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Tesla withdraws support for electricity choice in Nevada as SEC files suit against Elon Musk; EPSA seeks rehearing of appeals court ruling upholding nuclear subsidies in Illinois (09/28/18)

Today’s lede: Tesla withdraws support for Question 3, Nevada’s energy choice ballot initiative. Tesla, which located its huge battery-making “Gigafactory” in Nevada, was an early proponent of a controversial ballot initiative that would end monopoly regulation in the state and allow consumers to choose among competing electricity suppliers. Now a company official has confirmed that Tesla “has changed its position to neutral,” Riley Snyder reports in the Nevada Independent.

“While we believe in open and competitive markets, Question 3 presents a number of uncertain impacts to our energy customers and the renewable energy industry in Nevada,” the unnamed Tesla official said in an email to Snyder. “As a result, we have decided not to take a position on Question 3.”

The ballot question passed with 72 percent of voters’ support in the 2016 election. In order to effectively change the state’s constitution and end monopoly price regulation, the measure must pass a second time this November. NV Energy, which stayed on the sidelines in 2016, has come out guns blazing against Question 3 this time around, pledging to spend as much as $30 million to defeat it. The result has been an unprecedented ad blitz by the utility-funded no campaign and the yes effort funded largely by casino firm Las Vegas Sands and the data center giant Switch.

A reading of the tea leaves indicates the no campaign is winning. Polls show minority support for the measure, and many high-profile politicians who supported Question 3 two years ago now profess to be neutral or oppose the measure.

“Unfortunately, NV Energy and their out of state corporate owners are spending millions spreading false information about energy choice,” Nevadans for Affordable, Clean Energy Choices spokesman Bradley Mayer said in an email to Snyder. “We understand that companies take positions on what is in their best business interest but we agree with Elon Musk when he said, ‘Monopolies are true enemy of people,’ and, ‘What really matters is avoiding monopolies that restrict people’s freedom.’”

Snyder reports that one month after advocates announced the Energy Choice Initiative in 2016, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a statement that “solar energy is the cheapest energy today in the state of Nevada and ‘Energy Choice’ will enable Tesla and all Nevadans to choose solar.”

Snyder quotes a spokeswoman for the group opposing the initiative acknowledging that they welcome Tesla’s withdrawal of support for the measure. “We appreciate that Tesla has reconsidered their position on Question 3, particularly because of the risks and uncertainties that this flawed electricity deregulation proposal poses to tens of thousands of existing rooftop solar customers,” Coalition to Defeat Question 3 spokeswoman Tracy Skenandore said in an emailed statement. “Question 3 would also increase electric rates for all Nevadans and put our state’s promising clean energy future at risk.”

“Criticism from the solar industry has been blunted in the past two years, starting when regulators with the Public Utilities Commission agreed to ‘grandfather’ in existing net metering customers at prior, more favorable rates in 2016,” Snyder notes. “Lawmakers also approved a change to the state’s net metering law in 2017 that was widely applauded by the industry and has helped jumpstart new rooftop solar applications.”

See also:
Solar industry poll finds 90 percent of voters object to utilities blocking residential solar. Nearly nine in 10 voters polled in a survey sponsored by the Solar Energy Industries Association said electric utilities should not block residential solar. “Consumers hate the fact that utilities can control their choice of electricity,” SEIA spokesman Dan Whitten told Utility Dive.
Former FERC chairman Wellinghoff says Question 3 will lower power rates. “If Question 3 passes, electric rates will go down,” said Jon Wellinghoff, the former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, while filming Nevada Politics Today. “We’ve done a study, done by a nationally recognized utility expert, who’s indicated very clearly that there are substantial tax savings in accumulated differed income taxes and additional savings in over earnings from the company that would come back to Nevada ratepayers to lower their rates. So number one, we already have a pot of money that we see will in fact lower rates. In addition to that, if you look at what competition has been doing in other states, the actual experience for example in Texas, we know that rates will be lowered.”
Nevada city council approves resolution in opposition to Question 3. The Elko City Council approved a resolution in opposition to Ballot Question 3, The Energy Choice Initiation, citing concerns about potential impacts on rural communities. “I fully support this resolution,” Councilman Reece Keener said, “knowing its devastating impact on employees and vendors.” Keener professed to be a “free market person,” but said electricity is an industry that lends itself to a regulated monopoly. Councilman John Patrick Rice said he has watched deregulation impacts on rural communities, such as airline deregulation and telecommunication deregulations so he opposes the proposed amendment.

SEC brings court action after Elon Musk backs out of settlement. The Securities and Exchange Commission brought suit against Tesla’s Elon Musk accusing the rock star CEO of misleading investors with his now-infamous tweet saying he would take Tesla private at $420 a share, Bloomberg News and multiple other news outlets report. The SEC lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and Musk’s ouster as Tesla’s CEO. The SEC said Musk falsely claimed funding was secured for taking the company private, and the $420 per share price he proposed reflected the slang term for marijuana and was intended to “amuse” his girlfriend, the pop singer Grimes. The lawsuit targets Musk, not the company.

“Musk’s statements were false and misleading,” the SEC’s Stephanie Avakian said at a press conference in Washington, D.C., announcing the action. “They lacked any basis in fact.”

Tesla said in a statement that the company and its board “are fully confident in Elon, his integrity, and his leadership of the company, which has resulted in the most successful U.S. auto company in over a century.” Going forward, the company will remain focused “on the continued ramp of Model 3 production and delivering for our customers, shareholders and employees,” the statement said.

According to CNBC, Musk and the SEC were close to striking a “no-guilt” settlement that would have required Musk to step aside as Tesla’s chairman for two years and provided for the appointment of two new independent board directors. CNBC cited unnamed sources who said Musk refused the deal “because he felt that by settling he would not be truthful to himself, and he wouldn’t have been able to live with the idea that he agreed to accept a settlement and any blemish associated with that.”

“I have always taken action in the best interests of truth, transparency and investors,” Musk said in a statement. “Integrity is the most important value in my life and the facts will show I never compromised this in any way.”

News of the SEC action sent Tesla shares down 10 percent in pre-market trading. As of midday Friday, Tesla’s stock was trading down nearly 12 percent, deepening a months-long slide in value.

Merchant generators seek rehearing of 7th Circuit opinion upholding Illinois nuclear subsidies. The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling yesterday upholding zero-emissions credits subsidies for nuclear plants in New York was the second shoe to drop after the 7th Circuit previously ruled that the ZEC program in Illinois passed constitutional muster. The 2nd Circuit acknowledged that its ruling reflected findings of its sister U.S. appeals court. In issuing a statement responding to the most recent ruling, the head of the national trade group representing merchant generators said the group is seeking rehearing of the 7th Circuit decision as it mulls a response to the 2nd Circuit decision.

“EPSA will review the Second Circuit’s opinion and consider all its available legal options in due course,” said John Shelk, the Electric Power Supply Association’s president and CEO. “Regardless of any further legal steps EPSA may pursue, EPSA underscores that the 2nd Circuit and 7th Circuit courts each relied on representations from the U.S. Government that FERC can effectively address any adverse impacts that ZEC nuclear bailouts have on wholesale power markets.  FERC must now do what it told the two courts of appeal it would do.”

EPSA’s Shelk noted that following that filing of the government’s brief that the two circuit courts relied on, “FERC found in a contested proceeding that adverse impacts from nuclear ZECs make existing PJM wholesale market rules unjust and unreasonable and thus unlawful under the Federal Power Act. FERC now has a legal duty to establish effective mitigation measures to keep ZEC bailouts and certain other out-of-market subsidies from producing the uncompetitive outcomes that prompted EPSA to pursue this litigation in the first place.”


Other electric industry news items of interest:

New Westar Energy rates in Kansas will benefit average customer but not solar power users. State officials have approved a settlement that will lower Westar Energy rates for most customers, but substantially raise costs for homeowners who provide some of their own power with solar panels. The Kansas Corporation Commission approved the settlement unanimously over objections from environmental groups who said it will strangle the budding home-solar industry in Kansas. The deal will save regular customers who get all their power from Westar an average of about $3.80 a month. But it will hit customers with home solar panels with a separate charge that could cost them an extra $27 to $36 a month, making it less worthwhile to invest in home generation. The extra charge for solar customers is called a “demand charge” and amounts to $9 per kilowatt for the solar customer’s highest usage for one hour each month in the summer, $3 in the winter when demand on the power system is lower. The settlement was crafted by Westar, commission staff, the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer board and several commercial interests that joined the case.

Massachusetts clean energy advocates welcome SMART program order. Massachusetts solar advocates are pleased to see that the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has issued its order on the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART, program. This will not only enable the launch of the program, it will allow the Massachusetts’ solar industry to begin to invest in new projects and return much-needed solar jobs to the Commonwealth. We look forward to reviewing the order and working with the Department of Energy Resources, our members, and other stakeholders to work out final details and ensure the program is implemented successfully and to the greatest economic and environmental benefit of all Massachusetts residents and businesses. “While historically a national leader on solar, the Massachusetts solar industry has slowed over the past two years. The issuance of the SMART Order is the critical step needed for solar to ramp up in the Commonwealth again,” said Janet Gail Besser, NECEC Executive Vice President. “SMART is expected to save ratepayers 4.7 billion dollars and create thousands of jobs. This is certainly an exciting time for solar in Massachusetts.”

PSEG plans $4.1 Billion clean energy investment in N.J. New Jersey’s biggest utility says it can make money by getting its customers to use less of what it sells. Public Service Enterprise Group’s electric and gas distributor is proposing to spend $4.1 billion on programs designed to help New Jersey meet its clean energy goals, according to a statement Thursday. The initiatives would save customers an estimated $7.4 billion, the Newark-based company said. “This may be the only industry in America making a business case to sell you less of its product,” Chief Executive Officer Ralph Izzo said in an interview. “It’s counter-intuitive. If you think of our product not as electricity or gas, but you think of our product as infrastructure that allows you to make the optimal use of that electricity and gas, then we can grow our bottom line at the same time that we lower the customer’s bill and improve the environment.” Utilities across the country are moving to invest in grid upgrades and new technologies designed to help states achieve green-energy mandates put in place in part to combat climate change. It’s a rare opportunity for growth in an industry that’s been grappling with tepid demand as consumers use more-efficient appliances and produce their own power with solar panels. New Jersey recently passed a law that requires utilities to reduce customers’ annual electric and gas consumption by 2 percent and 0.75 percent, respectively.

Arizona electric co-ops look to short-circuit Prop 127 renewable energy mandate. Proposition 127, to be decided in the Nov. 6 general election, seeks to increase the state’s renewable portfolio standards, requiring that electric utilities acquire a minimum amount of electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass, certain hydropower, geothermal and landfill gas energies.  Current standards set by the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, requires 15 percent electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. Proposition 127 would require electric utilities to step increase renewable energy sources to 50 percent by 2030. “Prop. 127 is a constitutional amendment, so if it goes in, it doesn’t come back out again,” said Grand Canyon Electric Cooperative Association spokesman John Wallace. “People should vote against this because this is a bad California mandate that’s coming into our state and it will result in significant price increases in your rates and you can see that in California already. They pay 47 percent higher rates than the rest of the country — We’re not against solar. It has to make sense and it has to be reliable and affordable.”

AEP Ohio customers to get $607 million after corporate tax savings settlement. Bill credits totaling $263 million will begin following the PUCO’s approval of the settlement and will continue for the next six years. The savings are in addition to $66 million in tax reductions that have been reflected in customer bills since January, officials said. An additional $278 million will be credited over the next 20 years through the Distribution Investment Rider, which allows AEP Ohio to continue making distribution system upgrades, building a smarter energy grid and providing more reliable service to its customers, according to AEP officials.

Liberty Utilities unveils renewable gas plan at New Hampshire landfill. Liberty Utilities wants to transform all the methane coming out of the North Country Environmental Services landfill in Bethlehem into enough gas to supply 6 percent of its New Hampshire customers’ energy needs, the utility announced Thursday. The project, which will be one of the first, and the largest, renewable natural gas projects in New England, would result in lower prices for customers, if the company is able to sell thermal renewable energy credits, or TRECs. In addition, said Susan Fleck, president of the company’s New Hampshire operations, “this project will reduce air emissions, develop a local renewable resource, lower fuel costs for our customers and create jobs and economic development in the North Country.” A third party, Rudarpa Inc., based in Utah, would collect the gas, remove impurities to turn it into the chemical equivalent of natural gas and then compress it into trucks, which would then deliver the product to Liberty’s facilities in Concord, Keene and perhaps Lebanon. Liberty would then be able to decompress the gas to serve the 92,000 homes and businesses in the 31 communities it serves.

$3 billion Hoover Dam project hopes to bring power plant into 21st century (video). Hoover Dam is one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century. Built during the Great Depression, it was the biggest public works project in the country. Now, as California and the West expand into renewable energy, there’s a $3 billion plan to bring the power plant into the 21st century. The project calls for a wind- and solar-powered pump station to be built 20 miles downstream. Water would be pumped back up to Lake Mead through underground pipes and sent back down during periods of higher demand. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a proponent of green energy, is also behind the plan. “You’re talking about a price tag of $3 billion. That’s a lot of money,” CBS News’s Jamie Yuccas said. “The cost of inaction is more,” Garcetti responded. “We’ve got drought and fires in the West. We’re going to be talking about 100 billions, trillions of dollars of costs if we don’t confront climate change now.”

Dutch offshore wind farms will still need taxpayer subsidies in 2022: audit office. It is not yet possible to build wind farms at sea without government subsidies, the Netherlands national audit office said on Thursday. The audit office was looking at claims by economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes, who said earlier this year he expected the first offshore Dutch wind farm without government money would come on stream in 2022. The audit office said energy generation at sea is becoming cheaper, and will have gone down 40% in price by 2023, compared with 2013. However, the audit office said, government subsidies will still be needed to pay for the link to the national grid. The government has set aside €4bn to help pay for offshore wind farms up to 2023 – money which is collected via domestic energy bills. This means, the audit office said, the wind farms which will be finished in 2022 will not be the first in the world without subsidies.


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Last-minute agreement reached on Vogtle nuclear plant project; U.S. appeals court upholds nuclear power subsidies in New York (09/27/18)

Today’s lede: Vogtle nuclear project to continue with Southern Co. assuming greater responsibility for future cost overruns. After extending a deadline twice as disagreements were aired publicly, the joint owners of the $27 billion nuclear power expansion project at Georgia’s Plant Vogtle agreed to terms that will allow the massive construction project to continue despite last month’s announcement of yet another round of cost overruns. According to a Securities and Exchange Commission 8-K filing, lead project owner Southern Co.’s Georgia Power would absorb a higher proportion of future cost overruns according to state thresholds. The agreement also provides for Georgia Power to potentially buy out the other partners’ ownership stakes in the face of further cost overruns.

In a joint statement late Wednesday, Georgia Power and the other major owners, Oglethorpe Power Corp. and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, reached an agreement that “mitigates financial exposure,” the Associated Press reports. “While there have been and will be challenges throughout this process, we remain committed to a constructive relationship with each other and are focused on reducing project risk and fulfilling our commitment to our customers,” the statement said.

