreements for settlements and proposed rates for utility companies ordering rate reductions of $84.8 million per year beginning Sept. 1. It also approved the elimination of approximately $151.4 million in recoverable costs that, in the absence of this decision, would have been included in current expanded net energy cost and vegetation management plan surcharge increases proposed in the Appalachian Power and West Virginia American Water rate cases currently before the PSC, the agency said in a news release. Additionally, the PSC approved agreements that provide the aggregate amount of approximately $409.3 million in excess accumulated deferred income taxes to be credited to customer rates in the future. The PSC said it will be issuing an order in the near future that follows up Friday’s bench ruling.

Indiana regulators approve Duke Energy rate reduction. State regulators have approved an agreement that will lower electric rates for Duke Energy’s 800,000 Indiana customers.The amount of savings under the agreement approved by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission will vary by customer. But the reduction will translate into savings of about $7 a month for the utility’s average electric customer by 2020. Duke Energy credits the Republican-led federal tax overhaul for the rate reduction. The company said in July that it had stuck a deal with the state’s consumer watchdog and industry groups to share some tax savings with consumers.

R.I regulators OK National Grid rate hikes. State regulators approved an agreement on Friday that will allow National Grid to raise an additional $78.4 million in revenues over the next three years through changes to its gas and electric distribution rates. The settlement, approved unanimously by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission in an open meeting, gives the state’s dominant utility about one-third of its original $214.8 million request made last November and less than two-thirds of a revised request of $137.5 million that factored in changes to federal taxes by the Trump administration. The version of the settlement amended by the commission is also about $4.5 million lower than the initial iteration that was filed in June and resulted from negotiations between the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, National Grid, the state Office of Energy Resources and other stakeholders, such as nonprofit groups the George Wiley Center and Acadia Center.

Two of the very last Puerto Ricans got power today. Now, work to build a stronger grid must begin. José Saldaña is one of the very last of Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million residents to get power back after last fall’s hurricanes. It was finally restored Friday morning, more than 11.5 months after it first went out and more than a week after the island’s power authority announced electricity had been fully restored across the island. Even with power almost completely restored, the island’s electrical grid is still weak. “It’s fragile,” said José Sepúlveda, head of distribution and transmission for PREPA. “If something like Maria comes back to this island, we are going to have problems.” Sepúlveda said even the weakest type of hurricane would cause widespread blackouts because up until this month PREPA’s restoration efforts has been focused solely on restoring power. “The mission is just to get power back to the people,” Sepúlveda said, “by any means.”  More than 50,000 new poles and nearly 6,000 miles of conductor wire have been delivered to the island, but restoring the grid as quickly as possible has also meant propping up fallen utility poles and re-stringing snapped lines in a patchwork fix backed by $4.2 billion of FEMA funding. Now that restoring power is virtually complete, the second, harder part of fixing the grid begins. “The second part is to have a more resilient, more stable, stronger grid,” Sepúlveda said.

Natural gas inventories deemed dangerously low. Futures markets are suggesting the currently benign level of natural gas price volatility may not remain through the winter months. According to the Financial Times, market volatility this year has been the lowest on record despite inventory levels falling 19.5 percent below average and by the time winter starts are set to be at their lowest in more than a decade. The Financial Times puts this down to investors being lulled into complacency by a seemingly unstoppable wave of new supply from the shale market rising inexorably to meet rising demand. But is the market safe to assume shale gas will supply regardless of demand? Natural gas producers are systematically hedging their sales throughout next year, often a sign they plan to continue an aggressive policy of drilling and expansion. That activity has contributed to a dipping of forward prices, as there are more sellers in the futures market than buyers. But inventory levels are low – some would suggest dangerously low – after a high summer demand due to hot weather increasing demand for air conditioning. Natural gas “power burn” surged to a record 37.7 billion cubic feet per day during July, the Financial Times reports.

Microgrid adoption could accelerate in the U.S. in coming years. Citing an increase in power outages, Silicon Valley manufacturing firm JSR Micro said Thursday it will install a microgrid system that can power its operations if the power grid fails, a solution that could proliferate in the coming years. “The quality of our manufacturing, and therefore the reliability of our electricity supply, are fundamental to the success of our, and our customers’, operations,” Eric Johnson, president of JSR, said in a statement. “We’re taking a major step in ensuring continuity of our electricity supply with the Bloom Energy microgrid,” he said. The Bloom Energy microgrid will supply 1.1 MW of power as part of a system designed to provide 99.99% availability and enable JSR Micro to continue operations during grid outages, according to the release. The microgrid is expected to be operational by the end of 2018. As microgrid technology advances, with some systems incorporating energy storage components, private companies, universities and the military are increasingly looking to microgrids as a way to increase reliability. “From what I see, we have yet to round the corner on deployment of microgrids, but that should happen in the next few years,” said Professor Greg Mowry, director of Minnesota’s University of St Thomas Renewable Energy and Alternatives Laboratory.

Clean energy jobs grew in Midwest states. Last week when Heather Allen of RENEW Wisconsin was at the Catholic Youth Expeditions campus on Kangaroo Lake to take part in the dedication of a 20kw solar array, she referenced a new report that found 75,000 jobs in Wisconsin are clean energy jobs. “Seventy-five thousand clean energy jobs in Wisconsin means more than all the waiters and waitresses, computer programmers, lawyers and web developers in Wisconsin combined,” she said. Those jobs are in all 72 counties, however, Dane and Milwaukee counties have the highest number of clean energy jobs at about 28,000 of the total, according to the report, Clean Jobs Midwest, which was produced by the Clean Energy Trust (CET) and the national, nonpartisan business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs). Clean Jobs Midwest found that 714,257 jobs are provided in clean energy in the 12 Midwestern states, which is five percent growth above the previous year. Clean energy jobs amount to 2.1 percent of all jobs in the region. “The beauty of data is that it cuts through political rhetoric. These findings show that clean energy jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency are growing across the region and that the Midwest continues to demonstrate it is a fertile region for clean energy innovation, enabling businesses to launch, grow, and create jobs,” said Erik G. Birkerts, CEO of Clean Energy Trust, in a press release announcing the report. “Everyone should embrace and support these sectors that are driving economic development.”

SPP’s westward growth continues with administration of congestion-management plan. As Southwest Power Pool continues negotiations to provide reliability coordination in the Western Interconnection, on Aug. 20 it took another step in the westward expansion of its services. A group of six utilities have selected SPP to administer the Western Interconnection Unscheduled Flow Mitigation Plan, a blueprint for the use of certain controllable devices in the mitigation of congestion along transmission lines in the west.

NRC staff agrees small modular reactors won’t need large-scale emergency zones. TVA shows small reactors’ safety features means emergency planning can be scaled down. Staff conclusions encouraging for SMRs and other new reactor designs. Industry engaging with NRC to develop emergency preparedness regulations for advanced reactor technologies. In a potential regulatory breakthrough that could accelerate future deployment of small modular and advanced reactors, Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff agreed with the Tennessee Valley Authority that scalable emergency planning zones for small modular reactors are feasible. The industry believes that this recognition of the enhanced safety features of small and advanced reactors could greatly simplify the licensing of these technologies and increase their cost competitiveness. The preliminary finding was made public this week in the NRC staff’s advanced safety evaluation of TVA’s 2016 early site permit application for a potential nuclear plant at TVA’s Clinch River Nuclear Site in Tennessee. The plant would comprise multiple small modular reactors.

Bill Gates and the U.S. Energy Department to develop small nuclear power reactors that are less expensive, more efficient and ‘could power America’s energy future’. The Energy Department is teaming up with Bill Gates to develop small nuclear power reactors to bring to the market. In a tweet Wednesday, the Energy Department wrote: “Molten salt reactors are getting a reboot,” revealing that their new reactors are less expensive and more efficient than the current ones. The reactors have been around since the 1960s and now nearly 60 years later, several companies – including Microsoft Founder Bill Gates’ TerraPower – are in the process of developing them as commercial ‘energy systems of the future’, according to the department.

Global race for transformative molten salt nuclear includes Bill Gates and China. There is now a multi-billion race from many US companies and China and Canada and European countries to develop molten salt nuclear power. There are many companies, countries and designs in the race but there will be multiple winners. China will build and buy their own reactors for strategic reasons. Various countries will buy the winning designs for energy production that are lower cost. Bill Gates has a joint Venture with a Chinese nuclear company on a travelling wave nuclear fission reactor. This is not a molten salt reactor but a different modular nuclear reactor. They hope to a have a prototype working by 2025.

OhmConnect nets Nest in smart home demand-response expansion. Having signed up Centrica’s Hive in March, OhmConnect has now become a ‘Works with Nest’ partner, snaring Google’s smart home wing in its bid to become the premier demand-response platform. The startup is hoping Nest gives it access to many more homes, which it can then aggregate as an incentivized grid response asset. The gist of the offering is that OhmConnect provides a free platform that lets a home sign up, which pays out cash to homes when they let a utility control the home’s energy usage. That remote control trend is called demand-response (DR), or sometimes demand-side-response, and the utilities are very interested in DR because of its potential to save them a lot of cash in procurement costs.

Dingell convenes representatives from Ford, GM, DTE to keep Michigan at forefront of electric vehicle infrastructure. U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-12th District) led a public discussion on Michigan’s electric vehicle infrastructure with representatives from automakers, utility companies, and suppliers Aug. 23. Nearly seven months after California announced a $2.5 billion plan to get five million zero-emission cars on the road by 2030, in part, by investing in infrastructure, the conversation verbally outlined the issues and opportunities in Michigan’s market. In January 2018, Ford Motor Company committed to spending $11 billion to bring 40 electric vehicles to market by 2022. At the time, executive chairman Bill Ford told reporters the automaker was “all in” on electric. “The only question is will the customers be there with us,” he said. “And we think they will.”

Russian gun company unveils ‘electric supercar’ to compete with Tesla. For decades, gun enthusiasts around the world have been engaged in an endless debate over which is the better weapon — the iconic Russian-made AK-47 or the American-made AR-15. Now the legendary Russian gunmaker has unveiled a new product that it hopes will compete with a popular American counterpart. Kalashnikov’s latest creation is a Columbia blue, retro-looking electric car known as the CV-1. The competition: American electric-car maker Tesla, the Silicon Valley darling headed by Elon Musk that is worth more than $50 billion and remains the world’s most famous electric-car maker. Asked by the Russian news website RBC why the company was fixated on Tesla specifically, Kalashnikov spokeswoman Sofia Ivanova said the intrepid company is the industry standard. “We are talking about competing precisely with Tesla, because at present it is a successful project in the field of electric vehicles,” she said. “We expect to at least keep up with it.”

Tesla will not go private, Elon Musk says, capping month of turmoil. Tesla isn’t going private after all. In a statement late Friday night, Elon Musk, the electric-car maker’s chief executive, said he and the company’s board had concluded that they would not turn Tesla into a privately owned company. The move halts a process set in motion by Mr. Musk in a Twitter post on Aug. 7. The reversal is the latest upheaval for the company, which has struggled with production challenges for its first mass-market car, the Model 3. “I knew the process of going private would be challenging, but it’s clear that it would be even more time-consuming and distracting than initially anticipated,” Mr. Musk wrote in a statement that Tesla posted on the company’s blog shortly after 11 p.m. “After considering all these factors, I met with Tesla’s board of directors yesterday and let them know that I believe the better path is for Tesla to remain public,” he said.

Analysis: Why Elon Musk abandoned his plan to take Tesla private. Unfortunately for Musk, abandoning the plan to go private won’t put an end to the legal headaches his proposal has spawned. Tesla is facing both shareholder lawsuits and an investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission. These are likely to continue. Indeed, Musk’s decision to abandon the proposal only underscores critics’ contention that Musk wasn’t telling the truth when he said he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private.

Musk’s U-turn on Tesla deal could intensify his legal, regulatory woes. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk’s decision to abruptly abandon a plan to take his electric carmaker private will not resolve his mounting regulatory and legal woes, and may even make them worse, some securities lawyers said. Explaining his reversal in a late-night blog post on Friday, the billionaire CEO said that taking the company private “would be even more time-consuming and distracting than initially anticipated,” and that “most of Tesla’s existing shareholders believe we are better off as a public company.”

Tesla insiders say ‘it’s a s–t show’ under beleaguered Elon Musk. As Elon Musk continues to struggle — with Tesla under investigation by the SEC following his tweet that it might go private after “funding secured,” among several other self-inflicted wounds — employees tell The Post that the company is in turmoil. “Elon talks about being a socialist and doing good for mankind — unless you work for them,” says one source. “It’s a s–t show.” Musk is walking a razor wire, another source says, between the things he’s promising and the things he can actually deliver. Until recently, Tesla investors and employees bought into Musk’s vision, even though Musk was “saying things that don’t make sense, because he’s accomplished so much.” That core belief may be eroding. Last August, the Wall Street Journal published an exposé about the deep divide between the Tesla engineers working on self-driving cars and Musk’s pronouncements about deadlines and capabilities. At least 14 people had already resigned, and the electric car maker continues to suffer a talent drain.

Tesla staying public is big trouble. It didn’t even last three weeks. Earlier this month, Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he was planning on taking the company private at $420 per share and funding was secured. Whether this was a distraction to hide poor results, an effort to burn short sellers, or something else entirely, it clearly did not work out. On Friday night, the plan was abandoned, putting Tesla in a precarious situation that likely will not end well, even with shares falling considerably already.

What will (or won’t) Tesla’s board of directors do about Elon Musk? Tesla is not going private. Chief Executive Elon Musk said so Friday. Now the public company’s board of directors can turn to another serious matter — what to do about Elon Musk. Musk’s bizarre behavior, inflammatory tweets, flouting of norms governing corporate disclosure, and poor communication with his own board of directors are raising questions about his future at Tesla. So, too, is his inability thus far to raise Model 3 production to projected levels and turn Tesla profitable. No one at the moment expects the board to dump Musk. But there’s talk about bringing in a chief operating officer, or a co-CEO. Those would be risky moves, given Musk’s domineering personality. But doing nothing about Musk presents a risk as well, opening the board of directors to increased criticism, shareholder lawsuits, regulatory scrutiny and possible criminal action — especially with the Securities and Exchange Commission investigating Tesla.


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Today’s lede: Ranking members of House and Senate energy panels raise concerns about FERC’s chief of staff. The ranking members of the House and Senate energy oversight committees, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), sent a letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Kevin McIntyre raising concerns about his chief of staff, Anthony Pugliese.

Pugliese in recent weeks has raised eyebrows with comments attributed to him, made in public remarks at a nuclear industry gathering, that FERC is “working” with the Energy Department, the Department of Defense and the National Security Council as the Trump administration seeks to implement a plan to require out-of-market financial support for uneconomic baseload coal and nuclear plants in competitive wholesale power markets.

“It is incredibly important to the national security of the United States that we ensure that some of these critical assets like these nuclear plants do not go the way of the dodo bird,” Pugliese is reported to have said (click through here and here). Previously, Pugliese also raised eyebrows by appearing on the radio program of partisan Breitbart News. At both the nuclear industry gathering and on the Breitbart radio program, Pugliese took shots at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for acting to thwart natural gas pipeline development in that state. Cuomo is widely expected to pursue the Democratic nomination for president in the 2020 election cycle.

Pallone and Cantwell told McIntyre they are “deeply concerned that your chief of staff, for whom you bear special responsibility, has been making public statements that call into question his impartiality and independence from political pressure. Left unchecked, we believe such statements must ultimately call into question the impartiality and independence of the commission itself.”

The letter notes the public comments attributed to Pugliese “which indicate the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is working with Trump administration officials . . . on an ill-conceived plan to interfere with the operation of the nation’s wholesale electric markets. We believe this action would violate the requirement that FERC remain a neutral and unbiased decisionmaker. We are equally concerned by highly partisan political remarks reportedly made by Mr. Pugliese in the media and at a recent industry conference that are highly inappropriate and undermine the commission’s independence.”

Pallone and Cantwell go into detail on the statutory mandates and legal precedents requiring FERC, as an independent regulatory agency, to provide due process as “a neutral and unbiased decisionmaker.” The letter quotes the conference report to the 1977 federal law that created the Department of Energy and transformed the Federal Power Commission into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission organized under DOE: “A special effort was made to preserve the independence of action and decision of the commission and to insulate it from influences from other parts of the Department [of Energy].”

“Congress established FERC as an independent regulatory commission because it believed this structure would best ensure the commission’s independence from political influence,” Pallone and Cantwell wrote, citing a Supreme Court precedent finding the commission must be nonpartisan and impartial.

The lawmakers told McIntyre it is his responsibility, as chairman, “to safeguard the commission’s independence, its neutrality, and to uphold the professional conduct of the commission’s employees, and most especially those on your own personal staff.”

The letter closes with seven questions for McIntyre to specifically address in a response. Pugliese was named chief of staff by Commissioner Neil Chatterjee when he was interim chairman last year, before McIntyre took the helm in December.


DTE breaks ground on controversial $1 billion gas-fired power plant as legal challenges loom. Utility officials and politicians gathered in East China Township in Michigan as DTE Electric symbolically broke ground on a proposed $1 billion gas-fired power plant development project for which construction is slated to begin next spring, Jim Bloch For The Voice. In the meantime, opponents of the controversial project, which the Michigan Public Service Commission has allowed to be built in ratebase, are gearing up legal challenges.

The Ecology Center, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Michigan Environmental Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Solar Energy Industry Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Vote Solar issued a press release announcing they are appealing the PSC’s decision to require the utility’s electricity customers to bear the financial risk for the plant’s development, Bloch reports.

“The organizations contend the three-member Michigan Public Service Commission failed to require DTE to demonstrate its plant was the ‘most prudent’ way to generate electricity, as required by state law,” the groups said, maintaining that the “gas plant will be more costly and far riskier than a portfolio of cleaner, cheaper resources, like solar, wind, energy efficiency, battery storage and demand response.”

They said a $1 billion investment in such a portfolio would generate 10 times more construction jobs and four times more permanent jobs than the Blue Water Energy Center, the project is known. The new plant is expected to create more than 500 construction jobs and about 35 permanent jobs.

“DTE did not prove that its plan was the least risky and most cost-effective choice for its customers,” Margrethe Kearney, senior staff attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said in a statement. “In fact, DTE failed to do the analysis necessary to fairly compare this plan to a portfolio of other resources that included renewable sources, demand response and energy efficiency. Under Michigan law, DTE should have been sent back to the drawing board to re-do its analysis. We believe the commission erred in approving the plant given the inadequate analysis presented by DTE.”

Gerry Anderson, chairman and chief executive officer of DTE Energy, touted his company’s commitment to renewables at the groundbreaking event. “Since 2009, we have driven investments of more than $2.5 billion in renewable energy with more investments coming. But as we continue to retire coal-fired power plants — all of them by 2040 — we need to complement wind farms and solar arrays with high reliability assets,” he said. But while the company is committed to renewable energy development, “the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine,” Anderson said, alluding to the rain that day. “And that’s why we need natural gas-fueled plants like the Blue Water Energy Center. When it begins operations in 2022, it will represent our single largest step in reducing carbon emissions to date.”


Boston Globe: Five of top nine lobbying spenders in Massachusetts are companies in the electric industry. Energy companies dominate the list of top spenders on lobbying in Massachusetts, John Chesto and Todd Wallack report in the Boston Globe. “Lobbyists in Massachusetts know the energy sector – with its complexities and government rules – can be a lucrative source of revenue. That’s certainly been true this year: Five of the nine biggest corporate spenders on outside lobbyists so far have come from that industry,” they report.

Given that state lawmakers passed an energy bill promoting solar energy and offshore wind, and state regulators oversaw two major contests for hydroelectric power and offshore-wind power contracts, the Globe report notes. “It’s no wonder that energy was dominant, with two lobbying firms in particular picking up much of the work.”

Exelon Generation was fifth on the list, spending $195,000. NextEra came in sixth at $180,000, while National Grid was seventh on the list, spending $172,000. Anbaric Development was eighth, spending $165,000, while Deepwater Wind was ninth with $150,000 in lobbying expenditures.


More electric industry news of interest:

Boston takes ‘big step’ toward community choice aggregation. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has announced that the city will issue a request for qualifications (RFQ) to assist with the creation of a municipal electricity aggregation program. The government says the move demonstrates the city’s commitment to making renewable energy more accessible to Boston residents. The RFQ, to be issued on Aug. 27, seeks consulting firms to help with the development, implementation and administration of the program. Submissions will be due on Oct. 10. “This is a big step toward rolling out community choice aggregation because it will provide the expertise we need to get it done,” says Walsh. “We still need to make smart decisions on how to shape a program that’s best for Boston residents and can deliver on our commitment to clean energy.” Community choice aggregation enables cities and towns to aggregate the buying power of individual electricity customers in their communities. Under a municipal aggregation program, cities and towns can automatically enroll residents who receive default electricity service from their utilities into a single, bulk-buying group and may require a greater percentage of renewable energy content than the mandatory percentage set by Massachusetts’ renewable portfolio standard (RPS). “Community choice aggregation is an important contribution to reducing Boston’s carbon emissions,” states Chris Cook, chief of environment, energy and open space. “We’re excited to move ahead with the process and develop a program that can benefit the environment and, most importantly, our residents.”

Otis microgrid nearly ready and poised to make some energy history in Massachusetts. The Air National Guard is putting the finishing touches on the Otis microgrid on Cape Cod, Mass., a project that is expected to achieve several firsts in microgrid development for the military and New England. Located at Otis Air National Guard Base, the project will be unveiled August 29 by the 102nd Intelligence Wing and project partners. The grid-connected microgrid may serve as a model for similar Air National Guard and Department of Defense (DoD) projects, according to Air Force National Guard Major and Civil Engineer Shawn Doyle, the project’s manager.

Ameren Illinois’ new residential electric rates lower than Quincy aggregation rates. Ameren Illinois has announced new residential electric rates for Quincy, Ill., that are about nine-tenths of a cent per kilowatt-hour less than the city’s electric aggregation rate. Reg Ankrom, Simec Illinois president, said this is the first time since Quincy launched its electric aggregation program in September 2013 that Ameren’s rates have fallen below Quincy’s price for electricity. “Conservatively, we’ve saved Quincy customers about $7.5 million in the first five years under aggregation,” Ankrom said. About 12,600 Quincy electric customers are a half year away from closing out a three-year agreement with electric supplier Homefield Energy of Collinsville, paying a rate of 5.795 cents per kilowatt-hour. Ameren’s rate, which was more than 6.6 cents per kWh in 2016 and 6.1 cents 2017, has fallen to 4.95 cents per kWh. Ankrom said Simec is negotiating with Homefield in hopes of getting a lower electric rate. But he is letting people know they can change where they buy electricity if they want. “Consumers may opt out of the program at no cost by calling Homefield toll free at 866-694-1262,” Ankrom said.

CenterPoint asks Minn. regulators to okay pilot program for ‘renewable natural gas’. CenterPoint Energy has unveiled an unusual pilot program for “renewable natural gas,” offering customers a greener — though more expensive — alternative to conventional gas. Participants in the voluntary program would pay an extra monthly fee to get a portion or all of their gas from renewable sources such as landfills, sewage treatment plants and livestock manure. CenterPoint would buy the renewable gas from national suppliers and deliver it to homes through its existing distribution system. CenterPoint, the state’s largest gas utility, outlined the proposal in a filing Thursday with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which must approve any such plan. It would be among the first offered by a U.S. gas utility, and it “would answer customer demand for renewable energy options,” CenterPoint said in the PUC filing. Consumers would determine how much renewable gas — in dollars — they wanted to buy. “You would set your price as to what you were willing to pay per month,” said Nick Mark, CenterPoint’s manager of conservation and renewable energy policy.

Missouri regulators allow utility to recover wind energy project costs in rates. The Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) has given initial approval for the state’s third-largest regulated utility, Empire District, to build a major wind farm to generate power. In a statement, the PSC said, “the Commission has granted Empire certain accounting and depreciation treatment related to the CSP (Empire’s proposal known as it’s “Customer Savings Plan”)as well as a variance from the Commission’s affiliate transaction rule.” Joplin-based Empire will have to make another presentation before the commission before being granted authority to construct a farm to create 600 megawatts of wind power. Empire initially planned to shut down its coal-fired plant which generates 213 megawatts but has agreed to leave the facility in southwest Missouri’s Asbury open for the near term.  The utility had said shuttering the operation could have affected approximately 50 jobs there. The PSC noted in its statement that Empire would generate customer savings of approximately $169 million over 20 years and approximately $295 million over 30 years. In a proposal, Empire determined the $1 billion project would save residential customers $9.33 per month or nearly $112 per year in energy costs for the 20-year period. Although there’s no question that wind is a far cleaner source of energy than coal, there’s been strong opposition to the plan from the state Office of Public Counsel and the City of Joplin.

N.H. state lawmaker suggests veto of net metering, biomass subsidy bills supports distribution monopolies. New Hampshire state Sen. Bob Giuda, one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 446 who is pushing for an override of the governor’s veto, said the net-metering bill poses an existential threat to the distribution monopoly that is responsible for the largest portion of New Hampshire’s electric bills. Gov. John Sununu vetoed that bill, along with a companion bill that would increase the incentives for biomass plants, contending that businesses and residents cannot afford the higher electric rates that passage of the bills would bring. Giuda said the biomass veto achieves a savings of $1.78 on the average homeowner’s electric bill, but the long-term impact of forcing the closing of the biomass plants will far exceed the estimated $18 million in savings. Not only would their closing result in the loss of jobs at the plants, he said; without a way to get rid of the low-grade wood in logging operations, forestry operations will not be profitable, putting logistical support positions in jeopardy — truckers, loggers, chippers, sawmills, and wood manufacturers. A study by Plymouth State University found that more than 900 jobs would be directly affected — a finding that matched a regional study. In a letter to Sununu, Giuda and co-sponsor Kevin Avard wrote that forest products form part of a “three-legged stool” that also includes tourism and recreation.

Report shows western electric co-ops finding success in solar and other renewables. Declines in renewable energy pricing are creating opportunities for electric cooperatives in the U.S. Mountain West to deliver cost savings to their members, and simultaneously creating risks for those utilities that are slower to transition to these technologies, according to a new study from Rocky Mountain Institute (click through here). To illustrate the importance of this broad regional trend, RMI produced a case study of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a nonprofit, member-owned cooperative utility that provides power to more than 1 million consumers in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming. RMI found that Tri-State’s customers could save over $600 million through 2030 if the co-op integrated more renewable energy resources into its supply mix rather than continuing to operate its fleet of legacy fossil-fuel power plants. Coal generation provided approximately half of Tri-State’s generation in 2017. Furthermore, the study found a transition to renewable energy as the primary source of electricity would mitigate the risks of member rate increases resulting from customer self-generation, exits and environmental policy changes by 30 to 60 percent. The results of the study are consistent with the broader market trends illustrated though publicly available contract prices for new renewable resources in the Mountain West region.

Ohio utilities object to specifics in PUCO plan to return tax savings to consumers. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is requiring public utilities in the state to return the money they’ve received from federal tax breaks to consumers. But some of these companies want PUCO’s enforcement authority to be severely limited. In a recent filing, an Ohio energy utility objected to how the PUCO will require utilities to return to their customers all money gained from last year’s tax cut. Dayton Power and Light Co., which provides electricity for 500,000 people in Western Ohio, said in the briefing that the agency was meant to address the “narrow question” of whether these utilities ought to pass savings onto consumers through a deferred tax liability. However, the company said the agency was not meant to address “how the utilities should treat the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act … in its entirety.” The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. While the word difference might seem small, DP&L is claiming that PUCO does not have the power to dictate how the company returns money, nor dictate the specifics on how much each customer receives. This could leave DP&L shareholders with more money than PUCO intends and customers with less.“The PUCO will require all regulated utilities to revise their rates to reflect the reduction in the corporate income tax,” PUCO spokesman Matt Schilling told PUCO held a hearing in July to discuss the specific way in which utilities will go about this. “The Commission expects every dime to be returned to customers,” Schilling said.

Appalachian Power alters plan for returning $235 million in tax savings to W.Va. consumers. Appalachian Power Company is shifting how it proposes to use the $235 million it’s saving from the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The largest electrical utility in West Virginia announced a settlement agreement Thursday, a day before the state Public Service Commission is set to consider the case. Wheeling Power is included in the proposed settlement. The plan calls for $25.5 million of the tax savings to be used for a 3.8 percent reduction in customer rates for the next six months beginning Sept. 1. That’s a shift from the company’s previous plans, Communications Director Jeri Matheney told MetroNews Thursday. “We’re returning money to customers faster than our original plan would allow for,” Matheney said. “That’s something that customers wanted. The PSC staff, the Consumer Advocate, that was important to them.” Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper had been particularly critical of the company’s original plan to use some of the money saved to address rate reductions at some time in the future. Appalachian Power said Thursday neither the commission nor the City of Charleston signed off on the settlement agreement but they did agree not to oppose it. “I commend the Consumer Advocate and Public Service Commission Staff on this proposal,” Carper said in a statement. Bottom line: customers will see lower bills immediately, and the additional winter rate reduction will provide a real benefit to customers when the weather turns bad.” He also said he believes Appalachian Power President Chris Beam is acting in good faith.

Editorial: W.Va. utilities show signs of sharing windfall with consumers. Ever so reluctantly, it seems utility companies that serve West Virginians have begun to respond to calls from their residential and municipal customers to more directly pass on their tax cut savings to ratepayers. Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power have filed a settlement agreement seeking to use tax reform funds to offset fuel and vegetation management costs, allowing customer rates to remain stable for two years.

Trump tax cuts to shave $1.2 billion from Texas electricity bills. Corporate income tax cuts could save Texans $1.2 billion on their electric bills over the next five years, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That might sound like a windfall, but the average household’s monthly savings of $1.44 is the equivalent of a cup of gas station coffee. However, the corporate tax rate cut from 35 percent to 21 percent would significantly benefit large, energy-intensive businesses like oil refineries along the Gulf Coast. The chamber’s Global Energy Institute looked at the impact in a dozen states, small and large. The December 2017 tax cut would have the smallest effect on residential electric bills in Texas. Alabama would fare the best with average monthly savings of $7.16.

Exelon’s Atlantic City Electric asks N.J. regulators for rate hike. Its last request to raise rates dismissed by state regulators, Atlantic City Electric has submitted a proposal to hike bills even higher. Atlantic City Electric, which serves more than 500,000 customers in South Jersey, said its proposal would add about $11.51, or 9.55 percent, to the monthly electric bill of a typical customer who uses 679 kilowatt hours per month. The proposal, filed earlier this week, must be approved by the state Board of Public Utilities. Its earlier proposal, filed in June and dismissed by the BPU a little over a month later, would have raised the same bill by $10.66 or 8.25 percent. Why higher? Atlantic City Electric’s new filing seeks to recoup more money that paid for electric network investments to improve system reliability and resiliency, among other things, a spokesman said. The proposed rate hike would increase Atlantic City Electric’s revenues by $109.3 million, the company said. Previously, it had asked for $99.7 million more.