The U.S. Department of Energy, which had weighed in at the height of the seemingly fraught negotiations, calling the Vogtle project a “linchpin” of federal energy policy and threatening to seek immediate payment of federal loans for the project, issued a statement praising the agreement. DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said the agency is “pleased with today’s vote to proceed with the construction of Vogtle 3&4. This historic project will be the first large-scale nuclear utility project completed in the United States in over 30 years and will reaffirm America’s international leadership in nuclear technology and provide a reliable, clean power source for decades to come. DOE hopes the successful completion of this project will mark the beginning of a nuclear renaissance in America.”

The high-stakes negotiations that led to the agreement were triggered by Southern’s announcement last month that the plant would incur in excess of $2 billion in further cost overruns on an already delayed and over-budget project. This triggered a contract clause calling for 90 percent of the project’s ownership to agree to proceed with construction. As of the Monday deadline, Georgia Power and MEAG had agreed to push forward, but very late in the day Oglethorpe announced that it would only agree to move forward if costs were capped to limit its co-op members’ financial exposure. This triggered another two days of negotiations leading to the agreement outlined in the 8-K.

Against this backdrop was an advertising campaign by the Jacksonville, Fla., electric authority, which seeks to get out from under its financial exposure to ballooning costs for the project through a contract with MEAG. The Florida municipal utility has filed a lawsuit to get out from under its increasing financial burden, prompting a countersuit by MEAG. Jacksonville also made a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeking a ruling that its contract is no longer just and reasonable.

The 8-K outlines specific terms for Georgia Power to buy MEAG’s production tax credits from the project in the event litigation or default by Jacksonville “materially impedes” MEAG’s financial contributions to the construction project. Alternatively, Georgia Power could provide financing to MEAG.

In the lead up to the agreement to continue, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal had publicly called for the project owners to stand by their contractual commitment to the project as some 20 Georgia lawmakers raised concerns about the financial exposure of customers at small municipal utilities and co-ops that lacked shareholders to absorb cost overruns.

Amid the public posturing by Jacksonville, Georgia politicians and DOE, Georgia Power and Oglethorpe exchanged bitter public statements indicating the fraught nature of the talks. Georgia Power accused Oglethorpe Power of “using the vote to try to burden others with its obligations and extract unreasonable concessions,” while Oglethorpe blasted the Southern Co. utility for waging what it called a “misinformation campaign.”

Despite the agreement, this is likely not the end of rancor and wrangling over the expensive effort to develop the first new nuclear plant in the U.S. in three decades and for project owners’ efforts to limit financial exposure. Given the project’s track record and its complexity, odds are there will be more cost overruns in the future.

“We’re very concerned about today’s announcement because it’s clear the Plant Vogtle nuclear project is in serious trouble if this much arm twisting is necessary to keep all four partners at the table,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution quotes Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Liz Coyle, executive director of Georgia Watch, a consumer advocacy group, told the newspaper that apparently “the owners have decided to plow ahead with a project that holds continued uncertainty and certainly clear risk of major cost increases and very little, if any true protections for Georgia’s electric customers.”

Gov. Deal welcomed the agreement to continue the new nuclear build, which he said “will ensure that Georgia citizens have a long-term, affordable and sustainable energy source.”

Southern Co.’s assumption of greater financial liability for the massive nuclear development project probably won’t sit well with investors. The utility already has absorbed billions for its failed effort to develop a clean-coal facility in Mississippi. Vincent Kruger writes in MarketWatch about the “implied volatility” of Southern’s stock price being indicative that investors perceive Southern “to be riskier than its peers.” Of the 20 analysts covering the utility giant, 10 rated the stock as a “hold,” two rated it as a “buy,” six rated it as a “sell,” and two rated it as a “strong sell,” according to Kruger.

Robert Riesen, writing in, suggests there isn’t “enough upside for a company that’s not in a great financial position” and advises investors to pass on Southern as a buying opportunity after the stock has sunk 20 percent off of its 52-week high. “Southern Company has not been able to afford its dividend payment for a long time, which has been a major contributing factor in its increasing debt levels. Low growth and high capital requirements will likely continue being issues for producing free cash flow in the future,” Riesen writes. “Southern Company’s debt stands at $49.7 billion, which is more than twice the amount of revenue the company produces annually. Based on my comparables analysis, this leverage is higher than any relevant peer.”

Appeals court upholds nuclear power subsidies in New York. The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has affirmed New York’s zero-emissions credit program providing economic subsidy for certain nuclear power producers in the state, rejecting an appeal from merchant power producers who argued that the ZEC program was preempted by the Federal Power Act. The ruling is very similar to a recent decision from the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upholding a ZEC program in Illinois.

“We conclude that the ZEC program is not field preempted, because plaintiffs have failed to identify an impermissible ‘tether’ under Hughes v. Talen Energy Marketing, LLC, 136 S. Ct. 1288, 1293 (2016) between the ZEC program and wholesale market participation; that the ZEC program is not conflict preempted, because plaintiffs have failed to identify any clear damage to federal goals; and that plaintiffs lack Article III standing as to the dormant Commerce Clause claim,” the 2nd Circuit court judges said, acknowledging that their conclusions are “consistent” with the recent 7th Circuit court ruling.

Hughes v. Talen is a landmark Supreme Court case in which the court concluded that Maryland’s subsidy program for new generation development in the state was preempted by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority under the Federal Power Act, since the state subsidies relied on the new generation bidding capacity into the FERC-regulated PJM Interconnection market.

“Today’s ruling represents the fourth instance in which a federal court has upheld state nuclear programs,” writes Tim Fox in a research note for clients of ClearView Energy Partners. “Eight federal judges have now upheld ZEC programs against preemption and dormant commerce clause challenges. If ZEC opponents seek review at the U.S. Supreme Court (via a petition for a writ of certiorari) we think they face an uphill battle. Whether they appeal the rulings or no, we expect ZEC opponents to continue to advocate for changes to wholesale market rules to address growing concerns regarding potential distortions arising from state policies’ impacts on those markets.”

The latter part of Fox’s statement would appear to reference ongoing proceedings before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has found that state generation subsidy programs, such as the ZEC programs in Illinois and New York, have rendered PJM’s capacity auction market results unjust and unreasonable under the Federal Power Act.

A coalition of nuclear energy producers, the American Wind Energy Association, environmental groups and consumer advocates has issued a set of principles they hope will guide FERC as it prepares an order rewriting PJM’s capacity market construct. Both Utility Dive and RTO Insider have detailed reports on the principles.

Clean energy groups outline principles for PJM capacity market reform. There is another proceeding under way at FERC that tackles the same issues in the New England market.

How soon FERC will take to address these fractious issues would appear to be reliant on more than the procedural schedule. The orders were approved in 3-2 votes on party lines, with the two sitting Democrats voting in opposition. Commissioner Robert Powelson left the commission shortly after the votes to take a plum job in the private sector, leaving the commission with a 2-2 split on the matter. It remains to be seen whether the White House will advance a Republican nominee before the current session of Congress adjourns at the end of the year, providing FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre a tie-breaking vote.


Other electric industry news items of interest:

Consumers Energy ‘leverages’ clean-energy IRP with demand for lower PURPA contract costs. Three months after unveiling a widely celebrated plan to phase out coal and add solar capacity, Consumers Energy is warning stakeholders that it may need to go back to the drawing board if Michigan regulators won’t let it pay a lower rate to independent power producers. Consumers Energy filed its long-term integrated resource plan with state regulators in June. It calls for a major shift from coal to solar by 2040 but also assumes concessions from renewable developers and others who sell power to the company under the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act. Critics say the utility’s demand is an attempt to subvert an ongoing, two-year-old rate case before the Michigan Public Service Commission that is specifically looking at the company’s avoided cost rate, the amount utilities have to pay independent generators under the federal law. It’s latest dispute between advocates and the utility over PURPA. “Clearly they’re trying to leverage the good parts of their plan to get changes in PURPA that would otherwise be out of reach,” said Becky Stanfield, senior director of western states with Vote Solar, which is joined by the Environmental Law and Policy Center and Ecology Center in the challenge.

TVA not violating Clean Water Act at Gallatin coal ash pond, 6th Circuit rules. A federal appeals court this week concluded that the Tennessee Valley Authority is not violating the Clean Water Act at its unlined Gallatin coal ash storage pond near the Cumberland River, but did say the pollutants leaking into groundwater are a “major environmental problem.” In 2017, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee ruled in favor of environmental groups and directed TVA to move the waste to lined pits — a process utility officials said could cost $2 billion. However, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit on Monday disagreed with the lower court and told environmental groups the proper route to challenge the contamination is through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Public Service Co. of Oklahoma seeks $88 million electricity rate increase. Oklahoma’s second largest electricity provider said it’s seeking an $88 million rate increase to upgrade aging infrastructure and become more efficient. Public Service Company of Oklahoma asked the Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Wednesday to authorize a rate increase to replace and upgrade infrastructure and invest in new technology to improve reliability and efficiency. PSO said the rate increase would amount to about $7 per month for a typical residential customer.

Building a better energy future in Puerto Rico. As Puerto Rico rebuilds its electricity grid and considers the future of PREPA, policymakers should take the opportunity to enact changes to its regulatory system that will better enable the island’s utility to serve residents and businesses while building a cleaner, more affordable, and more reliable energy system. The good news is that Puerto Rican policymakers don’t have to start entirely from square one: They can and should take lessons from other states’ experiences. This report examines six states—California, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York—that are at the forefront of grid modernization. First, it explains how these states have set up regulation of their electric utilities. It then examines how these states have pursued broad electricity system modernization, either through regulation or legislation. Next, it looks specifically at how these states have incentivized their electric utilities to simultaneously pursue goals for emissions reduction and for renewable energy deployment, affordability, and reliability. Finally, based on the author’s review of the policies and regulatory systems in these states, this report makes recommendations for how Puerto Rico can apply these lessons to its own electricity sector.

NuScale small modular nuclear reactor enters first manufacturing phase. NuScale Power has selected BWX Technologies Inc (BWXT) as the first manufacturer of its small modular reactor. This marks the transition to the manufacturing phase and represents major progress in bringing the technology to market, NuScale said yesterday. Portland, Oregon-based NuScale selected BWXT following an 18-month selection process to determine the best company to refine NuScale’s design for manufacturability, assembly and transportability. Virginia-based BWXT will immediately start work on the first manufacturing phase, which will continue until June 2020. BWXT expects to use Pennsylvania-based Precision Custom Components as a component manufacturing contractor on the project. NuScale said it will contract for the remaining two phases, preparation for fabrication then fabrication, at a later date.

General Electric, once America’s most valuable company, is now in sharp decline. In a year full of dubious landmarks, GE has encountered another: The storied conglomerate is now worth less than $100 billion. That hasn’t happened since March 2009 — during the Great Recession. GE’s (GE) stock crash — down by nearly two-thirds since the end of 2016 — has knocked the company down to the 59th most valuable in the S&P 500. It’s a stunning reversal. GE was No. 1 in the S&P 500 as recently as 2004, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. At the time, it was worth nearly $400 billion. GE’s struggles got it kicked out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average this summer. GE was an original member of the exclusive index in 1896 and had been in it continuously for 110 years. Plunging profits and mounting debt have driven GE’s shares down by 35% this year. Only four S&P 500 companies have had a worse 2018. The most remarkable part about GE’s decline is it comes at a time when the American economy and stock market are soaring. Rival industrial companies including Honeywell and United Technologies are booming.


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Decision on fate of Vogtle nuclear expansion delayed another day amid public spat; Eversource distances utility from its lawyer’s call for ending residential electricity choice in N.H. (09/26/18)

Today’s lede: Vogtle nuclear project partners extend deadline again as disagreements spill into public view. The fate of the only nuclear power plant project under construction in the U.S. will be subject to yet another delay as a last-minute demand from funding partner Oglethorpe Power Corp. to cap costs for the massively over-budget $28 billion project has stalled a decision on whether to continue with the new nuclear build effort.

The revelation from construction-supervising partner Southern Co. that the project would go another $2.3 billion over budget prompted a contract clause requiring 90 percent of the funding partners to agree to continuing the effort. Southern’s Georgia Power announced that its shareholders would absorb the company’s share of the cost overrun, and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia also agreed as of the original Monday deadline that it would continue with the project, despite litigation and a filing with federal regulators by the Jacksonville electric authority to get out from under its contractual obligations to the project through MEAG.

But late Monday, Oglethorpe said it would only agree to continue the project if its costs are capped going forward, prompting an extension of the deadline until Tuesday. That extension proved insufficient, as the discussions were subsequently postponed another 24 hours yesterday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

“As of late Tuesday evening, Vogtle’s owners hadn’t finalized how to bridge their differences and keep the multi-billion-dollar nuclear project alive,” Matt Kempner and Anastaciah Ondieki report in the AJC. “Negotiations were slated to continue Wednesday, with a new deadline set for 5 p.m. ‘in order to finalize details of an agreement among the co-owners and seek necessary approvals,’ according to a brief press release.”

Oglethorpe’s last-minute demand to be protected from future cost overruns prompted a statement from Georgia Power accusing the electric co-op of seeking to “avoid obligations that it undertook when it became an owner of the project,” according to the AJC. “Instead of taking a long-term view, Oglethorpe Power is using the vote to try to burden others with its obligations and extract unreasonable concessions,” Georgia Power said.

Oglethorp responded, accusing Georgia Power of engaging in “a misinformation campaign.” Oglethorpe reaffirmed that “we hope Plant Vogtle will become a reality and that the hardworking people on the project will not lose their jobs. However, we cannot abdicate our duty to our members.”

“We never signed up for a project where we would just be a blank checkbook for Southern Company or anybody else in this project,” said Gary Miller, chief executive of Ogelthorpe member co-op Greystone Power Corp. “We never said, ‘Build it no matter what the cost.’ ”

Eversource: Utility lawyer’s call to end residential competition in N.H. ‘not the company’s position’. A regulatory compliance attorney for Eversource made headlines when he suggested at an energy summit in Concord, N.H., that consumers would save money if New Hampshire ended competitive retail sales in the residential market, requiring those customers to instead rely on utility default service. Citing concerns in Massachusetts that led the state’s attorney general to call for an end to the residential market in that state, Robert Bersak suggested “a low-hanging fruit thing that should be done is to think about doing away with residential competition on the retail level.”

Contacted by Bob Sanders, a reporter with the New Hampshire Business Review, a spokeswoman for Eversource disassociated the utility from its lawyer’s remarks. “Bob was not suggesting that Eversource is calling for an end to the competitive electricity supply market in the state, and that is not the company’s position,” said Kaitlyn Woods.

Sanders’ report provides some more context to the panel discussion where Bersak made his headline-garnering remarks. Don Kreis, New Hampshire’s consumer advocate, called Bersak’s suggestion “a little drastic,” but long-time electric industry veteran Dan Allegretti dismissed the alternative Kreis offered – to require competitive retail suppliers to sell at or below the utility default price. “How can we offer a price below the cost of something I do not know yet?” Allegretti asked rhetorically, suggesting instead that, “Comprehensive transparency would capture competitive efficiency.”

Somewhat buried in the New Hampshire Business Review story was an interesting discussion about a New Hampshire Supreme Court decision finding the state Public Utilities Commission could allow utilities’ customers to subsidize projects if the result would be lower electricity costs, a ruling that might provide a second chance to Eversource’s rejected Northern Pass transmission project intended to bring cheap Canadian hydropower to New England.

Sanders quotes Kreis as saying the state court decision may have caused the competitive supply industry to suffer a “fatal heart attack.” Citing the state’s experience with developing expensive nuclear power, Kreis said utility shareholders, not consumers, should bear the risk of such investment. Noting the rise in consumer subsidies for generation facilities in competitive markets, such as Exelon’s Mystic generating facility in Massachusetts, Kreis called it “sadly ironic that just as restructuring concludes, it is now under siege.” Utilities will always want “their toys” at the ratepayer’s risk, he said.

“But Bersak said electricity is not like other commodities and should not be left totally to supply and demand,” Sanders reports. While Eversource, after being required to divest its generation, isn’t “anxious” to resume building, it would be “crazy” not to if the result would be lower consumer prices or improved grid reliability, Bersak said. “If the goal is to reduce electricity it doesn’t make sense to say, no, you utilities can’t play.”


More electric industry news items of interest:

South Carolina regulatory staff says utility’s nuclear project spending ‘imprudent’. South Carolina Electric & Gas should have abandoned construction of a Fairfield County nuclear plant more than two years before the project ultimately collapsed, state regulators argue in their latest filing, adding the utility’s ratepayers should not be expected to pay for any of the project’s costs after 2015. In testimony filed late Monday with the state Public Service Commission, the Office of Regulatory Staff argued all SCE&G’s construction costs to add two more nuclear reactors to the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station should be disallowed after March 12, 2015, as “imprudent.” That translates to disallowing about $1.87 billion in costs by SCE&G and its corporate parent, SCANA. From that date onward, regulators argue, “SCE&G knew construction was delayed by years and would cost billions more than it was telling the Public Service Commission.” “SCE&G deliberately and repeatedly misled the PSC and ORS by withholding key information on the projected construction schedule,” nuclear industry expert Gary Jones says in his prefiled testimony for Regulatory Staff.

‘All you doing is ripping us off’: S.C. power customers plead for lasting rate relief. About 100 SCE&G customers packed into a hearing room Monday night to vent their frustrations and plead for permanent rate relief from a failed nuclear expansion project that will never generate power. Monday’s hearing before the S.C. Public Service Commission was the first of three scheduled across the state to hear testimony from customers before commissioners consider whether to approve Virginia-based Dominion Energy’s pending merger with SCE&G’s parent company SCANA and how much the company can charge ratepayers for the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear project, if at all. “All you doing is ripping us off,” SCE&G customer and Columbia resident Queen Lewis told the utilities’ lawyers. “Now, we are suffering for it.”

Traders lost millions on bad bets on FTRs in PJM’s power market. GreenHat Energy wagered on an electricity traffic jam that never happened. Now utilities, manufacturers, and residential customers are left to deal with the losses. Starting in 2015, Andrew Kittell and John Bartholomew, veterans of JPMorgan Chase & Co., plunked down millions of dollars in bets in an obscure corner of the energy market. Their strategy depended on certain parts of America’s largest electric grid being congested, driving up power prices. But the wagers fizzled. Their portfolio, valued by some at more than $150 million, soon cratered. After failing to pay up for losing positions in June, their firm, GreenHat Energy LLC, was declared in default. And now everyone from utilities to manufacturers and residential customers are left holding the bag to make up the tens of millions of dollars in losses. Beyond that, the trading collapse shows how complex and opaque some parts of America’s energy markets have become. That’s made them vulnerable to potential gaming by Wall Street players. “The whole thing is a mess and a disaster,” says Marjorie Philips, a director of federal services at Direct Energy, a retail provider of electricity to homes and businesses. “GreenHat was allowed to take a very large position that may have made economic sense at one point. But like everybody else, they were probably hoping to hit the jackpot, and they didn’t.” GreenHat and Kittell, through an attorney, declined to comment; Bartholomew could not be reached for comment. GreenHat, based in Houston, bought hedges in a market administered by PJM Interconnection LLC, which oversees the wholesale electric grid that serves 65 million people from Chicago to Washington, D.C. The hedges are known as financial transmission rights, or FTRs.

Spokane, Wash., mayor vetoes 100 percent renewables mandate. How sad to read that Spokane’s mayor is out of step on the city’s commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030; a commitment by the City Council, supported by a huge array of citizens’ groups and businesses — including Avista, no less. Instead, the mayor aligns with out-of-town money, concocting falsehoods about vastly rising electricity rates without showing any evidence for his claims. Then he says the renewables goal will be met entirely by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits rather than by generating clean power, which is also untrue. Fast-growing wind already provides our lowest-cost electricity, and ever-cheaper solar will undercut even that within five years. Meanwhile, coming state legislation for community solar will open up the generation market, further cutting costs. Eastern Washington is ideal for both solar and wind, and this ordinance will create demand to build it.

Shell sits out Washington State’s carbon fight. Royal Dutch Shell is sitting out a multi-million dollar fight over a carbon fee proposal in Washington state even as nearly all other oil companies with operations there rally to oppose it. It’s a sign of the oil industry’s uneven, years-long evolution toward supporting policies that put a price on carbon emissions. And whether Washington State voters support the initiative, which is on the state-wide ballot this Election Day, will be a bellwether for other attempts at big climate policy.

Colorado co-op hires consultants to consider market alternatives to Tri-State contract. La Plata Electric Association is exploring alternatives to purchasing power from its wholesale power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Tri-State caps how much renewable power LPEA can purchase from outside sources at 5 percent, and that has generated some interest among co-op members in buying out of the contract as the price of renewable energy has fallen dramatically. LPEA’s contract with Tri-State does not expire until 2050. Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in Taos, New Mexico, showed that leaving Tri-State was possible when it bought out of its contract in 2016. It plans to generate enough solar energy to power its grid during the day by 2022. Whether LPEA should explore a buyout was a contentious issue in the April election. As a result of that contest, balance of the board shifted in favor of more aggressively pursuing renewable energy. In August, the LPEA board voted 11-1 to form a power supply committee that will explore the wholesale power market and the value of its contract with Tri-State, said Ron Meier, manager of engineering and member relations. “What we’re trying to do is number one, come up with cleaner energy, and number two, lower the cost (of electricity),” said LPEA board member Guinn Unger.

Nevada city officials weigh opposing electricity choice ballot measure, Question 3. Elko City Council plans to consider a resolution opposing Question 3, the Energy Choice Initiative, at its 4 p.m. Sept. 25 meeting. The resolution outlines reasons why the city is against the November ballot question and comes after the council heard presentations by speakers from both sides of the issue. Reasons listed against the constitutional amendment include that Question 3 “would dismantle Nevada’s existing electricity system, one of the most reliable and affordable in the nation, and replace it with a new, unknown system established by the legislature and courts.” Another reason is that Question 3 “would deregulate the existing electricity market without having a wholesale electricity market in place,” and the resolution also states that the initiative “would shut down Nevada’s current rooftop solar program, which serves over 23,000 homes and small businesses across Nevada and is rapidly growing.”

West Virginia lags in natural gas power generation. Despite West Virginia’s abundance of natural gas resources, coal remains king in the Mountain State — at least when it comes to power-generation facilities. Doug Douglass, a consultant for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said generating electric power from shale gas is something the Mountain State is missing out on when compared to neighboring states that have already begun to tap into this resource. “If you compare us primarily to Ohio and Pennsylvania and you look at how much gas each of those states use for power generation, Ohio — 30 percent of their electricity is by natural gas power plants,” he said. “Pennsylvania is 32 percent, and West Virginia is 1 percent. On the flip side of that, in Ohio, 51.5 percent is generated by coal; Pennsylvania, 21.1 percent; West Virginia, 92.5 percent. So, you can see it’s very lopsided toward coal power generation, and that has kind of made sense historically based on us being some of the largest coal producers.”

Ohio’s rapidly growing energy industry attracts over $70 billion in investment. Ohio has emerged as a national leader in energy, largely due to the state’s shale industry, which has served as the biggest driver of energy growth in the country and has contributed to the attraction of over $70 billion in new private sector energy investments in Ohio alone. Much of this growth can be attributed to Ohio’s proximity to the Utica and Marcellus shale formations in eastern Ohio, offering an abundance of low-cost natural gas.

Jim Ross: Trend toward gas-fueled electricity hurts coal. In the first half of this year, West Virginia’s coal-fired plants produced 30,701 megawatt hours of electricity. That was down 8 percent from the first half of last year, according to numbers compiled by the federal Energy Information Administration. Power from natural gas increased by almost 12 percent, but the total amount – 560 megawatts – was minuscule compared with coal-fired electricity. Overall, West Virginia’s electricity production fell 7 percent in the first half. Coal accounted for about 92 percent of the state’s total production. Meanwhile in Ohio, coal-fired electricity decreased by nearly 19 percent while total production was up about 2 percent. The difference was natural gas, which saw its power production go up about 59 percent. As coal plants in Ohio were retired from service, newer natural gas plants took their place in the market. The situation is similar in Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Coal-fired power is on the decline and gas-fired power is on the rise.

California weighs an additional $2,000 subsidy for electric cars. California will hold a hearing this week on offering a $4,500 subsidy for each pure electric vehicle sold in the state, up from the current $2,500, even as customers from Tesla Inc. and General Motors Co. face the loss of even bigger federal credits. The federal government now offers a $7,500 tax credit on electric vehicles sold. The credit is designed to start ratcheting downward once the companies have grown enough to sell a total of 200,000 vehicles each. Tesla passed this threshold in July and GM is getting close. In comments Monday, Mary Nichols, chair of the state’s Air Resources Board, said she hasn’t abandoned hope that Congress will lift the cap so more electric-car buyers can qualify for the federal credit. If not, she said, “we would be having to look at another way to make up for that.”

N.J. utilities shouldn’t cut power for seriously ill people, lawmaker says. Earlier this summer, a New Jersey grandmother who had heart failure and was breathing from an oxygen tank to stay alive died after PSE&G shut off the power in her home. A spokesperson for PSE&G said the account for Linda Daniels had been in arrears for months, multiple attempts to contact her had been made and the utility was not aware she had medical issues. But members of the Daniels’ family claimed they had told PSE&G about her situation and the bill had been paid. One Garden State lawmaker wants to make sure this kind of tragedy never happens again. State Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen, has introduced a measure that would prohibit electric utilities in New Jersey from shutting off service if it could put the life of someone seriously ill at risk. “People would be able to register as having a medical condition that required the electricity to be continued,” he said.

Owners vote to shut down Texas coal plant by 2020. A north Texas coal-fired power plant will shut down in 2020 after it couldn’t make money in the Texas power market. The nearly 700 megawatt Oklaunion plant near Vernon couldn’t compete in the market run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT, said AEP Texas spokesman Greg Blair. “The owners voted to close the plant between April and Oct. of 2020. There’s a lot more approvals that need to be gotten before that happens, but really the plant was no longer competitive in the ERCOT market,” Blair said. He added that approximately 80 workers would be affected by the closure. AEP and its subsidiaries own a 70 percent stake in the plant, with the City of Brownsville and Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority owning 18 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

Dominion to sell stakes in 3 merchant plants for $1.3 billion. Dominion Energy announced Monday it has reached an agreement to sell its stakes in three merchant power plants in two transactions, totaling 1,900 MW of capacity spread across the U.S. Northeast and Southeast. The deals include the sale of two gas plants and a share of hydro production, for more than $1.3 billion. Total proceeds had been expected to range from $1 billion to $1.5 billion when the possible sale was announced this summer. Despite the decision to sell two gas plants, Dominion retains a strong commitment to the resource for its future generating portfolio.

ATCO enters Mexico’s wholesale electricity market as a Qualified Supplier. ATCO announced today that its Mexican subsidiary, ATCO Energía, will enter Mexico’s wholesale electricity market after receiving approval from the National Center for Energy Control (CENACE) to provide electricity and related services as a Qualified Supplier. ATCO Energía anticipates commencing operations by the end of 2018. “ATCO has a long and proud history of delivering safe, efficient and reliable energy to people in Canada and Australia and we are now bringing that expertise to Mexico,” said Wayne Stensby, Managing Director for ATCO’s Electricity Global Business Unit. As a Qualified Supplier, ATCO Energía will competitively supply energy, capacity, ancillary services and Clean Energy Certificates to Qualified Users (i.e. those customers with aggregate demand of more than 1 MW, such as commercial and industrial facilities). Prior to the country’s energy reforms, all consumers were required to meet their electricity needs through the Federal Energy Commission. “We look forward to helping our customers capitalize on the tremendous potential of Mexico’s wholesale market while enjoying the efficient and innovative service that ATCO provides,” said George Opocensky, ATCO’s Managing Director in Mexico.


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Group advocates bill allowing community choice aggregation in Oregon; Utility official calls for ending residential electricity choice in N.H.; Oglethorpe demands cost cap in moving forward with Vogtle nuclear expansion (09/25/18)

Today’s lede: Group advocating legislation in Oregon to allow community choice aggregation. A group calling itself the Community Renewable Energy Association is working to advance legislation to allow community choice aggregation programs in Oregon, Edward Stratton reports in the Daily Astorian. Stratton describes the group as “focused on increasing green energy sources as a means of economic development in a more competitive energy market.”

“We believe in the ability for communities to determine what’s the best power supply portfolio to best serve their communities,” said Brian Skeahan, the association’s director and a former Washington state public utility official. He expects a first draft of the bill before the month is out. “We think there will be sponsors,” he said. “Those conversations are already beginning.”

The group anticipates the measure to receive pushback from the three investor-owned electric utility companies operating in the state. PacifiCorp’s Pacific Power, one of those IOUs, is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Corp. Berkshire Hathaway’s Nevada utility company NV Energy is spending millions to defeat a state ballot measure in November that would end monopoly price regulation and allow consumers to choose among competing electricity suppliers.

A PacifiCorp spokesman told the Daily Astorian the utility company needs to know more about what advocates are proposing in Oregon. “He cautioned, though, that customers going with community choice aggregation could lose energy efficiency initiatives through the Energy Trust of Oregon, and that the new aggregators would not be able to tap into the federal Bonneville Power Administration like other utilities and districts,” Stratton writes.

The Oregon group is receiving assistance from the Local Energy Aggregation Network, a nonprofit promoting the expansion of community choice aggregation nationwide. “For California programs, all CCAs have offered rates that are below the incumbent utility,” said Executive Director Shawn Marshall, who helped found Marin Clean Energy, a community choice aggregation program in California. “Marin Clean Energy has been going eight years. They’ve been able to keep rates below PG&E 75 percent of the time.”

“This is not an anti-utility effort,” said Alan Hickenbottom, the energy network’s project manager in Oregon. “For me, it’s much more about the realignment of the regulatory environment to reflect today’s reality, in both technology and what people want and what they need.”

Utility official calls for ending residential customer choice in New Hampshire. Utility regulators in New Hampshire are collecting information to determine if the state’s electricity consumers purchasing from competitive retail suppliers are paying more than if they were receiving utility default service, Michael Cousineau writes in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Robert Bersak, chief regulatory counsel for Eversource Energy, cited a recent report from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey asserting that residential electricity consumers were paying too much for electricity from competitive suppliers. She called for Massachusetts to end competitive choice for residential consumers. Bersak said New Hampshire consumers would save money if the Granite State enacted such a prohibition.