Kentucky municipal utility pays $200,000 to settle suit alleging ‘pattern of corruption’. Prestonsburg’s City Utilities Commission has agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by one of its former officials, who last year alleged “discrepancies in financial records and a pattern of corruption” at the public agency in Floyd County. The plaintiff, Judy Ratliff, was human resources director at the utilities commission from 2009 until she was fired in August 2017. Ratliff filed a whistle-blower lawsuit three months later alleging that superintendent and chief executive officer Turner “Eddie” Campbell used agency credit cards for personal purchases; that the commission bought computers and cellphones that weren’t maintained as agency property; and that, despite $1 million in revenue every month, vendors regularly called to complain about late payments because of fiscal mismanagement at the agency.

Just Energy issues statement on recent market activity. Just Energy Group, a leading consumer company specializing in electricity and natural gas commodities, energy efficiency solutions, and renewable energy options, today issued the following statement regarding recent market activity. In recent weeks, shares of Just Energy have come under unwarranted market pressure, and the management team believes it is prudent to provide a mid-quarter update on the health of our business and our second fiscal quarter that will close on Sept. 30, 2018. We are pleased with our progress against our fiscal year plan, as year-to-date results are aligning with the expectations of Base EBITDA guidance of $200 million to $220 million, as well as longer-term performance expectations. The core commodity business continues to perform well and the embedded gross margin on our existing book of business rivals all-time Company record levels at $2 billion.

Elon Musk’s $420 target for Tesla stock probably wasn’t a reference to weed. Elon Musk has implied that the $420 stock price he floated for taking Tesla private was not a covert reference to weed, contrary to widespread speculation. In an interview with The New York Times, Musk also said that he was not high at the time he first mentioned the go-private plan in a tweet that quickly landed him in hot water. Although not a total denial, Musk’s response steered the conversation definitively away from making a weed connection, and offered an alternative explanation.

Azealia Banks confirms Elon Musk smokes weed. Azealia Banks posts an alleged conversation with Grimes that confirms the rumors that Elon Musk smokes weed. Azealia Banks posted a screenshot of an alleged conversation with Grimes on her Instagram story Tuesday, Aug. 21. The screenshot confirms the rumors that the Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, smokes weed. Grimes, Musk’s girlfriend, is the stage name for a Canadian singer who has also been known as Claire Boucher, according to published reports. Azealia Banks is a rapper. The posting is a reference to Musk’s Aug. 7 tweet where he said that he would take Tesla private at $420 a share, which raised eyebrows.

UBS rips apart Tesla’s Model 3 and finds some areas seriously lacking. The last thing Tesla (TSLA – Get Report) needs right now are more stories about inferior Model 3 build quality. Unfortunately, UBS didn’t care about that one. The investment bank tore apart a Model 3 from Nov. 2017 and found a host of build quality issues. The quality issues extended to their test drives. “The engineers performed a fit & finish quality audit looking at 1,500-2,000 gap measurements in the vehicle in order to come up with an overall quality score. The Model 3 scored 2,390 which is in the below average range. In addition, the team independently rated the noise within the vehicle, finding the body/wind noise as ‘borderline acceptable.’ Neither score is impressive for a car that is priced at $49,000,” says UBS analyst Colin Langan. While UBS acknowledges the test car was an early model and Tesla has since tried to address some issues, it came away thinking fixing Model 3 build quality won’t happen easy. Adds Langan, “In our experts’ opinions, the manufacturing issues around gaps and noise are much larger structural issues and do not lend themselves to being fixed quickly. Their view is that many of the issues have to do with the basics of stamping out frame parts or the attachment thereof, which requires extensive retooling investment and shutdown time to fix.”

Unimpressed diesel truck industry asks for proof of Tesla Semi claims. The things that Tesla is claiming its all-electric truck, Tesla Semi, can do are so incredible that the diesel truck industry has to think it’s simply not true. Now they are asking “where’s the proof?”  When unveiling the vehicle last year, Tesla announced an expected range of 500 miles on a single charge with a 80,000-pound capacity. After Tesla revealed the pricing of its electric semi trucks last year, we learned that the regular production version for the 300-mile and 500-mile range models will be $150,000 and $180,000 respectively. The company is also listing a ‘Founders Series’ version for $200,000. Tesla expects that the price and specs will enable a cost of operation of $1.26 per mile, which should result in Tesla Semi providing $200,000+ in fuel savings and a two-year payback period. Unsurprisingly, the industry is skeptical. Daimler’s head of trucks, Martin Daum, told reporters earlier this year that “Tesla Semi defies laws of physics if true.” Now others in the industry are weighing in and they also prefer to think that it is not true.

Carbon reaches 10-year high, pushing up European power prices. The cost of fossil-fuel emissions rose to its highest level in more than a decade in Europe, surpassing 20 euros a ton ($23) and adding to the cost of electricity across the continent. Carbon emission permits have more than quadrupled from less than 5 euros since the middle of 2017 after European Union governments agreed to cut away a surplus that had depressed prices since the financial crisis that started in 2008. Utilities and industrial polluters need the certificates to cover greenhouse gas emissions they produce. The move is a reminder that governments across the region are determined to curtail the emissions blamed for global warming, starting with shifting the power industry away from using coal and toward cleaner fuels such as natural gas and renewables. The result has been some of the highest power prices in years in Britain, France and Germany.


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Today’s lede: Marginal boost for coal-fired producers seen from EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy proposal. The Trump administration’s proposed Affordable Clean Energy rule, which replaces the Obama-era Clean Energy Plan that sought a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions from the electricity sector, is expected to produce only a marginal benefit for coal-fired electricity producers, especially smaller utilities and co-ops in the Midwest and West, Rebecca Kern and Stephen Lee report in Bloomberg’s Energy and Environment Report.

James Lucier of Capital Alpha Partners said rural electric cooperatives and publicly owned utilities that own coal plants in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain West will see the most benefit from EPA’s proposal, since they are typically smaller operators in rural areas without the same access to capital as larger, investor-owned utilities. “These particular utilities are both small, but in some cases 100 percent coal dependent,” Lucier said.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association issued a statement embracing the Trump administration’s proposed rule as “necessary to provide electric co-ops the certainty and flexibility they need to meet their consumer-members’ local energy needs.”

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson called it “imperative that EPA’s rules recognize the investment that cooperative members have made in power plants and that there is a prudent path forward for 42 million consumers to benefit from those investments.” Electric co-ops are membership owned and don’t have “shareholders to shoulder the weight of early power plant closures,” Matheson said, asserting that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan would have resulted in stranded assets and stranded debt, significantly increasing electricity costs for co-op consumers.

Nevertheless, NRECA boasted of its members’ investment in cleaner generating resources. From 2014 to 2016, co-ops’ use of coal to generate electricity declined from 54 percent to 41 percent, with a corresponding increase in the use of natural gas from 18 percent in 2014 to 26 percent in 2016. At the same time, renewable resources providing electricity to co-op member-consumers increased from 14 percent to 17 percent. Co-ops own or purchase more than 19 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity, with another 1.8 gigawatts planned. Total solar capacity at electric cooperatives is more than four times what is was in 2015, capable of generating more than 860 megawatts of electricity, NRECA said. “Co-ops are diversifying their energy portfolios to provide the greatest value possible to their members,” Matheson said.

“Some coal plants are in so much immediate trouble that the Trump proposal—which won’t take effect for years, because it must go through a notice and comment period and survive inevitable court challenges—isn’t likely to kick in fast enough to help,” the Bloomberg reporters wrote, citing the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona and the Colstrip mine-mouth plant in Montana as prime examples. Both plants have been seen as anticipated beneficiaries of the Trump administration’s anticipated mandate for consumer subsidies to prop up uneconomic baseload coal and nuclear power plants struggling to survive in competitive markets for electricity.

The EPA proposal overall will benefit older, dirtier and inefficient coal-fired power plants with a lot of room to improve efficiency, but there aren’t many in that category left in the nation’s generation fleet, R Street Institute’s Devin Hartman told Bloomberg.

“A lot of those old dogs are off the system,” Hartman said. “The surviving plants, because of all the prior regulations and the forces of natural gas that have pushed the bad ones out—they tend to be higher-efficiency plants. They already have pretty impressive efficiency numbers.”

The Affordable Clean Energy proposal “may delay some coal retirements marginally and could boost coal’s operating returns modestly,” Hartman said. “Ultimately, market forces will determine coal’s reckoning.”

At a campaign-style rally in West Virginia Tuesday, where signs reading “Trump Digs Coal” were prominently displayed, the president heralded EPA’s proposed rule as a measure that “will help our coal-fired power plants and save consumers . . . billions and billions of dollars.”

“We are putting our great coal miners back to work,” Trump told the cheering crowd. “We love clean, beautiful, West Virginia coal,” he continued, calling it “indestructible stuff” in an apparent nod to the national security basis the administration aims to peg its baseload power plant subsidies on. He promised the crowd his administration is “working on a military plan” that he said would be “something really special.”

“In times of war, in times of conflict, you can blow up those windmills, they fall down real quick. You can blow up those pipelines. They go like this,” Trump said, gesturing with his arms to suggest an explosion, “and you’re not going to fix them too fast. You can do a lot of things to those solar panels, but you know what you can’t hurt? Coal. You can do whatever you want to coal.” Click through here for a video recording of the rally. Comments begin just before the 42-minute mark.
See also:
What killed coal? Technology and cheaper alternatives. Coal is dying because of dirt-cheap natural gas. The rise of renewable energy isn’t helping. The Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday an effort to prop up coal by replacing Obama-era carbon emission policies known as the Clean Power Plan. But the regulatory reversal is unlikely to spark a coal comeback. Coal’s true nemeses are innovation and economics. Fracking has made natural gas abundant and cheap. Breakthroughs in windmills, solar and other renewable technologies are making them affordable alternatives. “Coal is just failing to compete with natural gas,” said Katie Bays, an energy analyst at Height Capital Markets and a former analyst at the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The administration’s efforts to cut red tape could help coal on the margins, according to analysts. However, fierce competition from cheap natural gas is still expected to force the industry to pull the plug on even more coal-fired power plants.
Trump promised to bring back coal. It’s declining again. More than any other recent president, Donald Trump came to office promising to revive coal and restore mining jobs. Nineteen months into his term, there’s little improvement. The industry, which will be a focus of Trump’s visit to West Virginia on Tuesday, has rebounded slightly from a devastating 2016, when cheap natural gas was crushing coal in the power market and three major producers were in bankruptcy. But a recent uptick in exports is masking a bigger problem that the White House hopes to address with its latest effort to aid coal-fired power plants: Simply put, the industry is still losing U.S. customers as utilities increasingly turn to natural gas and renewable power to generate electricity. Trump’s “impact on the coal sector has been extremely minimal in nature despite his rhetoric,” said Andrew Cosgrove, a Bloomberg Intelligence senior analyst. “Power plant retirements are still happening and set to continue looking out through the end of his term.”
Trump administration should tread lightly when wading into power markets. When U.S. energy policy is discussed, the focus tends to be on record oil production and on opportunities for Washington to realize economic and geopolitical advantages because of that soaring output. Natural gas receives far less attention. Such neglect is unfair. The opportunities presented by natural gas produced from America’s booming shale formations are equally significant, if not more so than those of oil. If the Trump administration understands this opportunity, they have a funny way of showing it. The administration continues to pursue well-intentioned but ultimately harmful policies that risk stunting the growth of America’s dominance in natural gas. The United States is by far the world’s largest natural gas producer with production of around 82 billion cubic feet per day. On a barrel of oil equivalent basis, gas production substantially exceeds our domestic oil production of around 10.8 million barrels per day. To put this in perspective, the entire Middle East produces about 65 billion cubic feet per day, while America pumps over 10% more natural gas than Russia, the world’s number two gas producer. The United States only began exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) in early 2016, but export levels are already on pace to make the United States the world’s third-largest exporter by the end of 2022, behind only Qatar and Australia. Policymakers should take care not to adopt policies that risk undermining America’s success in selling affordable and reliable natural gas overseas in great abundance.
Debate over power plant bailouts distracts from real grid threats. In June, President Trump proposed a large-scale intervention by the federal government into competitive electricity markets to bail out select coal and nuclear power plants struggling to compete. The president has claimed that a bailout is justified on national security grounds. President Trump’s proposal would undermine electricity markets and cost Americans billions of dollars, but do nothing to address the real security threats facing the grid.
Redirecting federal funds toward coal and nuclear plant communities. The U.S. Department of Energy has proposed directing power grid operators to purchase electricity for a period of two years to prevent the retirement of certain power plants. DOE’s May 29 memo does not explicitly specify which power plants it would affect, but it implies large coal and nuclear facilities, similar to those targeted by the 2017 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, originally issued by DOE and later rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This research note outlines how $2 billion in federal subsidies for six uneconomic FirstEnergy coal and nuclear power plants could be better spent investing in an economic transition for the communities where those plants are located, rather than keeping units online for two more years.
Coal’s dominance as a power source fading in Colorado. Colorado has seen several plants close this decade, with more pending. Xcel Energy Colorado reported that a kilowatt hour of electricity generated from coal on its system cost 4.5 cents last year, while for wind it was only 4.4 cents and natural gas 7.3 cents. When Xcel put out bids late last year for future electricity supply, wind providers beat coal, even after including battery storage. Coal’s share of power generation in Xcel’s energy mix is declining rapidly. In 2005, coal sources provided about two-thirds of the electricity its customers used in the state, with natural gas at 30 percent and wind and solar at 2 percent each. Last year, coal had dropped to 44 percent, with natural gas at 28 percent, wind at 23 percent and solar at 3 percent. The Colorado Energy Plan would take coal down to 24 percent of the power generation mix by 2026 and significantly boost wind and solar.
New Trump rule to aid coal-power plants unlikely to slow Northwest push for cleaner electricity. A plan released Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency to scale back federal restrictions on coal-plant emissions is unlikely to have a significant impact in the Pacific Northwest and California, where a power- industry transition to conservation, renewable energy and natural gas is well underway. The rollback of federal restrictions on coal-plant emissions comes as Washington, Oregon and California seek to phase out of coal power. The three states intend to challenge the plan in court, arguing that the EPA is failing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmentalists decry Trump ‘dirty power’ plan: ‘A recipe for climate disaster’. Environmentalists are attacking the Trump administration’s proposal to relax pollution rules for coal-fired power plants, decrying the move as a “dirty power plan” that would harm efforts to slow global warming. The EPA’s plan would replace President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan — the centerpiece of the previous administration’s efforts to combat climate change — by giving states more leeway to ease emissions rules for aging power plants. “The world’s on fire and the Trump administration wants to make it worse. This Dirty Power Plan is riddled with gimmicks and giveaways,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “It would mean more climate-changing pollution from power plants,” Suh added. “That’s a recipe for climate disaster, and we’ll fight this dangerous retreat with every tool available.”


Public Service Co. of New Mexico moves to join Calif. ISO’s energy imbalance market. Seeking a cost-effective means of balancing its system with increasing amounts of renewable and intermittent renewable generating sources, Public Service Co. of New Mexico is looking to join the Western-state energy imbalance market operated by the California Independent System Operator, Susan Montoya Bryan reports for the Associated Press.

“Having cost-effective electricity available to immediately back up intermitted renewable energy in real time supports reliability and also ensures our renewables are used to their fullest potential,” the utility’s Tom Fallgren said.

Assuming the utility receives approval from the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, the utility would incur an initial $28 million cost to join the imbalance market and annual expenses of some $3 million, Montoya Bryan reports. Those costs to captive ratepayers would be offset by a projected $17 million in annual savings, which would be passed through in rates. The utility looks to begin participating in the market by 2021.