“Perhaps a low-hanging fruit thing that should be done is to think about doing away with residential competition on the retail level,” Bersak said during a statewide energy summit. “They’re paying more than they would otherwise,” he said. “And the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission staff is asking utilities to provide data, so they can take a look at what’s going on in New Hampshire.”

Cousineau reports that Don Kreis, New Hampshire’s consumer advocate who participated on the same panel discussion with Bersak, disagreed. “I think eliminating the retail competition would be a little too drastic, but I would certainly favor a scenario that requires competitive electric suppliers to meet or exceed what the incumbent utility is offering for default energy service,” Kreis said.

Another participant in the panel discussion, Dan Allegretti, recently retired from Exelon Corp., parent of competitive retail supplier Constellation, said the process for customers to shop for lower energy costs should be more transparent and convenient, but otherwise panned the suggestion to end residential customer choice, Cousineau reports.

“When you tell people, ‘You know what, we’re just taking your choice away because we just don’t think you’re smart enough to make good choices,’ I think that’s a bad political move,” said Allegretti, calling it “insulting” for New Hampshire consumers. “If you look at the website for retail supply in Massachusetts, the entire period covered by the Attorney General’s report, there were always offers that were below the utility price,” he said. “People just weren’t taking them.”

Some 135,000 Eversource customers on average bought their power from a competitive supplier during the months of April, May and June — representing about a fourth of the Eversource’s total residential load, Cousineau reported, citing figures obtained from the utility.

Drama over continuing Vogtle nuclear expansion project extended for another day. Late in the day Monday, the deadline for funding partners to decide whether to press forward with the nuclear power expansion project at Georgia’s Vogtle nuclear plant despite mushrooming costs, the drama over the fate of the $28 billion project was extended for another day after Oglethorpe Power Corp. announced its support for moving forward with the project was contingent on the other partners agreeing to a cap on costs. The other major funding partners, Southern Co.’s Georgia Power and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, which both had agreed to move forward with the massive construction project, must decide whether to accept Oglethorpe’s condition by the end of the day today. “Capping our costs . . . is a reasonable request and a prudent business decision that would allow the project to move forward,” Mike Smith, Oglethorpe’s president and CEO, said in a statement asserting that Southern Co., which is leading the construction effort, should be willing to shoulder the financial risk. Oglethorpe has “demanded concessions to avoid obligations that it undertook when it became an owner of the project,” Southern’s Georgia Power said.


More electric industry news items of interest:

100 percent renewable energy: Cleveland sets a big goal as it sheds its fossil fuel past. Cleveland joins more than 80 U.S. cities that have committed to get all their electricity from renewable sources. But in Ohio, that might be easier said than done. Cleveland, Ohio, which has worked for years to reinvent itself as it sheds its industrial past, has become the latest major city to announce plans to shift to 100 percent renewable energy sources for electricity. City officials announced the 100 percent renewable power target Thursday as they released an update to Cleveland’s climate action plan, which aims to reduce greenhouses gases to 80 percent below the 2010 level by 2050. The plan discusses cutting emissions through improvements in energy efficiency and building design; developing more renewable energy within the city and region, including offshore wind power in Lake Erie; and increasing the use of public transportation and access to electric vehicle charging to reduce fossil fuel use. It sets a 2050 deadline for getting to 100 percent renewable electricity. But there are no details about how the city will work with its local utilities to implement the plan, an omission that raised concerns among some environmental advocates.

If California wants to go carbon-free, it needs to end its nuclear moratorium. A new state law signed this month, SB 100, requires all of California’s electricity to come from zero-carbon sources by 2045. Many news reports advertised the law as a mandate for renewable energy, but lawmakers in Sacramento quietly acknowledged that the state may need more than wind turbines, solar panels and hydroelectric dams to meet its climate goals. The new law allows up to 40 percent of the state’s electricity to come from other zero-carbon sources, including nuclear energy and fossil fuel plants, as long as they capture their carbon emissions. With retail electricity prices in California already among the highest in the nation, the Legislature was wise to include nuclear power and carbon capture in the mix of energy choices for the future. But to ensure that California has the best chance of getting to zero emissions at costs that its citizens and businesses can tolerate, Sacramento needs to take another important step: Repeal the state’s outdated moratorium on construction of new nuclear plants.

Nevada already has great electricity rates, NV Energy retiree says. Randolph Townsend’s “Your Turn” column (Why put energy choice in the Nevada Constitution?) reminded me why I never voted for him — all political spin, no context. He wants to let a legislature [that] can’t agree on the time of day without a debate and a majority vote make the rules for deregulation affecting everyone 24/7. Six states that tried it reverted back to monopolies. We’d lose that option. It’s insane. Townsend claims between 2008 and 2015, rates in deregulated states decreased 14 percent, while regulated states rose 5 percent. National averages be damned — how does this affect me? I’m kinda anal about some things, one being my use of electricity and its cost. Some actual numbers: In July 2008, the cost per kWh in Reno was $0.12859. In July 2015, it was $0.10159. Not a 5 percent increase; a 23 percent decrease. Going a step further, in July 2018 it was $0.09024 — a decrease of 29 percent. Even allowing for his 14 percent decrease (which will never happen since we already have some of the lowest rates in the country), that’s $7.58 on an average 600 kWh bill. Given all the other benefits NV Energy offers, that’s nothing.

Former federal energy regulators say it’s a ‘fertile time’ for energy choice in Nevada. Two former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission members appointed in the early 2000s — Pat Wood and Nora Brownell — met with reporters at the invitation of the PAC backing the Nevada ballot measure to give their takes on the potential benefits of moving to a competitive retail market. “Market design does matter,” Wood said. “Details do matter when you talk about a project that moves at the speed of light. You’ve got to have oversight, you’ve got to have guardrails in place, but most importantly, you’ve got to have business incentives.” Brownell, who said it was “outrageous” and “offensive” to suggest that electric customers wouldn’t be able to efficiently pick a new electric provider, nonetheless said there were important market design lessons that states with competitive markets had already learned.

RESA calls on Nevadans to vote YES on Question 3. The Retail Energy Supply Association, a national group of retail energy suppliers, is calling on Nevadans to Vote YES on 3, to enable the state to create a competitive energy market for consumers and end the current energy monopoly. Voting YES will give all consumers in the state the choice to decide who provides their electricity and will lead to better prices, more job creation, improved innovation and environmental stewardship. “Opponents to Question 3 are attempting to scare voters with false claims about risks, reliability and costs. The simple reality is that monopolies are unnecessary and inefficient. Competition solves problems, innovates, finds a way, and then repeats these steps again and again. Nevada can join the 13 other states and several countries where competition has flourished and benefited consumers,” said Philip O’Connor, former Illinois utility regulator and RESA spokesman. “When has choice not been a good thing? You choose your cell phone provider, your brand and type of milk, and the car that best suits your needs. Nevadans deserve to choose from energy providers that will offer more sustainable options, create in-demand jobs, and open the market for competitive pricing,” said O’Connor.

Appeals court reverses Tennessee coal ash cleanup order. A federal appellate panel has overturned an order that the nation’s largest public utility must unearth and remove a Tennessee power plant’s coal ash. A 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision Monday says the Clean Water Act does not address leaks from Tennessee Valley Authority’s Gallatin plant coal ash ponds through groundwater into the Cumberland River. In dissent, Judge Eric Clay said the ruling lets polluters escape Clean Water Act liability by moving drainage pipes a few feet from riverbanks. DJ Gerken of the Southern Environmental Law Center said his group is determining next steps. The state has its own lawsuit over Gallatin’s pollution. TVA spokesman William Scott Gureck said the ruling provides clarity.

Power line: Why should York, Pa., subsidize electricity for wealthy Washingtonians? PJM Vice President Steve Herling’s guest column last week finally gave the public in York County, Pa., a good chance to hear from the man behind the curtain. Most people probably never heard of PJM until PJM decided to fix a problem that didn’t need fixing by selecting Transource to build a 13-story transmission line (the “IEC”) through the heart of York County. Mr. Herling is desperate for someone to defend his project, because so far, everyone who learns the details wonders how something this bad ever made it this far.  Let’s learn a little more, and earn a few more naysayers, shall we?

Pa. PUC urges Philly to get rid of ‘duplicative’ gas commission. State regulators again are calling on Philadelphia elected officials to get rid of the “duplicative” Philadelphia Gas Commission, which they say costs city gas customers nearly $1 million a year. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, in an update of its 2015 management audit of the Philadelphia Gas Works, said the city had failed to  address a longstanding suggestion to streamline the “duplicative and unclear governance structure” over the city-owned gas utility. “I urge the City of Philadelphia to seriously evaluate PGW’s governance structure and to create the changes needed to reduce the financial impact that the current duplicative structure has on the city’s ratepayers,” David Sweet, a commissioner, said in a statement.

Grid modernization in N.J. deemed vital to achieving clean-energy goals. State urged to move away from traditional transmission and distribution lines, concentrate instead on ‘non-wire’ new technologies. New Jersey yesterday began soliciting input on how to modernize an aging electric and gas grid, a step some view as perhaps the most important barrier to achieving a clean-energy future. The state may have a long way to go, especially when it comes to integrating renewable energy and other more localized energy resources into the grid, according to those who spoke at a hearing on a new energy master plan. With the Murphy administration setting a target of 100 percent clean energy by 2050, the state must accelerate development of a range of new technologies to make that happen, several speakers argued. The task is complicated by rising pressure to make the grid more resilient to more frequent and more potent storms, an issue driving utilities to seek approval for big investments in strengthening the electric and gas systems. But some argued that should not necessarily result in building traditional transmission and distribution lines to bolster reliability. “A modernized grid should not be focused on more expensive versions of what we’ve been working with for more than a hundred years,’’ said Nicole Sitaraman, a senior manager at SunRun, a prominent residential solar developer. “Decentralization is a critical component.’’

Alabama Power issuing two RFPs for energy projects. Alabama Power is seeking proposals to meet future energy and reliability needs, including proposals for potential renewable energy projects. The company today issued two requests for proposals. One is for a broad range of possible generation projects to meet future capacity and reliability needs. A second request is for renewable energy resources. “We’re always looking for the best ways to meet the needs of our customers while providing the reliable service they expect and deserve,” said John Kelley, Alabama Power’s director of Forecasting and Resource Planning. “With generation technologies evolving and energy prices always changing, we want to see what the market may have to offer.”

GE launches 5.3 MW onshore turbine. GE Renewable Energy has launched a new 5.3 MW onshore turbine model with a 158-meter rotor. The new model joins the previously unveiled 4.8 MW model, with the same rotor, on GE’s “Cypress” platform. Its latest iteration will offer a 50 percent increase in annual energy production over GE’s 3 MW platform, the company claimed.

New forecast model suggests some energy providers may underestimate future electricity demand. A new study suggests the power industry is underestimating how climate change could affect the long-term demand for electricity in the United States. The research, published today in the journal Risk Analysis, was led by the University at Buffalo and Purdue University. It describes the limitations of prediction models used by electricity providers and regulators for medium- and long-term energy forecasting. And it outlines a new model that includes key climate predictors — mean dew point temperature and extreme maximum temperature — that researchers say present a more accurate view of how climate change will alter future electricity demands. “Existing energy demand models haven’t kept pace with our increasing knowledge of how the climate is changing,” says the study’s lead author Sayanti Mukherjee, PhD, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “This is troublesome because it could lead to supply inadequacy risks that cause more power outages, which can affect everything from national security and the digital economy to public health and the environment.”


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Trump administration weighs in as owners to decide today fate of Vogtle nuclear expansion; Tesla’s solar roof product lags in production schedule (09/24/18)

Today’s lede: Op-eds push back against opposition to Nevada energy choice ballot initiative. With a couple op-eds in Las Vegas and Reno newspapers, a former utility regulator and an economic think tank official are trying to counter NV Energy-sponsored efforts to convince voters against supporting the pending ballot initiative to require customer choice in electricity in Nevada, with a little over a month until the decisive November election.

The ballot question passed in November 2016 with more than 70 percent of voters approving a change in the state constitution to end monopoly regulation and allow Nevada consumers to choose among competing electricity suppliers. Because the ballot question would change the constitution, it must be approved a second time in this November’s election.

“With a campaign season upon us, politicians and other usual suspects are again in full swing, promoting over-the-top rhetoric about how the world will end if we don’t vote a certain way. One area of unusual focus this year has been Question 3, a proposed amendment to the Nevada Constitution that would require the Legislature to create ‘an open, competitive retail electric energy market,’” Geoffrey Lawrence, a Las Vegas resident and senior policy fellow with the Reason Foundation, writes in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The potential for the ballot question to pass a second time “has led NV Energy, the state’s current monopoly electricity provider, to pour nearly $12 million into ads intended to scare Nevadans about the implications of choice and competition,” Lawrence writes. “The most oft-cited example is a half-hearted and botched attempt at implementing a retail electricity market by California nearly 20 years ago. But that’s a poor example because California’s regulation included so much price-fixing and needless mandates that it’s hard to characterize the effort as a real attempt at providing consumers with electric choice to begin with.”

Lawrence calls it “good news” for Nevadans that California’s “botched attempt is an extreme outlier in the world of electric choice. At least a dozen states have created competitive retail electricity markets, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and no others have experienced the crisis that California lawmakers created for themselves with their poor design.”

Ending monopoly price regulation for electric utilities has been a huge success in most states, Lawrence maintains, citing Texas as a prominent example. Last year, the Texas Public Utilities Commission reported that retail electric rates have declined by as much as 63 percent since 2001, just prior to implementing a competitive market structure in Texas. “Texans now face electric rates as low as 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to a national average of 13.45 cents. Meanwhile, Nevada’s monopoly structure has led to an overall price increase of 23 percent over the same timeframe and a price of 11.7 cents per kilowatt-hour today for residential customers, according to data from the Department of Energy,” Lawrence writes.

Lawrence also seeks to shoot down arguments that customer choice in electricity represents a threat to renewable energy development in Nevada. The power generation mix in Texas has grown to include “more and more” renewable resources in the years since the state established its choice program, Lawrence maintains.

“Nearly every argument being offered against electric choice is little more than a straw man,” Lawrence concludes. “Of the total $11.9 million raised in opposition to the measure, NV Energy has contributed almost all of it, using money earned from ratepayers. The existing monopoly framework is good for NV Energy, because its profits are broadly determined as a percentage of its costs. As a result, NV Energy knows it can be inefficient and less responsive to its customers than businesses that must compete to attract and retain customers. After all, being tired of dealing with a costly, subpar electricity provider is why Nevadans have forced this issue onto the ballot to begin with.”

Meanwhile, former Pennsylvania utility regulator John Hanger writes in the Reno Gazette Journal that a competitive market will help enable technological innovation and lower prices for electricity.

“The electricity business is on the cusp of technological disruption that will further empower customers and change the way they interact with their electricity company,” Hanger writes. “In states where competition flourishes, technologies such as state-of-the-art smart meters are giving consumers more control of their electricity spending and making it possible for providers to offer customized plans, such as individuals interested in green energy.”

Hanger cites a couple studies indicating that competition helps dampen electricity price increases better than monopoly regulation.

A 2017 study sponsored by the Retail Energy Supply Association concluded that, in states with competitive markets, overall average electricity prices fell by 8 percent from 2008 to 2016, while prices increased 15 percent during the same period in states that have retained monopoly price regulation, Hanger notes. “These double-digit percentage gaps mean that in competitive states, families have more money in their pockets and businesses are more competitive at a global level – and that means jobs,” Hanger writes.

He also cites a paper published recently in the Electricity Journal by an economist with a leading utility economic firm found that retail electricity competition markets had lower prices by 4.3 percent for residential, by 8.2 percent for commercial and by 11.1 percent for industrial. “Of course, this isn’t novel new thinking; every high school student in the U.S. knows that competition works better than monopolies,” Hanger observes.

“Electricity customers are taking notice. Consumers are increasingly seeking out non-utility providers for electricity in competitive markets. Between 2003 and 2016, the number of residential accounts served by non-utility providers increased from 2.3 million to almost 16.5 million. Businesses, too, are making the switch – in 2016, more than 3 million commercial and industrial customers chose non-utility providers, up from fewer than 500,000 in 2003,” Hanger writes.

“In November, Nevada voters can vote yes on Question 3 to allow competition in electricity markets. Homes and businesses – you – will finally be able to choose an electricity company, and companies will have to compete – on price, service and unique plan offerings – to win your business. Just like groceries, shoes and toothpaste, you decide for the first time which electricity company best meets your needs and wants at the best price,” Hanger writes. “For Nevada residents, it’s clear that a “Yes on 3” vote in the November election is a vote for more choice, better prices and a made-in-America competitive market.”

See also:
Weighing in on Question 3. The Retail Energy Supply Association, a national group of retail energy suppliers, on Friday announced its endorsement of Question 3. The energy choice initiative will create a competitive energy market. “The simple reality is that monopolies are unnecessary and inefficient. Competition solves problems, innovates, finds a way, and then repeats these steps again and again,” RESA spokesman Philip O’Connor said.

Monopoly price regulation deemed a barrier to renewable energy choice. Eliminating price regulation could have a positive impact on the renewables market,” Emily Folk suggests in Renewable Energy Magazine. “Customers in deregulated states can choose among various energy suppliers,” Folk writes. This helps enable alternative power suppliers to offer options such as 100 percent “green” electricity supply.

“In states that are highly regulated, such choice is not possible. Utilities might use some renewable resources to generate their electricity, but customers do not often have the same option to choose 100 percent renewables. Utility companies could offer this, but they don’t have competition to incentivize them to come up with such innovative programs or to reduce the prices of their renewable energy offers,” Folk writes.

“The idea is that markets that offer consumers a choice give them a chance to vote with their wallets. This increased participation in the renewables market will help the clean energy sector grow and help customers live greener lifestyles,” Folk notes. “Laws and regulatory directives could be introduced that require them to take these steps, but these routes are often less efficient than letting the market work.”

Trump administration calls Vogtle nuclear plant expansion ‘linchpin’ of national energy strategy. On the eve of a crucial deadline for funding partners to decide whether to continue with the ever-ballooning costs of new nuclear development at the Vogtle nuclear power station in Georgia, the Trump administration weighed in warning that a decision to abandon the development project would result in the Department of Energy demanding immediate repayment of nearly $6 billion in federal loans, the Associated Press reports.

A letter from DOE to the funding partners calls the two new reactors being built to expand the Plant Vogtle nuclear station “a linchpin in the all-of-the-above energy strategy required to sustain our nation’s economic strength and energy independence.” It warns that if the project is scuttled, DOE is “prepared to move swiftly to fully enforce its rights under terms of the loan guarantee agreements, including the repayment provisions.”

About $5.6 billion has been disbursed of an $8.3 billion DOE loan guarantee approved during the Obama administration, AP reports. Another $3.7 billion in load guarantees for the project was approved last year by the Trump administration.

Today is the deadline for funding partners to decide whether to move forward with the project. The deadline was triggered by the revelation last month that the project would go another $2.3 billion over budget, bringing the price tag for the long delayed project to $27 billion, or some three times the original projection. Georgia lawmakers weighed into the debate last week, calling for a cost cap on the project as Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal called for the project sponsors to remain true to their commitment to develop the expansion project. The Jacksonville, Fla., electric authority, meanwhile, is litigating to escape its contractual obligation to the project, and is sponsoring ads in Georgia warning of the mushrooming consumer costs of the effort.

A decision to move forward must be supported by 90 percent of the project’s ownership, meaning a thumbs down from any one of the partners – Southern Co., Oglethorpe Power and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia – potentially dooms the project, unless the remaining partners decide to pick up the pieces. Southern has already announced its shareholders would absorb its share of the cost overruns.

Solar power facilities in North Carolina held up well against Hurricane Florence. Hundreds of small solar facilities in North Carolina came through Hurricane Florence experiencing only minimal damage, Steve Hanley reports in “Conversely, half of Duke Energy’s 3.4 million customers were without power at some point during the storm,” he notes. “The implications about how solar power could help communities create more resilient energy grids to meet the challenge of more frequent and more powerful storms are intuitively obvious to all but the most obdurate clean energy opponent.”

“What we’ve done this week just underscored what we’ve known for decades — generating assets are never the main vulnerability,” says the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Chris Burgess. The most vulnerable asssets are “the wires themselves, the overhead lines,” Burgess observes.

Tesla’s cars aren’t the only products lagging behind production schedule. While Tesla’s difficulties in meeting production targets for its Model 3 sedan have garnered copious headlines, by comparison the company’s troubles with its solar roof tiles have gone under the radar.

Elon Musk unveiled prototypes of Tesla’s solar roof tiles In October 2016.  “The announcement helped Tesla justify its $2.6 billion acquisition of SolarCity one month later and represented Musk’s vision for what the businesses could do together,” Katie Brigham and Lora Kolodny report for CNBC. Tesla has been accepting $1,000 deposits for the roof tiles since May 2017. Tesla says installations will scale up later this year and into 2019.

“We now have several hundred homes with the Solar Roof on them, and that’s going well. It takes a while to just confirm that the Solar Roof is going to last for 30 years and all the details work out,” Musk said on Tesla’s second quarter earnings call in August.

But Brigham and Kolodny cite a Reuters report that, as of May, only 12 Tesla tiled roofs were connected to the grid, all in Northern California. Tesla declined to give an updated figure, they write, but Musk clarified that his “several hundred homes” statement referred to roofs scheduled for installation or partially installed.

Tesla has established a factory in Buffalo, N.Y., to manufacture the tiles, but it’s operating well behind full capacity. At Tesla’s most recent annual shareholder meeting, Musk blamed ongoing delays on a need for more testing, Brigham and Kolodny write.

“There’s only so much accelerated life testing that you do on a roof. So before we can deploy it to a large number of houses we need to make sure that it’s that all elements of the roof are going to last for at least three decades,” Musk said at the shareholder meeting last June.

Andrew Beebe of Obvious Ventures cites the technology envelope-pushing aspect of miniaturization as a big reason for Tesla’s struggles with its solar roof. “Making things small actually changes a lot of the way the technology will work. And that’s been a big challenge I think for Tesla, but certainly for the whole industry overall — to try and miniaturize it in a way that keeps it cost-effective and also gives it the very reliable performance that solar is known for,” Beebe said.

Brigham and Kolodny cite the experience of Tri Huynh, a Model 3 owner in San Jose, Calif., who was also an early adapter of Tesla’s solar roof, installed earlier this year at a cost of $100,000. “I don’t think this will ever pay for itself honestly,” Huynh said of his roof, which took a team of 10-15 workers two weeks to install. Traditional solar panels can be installed in just one day, Brigham and Kolodny note.

“Ultimately, Tesla’s goal is to make the tiles a cost-effective option, partially by ensuring they’re more durable than other rooftops. Tesla promises 30 years of solar-power generation,” Brigham and Kolodny write.

“I would expect these solar roofing tiles, in just a few years, to be quite reasonably priced if they can get the market interest that they’re hoping for,” said Dan Kammen, Professor of Energy in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s not just a roofing shingle anymore, it’s a power plant on your roof.”

“It’s highly likely that great engineers and incredible technologists — and a lot of those people might be at Tesla — are going to be able to take this very difficult challenge and engineer the heck out of it and get us to that cost parity,” Beebe said. “We’re not there yet.”

See also:
Tesla’s massive Powerpack battery in Australia cost $66 million and already made up to ~$17 million. We have already seen several pieces of evidence that Tesla’s massive Powerpack battery project in Australia is quite financially successful, but now we get all the numbers as Neoen, Tesla’s partner in the project, files for IPO. The giant battery cost ~$66 million and it reportedly already made up to $17 million during the first ~6 months of operation. Tesla’s 100MW/129MWh Powerpack project in South Australia provide the same grid services as peaker plants, but cheaper, quicker, and with zero-emissions, through its battery system. It is so efficient that it reportedly should have made around $1 million in just a few days in January, but Tesla later complained that they are not being paid correctly because the system doesn’t account for how fast Tesla’s Powerpacks start discharging their power into the grid.


More electric industry news items of interest:

U.S. appeals court rebuffs utility’s request to block S.C. law limiting cost recovery for failed nuclear plant while law is litigated. On Friday, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals denied SCE&G its request to stop a rate decrease ahead of a court case concerning those reduced rates, according to court documents. In June, South Carolina lawmakers struck a deal to temporarily lower SCE&G rates by nearly 15 percent. Before the cut, about 18 percent of customers’ electric bill was going toward the abandoned nuclear reactors that SCE&G failed to build. After the rate reduction, SCE&G entered into a lawsuit to try and get the rates raised again. While that lawsuit is ongoing, SCE&G’s initial request to throw out the Legislature’s rate cut was also denied by the court, as was the Cayce-based utility’s request to speed up the trial. Also part of the court’s latest ruling, the attorney general’s office will be allowed to file a friends-of-the-court brief which is a statement that an entity outside a lawsuit can file with the court expressing their views of the case. “This is another big win for SCE&G ratepayers,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement. “We’ve argued that customers should not have to pay billions of dollars for a hole in the ground. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recognized that it would be inappropriate to halt the General Assembly’s reduction of customers’ rates.”

Duke Energy reaches agreement with consumer groups on Edwardsport costs. If approved by state utility regulators, Duke Energy Indiana customers will pay $30 million less for costs at the company’s Edwardsport coal gasification power plant due to an agreement with some of the state’s consumer groups. The proposal, which was filed with state regulators today, is subject to Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approval. Participants in the agreement are the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, the Indiana Industrial Group representing Duke Energy’s Indiana customers, and Nucor Steel-Indiana. The agreement will remain in effect until new rates are established in the company’s next base rate case, which is expected to be filed in mid-2019 with rates effective in mid-2020. It addresses the pending Edwardsport filing at the commission and eliminates the need for future filings until the overall rate case. “If approved, this agreement saves customers money and provides rate certainty between now and our next base rate review,” said Duke Energy Indiana President Melody Birmingham-Byrd. “Importantly, Edwardsport’s performance has been strong, setting a record of 464 days of continuous net generation through April 2018.” Edwardsport is a dual-fuel plant that can run on coal and natural gas, and in 2017 it was available for service 99 percent of the time when factoring in both fuels. Because of the agreement’s provisions, Duke Energy expects to take a pretax charge of approximately $32 million in the third quarter of 2018.

Florence’s floodwaters breach defenses at Duke Energy plant, sending toxic coal ash into river. With floodwaters continuing to rise in the wake of Hurricane Florence, state officials and environmentalists are closely monitoring the breach of a dam that has flooded a hazardous stockpile of coal ash, some of which has spilled into the Cape Fear River. On Friday, Duke Energy shut down a power plant near Wilmington after a dam breach between 100 and 200 feet wide, at the south end of Sutton Lake, allowed floodwaters to swamp two basins containing huge stockpiles of arsenic-laced ash. Duke’s L.V. Sutton facility has been a focus of increasing concern for environmentalists and regulators since last week, when rains from Hurricane Florence caused a coal ash landfill at the site to erode, spilling waste onto a local roadway.

The battle over Arizona’s clean energy mix. As debate rages over increasing Arizona’s RPS, the largest utility—and strongest RPS opponent—has announced new clean energy programs and incentives. This column explores the state’s mismatched clean energy outlook.

Writer urges Pueblo, Colo., to become municipal utility entrepreneur. Citizens of Pueblo, I respectfully present an entrepreneurial opportunity for us. We need to, and we should, purchase and operate our own municipal electric utility. Not own the generation system, but own the distribution system. This will be an exciting journey for us to become clean energy self-sufficient with economic promise. With this entrepreneurial venture, we have a say in and control of our energy destiny with flexibility in seeking competitive rates from providers. Other communities have done this successfully. We can replicate their efforts and tweak where needed to fit Pueblo.

Columnist credits Pueblo’s municipalization efforts for ‘charm offensive’ by Black Hills Energy. If customers of Black Hills Energy are giving credit to the company for its recent “charm offensive,” they need to reconsider. The real credit should go to Pueblo City Council and its 7-0 vote one year ago to study the alternatives to continued electric service from BHE. All the tweaks in BHE’s policies and practices have occurred since the council essentially told BHE last fall that “we’re exploring our options” to take an early departure from the 20-year franchise agreement, which is allowed by state law. BHE’s charm offensive is a deliberate effort to overcome the anger of many customers and the ill will that BHE had generated over the previous seven years.

Iowa hog farmer cuts electric bill in half with solar. When Dwight Dial’s local electric utility raised his rates from residential to commercial a year and a half ago, he’d had enough. “My electric rates nearly doubled,” said Dial, who farms near Lake City in an area that’s served by MidAmerican Energy rather than a rural electrical cooperative. “That was a big incentive to look into solar energy.” The drop in Dial’s power bill has been dramatic since his solar equipment started powering his home and farm in mid-July. While his May-June 2018 electrical bill was $762 and the June-July bill was $580, the bill dropped to $263 after the solar system had run for 17 days in mid- to late-July. His August-September bill plunged to $77. “It was a great day when we flipped the switch to solar,” said Dial, who estimates a payback period of three and a half years for his solar equipment. “It makes even more sense when you consider the estimated increases in electricity rates in the years ahead.”

Michigan utility unveils new battery at university. A Michigan utility has unveiled a new battery to store renewable energy at Western Michigan University. The battery can store enough solar and wind energy to supply about 1,000 homes with an hour of power, said Consumers Energy Project Manager Nathan Washburn. The battery will be used to keep energy output stable even when there’s cloud coverage, he said. “This battery is a big step forward for Consumers,” Washburn said. Consumers Energy partnered with the university in 2016 to create an 8.5-acre solar power plant. The new battery will store power from the plant and provide energy to residents in the region, said Tim Sparks, vice president of electric grid integration for Consumers Energy. “In the future we do believe that these will be one of the main sources of electricity for our toolbox,” Sparks said.