The AP report notes the California ISO launched the market in 2014, with PacifiCorp and NV Energy among the first to participate. It now includes utilities in eight states. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is among those expected to join the energy imbalance market by 2020,” Montoya Bryan writes. “Participating utilities have reported benefits of more than $400 million over four years, with the market’s most recent report showing record benefits of more than $71 million during the second quarter.”
See also:
N.M. Sen. Heinrich: A 100 percent clean energy grid is ‘completely doable’. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) outlines his new “Clean Energy Vision” in a special episode of Political Climate. Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich is the son of a utility lineman, and one of just a few engineers in Congress. Clean energy piqued the New Mexico lawmaker’s interest at an early age, while he was building and racing solar-powered cars in college. But for most of his life, he says, it was hard to imagine a world in which renewables could power more than 20 or 30 percent of the electric grid. Today, Heinrich’s outlook is different. “We can have a future reliable, cheap, resilient grid that is 100 percent powered by clean energy,” he said in an interview on Greentech Media’s Political Climate podcast. Transforming the grid comes with technical challenges, Heinrich added. “But given how much things have changed over the last 30 years, I have no doubt 30 years from now we will be looking at those challenges in a very different way.”


More electric industry news of interest:
Bring community electricity choice to Colorado. Several recent letters published by the Daily Camera are raising an important issue for Colorado electricity customers. Monopoly control over our electricity supply imposes unnecessary risk and cost on Colorado rate payers. Additionally, it restricts the ability of Colorado communities to meet their goals of obtaining 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. In regulated markets, as in Colorado, the rates are set by the state and utilities are essentially guaranteed a profit. This effectively socializes the risks of the electric system. This model has proven to be disastrous in Appalachia, where customers have faced crushing electric bills to pay for the fixed and operating costs of uncompetitive and oversized coal power-generation plants. An unnecessary burden on rate payers has manifested in Colorado, where Xcel agreed to retire two coal plants early and replace them with renewables. Although this plan is expected to produce more than $200 million in savings by Xcel’s estimates, Xcel is still insisting that Colorado rate payers pay for the accelerated depreciation of the coal plants to provide Xcel with the full profit on these plants. Restructuring electricity markets creates a paradigm in which merchant vendors compete to sell power to the grid, and high-cost generators lose out. Energy competition has successfully brought low cost electricity and choice to communities in Illinois, California and Texas. It’s time for community electricity choice in Colorado. This would unburden the rural cooperatives from Tri-State policies that restrict local energy projects and empower communities, such as Boulder and Denver, with the freedom to chart their own path to 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. – Jonathan Rogers, Denver
Yes or no? Nevada Question 3 debate heats up. It may be the most controversial and expensive showdown in Nevada state history this November as both sides of Question 3 pour millions of dollars into the fight over your vote about energy. The so called “energy choice” initiative is set to go before votes again in November and if passed it would have a resounding effect on the future of Nevada’s power system. By now, you have probably viewed the television advertisements that are touting reasons to vote for and against the Nevada constitution changer.
Landmark Seventh Circuit decision says Fourth Amendment applies to smart meter data. The Seventh Circuit (U.S> Court of Appeals) just handed down a landmark opinion, ruling 3-0 that the Fourth Amendment protects energy-consumption data collected by smart meters. Smart meters collect energy usage data at high frequencies—typically every 5, 15, or 30 minutes—and therefore know exactly how much electricity is being used, and when, in any given household. The court recognized that data from these devices reveals intimate details about what’s going on inside the home that would otherwise be unavailable to the government without a physical search. The court held that residents have a reasonable expectation of privacy in this data and that the government’s access of it constitutes a “search.” This case, Naperville Smart Meter Awareness v. City of Naperville, is the first case addressing whether the Fourth Amendment protects smart meter data. Courts have in the past held that the Fourth Amendment does not protect monthly energy usage readings from traditional, analog energy meters, the predecessors to smart meters. The lower court in this case applied that precedent to conclude that smart meter data, too, was unprotected as a matter of law. The Seventh Circuit recognized that this energy usage data “reveals information about the happenings inside a home.” Individual appliances, the court explained, have distinct energy-consumption patterns or “load signatures.” These load signatures allow you to tell not only when people are home, but what they are doing. The court held that the “ever-accelerating pace of technological development carries serious privacy implications” and that smart meters “are no exception.”
NRG battles former marketing partner in Texas court. For about 15 years, the Houston sales company 7 Point Group sold electricity door-to-door, at grocery stores and during special events on behalf of NRG, the largest electricity seller in Texas, with brands such as Reliant Energy, Green Mountain Energy and Pennywise Power. Business was so good that this spring NRG and 7 Point executives sat down over a steak dinner to talk about growth strategies, recalled 7 Point’s president, Marco A. Romero III. But just a couple of weeks later, the long relationship came to a crashing end with a late night phone call from NRG telling Romero that he and his company were fired. “It made no sense,” said Romero, who estimates his 300 or so agents were responsible about 70 percent of NRG’s outside sales. Now, the one-time business partners are in the middle of a nasty breakup, fighting in court over non-compete agreements and whether 7 Point used confidential NRG information to sell electricity for rival companies. For the moment, 7 Point has essentially shut down after a state district court in Harris County ordered the company to temporarily stop selling electricity in Harris County and most places in Texas. The 7 Point Group has appealed that ruling. The legal dispute, now before the state’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals, will likely drag on for months, but it opens another window on Texas’ deregulated power markets and the fierce competition among electricity retailers to sign up customers. As with other mature markets, such as credit cards and cell phones, the way to grow is to poach customers from competitors, prompting aggressive tactics to lure those customers away.
LETTER: Duke Energy is not a villain. Ever since the coal ash spill a couple of years ago Duke Energy has been vilified in the press and the court of public opinion. Yeah, they screwed up and society has punished them accordingly. Is there anyone on this planet that hasn’t screwed up at some time or the other? But Duke is in the process of reforming how electricity is produced by transforming from coal to natural gas, and eventually to solar. This does not happen overnight and will take a generation or so to make it happen. Duke has provided us with probably the cheapest cost for electricity in the nation. From the 1920s they have helped build this state into an economic powerhouse. So I ask you: Do you know what is worse than slightly higher electricity rates? NO ELECTRICITY! Think about it. – Ralph Duke
Mo. Regulators clear path for Empire District to pass federal corporate tax cut on to consumers. Liberty Utility’s Missouri subsidiary, Empire District, will cut its electric utility rates beginning Thursday, Aug. 30, following an order issued by the Missouri Public Service Commission. The order to cut the company’s electric utility rates is tied to a provision of a bill passed by the state’s general assembly which allows the PSC to issue a one-time adjustment of electric rates. The state law is based on the passage of a federal tax cut bill by Congress and applies to those utilities which received a cut in their federal taxes as a result of the federal legislation.
Bloom Energy gets thumbs-up from Wall Street following July IPO. Bloom Energy Corp.’s stock run-up after its initial public offering has set Wall Street on a cautiously optimistic view of the clean-energy company. Several investment banks have started covering Bloom Energy at the end of the company’s post-IPO quiet period. Analysts on average have a $25.71 price target on Bloom Energy stock BE, +5.49 percent  , according to FactSet, which compiled estimates from nine analysts. That represents a 4 percent upside over Tuesday prices, and 71 percent from the share’s IPO price. The analysts collectively rate Bloom a buy, and expect Bloom to report adjusted losses at least through the second quarter of 2019 and no GAAP profit for years to come. Bloom makes fuel-cell stationary servers that convert gas into electricity, a process it says is cleaner and more reliable than others.
NRG spins out ‘Station A’ software platform for optimizing distributed energy. NRG’s former “skunkworks” project says it’s building an energy database that can cut time and costs for clean energy deployments and open up new markets. Station A, the San Francisco-based R&D center once owned by NRG Energy, is now a standalone company. The Station A team developed a software platform to deploy distributed clean energy resources at commercial and industrial buildings across the United States. On Wednesday, the company announced a plan to make its software available to solar, energy storage and energy efficiency developers looking for a competitive advantage in existing markets, as well as to provide an entrée into still-nascent ones. NRG still owns a minority stake in the spinout and remains an important customer. But Station A’s platform is now also being used by six other customers, including “some of the leading clean energy developers and technology providers across solar, energy storage and energy efficiency,” Kevin Berkemeyer, Station A’s co-founder and CEO, said in an interview.
AECOM and Lockheed Martin to enhance energy resilience at Fort Carson with DoD’s largest peak-shaving battery. AECOM, a premier, fully integrated global infrastructure firm, announced today that it has begun construction of a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) at Fort Carson, Colorado, using Lockheed Martin’s (NYSE: LMT) GridStar® Lithium energy storage system. The 4.25 MW/8.5 MWh BESS is part of an energy savings performance contract (ESPC) project to reduce Fort Carson’s energy costs and increase its energy resilience. Though there are some existing energy storage systems at military bases, this unit will be the largest stand-alone commercially contracted battery at an army base. The large, revenue-generating BESS operates behind Fort Carson’s electric utility meter. It reduces electrical demand during peak intervals, thereby increasing power grid resilience. Because it was procured via ESPC, it required no capital expenditure by the Army.
State of flux: U.S. energy sector disruption creates challenges, opportunities for asset-based lenders. The U.S. power industry once epitomized stability, with long-term, low-risk financing for coal-fired power plants that could operate for half a century. However, in today’s “disrupted” energy sector, asset-based lenders face the challenge of reassessing risk related to technology, demand, regulations and the creditworthiness of borrowers. In comparison to when coal was king, deals involving the likes of wind, solar, bio-gas or battery-storage generally feature shorter terms and substantially altered risk profiles. Asset-based lenders need to account for this in the appraisals, loan structures and due diligence methodologies they employ moving forward. Gone are the days in which the majority of energy deals involved 30-year loans to public utilities for the construction of coal or nuclear plants. Uncertainty has supplanted what once was a seemingly safe assumption—namely, that the power business would stay the same save for the fluctuation of regulatory enforcement under different political administrations. The revolution in natural gas is a prime example of the shifting nature of the energy market.
Blockchain could help bring renewable energy to the power grid, experts tell Congress. But lawmakers want to know how to stop cryptocurrency miners from overwhelming local utility companies. Blockchain technology could help the energy sector secure the power grid and overcome some of the biggest barriers to widespread use of renewable resources, industry experts told lawmakers. But before that can happen, the government needs to fund more blockchain research and find a way to stop cryptocurrency miners from bogging down rural utility companies, they said. Energy researchers and blockchain experts on Tuesday highlighted a handful of ways decentralized ledger technology could allow utility companies to better manage the flow of electricity across the power grid. Wind, solar and other renewable technologies are offering individuals a way to generate their own energy, experts said, and as DIY-power becomes more popular, energy storage is becoming more spread across the grid. As infrastructure becomes increasingly decentralized, blockchain could give companies a means to efficiently track energy usage and generation, they told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “[Blockchain] means a grid that’s no longer centrally controlled and vulnerable to a grid operator attack—it means a market where customers can choose where they buy electricity,” said Claire Henly, managing director of the Energy Web Foundation.
Soluna seeks to build 900 MW wind farm in Morocco for blockchain computing. But will investors back the $2.5 billion project in disputed territory? Experts have offered a guarded reaction to plans announced last month for a 900-megawatt desert wind farm dedicated to powering blockchain technology. The $2.5 billion Soluna project aims to provide low-cost energy for blockchain computing and will be located in Dakhla, a city in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Since the location has no grid connection, Soluna will have to rely on a co-located data center for computing muscle. But Soluna is confident it will find investors willing to bet on the project thanks to its rock-bottom energy prices.
Is Singapore ready for the open electricity market? Operational doubts persist as power operators look for more physical space. When Singapore held the soft launch of the Open Electricity Market in Jurong, it enabled households and firms to buy electricity from their chosen retailers. OEM is expected to be rolled out to the rest of the country from the fourth quarter of 2018, but program implementation has seen its share of challenges.
Return to regulated energy pricing in Australia moves a step closer. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced a massive shake-up of the energy market that looks set to include ‘regulated’ pricing that could make comparing deals easier, potentially leading to lower bills. The announcement comes a month after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released the final report of its inquiry into retail energy pricing. It made 56 recommendations, including that the government introduces a “default market offer” for electricity prices.


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Today’s lede: Latest revelation of ballooning costs sparks revolt by Southern Co. nuke partner. The recent revelation that projected costs for Southern Co.’s new nuclear project in Georgia have ballooned by more than $2 billion has prompted at least one funding partner to call for pulling the plug on the new-build effort in a demand letter that could set the stage for lititgation.

JEA, the municipal utility in Jacksonville, Fla., sent a “sharply worded” letter last week to funding partner MEAG, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, demanding it walk away from the now $27 billion in projected costs for the Plant Vogtle construction project (a doubling of the originally guaranteed maximum cost of $14.5 billion), Nate Monroe reports for the Florida Times-Union. “The demand letter represents a significant escalation in JEA’s determination to kill the Plant Vogtle project. It has previously told financial analysts it wanted the project to get canceled but has stayed on the sidelines as Georgia power regulators debated its future,” Monroe writes.

“At a number of points in the past year, JEA has requested, without success, that MEAG take action to safeguard the financial interests of JEA, MEAG’s constituents and Power South,” JEA acting CEO Aaron Zahn said in the letter to MEAG CEO James Fuller. “Regardless of our past differences of opinion about whether the project should be abandoned, it now is beyond reasonable debate that prudent utility practices and the interests of ratepayers require that MEAG and the other owners of the Additional Units vote no on continuing construction of the Additional Units.” Zahn wrote, “A decision to continue cannot be justified on any rational basis.”

Monroe reports that Zahn’s letter came just a day after Florida state Sen. Debbie Mayfield asked legislative auditors to examine JEA’s agreement with MEAG, citing constituent concerns and calling it an “alarming example” of “potential mismanagement.”

Zahn told the Florida paper he rejects the lawmaker’s accusation of mismanagement, but otherwise welcomes the request for an audit. He also said JEA was weighing its legal options for getting out from under its Plant Vogtle financial obligations, which have mushroomed to a projected $4 billion over two decades. Subsequently, Monroe reports that canceling the nuclear expansion project could save JEA between $345 million and $727 million (click through here).

The projected $2.3 billion in cost overruns triggers a vote process by funding partners, in which owners of at least 90 percent of the project must approve in order for construction to continue, according to Kallanish Energy (click through here). Vogtle’s co-owners are Southern’s Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power (30%), MEAG (22.7%) and the city of Dalton, Ga. (1.6%). Oglethorpe has scheduled a vote for Sept. 30.

If a Vogtle partner decides against continued funding of the project, Georgia Power faces expensive choices of either buying out the funding partner’s share or canceling the project altogether, Michael Wald wrote in Seeking Alpha. Either way, Southern’s shareholders will bear the cost (click through here and here).
See also:
Consumer groups demand more details from Georgia Power on Vogtle. In the wake of the recent announcement of increased project costs at Plant Vogtle, consumer groups in the state are calling for the Public Service Commission to require Georgia Power to be more transparent during its bi-annual progress reports. Georgia Interfaith Power and Light and the Partnership for Southern Equity questioned how the cost to complete forecast could have increased by $2.3 billion just six weeks after its Vogtle Construction Monitoring hearing. During that hearing, the utility company had assured commissioners there would be no added costs for the Vogtle 3 and 4 project. “Our question is simply, what is the construction monitoring process for, if information like this does not come to light before and when actually witnesses are on the stand and actually talking about it?” said Kurt Ebersbach with the Southern Environmental Law Center. The consumer groups, along with the PSC staff, say Vogtle managers need to provide more details about the risks and costs associated with the overbudgeted project. “It apparently can keep going up like this,” said Ebersbach.
Georgia Power’s $448 million in 2017 costs for Vogtle receive approval from PSC. Georgia regulators have unanimously approved $448 million in expenditures Georgia Power says it incurred between July and December last year while constructing twin nuclear reactors in Burke County. Georgia Power is required to go before the state Public Service Commission twice a year to report its spending on Plant Vogtle. The commission is responsible for ensuring that costs passed on to ratepayers are reasonable. Tuesday, the commission also approved its staff recommendation that future reports by the utility include detailed information about project costs and risks. Less than two weeks ago, Georgia Power surprised commissioners with its announcement that the project costs have increased by $2.3 billion. The company said it will absorb a portion of the added costs with the rest, in contingency fees, likely to be handed down to customers.


Sparring over Nevada’s electricity choice ballot initiative intensifies. With a little over two months before Nevada voters go to the polls to decide a ballot question regarding opening up the state’s electricity market to competition, jockeying by the two sides of the argument is intensifying in a war of words that includes what is expected to be the most expensive ballot initiative in the state’s history. Media coverage of Questions 3, as the ballot measure to change the state’s constitution to allow electricity choice is known, is increasingly focused on fact-checking the ads by supporters and opponents.

Much of the debate swirls around the claim by advocates that a yes vote on Question 3 will lower electricity prices in the state. Riley Snyder offers a fulsome assessment of the claim in the Nevada Independent (click through here). “Proponents of the Energy Choice Initiative say that approving the ballot measure will result in lower electric bills, and claim that electric rates in retail choice states are ‘14 percent’ lower than other states,” Snyder writes.

“It’s not that simple. While it is true that states with retail markets have seen a smaller percent increase in rates than monopoly-market states since the turn of the century, the 14 percent figure uses an arbitrary cutoff date that isn’t indicative of how retail states have performed since making the transition from a monopoly state,” Snyder asserts. “The shred of truth in the ads is that electric rates in retail choice states have gone down in price over the last decade when compared to monopoly states. But again, that omits the structural issue of relying on EIA data and only measures a portion of the time that retail markets have been in existence.”

“The latest ad for ‘Yes on 3’ is an example of the arrogance, smugness and hubris of big capital,” argues an opinion piece in the Las Vegas Review-Journal (click through here). “There is absolutely no doubt Question 3 is a boon to the biggest corporations and their bottom lines. But for the citizens of Nevada, for small-business people and for retirees, it is a corporate hustle written into the Constitution.”

Deregulation does not guarantee lower electrical rates to consumers, Mike Hazard writes in a letter to the Elko Daily Free Press (click through here). “In the approximately 20 deregulated states as of August 2018 the average kilowatt-hour price for electricity is 14.61 cents. In the 30 remaining regulated states the average price is 12.18 cents per kilowatt-hour. In Nevada the mid-year price for electricity is approximately 11.08 cents reflecting a reduction of at least 24 percent below the deregulated average and 9 percent below the regulated national average,” Hazard writes. “All the issues associated with this program have not been addressed nor has it been substantiated that this will result in lower prices for Nevada rate payers,” he concludes.

Meanwhile, Mi Familia Vota, a national nonprofit active in Southern Nevada’s Latino communities, announced its opposition to Question 3, saying it could potentially harm people of color, Michael Lyle reports in the Nevada Current (click through here). “Average electricity rates in all 14 deregulated states are higher than Nevada’s rates, and low-income and minority consumers in those states have been targeted by predatory marketing and sales scams,” Alicia Contreras, Nevada state director for Mi Familia Vota said in a statement. “Question 3 would also hurt clean energy development in Nevada by canceling plans to double our renewable energy production by 2023. Latino voters – and all Nevadans – should vote NO on Question 3 in November.”

The Nevada Mining Association also came out in opposition to Question 3, according to a report in the Elko Daily Free Press (click through here). “Nevada mines are still recovering from record losses in mineral values while costs to operate continue to climb and the timeframe to permit a new mine extends into ten years. Question 3 will create substantial uncertainty for both industrial and residential ratepayers. Adding another layer of uncertainty to the challenges already faced by miners at this time would be irresponsible,” said Dana Bennett, NvMA president.

And officials in Boulder City warn that passage of Question 3 will cost the city more than $1.6 million annually in potential energy contracts while raising electricity costs for consumers, Celia Shortt Goodyear reports in the Boulder City Review (click through here).

Late last month, environmental and clean energy advocacy groups came out in opposition to the ballot initiative (click through here). “Question 3 has been sold to voters as a way to get more renewable energy online in Nevada but it will actually make it more difficult,” said Dylan Sullivan of the Natural Resources Defense Council, while Anne Macquarie of the Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter said the ballot question would “upend the clean energy progress we’re making here in Nevada.”


Centrica survey indicates most businesses will adopt onsite generation within 7 years. Most businesses will take control of their own energy use by generating a quarter of their electricity onsite by 2025, with 81 percent of U.S. businesses predicting this change will take place in just seven years, Centrica Business Solutions reports, citing a survey of 1,000 businesses internationally.

Around a quarter of businesses have already invested in on-site generation in the form of solar and/or combined heat and power with a third considering investing in these technologies, Centrica reports, adding that the increase in demand for flexibility that rewards businesses for increasing, decreasing or shifting their energy use has been identified as an opportunity by 44 percent of businesses planning to feed energy into the grid in the future.

The assessment of businesses in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Italy, the UK and Ireland looked at ‘energy leaders,’ defined as those adopt strategies to use energy efficiently and effectively, and found they were more than twice as likely to unlock competitive advantage from their energy management. These businesses also reported strong financial performance, being a leading brand in their market, and attracting and retaining the best talent, Centrica said.

Nonetheless, the survey also revealed that while 35 percent of U.S. businesses consider themselves to have a formalized energy strategy in place, far fewer have specific targets or budgets in place to support their ambitions. As an example, Centrica noted, despite two-thirds of respondents saying back-up in the event of a power outage as very important, only 20 percent have specific targets in place to address this. In a similar vein, only one in 10 businesses have set targets to support the link between sustainable energy use and brand image despite being identified by over half as very important.

“It’s necessary for businesses to take control of their energy use and have an actionable energy strategy in place whether that includes goals for resilience measures, emissions targets, or increased onsite generation,” said Stephen Prince, Head of Centrica Business Solutions North America.


More electric industry news of interest:
Justification for Xcel energy monopoly in Colorado is obsolete. In Leslie Glustrom’s Aug. 8 guest commentary (click through here), she argues that “it’s time to open Colorado’s electricity markets to clean, distributed technologies so that we can decarbonize, decentralize and democratize our electricity at an accelerated rate.” Glustrom is right. As she notes, in response to a 2017 Xcel solicitation, the free market offered renewable power bids amounting to several times Xcel’s peak demand. The prices of most bids were below the operating costs of much of Xcel’s fossil-fueled generating fleet, meaning that consumers would save money if Xcel shut down those plants and purchased renewable power, even though we would continue paying the fossil plants’ capital costs. Confronted with these undeniable economics, Xcel has agreed to retire two coal plants and procure 1,800 of the over 50,000 megawatts of renewable power bids that resulted from its solicitation. That’s a great start, and Xcel deserves commendation for it. But we have to ask ourselves why — when the free market is loudly and visibly demonstrating that it’s ready to provide huge amounts of renewable power at costs that will save consumers money, when the impacts of climate change are becoming more apparent and dire with every passing day, and when the list of communities clamoring for 100 percent renewable energy is long and rapidly growing — why on Earth are we clinging to a regulatory regime that maintains Xcel’s monopoly over electricity generation?

Colorado rural electric cooperatives look at cutting the cord. Luis Reyes drove up to Durango to tell folks how the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, which he heads, left its interstate wholesale power provider and struck out on its own — and the room where he spoke was packed. Kit Carson had paid $37 million to get out of its long-term contract with the Westminster-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which serves 43 electric cooperatives in four states, including 18 in Colorado. Several co-ops have complained about what they see as Tri-State’s high power costs, limits on developing local renewable energy and the loss of dollars sent out of town to buy electricity. Kit Carson, however, was the first to go beyond complaints. “We are showing it can be done,” Reyes said. “This is not pie in the sky.” Since Reyes’ talk, the Durango- based La Plata Electric Association has begun to explore its options, and the Delta-Montrose Electric Association is in separation talks with Tri-State. On the Front Range, large co-ops, such as Brighton-based United Power and Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association, are pressing for more local renewable generation. “When Kit Carson left last year, the lightbulb went on at the other 42 co-ops,” said Jerry Marizza, new energy program coordinator for United Power.

Mine cleanup funds at risk as Colorado coal power supplier loses customers. The defection of local electric cooperatives from a Colorado power wholesaler could imperil cleanup funds for coal mines in two Western states, according to an environmental group’s complaint to federal regulators. Tri-State Generation and Transmission operates mines in Colorado and Wyoming. If the company were to close or abandon them, environmental reclamation is to be paid for in large part with $133 million in “self-bonds,” which are guaranteed by Tri-State but not backed by any bank, insurer or other third party. That has some observers on edge as several Tri-State customers consider leaving it in search of cleaner, cheaper power. Other wholesale electricity providers that are still committed to fossil fuels face similar risks. “It’s not unrealistic to think that a bad case could be something like a utility ‘death spiral’ but at the G&T level,” said Mark Dyson, a principal in the Rocky Mountain Institute’s electricity program. Under that scenario, high electricity prices caused by overreliance on coal would cause co-ops to exit their relationships with Tri-State, forcing it to shift costs onto remaining customers by further increasing prices. That pattern could leave it unable to make good on promises to clean up coal mines.

Virginia officials involved in regulating Dominion Energy are invested in the company. Five employees of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality have financial interests in Dominion. The officials are involved, in one way or another, in permitting or overseeing the company’s activities, ranging from water discharges to emissions controls on power plants. According to financial disclosures filed with the state’s ethics council, four of them directly own stock in the company, while the wife of a fifth official works for Dominion. Documents obtained by DeSmog through a series of open records requests show that the DEQ officials are all involved in decisions concerning Dominion facilities and projects. Three of them work in the Valley Regional Office, which oversees three of Dominion’s power stations in the state — the Bremo, Bath County, and Warren County stations. Amy Owens, the region’s director, owns Dominion stock. In 2016 she signed off on a controversial permit that allowed Dominion to discharge treated water from the Bremo power station’s retired coal ash ponds into the James River. The permit was met with strong criticism by environmental groups.

South Carolina’s electric utilities reeling more than a year after nuclear cancellation. South Carolina has been stewing over its power companies since last summer, but a year into one of the biggest fiascoes the nation’s utility sector has ever seen, the state’s rage is boiling over. And no utility is safe from the intensifying wrath of South Carolina’s ratepayers and lawmakers. A power struggle has fully engulfed the state’s government-owned utility, Santee Cooper, bringing the work of its board to a grinding halt. The state’s utility watchdog agency is asking for financial sanctions against a once-venerable institution, South Carolina Electric & Gas, accusing it of hiding critical records and outright lies in a $9 billion nuclear plant construction debacle. And legislators are starting to point their attention toward the state’s electric cooperatives, the sleepy utilities that power huge swaths of rural South Carolina. Last weekend, more than 1,000 ratepayers at one Midlands co-op — Tri-County Electric — mobbed a special meeting and voted to throw out its board members after The State newspaper reported they used their jobs to enrich themselves. Across the industry, the furor has put change on the horizon. If Santee Cooper and SCE&G parent company SCANA are sold or dip into bankruptcy, it could leave the state without any of its major power providers headquartered in South Carolina. The public rage surrounding it all is unlikely to simmer any time soon. Permanent fixes are months away — if they come at all.

California lawmakers approve PG&E-backed Diablo Canyon nuclear plant retirement measure, utility bills likely to rise. A bill to ease the impacts from the pending closure of California’s last nuclear power plant received final approval by the state Legislature with an overwhelming Assembly vote Monday night — a decision that likely will increase monthly utility bills for PG&E customers. San Francisco-based PG&E intends to phase out the reactors of its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo County when their operating licenses with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission expire in November 2024 and August 2025. “If approved, the programs in the bill would result in a small, short-term increase of about 0.2 percent to the average customer’s monthly bill,” Blair Jones, a PG&E spokesperson, said Monday. “This increase would be removed from rates in 2026.”

Even as California gets hotter and drier, lawmakers continue to punt on wildfire liability. We’re not saying this was the perfect proposal, only that it was a good starting place for negotiations. But now it’s just the ending place. Although putting off liability reform might give legislators some breathing room now, it’s not going to get any easier next year when there’s a new governor who may have little interest in sticking his toes into such hot water in his first year.

Cuomo critics say upstate New York will bear burden for L.I., N.Y.C. wind power. New York government watchdogs raised alarms over the state’s plans to pay for new offshore wind turbines to generate electricity declaring upstate residents would end up footing the bill for downstate power. “Fifty-three percent of the people who are going to be paying for these turbines aren’t going to benefit from them,” said Ken Girardin, a policy analyst at the Empire Center. “That is to say 53-percent of the money is going to come from rate payers north of New York City, in upstate.” In July, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a new order from the state Public Service Commission (PSC) for the construction of wind turbine towers capable of generating 800 megawatts of electricity in the Atlantic Ocean south of Long Island and east of New York City. The project, he announced, was intended to “jump start” the development of offshore wind power. Cuomo’s “50 by 30” initiative seeks to derive 50-percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030. “We are not going to stop until we reach 100-percent renewable because that is what a sustainable New York is really all about,“ the governor declared during his announcement. “This is politically motivated energy policy. It’s not being guided by any good science,” Girardin countered.

Hydro One appoints new board, wants Idaho’s review of Avista purchase to restart. Hydro One Ltd. has installed a new board of directors in the aftermath of a political shake-up that jolted the Canadian utility’s efforts to acquire Avista Corp. With a new board in place, the Toronto-based utility is asking Idaho regulators to resume their review of the proposed sale. Avista also signed the motion, which asks Idaho regulators to set hearing schedules and make a decision on the $5.3 billion purchase of the Spokane-based utility by mid-December. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission will review the request at its meeting Tuesday in Boise, commission spokesman Matthew Evans. Last month, the PUC had indicated it would continue the review after Hydro One’s new board was in place and a new CEO was chosen by the board.

Fossil-free ‘opt up’ to renewable energy gaining traction in Somerville, Mass. Program allows Somerville residents to switch to 100 percent renewable energy. Fossil fuel energy sources are dinosaurs. But while they are not exactly extinct yet, Somerville’s Community Choice Electricity Aggregation Program is moving forward to make reliance on fossil fuels into a thing of the past. Fossil Free Somerville, a citizen advocacy group, is helping to spread the word about the CCE program. The aggregation program is currently providing electricity that is at least 21 percent from local renewable sources, a rate that is 5 percent higher than the state currently requires. But Fossil Free Somerville wants residents who may be looking for ways to make their carbon footprints even smaller to know that Somerville’s program offers them a way to “opt up” to 100 percent renewable energy. “Because we have been purchasing this power ‘in bulk,’ opting up is a lot cheaper than people realize,” said community volunteer Malcolm Cummings. “For about the price of a cup of coffee, you’re using completely renewable energy.” As part of its work against climate change, Fossil Free Somerville has also been working with the Somerville Retirement Board to divest the city’s retirement funds from any fossil fuel investments.

Michigan municipality going 100 percent renewable. The Traverse City Light and Power Company has approved a plan to move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. The interim plan inlcudes a goal of 15 percent renewable by 2021, and 40 percent by 2025.

New Orleans may actually get 90 MW of big solar. Entergy New Orleans has filed an application to build and procure 90 MW of solar, which would double Louisiana’s current installed capacity. But we aren’t holding our breath.

Delaware regulators approved settlement lowering electric delivery rates for Delmarva Power customers. The Delaware Public Service Commission approved a settlement in Delmarva Power’s regulatory rate review that passes along federal tax savings to customers and funds Delmarva Power’s efforts to enhance the local energy grid and maintain safe and reliable service for its customers. The settlement passes along the full amount of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act tax benefits to Delmarva Power’s electric customers in Delaware, resulting in an approximate $7 million decrease to electric bills.