Minnesota regulators approve wind farm amid opposition. Minnesota regulators unanimously approved permits for a wind farm project in southern Minnesota amid opposition from local residents. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission last week approved site and route permits for Invenergy’s Freeborn Wind Farm project after the developer proposed having noise allowances of no more than 3 decibels above the standard. “We are very pleased,” said Dan Litchfield, an Invenergy senior manager. “The commission very carefully reviewed the facts of the case and the law.” A state judge in May had recommended denying the project’s permit, saying the project failed to show it could meet the state’s noise standards. The commission’s decision came after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Commerce essentially approved the developer’s proposed special conditions. “In the scientific community, 3 decibels is considered below the (human) perception level,” Frank Kohlasch, the MPCA’s air assessment manager told the commission.

Governor appoints new chairman of Missouri Public Service Commission. Gov. Mike Parson has appointed Ryan Silvey as the new chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission — the agency that regulates utilities and other monopolistic businesses in the state. The move took effect Monday, Silvey told the Post-Dispatch. He and former Chairman Daniel Hall were notified of the governor’s decision late the previous week, and Silvey performed his new role by leading discussion at Wednesday’s PSC meeting. Hall, meanwhile, remains on the five-person commission. Silvey said he hopes that under his watch, the commission will continue to enjoy the bipartisan conduct that it saw under Hall. “I look forward to having a harmonious commission,” Silvey said. “Chairman Hall did a great job of trying to build consensus within the commission. The commission in my short time has not been acting in a partisan fashion at all. Most decisions have been 5-0.”Silvey, a Kansas City Republican and a former state senator, was appointed to the commission in January by then-Gov. Eric Greitens. Despite being the PSC’s newest commissioner, Silvey said there is “quite a bit of precedent” of newcomers to the commission getting elevated to chairman within their first year of service or sometimes right away. A spokesman for the governor’s office said Silvey’s appointment provides an opportunity for “stability and continuity long-term.”

New impetus for energy conservation in New Jersey, as state has fallen behind. For years, energy conservation in New Jersey has been a state priority more in theory than in practice. The Murphy administration has set new goals, but there’s disagreement about how to achieve them. More than a decade ago, New Jersey ranked among the nation’s 10 best states in promoting energy-saving actions for its residents and businesses. Not anymore. A recent ranking by the respected American Council for Energy Efficiency Economy put New Jersey in the middle of the pack at 23rd — despite energy conservation repeatedly being cited as a top priority in the state’s energy master plans as long ago as 1978, according to Steven Gabel, president of Gabel Associates, an energy consulting firm. Now, a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy this spring establishes new goals to cut energy use and, for the first time, mandates New Jersey’s gas and electric utilities to curb customer consumption. For clean-energy advocates, utilities, and others who participated in an NJ Spotlight roundtable in Newark this past Friday on energy efficiency, it is well past the time to get the show on the road. “Customers want to use less energy because they want to save money,’’ said David Daly, president and COO of Public Service Electric & Gas, the state’s largest utility. “It’s their number one issue for them.’’

Maine utility director asks Central Maine Power about customer complaints. A Maine Public Utilities Commission director has raised concerns over Central Maine Power’s pace of resolving customer complaints. WGME-TV reports that the commission’s Consumer Assistance and Safety Division Director Derek Davidson addressed such concerns in a Friday afternoon letter to the company. The letter says CMP has only contacted 45 percent of 2,865 customers referred to CMP’s specialized complaint resolution team as of late August. The letter was filed as part of Maine Public Utilities Commission’s ongoing investigation into complaints from CMP customers about high bills and unexplained spikes in usage. A CMP spokesperson said the company is continuing to work with customers on a one-on-one basis to resolve every question. The spokesperson also said the company will provide a more detailed response to commission staff by Oct. 5.

Arkansas Electric Cooperative CEO: Coal ‘no longer king’, consumers ‘next power plant’. “Since 2007, there’s been no increase in electrical consumption nationwide,” said Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. CEO Duane Highley, who appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics. “Imagine that: there’s been more meters, more households, even in Arkansas, there’s more households and we’re growing about a percent and a half in terms of households, but we’re not selling any more kilowatt hours.” He said energy efficient light bulbs and air conditioning units explain much of this decade-old trend. And, he says consumers should be complimented. “Our next power plant is being built in every consumer’s home right now every time they change a light bulb,” said Highley.

LG enters U.S. home energy storage business, unveils state-of-the-art systems. Renewable energy technology leader LG Electronics is entering the fast-growing U.S. residential energy storage system (ESS) business, complementing the company’s industry-leading solar panel technologies in the United States. At the 2018 Solar Power International Conference (Sept. 25-27), LG Electronics USA Business Solutions is launching two advanced new energy storage systems and an expandable battery pack for American homeowners: an AC-coupled 5.0 kW system for those who already have solar panels of any type on their homes and a DC-coupled 7.6 kW system as part of a new installation of LG solar panels. Driving home LG’s commitment to future-ready energy solutions for smart home innovations, the new LG Electronics Energy Storage Systems create a flexible energy maintenance system for homeowners who want to take more control of their home energy use, according to Garry Wicka, head of marketing for LG Business Solutions. “Providing residential clients with the highest quality products and bringing added value to their homes are top priorities for LG Solar. Our new energy storage systems align with LG’s leading solar solutions and allow homeowners to take more control of their energy usage with an extremely reliable and scalable system,” said Wicka.

Con Ed acquires 981 megawatts from Sempra’s renewables business. It’s a “reboot” for Con Ed, and a step toward “portfolio optimization” for Sempra. Sempra will unload 981 megawatts of renewable energy and battery storage projects to a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison, in a deal announced Thursday. The acquisition includes 379 megawatts of projects that Sempra Renewables and Consolidated Edison Development jointly own, plus 602 megawatts of Sempra-only assets. Con Ed’s getting it all — solar, solar-plus-storage projects and one wind facility — for just over $1.5 billion plus $576 million in non-recourse debt.

Shell and NREL launch new multimillion-dollar cleantech accelerator program. The program will initially focus on “technologies enabling the grid of the future through long-term energy storage and controls.” Royal Dutch Shell further leaned in to the clean energy transition yesterday in announcing a new multiyear, multimillion-dollar cleantech accelerator program. The Shell GameChanger Accelerator was launched in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and will initially focus on “technologies enabling the grid of the future through long-term energy storage and controls,” according to a press statement. The program, dubbed GCxN for short, will leverage the expertise and resources available through both Shell and NREL to help de-risk emerging clean energy technologies and accelerate their path to market. Shell, one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, has been steadily growing its presence in the cleantech sector. According to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, formerly GTM Research, Shell has made six investments or acquisitions in grid edge companies — including e-mobility, energy efficiency and demand response startups — since the beginning of 2017.


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Navajo deal collapses as markets continue to pummel coal; FERC official’s politically charged emails prompt renewed concern (09/21/18)

Today’s lede: Markets continue to pummel coal as electric industry awaits Trump administration’s promised subsidy program. The Navajo Generating Station in Arizona is the biggest coal-burning power plant west of the Mississippi and the only customer of a nearby Peabody coal mine. Its future is once again in doubt as a private equity company Middle River Power LLC has withdrawn plans for a rescue purchase of the facility, Stephen Lee reports for Bloomberg’s Environment & Energy Report. “The collapse of the deal deeply threatens the survival of the coal-fired power plant in Page, Ariz., which is slated to close at the end of 2019 unless a new buyer steps forward immediately,” Lee writes.

“Unfortunately, recent developments in California and Arizona will create additional challenges for baseload power plants, and it has not been possible to secure from counterparties commitments to purchase a sufficient amount of power generated from Navajo Generating Station to enable a workable operating paradigm,” the company said in an email to Bloomberg. Middle River Power and Avenue Capital Group “have concluded that the steps required to facilitate our ownership and operation of the plant are no longer possible within the required timeframe and therefore we are terminating our efforts,” the company said.

Lee reports that the company did not elaborate on what “recent developments” in Arizona and California contributed to the decision. But it could be the prospect for Arizona voters to approve a Tom Steyer-funded ballot initiative mandating a 50 percent renewable portfolio standard. California, meanwhile, just enacted a high-profile law mandating the state’s electricity be 100 percent carbon free by 2045, and a legislative effort to expand California’s organized electricity market to other states in the West failed in part due to concerns that it would promote out-of-state coal.

“The plant has become a freighted political symbol, representing for some the Trump administration’s efforts to prop up the coal industry, and for others a dying business that can’t compete against cheaper natural gas and renewables,” Lee writes.

Meanwhile, Northern Indiana Public Service Co., in Vice President Pence’s back yard, said it would completely eliminate its 1,800-MW coal-fired power fleet as part of a new integrated resource plan filed with state regulators, Andrew Steele writes in reports carried by several Indiana newspapers. The company said it would instead develop renewable sources of energy, including wind and solar, along with battery storage, Steele reports.

“This creates a vision for the future that is better for our customers, and it’s consistent with our goal to transition to the best cost, cleanest electric supply mix available while maintaining reliability, diversity and flexibility for technology and market changes,” said NIPSCO President Violet Sistovaris. “Retiring our aging coal fleet sooner will cost substantially less compared to our original plans for extending retirements over a longer duration,” she said.

These developments likely will prompt Trump administration officials to double down on their plan to impose consumer subsidies to support uneconomic baseload coal and nuclear plant in the name of “national security,” when instead the overwhelming market signals call for shelving the effort. President Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to carry out the plan in June, but no details have emerged in the months since then.

While the immediate and intense drumbeat of op-eds panning the market-killing proposal has tamped down since then, recent commentary published in Utility Dive by retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn rejects the “national security” rationale the Trump administration has advanced to support its subsidy scheme.

“What is especially troubling is that the administration is using national security to justify its actions,” McGinn writes, citing concerns that the proposal likely would make energy supply less secure and cost electric customers and the U.S. military billions of dollars.

“I will leave detailed economic and political analysis to others. What worries me is the real damage this plan could do to our national security,” McGinn writes. “If we really want to keep our bases — and the missions they support — up and running when the grid goes down, we ought to listen to the military and focus on real solutions,” he says, citing battery storage and microgrids to support renewables. “So if the goal is improving resilience to support the military mission, bailing out uncompetitive power plants is a wrong turn,” he writes.

And Dino Grandoni writes in the Washington Post that experts are citing the experience of Hurricane Florence as “blowing a hole” in the administration’s arguments that subsidies propping up baseload coal and nuclear are necessary to ensure grid resiliency. In particular, Grandoni notes that as Florence approached landfall, Duke Energy shut down its two reactors at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant near Wilmington, N.C.,​​​​ in anticipation of high winds. “The temporary shutdown illustrates how many other factors beyond just fuel stored on site affect grid reliability,” he writes.

“There are so many flaws to their argument, we hardly need this to add,” said David Hart, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. “There are lots of better ways to get reliability than to stockpile a lot of fuel.”

FERC chairman misses open meeting after emails spur call for chief of staff to resign. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Kevin McIntyre missed Thursday’s monthly open meeting, reportedly due to ill health. That meant the chairman was relieved of having to face difficult questions from reporters regarding emails from his chief of staff, Anthony Pugliese, which revealed that Pugliese networked with a Breitbart News editor in an effort to arrange a meeting in London with controversial far-right politician Nigel Farage. The emails also revealed Pugliese expressing admiration for Matteo Salvini, a right-wing Italian politician allied with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. “Salvini seems like a boss,” Pugliese wrote.

Prior to the revelation by Sam Mintz at E&E News, who obtained the emails under the Freedom of Information Act, Pugliese was already under a cloud of controversy for politically charged comments he made on Breitbart radio and before a nuclear industry gathering which marked a sharp departure from long-standing FERC practice to remain independent from partisan politics. Indeed, for decades FERC has been steadfastly nonpartisan in its policy making promoting market-based solutions over regulation.

Mintz reports that emails reveal the Breitbart radio interview Pugliese did was originally intended to be with McIntyre. “I talked to Chairman McIntyre and he would welcome the opportunity to chat with you or one of your colleagues to talk energy if you have any interest,” Pugliese wrote in an email to Amanda House, the Breitbart radio reporter who ultimately interviewed the chief of staff instead. Yet Pugliese, in an emailed statement relayed by FERC’s press office, said: “I did not tell Ms. House that the Chairman would be willing to be on the show, only that I would forward her request to the Chairman.”

Even before the email revelations there was concern, including a letter from congressional Democrats. Former FERC Commissioner Nora Mead Brownell said “political and partisan comments by any employee diminish the appearance of independence and the credibility that bestows.” Publicly, McIntyre has defended Pugliese, asserting he is “highly qualified” and possesses “demonstrated leadership ability.”

Alison Silverstein, an electric industry consultant who was FERC’s chief of staff under Chairman Pat Wood in the early 2000s, had previously suggested Pugliese should consider resigning. In the wake of the email reveal, she strengthened her response, calling for Pugliese to resign.

“I respect Chairman McIntyre for being a good soldier and defending the reputation of the assistant the White House assigned to him, but at this point it is more important to protect the integrity of the chairman and the agency than to protect Pugliese,” she wrote in an email to Utility Dive.

“All of the FERC chairs whom I know or know of . . . scrupulously avoided active partisan engagement and gratuitous public statements on partisan issues,” Silverstein told Utility Dive. “In contrast, Mr. Pugliese’s reported activities appear hyper-partisan and wholly inconsistent with the responsibilities of an objective, non-partisan, quasi-judicial agency and its representatives. This may cause FERC career staff to wonder whether Mr. Pugliese’s internal statements accurately reflect the Chairman’s goals, initiatives and detailed instructions.”

Meanwhile, Politico’s Morning Energy reports on concerns raised after McIntyre, absent from Thursday’s open meeting, voted in absentia on agenda items by recording them with the secretary. “The meeting only featured one vote, an approval of the consent agenda that mostly passed 4-0, with one dissent and some recusals, but it’s not totally clear McIntyre can cast that vote,” Politico’s Kelsey Tamborrino writes. FERC spokesman Craig Cano told Tamborrino commissioners often vote electronically when they travel. “The Commission is confident that its actions today, based on its regulations, precedent, and past practice, are consistent with the law,” Cano said in a statement.

“I do support reasonable accommodation given the circumstances of the Chairman’s health,” said Public Citizen’s Tyson Slocum, who once accused FERC of being corrupt during a remarks at a technical conference. “But going forward the public needs an explanation from the commission under what authorities and circumstances the chairman’s delegation to the commission’s secretary satisfies quorum and voting procedures.”

D.C. Circuit remands to FERC order denying market-based rates to ANR Storage Co. The D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has remanded a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order rejecting market-based rates to ANR Storage Co. ANR had appealed the decision, which was based on an administrative law judge’s review, who concluded ANR had failed to demonstrate a lack of market power.

“After expanding the relevant product and geographic markets beyond those used by the ALJ, FERC recalculated ANR’s share to be 16.12 percent of the market for working gas and 15.16 percent of the market for daily deliverability, and it calculated the HHIs for these respective markets to be 951 and 1,010. FERC acknowledged that it had granted market-based rate authority to other natural-gas companies with similar shares, and it characterized the relevant HHIs as ‘low.’ However, it expressed concern that ANR was the largest competitor in the market for working gas, and that a significant part of that market consisted of intrastate or subscribed storage capacity.”

The court reviewed FERC’s decision-making pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act, and largely rejected ANR’s arguments that the findings of market power were inconsistent with past precedent. But the court did agree “that FERC did not adequately distinguish its past decisions involving ANR’s principal competitor, DTE Energy Company. As ANR explains, FERC has permitted two of DTE’s subsidiary companies, Washington 10 Storage Corporation and Michigan Consolidated Gas Company (MichCon), to charge market-based rates for the last decade.”