DOE to give consumers choice on light bulbs. The Trump administration is poised to irrevocably reverse a midnight hour regulation by the Obama administration that turned out the lights on incandescent bulbs. The move might once again allow more Americans to choose to buy purchase traditional light bulbs which give off warmth, are cheaper to produce, and have low-risk ingredients than fluorescent and LED bulbs. They also cost less to consumers at the purchase point. The issue has long been a concern of Donald Trump. In 2012, then a real estate mogul, Trump tweeted his concern about LED and other non-traditional lightbulbs as a potential cancer risk.

U.S. senators raise crypto mining concerns, propose government blockchains. Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources asked about the cost of cryptocurrency mining and the opportunities for blockchain in the public sector on Wednesday. Like other crypto-related hearings on Capitol Hill, the hearing – which featured a range of public and private-sector speakers – served in part as an informational session for lawmakers who aren’t very familiar with the technology. In contrast with past Congressional hearings which at times turned acrimonious toward the concept of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, senators on the Energy Committee largely inquired about how blockchain can be applied to various projects.

Comcast Spectacor signs wind-power deal for Wells Fargo Center. Comcast Spectacor has signed a long-term agreement with Exelon’s Constellation unit to supply Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center with 100 percent renewable energy from an Illinois wind farm. The company announced Tuesday that it will buy power from Constellation, supplied from a 9 megawatt share of the Enel Green Power HillTopper wind project near Springfield, Ill. The 185-MW wind farm, expected to be completed this year, is also supplying General Motors and Bloomberg LP under power-purchase agreements. Comcast said the agreement reflects its commitment to building a more resource-efficient company and reducing its environmental impact. The South Philadelphia sports arena uses about 31,140 megawatt hours of power a year.

The $2.5 trillion reason we can’t rely on batteries to clean up the grid. Fluctuating solar and wind power require lots of energy storage, and lithium-ion batteries seem like the obvious choice—but they are far too expensive to play a major role. If state regulators sign off, however, it could be the site of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery project by late 2020, helping to balance fluctuating wind and solar energy on the California grid. The 300-megawatt facility is one of four giant lithium-ion storage projects that Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest utility, asked the California Public Utilities Commission to approve in late June. Collectively, they would add enough storage capacity to the grid to supply about 2,700 homes for a month (or to store about .0009 percent of the electricity the state uses each year). The California projects are among a growing number of efforts around the world, including Tesla’s 100-megawatt battery array in South Australia, to build ever larger lithium-ion storage systems as prices decline and renewable generation increases. They’re fueling growing optimism that these giant batteries will allow wind and solar power to displace a growing share of fossil-fuel plants. But there’s a problem with this rosy scenario. These batteries are far too expensive and don’t last nearly long enough, limiting the role they can play on the grid, experts say. If we plan to rely on them for massive amounts of storage as more renewables come online—rather than turning to a broader mix of low-carbon sources like nuclear and natural gas with carbon capture technology—we could be headed down a dangerously unaffordable path.

Tesla Gigafactory 1 now employs over 3,000 workers as it becomes biggest battery factory in the world. Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 in Nevada has now become the biggest battery factory in the world with an output of 20 GWh per year and growing. Now a new audit of the factory shows that Tesla is still on pace to comply with its obligations with the state for the factory as it now employs over 3,000 workers. As per Tesla’s deal with the state of Nevada to build the factory there, the company receives tax breaks and other incentives as long as it respects an investment schedule and hiring requirements.

Vermont’s vulnerable at-home patients to get Tesla Powerwalls. The Vermont Lower Income Trust for Electricity have provided a $150,000 grant for 100 low-income electricity customers with significant need for reliable backup power due to health and mobility issues.

A 550-ton floating turbine smashes records in a significant step forward for tidal power. A tidal turbine has generated record levels of power production in its first year of testing. The 2 megawatt (MW) SR2000 turbine produced more than 3 gigawatt hours (GWh) of renewable electricity in less than 12 months, Scotrenewables Tidal Power said in a statement Tuesday. The turbine is located at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, Scotland. Scotrenewables described the SR2000 as “the world’s most powerful operating tidal stream turbine.”

New quieter hammer for offshore wind farms tested. A new, quieter hammer for driving huge piles into the seabed for offshore wind turbines has been successfully tested at sea. SSE is one of the partners in the project to develop the Blue Hammer. The energy giant is involved in the construction of Scotland’s largest offshore wind farm, the Moray Firth’s 84-turbine Beatrice Offshore Windfarm. Blue Hammer has been designed to make less underwater noise, which can cause disturbance to marine life. The new design, which has been tested off the coast of the Netherlands, removes the need for underwater noise mitigation measures, and the time and expense involved in putting these in place. The Carbon Trust and offshore foundations company, Fistuca, have been working with SSE and others on developing the hammer as part of the Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) Blue Pilot project.


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Today’s lede: FERC order on state subsidies in PJM market may be flash point in long-simmering state-federal jurisdictional divide. The issue of where state authority ends and federal authority begins in the electricity sector has been subject to a long-simmering debate (although state regulators seem to acquire a newfound view when given a seat at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).

Congress set the stage with the 1935 Federal Power Act, drawing a supposedly “bright line” in authority between the states and FERC. The states were given authority over retail sales to end-users while FERC was granted oversight of large-scale wholesale sales in interstate commerce. Simple, right? Well, maybe 83 years ago, when the grid was sparsely interconnected and large swaths of rural areas didn’t have access to electricity. But that was long ago drawn into question as the grid became a highly interconnected web. As FERC took up open-access transmission and competitive reforms of the electricity sector in the 1990s, there were some in the energy bar encouraging the commission to assert jurisdiction “to the toaster.”

FERC probably wisely opted against that, as Orders 888 and 889 were subject to legal challenge by the states. The Supreme Court upheld the commission, and agreed with Enron that FERC has even greater authority it could assert if it chose to do so. Enron had argued that FERC should have taken regulatory authority over wholesale transmission bundled in state-regulated rates, and the High Court agreed FERC had the authority, but was not obligated to assert it. That aspect of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of FERC authority has never been implemented, although the commission under Pat Wood attempted to so with its aborted Standard Market Design rulemaking.

Against that historical backdrop, FERC in a 3-2 decision determined in late June that the generation capacity auction in PJM Interconnection’s competitive wholesale power market has been rendered unjust and unreasonable due to state-mandated subsidies of specific generation resources (click through here). The two dissenting commissioners were Democrats Rich Glick and Cheryl LaFleur, and Rob Powelson’s departure this month for a job in the private sector leaves Chairman Kevin McIntyre without a majority to finalize the order. It remains to be seen how quickly the White House can move to fill the vacant seat. Politico reported earlier this month, citing anaymous sources, that the administration has settled on Bernard McNamee, a utility lawyer currently the director of the Department of Energy’s policy office, to be the nominee (click through here).

The commission’s order established a 90-day paper hearing to determine a just and reasonable “replacement rate” spelling out new capacity market rules, with a decision expected early next year, assuming the vacancy is addressed by Congress.

The resulting regulatory uncertainty has prompted PJM to ask FERC to delay next year’s generation capacity auction. “The filing requests the auction be moved from May to Aug. 14, 2019,” PJM explained. “The motion follows requests from several stakeholders, including the Organization of PJM States Inc., the group representing state regulators in the PJM footprint, for more time to reply to FERC’s June 29 ruling on PJM’s proposed capacity market reforms, PJM noted.

“Given the tight filing windows, it is understandable that stakeholders are seeking additional time to forge proposals that best reflect FERC’s guidance,” said Stu Bresler, senior vice president – Operations and Markets. “PJM does not take this action lightly. But a short delay would allow us to provide an orderly auction process and give market participants sufficient time to understand the new market rules and develop their strategies for participation.”

PJM’s request is contingent on FERC extending the paper hearing. Under the suggested revised schedule, initial filings would be due Oct. 11 instead of Aug. 28, and replies would be due Nov. 28. A final order of compliance would be requested by March 15, 2019.

See also:

Potential federal power plant subsidies complicate PJM capacity market rulemaking. Upon finding PJM capacity market rules were unjust and unreasonable, FERC suggested PJM come up with a minimum offer price rule that contained as few possible exceptions and also suggested the grid operator consider a resource-specific carve out, which PJM has dubbed “ReCO.” The growth of state-level programs like renewable portfolio standards, renewable energy credits and zero-emissions credits for nuclear power plants has created capacity market friction between resources receiving subsidies that bid against those that do not. The first part of any potential solution would be to define “actionable subsidies” or out-of-market payments that should be excluded from capacity auction bids. Additionally, potential US Department of Energy action to subsidize certain coal and nuclear plants has only added to the complexity.


PJM asks FERC to delay 2019 capacity market auction. FERC’s June 29 decision throwing out the rules for PJM’s capacity market is the product of years of wrangling over the effect of state energy subsidies on market functions. Gas and coal generators argue state policies that benefit other resources, like renewables or nuclear plants, suppress the market clearing price for the fossil generators, lowering their revenues. In response to those concerns, PJM in March proposed two capacity reform options at FERC — a price floor and a two-part capacity auction that would separate out subsidized resources. FERC’s decision sided with the generators, finding the state policies improperly altered market prices. However, the commission also rejected both of PJM’s proposed solutions, ordering it to design new market rules that would allow subsidized resources to opt out of the capacity market altogether.


Your electric bill keeps rising, and the power market’s leading referee now is calling foul. A bombshell analysis by the market monitor for the multi-state region, including the Chicago area, found that the rules governing power generators weren’t strong enough to prevent a “non-competitive” result in a crucial electricity auction in May. Chicagoans will pay too much for electricity beginning in a few years thanks to a recent power-generator bidding process overseen by the manager of the regional power grid that turned out to be “non-competitive,” the independent overseer of the wholesale market recently concluded. It’s the first time ever that the independent market monitor who serves as a sort of referee of market conduct in PJM Interconnection has raised such serious questions about the rules applied to power generators and their bidding strategies.


EPA issues rulemaking replacing Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. As anticipated, the Environmental Protection Agency today proposed its “Affordable Clean Energy” rulemaking. The proposal replaces the Obama administration’s controversial Clean Power Plan, which called for a sharp reduction in carbon emissions from power plants. The Trump administration’s alternative rulemaking delegates significant authority to the states to decide electricity sector carbon-reduction goals, and relaxes the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review rules requiring expensive emission retrofits whenever coal-fired plants are significantly revamped.

“The ACE rule has several components: a determination of the best system of emission reduction for greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, a list of ‘candidate technologies’ states can use when developing their plans, a new preliminary applicability test for determining whether a physical or operational change made to a power plant may be a ‘major modification’ triggering New Source Review, and new implementing regulations for emission guidelines under Clean Air Act section 111(d),” EPA said.

“The ACE Rule would restore the rule of law and empower states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide modern, reliable, and affordable energy for all Americans,” EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a press release. “Today’s proposal provides the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump’s goal of energy dominance.”

“EPA has an important role when it comes to addressing the CO2 from our nation’s power plants,” said EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum. “The ACE rule would fulfill this role in a manner consistent with the structure of the Clean Air Act while being equally respectful of its bounds.”

President Trump was expected to highlight the proposal in an appearance in West Virginia today.




Appeals court rules in favor of environmental groups in ruling on coal combustion residuals. In a ruling on consolidated appeals of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 final rule under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act governing coal combustion residuals (fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization materials), which contain a toxic stew of heavy metals and carcinogens, the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected EPA’s request to hold proceedings in abeyance as the agency considers regulatory changes, and rejected industry challenges to the rulemaking while granting in part the remand of issues sought by environmental groups.

As the court’s opinion notes, “coal-fired power plants in the United States burned upwards of 800 million tons of coal in 2012 alone and produced approximately 110 million tons of solid waste as coal residuals [containing] myriad carcinogens and neurotoxins.” The court ruling notes that “EPA has long studied the coal residuals disposal problem and struggled over how to address its scale, complexity, and gravity. The agency has been goaded by public outrage over catastrophic failures at sites storing toxic coal residuals, and was directed by a federal court to devise a schedule to comply with its obligation to regulate under RCRA. Nearly four decades after Congress enacted RCRA, the EPA finally promulgated its first Final Rule regulating Coal Residuals in 2015.”

Environmental interests had challenged the final rule’s provision that existing, unlined surface impoundments may continue to operate until they cause groundwater contamination, despite the agency’s conclusion that such facilities are dangerous risks to human health, the court noted. “The final rule’s approach of relying on leak detection followed by closure is arbitrary and contrary to RCRA,” the court said. “This approach does not address the identified health and environmental harms documented in the record, as RCRA requires. Moreover, the EPA has not shown that harmful leaks will be promptly detected; that, once detected, they will be promptly stopped; or that contamination, once it occurs, can be remedied.”

The court also found EPA’s decision to leave unregulated inactive “legacy ponds” was arbitrary and capricious. “Notably, this very rule was prompted by a catastrophic legacy pond failure that resulted in a “massive” spill of 39,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of wastewater into North Carolina’s Dan River,” the court observed somewhat critcally. “Nevertheless, the EPA chose to leave legacy ponds on the regulatory sidelines.”$file/15-1219-1746578.pdf


Bloomberg makes Amazon the poster child for utility cost shifting. Amazon isn’t paying its electric bills,  Mya Frazier reports for Bloomberg News, arguably oversimplifying the issue of cost shifting between electricity customer classes, not a new issue at all for our industry. “The company’s rate discounts have pushed up utility costs for everyone else,” Frazier writes. In Ohio, the company opened three data centers in 2016 that are operating under rates that deemed confidential. Late last year, Amazon offered to open 12 more data centers and AEP exempted it from surcharges that other customers pay. “That’s de facto cost-shifting,” Ned Hill, an Ohio State University economist, told Bloomberg.


More electric industry news of interest:

Easing wildfire liability rules for utilities is off the table in Sacramento. Bill Dodd is a longtime Napa County politician, who served as a local supervisor for 14 years before coming to Sacramento, where he now serves in the state Senate. And so he knew when enough was enough: No matter how hard he and others might see the need to loosen the wildfire liability rules for electric utility companies, it wasn’t in the cards. “It clearly became a distraction,” Dodd told me on Saturday. Dodd, the co-chairman of the joint legislative conference committee examining wildfire prevention policies this month, said lawmakers will continue to look at other issues — including vegetation management requirements to keep flammable material away from power lines — but they won’t revamp the system known as “inverse condemnation.” “It just felt like it was the ultimate bailout of the utilities,” Dodd said, echoing complaints that any loosening of the existing standards would come at the expense of local communities who would need the money to rebuild.

The dueling California wildfire bills that could decide PG&E’s financial fate. Inverse condemnation reform won’t happen this year—but several bills to protect utility and ratepayers from fire damages are still on the table. Pacific Gas & Electric won’t get liability protection for wildfires caused by its power lines in the future — at least not this year. But California lawmakers are still considering a host of other bills that could help PG&E weather financial disaster, if it’s found at fault for the massive fires that caused tens of billions of dollars of damage last year. That’s the state of play in Sacramento this week. With only two weeks until the end of the legislative session on August 31, a push from Gov. Jerry Brown for legislation to protect California residents from climate change-driven wildfires — and to save PG&E from potential bankruptcy — has lost one of its key components.

Xcel Energy proposes replacing Colo. steel mill’s coal-fired power with solar. Xcel Energy has signed a contract with its largest retail customer in Colorado to replace power the customer gets directly from the utility’s nearby coal-fired plant with a 240-MW solar photovoltaic facility to be built at the customer’s site. Xcel Energy has plans to close its coal-fired Comanche plant, from which New CF&I, a unit of Evraz, has a direct transmission link to its steel mill in Pueblo, Colorado. Evraz said that unless the solar deal is signed it will move its operations, which have been in Pueblo since the late 19th century, out of state. Xcel Energy spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said this is the first such contract Xcel has filed under Colorado law that uses customer-sited renewables. “This is a unique deal, but the company has filed these types of contracts in the past under the provision of Colorado law that allows for them,” Aguayo said in an email Monday.

New electricity company claims it has lowest price in Texas. How much was your electric bill last month? It was higher than usual if you’re like most. But one new electric provider says you would have saved about 30 percent if you were with it. “Griddy is a whole new way to buy power,” Griddy CEO Greg Craig said. He said his business model works because it’s simple. Customers pay Griddy $9.99 a month. In turn, Griddy provides its electricity at the same rate it cost the company wholesale. “We say, ‘Look, we’ll tell you openly and honestly what we make. It’s $9.99,’” Craig said. “Everything else, kind of like Costco, is a pass-through, and that combination equals a lot of savings.”

Chelan, Wash., PUD moves toward new cryptocurrency rate. Chelan County cryptocurrency miners came back for another round of public comment Monday before the PUD, hoping not to lose the cheap electricity rates that brought them here. PUD commissioners took no action, instead scheduling a further hearing Sept. 17, and keeping in place a moratorium on servicing new crypto operations that’s been on the books since March. Meanwhile, people already crypto mining in the county lined up to be heard. “If we were to adopt the proposed rates here in the county — I think it’s 7 to 10 cents for my miners and my household — then I would be forced out of business,” said Becky Peters, who mines cryptocurrency in her Wenatchee home. “I’m coming out to these meetings each week wondering if I’m going to be able to keep the lights on for another day, because these rates would put me right out of business.”

U.S. Chamber analysis quantifies energy rate savings and economic growth from federal corporate tax cuts. A new analysis released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Energy Institute (GEI) found that electricity customers across the United States will save billions as a result of the recently enacted “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017,” while the broader economy will create tens of thousands of jobs and see billions more in economic activity. Across the states analyzed, customer savings over the next five years (2018-2022) will range from $100 million in Maine to over $3 billion in California. Each state also sees meaningful GDP and job gains as a result of these customer savings. “Our new analysis shows that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 is reducing energy costs for both residential customers and industrial users,” said Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber’s Global Energy Institute. “Utilities that have seen relief from their tax bills are passing those savings onto their customers, which ultimately saves consumers money. This savings is resulting in increased economic productivity and more jobs around the country.” “This new analysis shows how tax reform is having its intended pro-growth effects – a growing economy and families keeping more of their hard-earned dollars,” said Caroline Harris, vice president for Tax Policy and Economic Development for the U.S. Chamber. “Faced with lower tax rates, investor-owned utilities in almost every state are sharing the benefits of tax reform with their customers in the form of smaller monthly bills. Now, these customers are able to use their extra monthly savings to start a new business, hire new workers, or put money towards the future.”

Bank lending to power companies slows down. Lending to energy generation companies has slowed down this year and is likely to remain that way for three to five years when power demand has expanded to take up the existing excess supply, a private banking official said. “It’s not because we don’t want to lend. There are less deals. There are less new plants being built,” said grammatically challenged BDO Capital and Investment Corp. President Eduardo V. Francisco in an interview.

Greek Island of Tilos goes green, harnesses ‘smart energy’. A Greek island is leading the way in environmentally-friendly energy as it prepares to roll out a network of advanced wind and solar power charging a network of advanced batteries. Tilos, a Cycladic island, is testing a molten-salt battery energy-storage system which should go online later this year. The island has a regular population of only 400 people, but this number swells to 4,000 during the tourist season. This puts a strain on its energy resources and the EU-backed project hopes to harness the wind and the sun to provide power to the Islanders. The project said: “The prototype molten-salt, the battery-storage system will improve micro-grid energy management and grid stability, increase renewable energy use and provide services to the main grid. “If successful, this energy storage technology could be widely replicated on islands to complement and encourage the use of variable renewable energy sources.”


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Today’s lede: Trump expected to announce EPA’s rollback of Obama’s Clean Power Plan. President Trump is expected to announce tomorrow in West Virginia the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed alternative to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which aimed to curb electric industry emissions that contribute to climate change. As the New York Times and other outlets reported over the weekend, the new emissions plan is expected to delegate considerable authority to the states and relax new source review provisions.

“Under the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration had sought to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions from power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030,” Lisa Friedman writes in the New York Times. “There is no mention of an overarching national goal for reductions in the new Trump proposal, which was described on the condition of anonymity. Instead the rule sets guidelines for states to develop and submit to the E.P.A. plans to establish ‘patterns of performance’ for existing coal plants.”

“The new proposal, which will be subject to a 60-day comment period, could have enormous implications for dozens of aging coal-fired power plants across the country,” Juliet Eilperin writes in the Washington Post. “The EPA estimates that the measure will affect more than 300 U.S. plants, providing companies with an incentive to keep coal plants in operation rather than replacing them with cleaner natural gas or renewable energy projects.”

EPA’s new plan is projected to release at least 12 times the amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere compared with the Obama rule over the next decade, and comes as scientists have warned that the world will experience increasingly dire climate effects absent a major cut in carbon emissions, Eilperin reports in the Post. “We’re going back to the agency’s historical interpretation and application of its authority” under the Clean Air Act, the Post quoted one official anonymously. “That is respectful of the boundaries established by Congress.”

“It may not look as stringent, but one of the important things to keep in mind is the emissions reductions that were driven by the Clean Power Plan were driven by forcing a move from coal to natural gas and renewables,” Allison Wood of Hunton Andrews Kurth, a lawfirm with a long track record of battling clean air regulations on behalf of its utility clients, told the Times. “That’s happening anyway even in the absence of the Clean Power Plan.”


See also:

As Trump dismantles clean air rules, an industry lawyer delivers for ex-clients. As a corporate lawyer, William Wehrum worked for the better part of a decade to weaken air pollution rules by fighting the Environmental Protection Agency in court on behalf of chemical manufacturers, refineries, oil drillers and coal-burning power plants. Now, Mr. Wehrum is about to deliver one of the biggest victories yet for his industry clients — this time from inside the Trump administration as the government’s top air pollution official. “They basically found the most aggressive and knowledgeable fox and said, ‘Here are the keys to the henhouse,’” said Bruce Buckheit, an air pollution expert who worked for the Justice Department’s Environmental Enforcement Section and as director of the EPA’s air enforcement office under Democratic and Republican presidents.


Texas Public Policy Foundation sues Georgetown, Texas, to obtain info on solar roof payback. Dale Ross, the Republican mayor of Georgetown, Texas, has garnered a lot of publicity for his efforts to make the city 100 percent supplied by renewable energy sources. In the process, he’s offered somewhat polite digs at the Trump administration for its embrace of coal (click through here).

Now the Texas Public Policy Foundation has brought a lawsuit on behalf of a Georgetown resident who was denied information about a solar roof installation, Claire Osborn reports in the Austin American-Statesman. Terrill Putnam had sought information about the cost and financial payback for the installation at the city’s Westside Service Center after being told the city had performed a “payback analysis” for the installation.

But his two requests under the state’s liberal open records law were denied. After the first request, the city referred the matter to the Texas attorney general’s office, which determined the information could be withheld because it was a competitive matter related to a public power utility. Putnam then filed a second request seeking information on why the issue was a competitive matter, but the city rejected the request as repetitive and asserted that the request amounted to a request for legal research the city was not required to do, according to the lawsuit.

“It is very suspicious and concerning about why they would try to hide that,” Robert Henneke, the general counsel and director of litigation for the foundation, told the newspaper. “Here’s a document that would show the math on this investment of taxpayer resources that the city won’t turn over.”

“It is unfortunate that a Georgetown resident would convince an organization to use their resources to file a lawsuit that clearly wastes limited and valuable Georgetown taxpayer dollars in pursuit of a personal agenda,” Mayor Ross said. “The Georgetown taxpayer funds being wasted in defending this suit could be better used to fund Georgetown public safety, roads or other essential city services.”

The foundation has publicly challenged Georgetown’s 100 percent renewable energy policy, publishing an op-ed in the American-Statesman criticizing Georgetown’s 100 percent renewable energy supply as being infeasible without “impressive tax subsidies” and reliant on backup power from fossil fuel sources (click through here). “If every Texas city adopted Georgetown’s model, we would have an energy supply that is extremely unreliable and a burden on taxpayers’ pocketbooks. The bottom line is that 100 percent renewable simply is not doable,” concluded the foundation’s Cutter González. Ross wrote an op-ed responding to the foundation (click through here).

Ross told the newspaper that “under market rules as defined in the market by ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission, Georgetown has 100 percent renewable energy,” adding that “Georgetown’s generation of wind and solar power continue to provide more energy, on an annual basis, than Georgetown consumes.”–politics/lawsuit-demands-georgetown-provide-information-solar-panel-cost/BAShWIQhQmovRAJW7nLrgO/


Senate Energy panel to examine blockchain’s cybersecurity implications. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow “to consider the energy efficiency of blockchain and similar technologies, and the cybersecurity possibilities of such technologies for energy industry applications.”

“This is the first time a Senate committee hearing has explicitly focused on blockchain’s potential role and affects within the energy industry,” Nikhilesh De writes in Coindesk (click through here). But the hearing apparently will focus on cybersecurity, not the disruptive potential blockchain represents for the utility-dominated electric industry.


More electric industry news of interest:

Bankruptcy ruling could lead to higher Ohio electric prices. U.S. Judge Alan Koschik last week approved a motion to allow FirstEnergy Solutions to leave a multi-company power agreement that required the participating companies to help keep older Ohio-area coal plants running until the year 2040. FirstEnergy Solutions, American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Dayton Power and Light and customers of the state’s electric cooperative all share ownership and costs for the Ohio Valley Electric Corp., which oversaw the agreement and management for the plants. Ohio Valley operates two coal-fired plants along the Ohio River — the Kyger Creek plant in southeast Ohio and the Clifty Creek plant in Indiana. Ohio Valley is required to keep these plants running until 2040. The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel is worried about what the bankruptcy filing means for power customers throughout the state if the decision isn’t reversed on appeal. First Energy Solutions leaving the agreement could result in the other companies raising rates for customers to offset costs, the office said. As of Dec. 31, Ohio Valley’s debt totaled $1.4 billion, according to the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel. FirstEnergy is responsible for nearly 5 percent of the debt, or $67.9 million.

California lawmakers abandon Gov. Jerry Brown’s wildfire utility liability protection plan. California lawmakers are abandoning a proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown to shield electrical utilities from some financial liability for wildfires. For now. There’s not enough time to settle the contentious and complex issues involved before the legislative session ends Aug. 31, Napa Democratic Sen. Bill Dodd told the San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday. “It was a tough fight … so we are pivoting,” said Dodd, co-chairman of the legislative conference committee on wildfire preparedness and response.

San Diego utility goes to court in bid to shift $379 million in wildfire costs to customers. San Diego Gas & Electric is not giving up its fight to pass on to ratepayers $379 million in costs related to the deadly wildfires that scorched the San Diego area 11 years ago. The utility has filed an appeal with the state’s 4th Appellate District in San Diego, calling on the court to review a decision by the California Public Utilities Commission that rejected SDG&E’s request last November. The commission also denied the utility a rehearing on the case last month. SDG&E’s attorneys said last year’s decision “will have severe adverse practical consequences for privately owned utilities” in California and, by extension, threatens to have “ripple effects throughout the state’s economy.” The CPUC has put utilities in a “whipsaw,” the 84-page filing argued. SDG&E wants the appeals court to vacate the commission’s 5-0 vote and “rule that SDG&E is entitled to recover payments” from the 2007 San Diego wildfires.

Green energy is gold for California, U.S. I am a physicist, and an energy and sustainability science researcher, and I live in California because of its penchant for not just setting but actually achieving big goals and adopting bold visions others may consider too ambitious. What California proposes, we research, debate and then accomplish. In fact, we often exceed the goals skeptics have deemed unmeetable. This is why I believe that California should — and ultimately will — pass into law the “100 Percent Clean Energy Act” (Senate Bill 100), which would establish a bold goal of 100 percent clean, zero-carbon electricity by 2045.

Roundtable at Nevada County, Calif., fairgrounds will highlight community-owned power. Nevada County residents will be able to explore the possibility of controlling their power supply during a roundtable on Community Choice Aggregation on Thursday. The discussion, hosted by the Nevada Irrigation District, will highlight how Community Choice Aggregation programs are administered by local governments to purchase electricity as an alternative to investor-owned utility sources such as PG&E. Topics will include the basics (the what, why and how of Community Choice Aggregation), potential benefits, the formation process, a case study presentation with “lessons learned,” and a general Q&A. According to NID General Manager Rem Scherzinger, the water district decided to take the lead on Community Choice Aggregation because it currently is exploring the concepts of “net zero energy” and “carbon-free water.”

Pa. mayor: Taking a stand for nuclear power. As we all tried to stay cool over the past week during this summer’s most recent heat wave most of us probably didn’t realize that Three Mile Island and our state’s four other nuclear power plants were providing more than 40 percent of our electricity to help keep our air conditioners running. Nuclear power plays a vital role in providing our power grid with stable and reliable electricity in all kinds of weather. Severe weather can strain the grid and that is when nuclear power’s 24/7, reliable energy is especially important. We’ve seen this before during recent extreme winter storms and summer heat waves. However, today Pennsylvania faces a major threat to our energy mix and therefore to our power grid, economy, and environment. Because of market flaws in the way nuclear power is valued on the power grid, Three Mile Island and the Beaver Valley Nuclear Plant near Pittsburgh will close prematurely in 2019 and 2021 respectively. And if things don’t change, our state’s other nuclear power plants are also at risk to be shuttered early.

Give New Yorkers more incentives on energy choices: Editorial. Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a big and bold decision by pushing for the closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. But he also has riled environmental groups and others by moving forward with a multibillion-dollar bailout of three upstate nuclear power plants, saying these sources produce energy with fewer emissions than coal or natural gas plants and, thus, are important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But opponents have a better suggestion. Dozens of environmental groups and others are saying, when it comes to this bailout, people should get a choice on their utility bill. Rather than having to incur $2-a-month surcharge to help pay for this bailout, they should be able to opt out in exchange for agreeing to use renewables for all their energy needs. That sounds like a winning proposition.

Denied air permit, New York gas-fired power plant cleared to run for now, but green groups vow to fight on. The fight over an air permit for the CPV Valley natural gas-fired power plant in New York will stretch into October, the plant’s owner said Friday, but opponents vow to fight until the plant is permanently shut down. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on Aug. 1 told Competitive Power Ventures, owner of the 680-MW CPV Valley plant, that it was not going to renew its Air State Facility permit. The DEC explained in a letter that due to regulatory changes a Title V Clean Air Act permit is required to run the plant and CPV’s ASF permit expired July 31. But on Aug. 15 Acting New York Supreme Court Justice Roger McDonough granted CPV’s request for an injunction so it can operate the plant as it awaits the outcome of the permitting dispute. October 15 is the return date for all documents in the proceeding and the plant “can operate at a minimum until then,” CPV spokesman Tom Rumsey said in a phone call. He also said that since the plant is allowed to run, CPV plans to bid its power into the New York Independent System Operator’s capacity market. “This is not an issue of emissions,” Rumsey said. “This is just an administrative debate. There is no public safety issue.” CPV’s existing permit says they have a year to apply for the Title V permit, he said.