In remanding the decision for further consideration by FERC, the court concluded, “There may be good reasons why intrastate or fully subscribed facilities would not check ANR’s exercise of market power, but FERC’s conclusion to that effect is inconsistent with most of it analysis on this point. Because FERC’s decision is internally inconsistent, it is arbitrary and capricious.”

Despite debt load that experts deem potentially fatal, Tesla shares surge past $300. Teslarati’s Simon Alvarez reports that Tesla stock rebounded after falling more than 5 percent following news the Justice Department had launched a criminal probe into Elon Musk’s now-infamous “funding secured” tweet last month. “On Thursday, TSLA stock blazed past the $300 barrier once more, trading at $303.79 per share after the opening bell,” Alvarez writes.

But former investment banker William Cohen warns in the New York Times that “Tesla’s biggest and most acute problem” is its precarious financial position thanks to its $11 billion debt load.

“Mr. Musk promises investors that Tesla is going to start making more cars and profits any day now, but that’s wishful thinking,” Cohen writes. “Tesla is not generating enough cash to pay back the mountain of debt that is coming due soon. Once stalwart investors are losing faith in Mr. Musk and his company, and Wall Street is turning on him. Tesla could soon become a case study of what can happen when an iconoclastic Silicon Valley entrepreneur, seduced by his own wonderfulness, thinks the rules of the marketplace do not apply to him.”


More electric industry news of interest:

Growing opposition threatens completion of U.S. nuclear plant. The sole remaining nuclear power plant under construction in the U.S. is facing mounting opposition from cities and lawmakers concerned about its rising costs. A decision on the expansion of Georgia’s Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant is expected by Monday, when its three primary owners are set to vote on whether to continue going ahead. The project is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, and expected to cost upwards of $27 billion, more than double the original price tag estimated when work began a decade ago. It has received $12 billion in federal loan guarantees, including $3.7 billion from the Trump administration last year. Southern Co., the utility that serves as the largest owner of the project, announced last month that costs had risen by $2.2 billion, triggering the vote with the other major owners, Oglethorpe Power and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia. The Vogtle plant is the only nuclear power plant under construction, or even serious consideration, in the U.S. If work on it stops, the prospects for new nuclear power in the U.S. would dim considerably and raise the question of whether the country can revitalize its nuclear industry.

After Florence, coal ash worries linger. Flood waters across North and South Carolina continue to threaten coal ash sites, days after Florence departed. Early Thursday, flood waters from the Cape Fear River overtopped an earthen dike at Duke Energy’s L.V. Sutton plant near Wilmington, inundating a large lake the company uses as a cooling pond, and prompting the company to activate the highest-level of its emergency plan. That level is still active, and Duke expects it to be “for a period of time,” spokeswoman Paige Sheehan told Politico’s Morning Energy. The incident raises the prospect that the dike could breach, and also that the waters could reach an unlined coal ash pit just on the other side of the lake. “This is something we’re managing, we’re telling people about, but it’s nothing that people should be concerned about for environmental or public health concern right now,” Sheehan told ME. The Sutton plant has already had major problems from Florence, with flood waters prompting a breach at a coal ash landfill over the weekend that displaced roughly 150 dump trucks’ worth of toxic ash. Duke said in a statement Wednesday that coal ash contaminants had reached the lake, but that “water quality remains well within state permit standards.” Meanwhile, another Duke site has been inundated along the Neuse River, with floodwaters swamping old coal ash pits at the H.F. Lee Plant in Goldsboro. And in Conway, S.C., where Trump traveled Wednesday, workers at Santee Cooper’s Grainger plant have been scrambling to protect pits holding coal ash there. Fearing exactly such a disaster, the company has agreed to excavate the pits, but has not yet completed the removal.

Ascension Parish, La., delays franchise agreement for PC Electric amid inquiry into pay, perks for rural co-op officials. Slated for what should have been an automatic vote Thursday night, a proposed agreement to allow New Roads electrical cooperative PC Electric to begin competing in Ascension Parish was shelved, pending a state probe into the pay, benefits and perks of top Louisiana co-op officials. The Louisiana Public Service Commission ordered the investigation unanimously Wednesday of all Louisiana co-ops after revelations that some part-time directors were making upward of $30,000 to $50,000 per year in per diem and in benefits like health and life insurance. Louisiana has 10 rural electrical cooperatives that provide power to 900,000 customers across the state and operate as member-owned nonprofits. The co-ops have a fiduciary duty to their members, who are the rate-paying customers. Ascension Council Chairman Bill Dawson said in an interview before the council meeting that several council members began asking him if they shouldn’t wait to see what the state regulator finds first before considering the proposal. “I don’t think it would be wise to move on this at this time when the PSC is doing an investigation,” said Dawson.

Texas Electricity Ratings launches Texas Electricity Rate Analyzer. Provides transparency into Texas electricity rates. Over the past summer, the Public Utilities Commission of Texas has been concernd about retail energy providers using pricing gimmicks that dupe Texas consumers into high monthly bills at its Power to Choose website. Texas Electricity Ratings has a better idea how to serve Texas electricity customers. We’ve built an Electricity Rate Analyzer that sorts the best electricity rates from the questionable ones and recommends what plans best fit customer needs in usage amounts other than the standard 500, 1000, and 2000 kWh tiers. Customers can enter the EFL information from a plan into our analyzer and select usage amounts in 100 kWh increments. Not only does it show customers the real rates at different usage levels but it reflects both the rate jumps in a plan at certain usage. It also shows whether the rate is high or low compared to general electricity market pricing.

Five Texas munis partner to add 500 MW of solar. Five utilities in Texas have announced plans develop 500 MW of solar farms. New Braunfels Utilities (NBU), Bryan Texas Utilities, Denton Municipal Electric, Garland Power and Light and the Kerryville Public Utility Board have teamed up to create the purchasing power necessary to fund their commitment to renewable generation. For NBU, as well as most of the rest of the group of utilities, this is their first dip into large-scale solar generation. The exception is Denton Municipal Electric, which signed a 15-year contract with NextEra for the output of a 100 MW solar project earlier this year, as a part of the city’s goal to go 100% renewable. At the time of that purchase, Sierra Club estimated that Denton is procuring 60% of its electricity from renewable sources, so this will undoubtedly aid the cause. NBU is looking to purchase 150 MW of the total 500 MW over the course of a 10-20 year power purchase agreement.

Colorado Springs Utilities increases commitment to renewable energy with solar purchase agreement. Colorado Springs Utilities will generate more than a fifth of its electricity with solar power after 150 megawatts of renewable energy are added to its portfolio, an addition the board of directors approved Wednesday afternoon. The specifics of that upcoming purchase have yet to be determined, however, said John Romero, general manager of energy acquisition engineering and planning. The board’s decision gave him permission to negotiate projects that will provide the 150 megawatts of solar power and include battery storage. Utilities sought bids for such projects in April and received proposals from eight different companies.

NIMBY: British company drops plans for big wind farm in Indiana. British-based energy company has cancelled plans for a northern Indiana wind farm. The project consisted of what would have been the largest wind turbines in the state, more than 600 feet high. That had many neighbors concerned, especially since the proposal only allowed for 1,000 foot setbacks from houses. Neighbors wanted setbacks to be at least three or four times the height of the turbines. They said turbines of this size were typically used on much more open land, in western states like Wyoming and Montana. The project called for 150 to 225 turbines, each of them taller than most of the skyscrapers in Indianapolis. On the other hand, the project would have garnered about $90 million in lease payments for land owners who did participate. UK-based Renewable Energy Systems withdrew the proposal, about nine months later, citing “technical circumstances.”

Vegetation management bill prompts concerns among N.J. property owners. Massive power outages during spring storms precipitated review of utilities’ rights to manage vegetation. Critics say proposed legislation goes too far. Last March, falling trees toppled more than 2,000 utility poles and over 100,000 miles of power lines in New Jersey, leaving more than 1 million customers without power, some for up to 11 days. It led the state Board of Public Utilities to recommend in a post-storm analysis a more proactive approach to cutting down and trimming trees to avert widespread outages, typically the primary reason that customers lose power. Yesterday, the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee took action to achieve that goal by approving a bill (A-2558) to allow more aggressive tree-trimming and vegetation management by the state’s four electric utilities. “We can’t do everything to prevent storm damage, but we can do what’s smart to protect our energy infrastructure,” said Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, chairman of the panel and sponsor of the bill. “Making sure our trees and shrubs are properly maintained around energy infrastructure is quite simply common sense.” It also, however, is quite controversial. Homeowners and local shade-tree commissions often try to block vegetation management, particularly when utilities try to trim trees outside their rights of way.

S.D. regulators OK refund from NorthWestern Energy. NorthWestern Energy became the third utility Tuesday whose South Dakota customers get refunds this year because Congress passed federal tax cuts last year. The state Public Utilities Commission approved refunds totaling $3 million.

USDA invests nearly $400 million to improve electricity infrastructure at rural co-ops. Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $398.5 million to improve rural electric service in 13 states. “Reliable and affordable electricity is undeniably a necessity in today’s world,” Hazlett said. “Under the leadership of Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to being a strong partner in keeping our rural communities connected to this essential infrastructure.” USDA is making the investments through the Electric Infrastructure Loan Program.

Hydro One and Avista extend their merger end date. Hydro One Limited and Avista Corp. announced that Hydro One has received a notice from Avista to extend the transaction End Date to March 29, 2019, as provided for in the merger agreement. Under the merger agreement, the transaction End Date was originally September 30, 2018. Either party has the right to unilaterally extend that date by up to six months. Hydro One and Avista continue to expect to close the transaction in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Pa. gas companies merge into UGI Utilities, Inc. UGI Penn Natural Gas, Inc. and UGI Central Penn Gas, Inc. have merged into UGI Utilities, Inc. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission approved the merger by a 4-1 vote in support of a motion which modifies the settlement to require all three entities to continue quarterly filings and annual earnings reports with the Commission. On March 8, UGI Utilities, Penn Natural and Central Penn (Joint Applicants) filed a joint merger application. On July 20, the Joint Applicants filed a Joint Petition for Settlement among UGI, the Public Utility Commission’s independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate, the Pennsylvania Office of Small Business Advocate and several parties representing natural gas suppliers. While the merger will result in name and structural changes for the UGI companies, there will be no changes to current consumer rates.

A clear and big win For Dominion Energy. Dominion Energy announced a proposal to acquire the rest of Dominion Energy Midstream Partners LP that it doesn’t already own. This transaction has merits on both sides, but it’s a clear and easy win for Dominion, while proving to be a net negative for Midstream’s investors. The current share price indicates that a deal will go through, but almost certainly at more attractive terms.

Four General Electric power turbines shut down in U.S. due to blade issue. General Electric Co (GE.N) said on Thursday that four of its new flagship power turbines in the United States have been shut down due to an “oxidation issue” and warned it expects the problem to affect more of the 51 units it has shipped, sending shares lower. The giant machines form the beating heart of billon-dollar electricity plants around the world. Analysts consider GE’s success with the new turbines, known as the HA class, critical to rescuing its power division from a steep decline in sales and profits.

Total buys car charging-point provider in new power-market foray. Total SA bought a French operator of car-charging points, adding to its electricity investments as oil companies prepare for an influx of low-emission cars. Total purchased G2mobility from companies including cable maker Nexans SA for an undisclosed sum. It has made a string of power acquisitions in recent years, while European competitors have also invested in car charging as rising electric-vehicle use threatens to dent demand for gasoline and diesel. The purchase of G2mobility will give Total almost 10,000 charging stations operated from a web platform, the company said Thursday. The French oil giant also plans to work with Nexans to speed up growth in electric-car infrastructure. The deal follows Total’s recent investments in natural-gas vehicle fuels in Europe and the U.S., plus its purchase of utility Direct Energie SA and a minority stake in Eren Renewable Energy SA. It also bought Belgian power retailer Lampiris SA in 2016, as well as French battery maker Saft Groupe SA. In June, British rival BP Plc announced a plan to buy U.K. car-charging company Chargemaster, while Royal Dutch Shell Plc agreed last October to buy NewMotion, one of Europe’s largest charging providers.


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Moody’s sees $100 billion price tag for Calif. ‘zero carbon’ mandate; Georgia officials weigh in on escalating costs for nuclear project; Conn. officials examine bids in clean energy auction (09/20/18)

Today’s lede: Moody’s sees $100 billion price tag for California’s storage-dependent 100 percent clean energy mandate. The recently enacted mandate for California to obtain 100 percent of its electricity from either renewable energy or “zero carbon” resources by 2045 will impose more than $100 billion in costs, according to an assessment by Toby Shea, a senior credit officer with Moody’s Investor Service. Shea concludes that meeting the carbon-free power grid mandate “will likely mean that the gas capacity will need to be replaced with a massive amount of battery storage, which is still prohibitively costly for long periods,” Charlie Passut reports in Natural Gas Intelligence.

Shea estimates the current all-in battery storage costs at about $400/kWh, a direct cause of  retail electric utility rates skyrocketing, which would put more political, regulatory and financial pressures on distribution utilities, Passut writes.

“The capital cost of having enough batteries to reach the 100 percent target will be more than $100 billion, assuming installed battery costs decline to $100/kWh of storage capacity,” Shea writes in an analysis issued Monday.

Shea concludes that mandate is inherently credit negative for the predominantly natural gas-fired fleet of utility and merchant operator plants in California, potentially affecting the credit ratins for companies like Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Calpine and NRG.

“The warning from Moody’s underscores the risks to investors as California increasingly acts as the nation’s leader on combating climate change as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks to roll back environmental regulations. The state is betting that technological advances will ultimately drive down key costs,” writes Romy Varghese for Bloomberg News.

“The legislation is kind of taking a gamble on what will happen in the future,” Shea told Bloomberg in an interview. “The way it is going, if costs don’t come down dramatically, then yes, there will be a huge increase in rates.”

Shea notes in his report that California is still 27 years away from the 100 percent clean energy goal, and there are “many moderating factors,” including new technology and/or a continuing decline in battery costs.

See also:
Gov. Jerry Brown’s carbon-free legacy—at what cost? Just before hosting a global climate-change conference in San Francisco last week, Brown signed a bill decreeing that California’s electrical energy will be 100 percent from renewable or carbon-free sources by 2045. Simultaneously, he issued an executive order that California be “carbon neutral” by the same date. “This bill and the executive order put California on a path to meet the goals of Paris and beyond,” Brown declared, referring to the international climate agreement. “It will not be easy. It will not be immediate. But it must be done.” The legislation, Senate Bill 100 by state Sen. (and U.S. Senate candidate) Kevin de León, a Los Angeles Democrat, expands the current 2030 goal for electric power of 60 percent. Both pieces of state paper, however, are more statements of lofty intent than quantifiable policy.

Georgia lawmakers express concern as governor urges owners to press on with $27 billion nuclear plant development effort. Georgia’s governor is publicly calling for continuing new nuclear reactor development efforts at the Plant Vogtle nuclear power station in Georgia as a Sept. 24 deadline looms for funding partners to agree whether to press on with the massively over budget project in the wake of ever-escalating costs. Meanwhile, 20 Georgia lawmakers sent a letter to project owners expressing concern about Vogtle’s ballooning costs, Nate Monroe reports in the Florida Times-Union.