New York wants residents to embrace community solar. Customer-owned solar generation is only viable for a small share of ratepayers, based on state statistics. The balance of the state’s residents either have roofs in shaded areas or in the wrong orientation to support an efficient system, or are unable to afford the large expense of a system. Others are apartment dwellers  for whom solar panels are clearly impractical. That’s where a state initiative comes in. Called “Community Solar,” it allows those who would otherwise be unable to install solar systems to sign up for electricity generated by a solar farm within their region, while also getting a discount on prevailing rate from the resident utility.

Arizona utility: Invalid signatures purposely submitted on energy petitions. The state’s largest electric company hopes to block a public vote on a renewable-energy initiative by claiming that initiative organizers purposely and knowingly submitted signatures that were invalid. Attorney Brett Johnson, representing Arizonans for Affordable Energy, does not dispute that a random sample by county recorders of the signatures submitted by initiative supporters turned up a validity rate of 72.4 percent. That 5 percent sample is required by Arizona law rather than having county election officials check every signature. With about 454,000 signatures as a starting point — the number after Secretary of State Michele Reagan removed some petitions that clearly did not meet legal requirements — applying that sample should leave the Clean Energy for Healthy Arizona Act with about 329,000 valid signatures, far more than the 225,962 needed for constitutional amendments like this. But Johnson’s client, financed by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., parent company of Arizona Public Service, hopes to persuade Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Kiley to ignore the sampling result. Johnson contends that experts hired by his group to review every signature found that about 195,000 of the people who signed the petitions are not registered to vote in Arizona. And that doesn’t count whole petition sheets, with up to 15 signatures per page, that Johnson said should not be counted because the circulators were not eligible to gather signatures in Arizona.

Arizona’s Tucson Electric Power customers may see new rate for energy-storage systems. When Duane Ediger and Carol Rose installed a Tesla Powerwall 2 battery on their Barrio Hollywood home last January, they knew it wouldn’t pencil out financially. “Though there’s a slight financial benefit, it’s definitely not enough to pay for the battery,” he said. “We got the battery out of a commitment to kind of blazing the trail to where we’re headed.” But rooftop-solar customers of Tucson Electric Power Co. may soon have a new incentive to install home battery systems that store excess energy generated by the panels for use when the sun isn’t shining, under a proposal being considered by state regulators. As part of the companies’ solar rate case pending before the Arizona Corporation Commission, an administrative law judge has recommended that TEP and sister utility UNS Electric propose special rate plans for solar customers who install battery storage systems.

Missouri appeals court ruling may spur greater investment in electric vehicle charging stations by utilities. Up to now, Missouri utility regulators have declined oversight of electric vehicle charging stations, opting to leave installation of the technology to the free market rather than having costs shouldered by the ratepayers of monopolized power companies, such as Ameren. That’s still the official regulatory stance of the Missouri Public Service Commission, but an opinion handed down this month by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, calls for the state to reverse a key aspect of its position. If upheld, a reversal may uncork fresh spending on electric vehicle charging stations by utilities in the state.

Attorneys representing S.C. utility customers seek refund for failed nuke project. A South Carolina utility should be forced to refund the more than $450 million collected from its customers in connection with a nuclear construction project since the venture failed, ratepayers’ attorneys argue in a lawsuit against the company. In court documents filed Wednesday and provided to The Associated Press, lawyers for South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. ratepayers argued that the company should have stopped assessing customers for a nuclear construction surcharge when it abandoned the multibillion-dollar project at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station last year. SCE&G and state-owned utility Santee Cooper walked away from the project in July 2017 following the bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse. Thousands of workers lost their jobs in the debacle, into which the utilities had jointly sunk around $9 billion. In all, SCE&G customers have paid about $2 billion toward the company’s debt on the project. Since the effort fell apart, SCE&G has collected more than $452 million from its ratepayers despite making no progress on the project, the lawsuit contends. Attorneys argue they’re entitled to an immediate ruling in their favor because state law only allows the company to charge for ongoing projects.

Want to vent to regulators about S.C.’s failed nuclear project? Here’s how and where. Do you have something to say about the failed nuclear project in South Carolina? Do you want to vent to the state’s utility regulators about your power bills with South Carolina Electric & Gas? Do you want to know where that $1,000 check from Dominion Energy is that you keep hearing about on the radio? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then here’s your chance. The South Carolina Public Service Commission — the state’s utility regulators — scheduled three public hearings in the coming months to listen to SCE&G customers and members of the public. It’s a chance for people from throughout SCE&G’s service territory to share their opinions about what has become one of the biggest economic failures in state history.

Troubled S.C. state-owned utility calls off scheduled board meeting. South Carolina’s state-owned utility has opted to postpone this month’s meeting amid confusion over its leadership as state leaders continue to grapple with the fallout from a multibillion-dollar nuclear construction debacle. On Friday, Santee Cooper announced that it wouldn’t be holding a board meeting Monday as had been planned. Utility officials didn’t say when the meeting would be rescheduled. The uncertainty comes amid a showdown between South Carolina’s governor and state Senate leaders over leadership of the utility, which has been under fire since the failure of a nuclear construction project in which it was the minority owner. Santee Cooper had invested $4 billion toward the construction of two new reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County, with South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. putting in $5 billion. The utilities walked away from the project in July 2017 following the bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse. The board’s meeting postponement came as Moody’s Investor Service downgraded the rating on the utility’s revenue bonds. In a release, analysts said their move “takes into consideration continued unstable governance with uncertainty about future rate setting as Santee Cooper operates without a board chairman.”

S.C. co-op customers vote overwhelming ‘yes’ to remove remaining board members. Three former board members resigned in May. Customers voted Saturday to remove the remaining six members of the board. This has been an ongoing process as members, who are customers of Tri-County, grew concerned over allegations of financial mistreatment by the board. An upset co-op member spoke Saturday morning saying, “Many of y’all know the board members and would say ‘Oh they’re just common people from the community here and there.’ Well, maybe we just need some new common people” — which drew cheers from the crowd. “We have a responsibility to our community, to our families, to our children, to hold our elected leaders and representatives accountable for their actions,” said another member to even more cheers. “Questions have arisen as far as compensation and everything else, and just how the board meetings have been going, members have just not been happy,” Co-op CEO Chad Lowder said after the meeting.

S.C. co-op’s customers took back their utility. Now let the sun shine on other co-ops. Co-op defenders will see Tuesday’s vote to remove the self-serving board of the Tri-County Electric Cooperatives as evidence that we don’t need to change the way co-ops operate in South Carolina. It’s not. Although I’m delighted that Midlands residents served by the state’s second-most expensive co-op took their utility back from the board, the fact is that board members had been taking advantage of their neighbors for years before anyone noticed.

Pacific Power backs off of smart meters opt-out fee for Oregon customers. Pacific Power has dropped a $137 opt-out fee for Oregonians who don’t want a smart meter installed at their residence, a company representative said Wednesday. Oregon’s Public Utility Commission Tuesday in Salem approved the utility’s request to drop the opt-out fee, Christina Kruger, regional business manager, told the Talent City Council, but a $36 monthly meter-reading fee remains. Talent was among the communities that raised concerns about the smart meters and opt-out fees, with the council passing a resolution July 3 calling for fee reductions. “Upon a lot of public feedback regarding that fee and looking at that fee, we decided it was in the best interests of our customers to try to roll that fee back. It was effective as of today,” said Kruger. “It was pretty plain to us by the comments of the commissioners and the commission staff that we were tasked to go back to make a determination on how those costs or any other future costs for opt-outs will be recovered.” The utility will evaluate the impact of smart-meter installations and return to the commission later to report on costs of reading analog meters, which could affect the monthly fees.

End tiered rates on Eugene, Ore., bills. Tiered electric rates look like a sensible incentive for conservation: Customers who use more than a certain amount of electricity pay a penalty in the form of a higher rate per kilowatt hour. But tiered rates are in fact a blunt instrument. There are better ways to encourage conservation, and a proposal before the Eugene Water & Electric Board’s commissioners to end tiered rates would reduce unfair treatment of some of the utility’s customers.

State of Utah solar: Installations take a dip while industry adjusts to net metering change. Rooftop solar seems to have lost some of its shine in Utah, but industry and clean air advocates say the alternative energy source still has a bright future. Electricity provider Rocky Mountain Power filed its most recent net metering report with the Public Service Commission in July, which indicates some of the changes facing the industry. To date, the utility counts more than 30,000 solar customers. New rooftop solar installations are down by about 23 percent compared to the year before. Those in the industry say some of the volatility came from Rocky Mountain Power’s phase-out of net-metering, which went into effect last November. “We have definitely seen some attrition in the industry,” said Ryan Evans with the Utah Solar Energy Association. “However, I think most Utah companies were able to handle the changes.”

Iowa’s three-legged energy stool is at risk. Our strategy, informed by shared values from diverse faith traditions, focuses on a three-legged stool: personal responsibility; effective bipartisan legislation; and broad-based economic activity. Iowa’s energy leadership depends on this three-legged stool and, unfortunately, the ability for individuals and businesses to take personal responsibility and invest in their own renewable energy projects and energy efficiency upgrades has been undermined. While utilities have made public announcements — like MidAmerican’s plan for 100 percent renewable electricity and Alliant Energy’s new wind energy projects — they have worked hard behind the scenes to limit the ability of others to invest in renewable energy or make efficiency upgrades. Unfortunately, we damaged that three-legged stool when state leaders passed Senate File 2311 into law. The measure gives even more power to monopoly utilities, dramatically reduces popular energy efficiency programs, risks thousands of energy jobs, allows municipal utility customers to discriminate against solar customers, and reduces programs to help low-income Iowans stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. In the upcoming election season, we will have the attention of leaders defending their seats and challengers hoping to take those seats. We need to speak out and leverage this attention to demand a continued commitment to a three-legged stool including personal responsibility, bipartisan public policy, and broad economic benefits. – Matt Russell is executive director of Interfaith Power and Light.

Washington utility moves to replace failing smart meters. Washington’s Centralia City Light Department will soon begin the process of replacing more than 10,000 smart electricity meters over the next five years after the city council approved the use of more than $1 million in funds at its meeting Tuesday. City Light first began installing digital meter readers on buildings in 2004. The machines transmit usage data over power lines using a computer system created by Missouri-based Aclara Technologies that calculates monthly billing statements sent out to users and helps city workers identify problems on the power grid. Those meters came with a 10-year life expectancy and have been failing at an increased rate, according to City Light General Manager M.L. Norton. He plans to take advantage of a special pricing plan offered by Aclara to install new meters that should last twice as long and save more than $1.2 million via the discounted unit price and waiving of three years’ worth of support fees. “It’s going to save us quite a bit over doing a massive replacement without this program or by replacing just a few at a time,” Norton said. “The meters are the cash registers for City Light and they’re vital not only for registering power use but for monitoring the system to make it as reliable as possible. Sometimes, we respond to the power being out at a residence before the owner knows it’s out.”

Dear (Public) Utility Commission: Don’t you dare abandon Texans struggling to shop for electricity. No one waved a white flag at the Alamo. They fought until the bitter end. Not so at the (Public) Utility Commission, where two of the three commissioners made comments this month that are the equivalent of unfurling a white flag and heading to the nearest flagpole. They spoke about eliminating the state’s neutral retail electricity shopping site, Hey, commissioners. Don’t surrender! This is why I took your P away from the PUC. You don’t care about us. Electricity companies who game the UC’s search results and use deceptive marketing techniques to trick us into overpaying for electricity are a disgrace. What’s worse is you let them get away with this. You’re supposed to fix this, not run from this.

New Oak Park, Ill., electric aggregation contract states participants will not pay more than current ComEd rates. A new 12-month electric aggregation contract will begin this fall for the village of Oak Park, one that means participants will not pay more than the current ComEd energy rates. Last month, the village board approved a new one-year contract with MC Squared Energy Services LLC, which will begin with customers’ electricity bills in November. The new contract ties the village aggregation rate to the ComEd basic service rate, which typically changes in May and October but can vary by season, officials said. The MC Squared contract provision ensures aggregation participants will not pay more than those customers whose electricity is supplied by ComEd, officials said. In addition, the electricity supply rate includes the three-tenths of 1 cent per kilowatt hour fee that goes into a village fund created in 2015 to help support local renewable energy projects. The village board also approved allowing MC Squared to use a portion of the fee to keep the basic rate unchanged, but still purchase electricity from new regional renewable energy generating facilities that are expected to come online in 2019.

Tesla batteries and solar panels create energy islands in Vermont. Green Mountain Power (GMP), the state’s largest electric utility, says it was able to save customers about $500,000 in July by drawing on energy stored in its customers’ home solar storage batteries as well as the company’s storage facilities in Rutland and Panton. Power companies are charged for the extra energy needed to meet peak demand, the one day each year that the most electricity is used. This year it was August 6 between 5 and 6 pm, surpassing the previous peak of July 5. In anticipation of peak demand, GMP gave the grid a jolt by sending much of the stored energy from its facilities and more than 610 Tesla batteries in customers’ homes into the system. By reducing its total demand for expensive fossil fuel generation needed to meet the peak period, GMP lowered its share of the money owed to so-called peaker plants, which go online to meet the additional loads, said Josh Castonguay, GMP’s chief innovation officer. Those plants are largely fueled by natural gas, oil, and coal, he said. “For every megawatt we reduce by using battery storage it just means they need that many fewer megawatts essentially coming from these other energy sources,” Castonguay said.

Much of the grid is clean enough to electrify home heating. In some American cities the electric grid is already clean enough that carbon emissions would drop if homes converted to electric heating, according to a new study by the Rocky Mountain Institute. The cost of electrification remains an obstacle for many homeowners, RMI concedes, but not all. “Electrification already reduces carbon emissions with today’s technology and electric grid in all but the most coal-heavy regions,” said Sherri Billimoria, an associate with RMI’s electricity practice. “Among the cities we looked at, that’s Chicago.”

Australia’s Enova Energy seeks crowdfunding for growth. Enova Energy, Australia’s first community-owned renewable energy retailer, is looking to raise funds in a crowdfunding campaign to support an expansion into new parts of the country. According to an announcement on the Crowd88 platform, Northern Rivers-based Enova wants to grow into Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong in its home state — New South Wales, as well as in Southeast Queensland and diverse regional communities. Renew Economy reports that the list also includes the states of Victoria and South Australia and that the company is seeking at least AUD 3 million (USD 2.2m/EUR 1.9m) via the crowdfunding campaign.

Australian political parties race to pledge lower power bills as energy contest heats up. Households will be promised a $165 cut to their electricity bills in a new political contest on energy, as Labor and the Coalition race to announce tough new measures on big retailers, including penalties for price gouging. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will reveal plans for simpler bills with “capped” prices under a Labor government, assuring voters he will force the big electricity companies to scrap “standing offers” that push up costs. The move comes as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also prepares a power price crackdown that will set a price range for default electricity packages and fine the big retailers if they exceed the cap.

Labor pledges price caps on power bills as Australian political coalition’s National Energy Guarantee woes continue. The Coalition has accused Labor of stealing its policy after Bill Shorten pledged to introduce a new regulated capped offer for electricity consumers. Labor’s pledge comes as the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, recalibrates his national energy guarantee in an attempt to contain a conservative-led revolt. As part of that recalibration, the government is poised to accept the recommendations of a recent Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into the electricity sector, which include capped pricing. Shorten has promised to abolish “outdated” standing offers and replace them with a new default offer consistent across all energy retailers.

More Irish energy users make switch from big suppliers. Electric Ireland and Bord Gáis Energy both lost market share in the opening half of the year as more customers switched energy providers in an effort to find cheaper deals. Statistics show that in the year to June an average of just under 27,000 customers per month switched their electricity provider, up by 2 per cent compared to figures from last year. Each month an average of almost 12,000 customers changed their gas provider, an increase of almost 12 per cent on the same period last year.