“I am counting on the project co-owners to follow through on the commitments you made to the citizens of Georgia, ratepayers, and myself,” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal wrote in a letter to Georgia Power Co., the Southern Co. utility that is the largest partner in the Vogtle expansion project. The letter emphasized the economic importance of the project for Georgia.

The letter from 20 members of the Georgia General Assembly called for the plant’s co-owners to cap escalating costs, which they decried are having an “unfair impact” on constituents. While larger funding partners such as Southern can absorb the escalating costs without passing them on to customers, as the utility giant has pledged to do, smaller electric membership corporations and municipal utilities in Georgia don’t have the capacity for that, the letter noted.

“Our local utilities don’t have the luxury of shareholders to absorb these additional costs and will have to increase rates even higher. This approach is unfair and anti-competitive,” the letter said. “This puts a disproportionate cost burden on EMC and city utility customers.” Among the signatories were House Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones and Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller.

The letter was sent to the boards of directors for Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power Corp. and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, or MEAG. The Monday deadline for them to agree on moving forward with the project was triggered by the revelation last month that the project would incur yet another cost increase amounting to $2.3 billion. It came just weeks after the state’s Public Service Commission approved the project’s massive costs based in part of assurances from Georgia Power that there would be no further cost overruns, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

“We do appreciate the input from these legislators, many of whom represent ratepayers in our participant communities,” Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia said in a statement. “To be clear, however, a decision to provide a cap would be made by Georgia Power, and just as we know Georgia Power is respectful of the deliberative process the MEAG Board is presently going through, we are respectful of theirs.”

Georgia Power called on project partners to press forward. “A year ago, Georgia Power and all of the Vogtle co-owners entered a new contract to move forward with the project and everyone acknowledged and accepted all possible risks,” a company spokesman said. “Georgia Power has voted to move forward, and we hope the co-owners will also vote in favor to fulfill their obligation.”

The high stakes deadline looms as the municipally owned electric authority in Jacksonville, Fla., is increasingly agitating to get out from under a 2008 contract with MEAG to should a portion of the project’s costs. Jacksonville and MEAG have filed lawsuits against one another, and Jacksonville has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to determine whether its contractual obligation to MEAG remains just and reasonable under the Federal Power Act.

Monroe reports that JEA has begun running advertisements in Georgia newspapers with a “blunt message” to electricity consumers. “The Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion project is a mistake that will cost you and your children for years to come,” one ad says. “Act now to stop this historic misuse of your money.”

Connecticut officials assessing Millstone bids in state’s ‘Zero Carbon’ auction.  Connecticut officials are now assessing the more than 100 offers it received as of Sept 14 in the state’s “zero carbon” auction process, Gregory Hladky reports in the Hartford Courant. Nuclear power from the state’s Millstone plant is among the bids from wind, solar and hydropower suppliers. State officials expect to make awards based on the bids by the end of 2018.

“The participation of Dominion Energy, owner of the Millstone plant, has been a major point of controversy,” Hladky notes. “The plant’s owners hinted that they might be forced to close the nuclear facility unless they were given the opportunity to compete in the new program, which could pay them higher rates for the power they produce.”

“All of our bids are very competitive and will be extremely beneficial to Connecticut’s electric customers,” Dominion said in a prepared statement. “If selected, any of our bids will help to preserve the 1,500 Connecticut jobs at Millstone.”

Vineyard Wind LLC, is promoting its offer by publicizing a linked proposal to make a “multi-million-dollar investment” in improvements to Bridgeport harbor facilities — if its proposal is selected under the Zero Carbon program, Hladky notes. Vineyard Wind is developing a wind-turbine facility in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard. “We are excited at the idea of creating more than 1,000 jobs and bringing billions in economic benefits to the state with this proposal,” said Vineyard Wind’s Erich Stephens.

Millstone’s participation in the auction is the result of a controversial debate in the state over Dominion’s demand for special compensation for Millstone’s output. The nuclear plant fails to earn enough from New England’s competitive wholesale power market to warrant continued operations, Dominion maintains.

State officials, however, maintained that the plant in net cash-flow positive by as much as $1.3 billion and $2.4 billion, and projected Millstone would remain “highly profitable” through 2035. Nevertheless, the state allowed Millstone to participate in the auction despite the giant energy company’s refusal to provide documentation supporting its claim of economic hardship.

“Connecticut’s legislature passed legislation last year that allowed Dominion to submit bids for the Zero Carbon program, but only after a prolonged debate over whether nuclear energy should be permitted to compete for higher-priced electricity contracts with renewable power sources like solar and wind,” Hladky writes. “Dominion officials argued that because nuclear plants don’t emit carbon into the atmosphere, their facility should be allowed to be part of the renewable energy market.”

State officials have conditioned Millstone’s participation in the auction to ensure that “state ratepayers are protected from paying above-market costs” for the energy it produces, Hladky reports.


More electric Industry news of interest:

SunPower wins big in Section 201 trade case exclusions. SunPower—which has been paying up to $2 million in tariffs per week—can breathe a sigh of relief. The U.S. Trade Representative on Tuesday filed a long-awaited document in the Federal Register detailing exclusions for Section 201 solar trade case tariffs. The exclusions, which are not retroactive, will be officially published on Wednesday. The exclusions encompass cells and modules with a variety of specific characteristics including back contact solar cells, frameless solar panels that are not blue or black, and off-grid 45-watt or less panels of a certain length. SunPower said its interdigitated back contact solar cells and modules are excluded. SunPower said the exclusion lets the company “turn the page” after the exclusions go into effect on Sept. 19. According to the company, “for the past several months” it’s been paying $1.5 million to $2 million per week in tariffs while it waits for news on a possible exclusion.  Jade Jones, a senior solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, said the administration’s exclusions look tailored to SunPower.

Eye-popping pay, perks at Louisiana electric co-ops sparks investigation. Angered at extravagant trips, insurance benefits, plus lucrative per diem pay for board members and executives, Louisiana’s utility regulators Wednesday shutdown two requests to increase monthly electric bills and ordered a sweeping investigation into the compensation and perks at all Louisiana’s rural electric cooperatives. “I’m not going to vote for anything else today until I found out how much these board members are making,” Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell said. “How much money are they spending? How many times do they go to Las Vegas? How many times do they go to Washington? … Take their wives up there, eat big steaks, stay at fancy hotels.” The state’s 10 co-ops provide electricity to about 900,000 rural members. What traditional corporate utilities call customers, co-ops call members. The board jobs are supposed to be part-time, and the cooperatives are supposed to be nonprofit. But the regulatory commission heard testimony that some board members make as much as $50,000 per year in per diem — payments for attending meetings. Most received an array of benefits that included health, vision and life insurance. The $255,000 in perks for directors and executives of Pointe Coupee Electric Membership, in suburban Baton Rouge, account for almost two-thirds of the utility’s $400,000 “operating margin.”

Quality of service another reason to vote ‘yes’ on Nevada’s energy choice ballot measure. For the 55 years of our marriage, our account with NV Energy was in my husband David’s name. So when he passed two years ago, I had to switch the account to my name. Almost two years and several termination notices later, I’m just now getting my on-time monthly payments credited to the correct account. It took so many calls to NV Energy’s customer service to resolve the problem of transferring the account. If I experienced all these frustrations with my cell phone provider or cable company, I could just switch. But with electricity, I can’t — not unless Ballot Question 3 passes in November. – Bonnie Polley, Las Vegas

After Texas PUC action, low-cost electricity plans offered on Spanish Power to Choose site. The Public Utility Commission of Texas is cracking down on power providers that don’t offer plans on both Power to Choose and its Spanish language equivalent, Poder de Escoger. State regulators on Monday made good on their threat to pull down the plans of retail electric providers on the Power to Choose shopping website that were not also offered on the Spanish language equivalent, Poder de Escoger, deactivating 221 electricity plans —or about 40 percent of the total —from 18 retail electric providers. Since the Public Utility Commission took action, retail electricity providers have translated their plans into Spanish and put them on Poder de Escoger, turning the once moribund site into a robust shopping website. By Tuesday afternoon, the site in Spanish included hundreds of low-cost offerings that were not there Friday, when utility commissioners first raised the issue. “I think you could say that the market has responded,” said commission spokesman Andrew Barlow.

Neighbors complain about large footprint of proposed large wind facility in upstate N.Y. The Concerned Citizens of the Cassadaga Wind Project members and other residents came out in droves to speak their opinions in regards to the issuing of the CPCN. “Cassadaga Wind claims a 126MW nameplate capacity, this is using tens of thousands of acres of land,” started Tina Graziano. “The real wind efficiency rate in western New York is 24 percent. Twenty-four percent of 126MW is 30.18MW, which is the actual rating.” She then went on to site the currently moth balled NRG electric power plant in Dunkirk, which only takes up 98 acres. She claims it is a more viable option, as it is capable of producing 450MW with potential to produce more. Mark Twichell spoke at length about the economic impact on the county as a whole. “Losses in property value range from $22 million to $45 million per year based on total assessed value of taxable properties in Cherry Creek and Charlotte reduced by a low of 15 percent and a high of 30 percent,” Twichell stated. He continued to use the two towns to calculate the other loss values based on the University of North Carolina’s 80 percent metric results.

NIMBY concerns dominate local hearing for new 100 MW solar power plant in Colorado. Almost everyone is in favor of solar energy, but not everyone wants to live across the street from a solar power plant. Invenergy, a renewable power developer based in Chicago, has installed more than 100 solar farms in various locations around the nation, but it ran into a new variation on the “not in my backyard” theme at a public hearing in Pueblo County, Colorado, recently. Television station KRDO in Colorado Springs reports that a group of 12 residents living across the road from the proposed solar installation attended a county commissioners’ meeting recently to object to the proposal. The speakers, all homeowners in the St. Charles River Estates neighborhood, told the commissioners having so many solar panels so close to their homes poses a risk of fire. “There are numerous concerns but the biggest concern is the fire danger,” Rocky Mangini told the commissioners.

Higher electric rates may end Central Washington bitcoin rush. In the last few years, rock-bottom electricity rates have attracted bitcoin miners and other virtual currency entrepreneurs to central Washington state. But in Chelan and Grant counties, that lure may be on the wane because of looming power price hikes. The specialized computers that record and verify bitcoin transactions consume gobs of electricity. The public utility districts in Chelan and Grant Counties want to manage the power load by charging these operations more. A lot more. Thomas O’Connell, a home-based cryptocurrency miner in Leavenworth, told the Chelan County Public Utility District board this week that higher rates would drive him away. “I’m 25 years in this county, originally born here. I don’t want to have to leave,” O’Connell testified. “I don’t want to have to move my business. I’d like to continue to put that money I earn back into the county. But it doesn’t seem like I am going to be able to.”

New Jersey Natural Gas gets go-ahead for $135 million energy efficiency plan. NJNG will extend its popular SaveGreen Project and offer residential, commercial, and industrial customers ways to lower their bills. The state has given approval to New Jersey Natural Gas to spend $135 million over the next three years to help customers lower their bills by reducing energy use. The authorization by the state Board of Public Utilities reflects a scaled-down version of a $341 million, six-year program initially filed by the Wall Township-based utility earlier this spring. The extension of the existing energy-efficiency program aligns the company with Murphy administration goals to ramp up the state’s efforts to reduce electric and gas use in New Jersey, to help curb emissions contributing to climate change. “Energy efficiency is one of the most effective ways we can help our customers to save energy and money, protect our environment and create a stronger and fairer clean energy economy,’’ said Steve Westhoven, chief operating officer of New Jersey Natural Gas.

Puerto Rico could be a solar pioneer, but the GOP wants a fossil fuel ‘theme park’. A year after Hurricane Maria, the case for community-owned, renewably-powered microgrids is growing clearer. The dubious and dirty electricity problem predated the Category 5 tempest that obliterated Puerto Rico’s rickety, costly and fossil-fueled power grid. But so, too, did the solution. In 2015, local lawyer and environmental activist Ruth Santiago started drafting plans for a rooftop solar project that would provide clean electricity sourced from the Caribbean’s bounty of sunshine. In early April, the Coquí Solar project in Guayama, a city on the bay, finally came online. It wasn’t a moment too soon, either. Roughly a week later, the entire island plunged into darkness yet again following a construction accident. It was days before power was restored to the rest of Puerto Rico, but the photovoltaic panels rigged to a battery atop the Guayama community center became a beacon in the dark. Dozens came to the one-story community center to charge phones and computers and refrigerate medicine best kept cold, such as insulin.  To Santiago, the pilot project in Guayama was proof that Puerto Rico’s energy future could entail clean, locally-produced power ― while also addressing the island’s high electricity rates, suffocating debt and noxious pollution. It also showed that Puerto Rico could be a case study for how the rest of the United States can decarbonize its power grid, scaling back the planet-warming emissions projected to make storms like Maria more destructive and common. “The plan is, we would work to convert that into a solar community and expand from the community center into the nearby community,” said Santiago.

What if you could pick your renewable power source and pay less for it? Writing in Forbes, Brian Potts, a Perkins Coie attorney, asks readers to imagine if you could buy your power directly from a renewable power plant of your choice and pay less for it than you currently pay for electricity from the grid. No longer would you need to install solar panels on your roof, or buy nonspecific green energy credits to get your renewable power. Instead, you could point to a specific wind farm or solar array and say conclusively that your power was purchased from that plant. It’s possible. And it’s happening right now in Texas, where a startup called RPD Energy connects local renewable plants with commercial customers. RPD has partnered with Intuit (maker of TurboTax, QuickBooks, ProConnect and Mint) and a retail energy provider—Just Energy—to make it happen. The program, launched earlier this summer, is called Purely Green. By leveraging Intuit’s larger, corporate wind power procurement, the program will allow tens of thousands of residential and small business customers to purchase power from a specific wind farm—EDP Renewables’ Lone Star II wind farm located near Abilene, TX—at prices that are generally below prevailing market rates.

Boston University announces massive wind power purchase. 15-year buy is a key part of BU’s Climate Action Plan. Boston University will buy nonpolluting wind power for 15 years beginning in 2020, a major step in the University’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) to curb greenhouse gas emissions. BU will buy the power from a South Dakota wind farm that will begin construction in the spring. It will then resell that power for use in the Midwestern United States. By purchasing power outside New England, the University will earn legal credits (called renewable energy certificates) against its own carbon emissions in Boston. Renewable energy certificates are documents under US law certifying that energy buyers have purchased clean power. Such credits, along with increasing energy efficiency, renewable sources, and the ongoing greening of the New England power grid, are key strategies in the CAP, which aims to reduce carbon emissions to zero on BU’s campuses and global operations by 2040. President Robert A. Brown announced the Power Purchase Agreement with ENGIE North America Tuesday at a forum with Boston’s largest building-space owners. Many of the 50 owners, BU among them, have committed to mitigating their contributions to climate change.

Sunrun is bringing 100 megawatts of rooftop solar to low-income communities. As California pushes to reach 100 percent renewable energy, the state is helping to fund a push by the solar company to install solar panels on affordable housing developments. Over the next 10 years, Sunrun, a San Francisco-based residential solar and storage company with around 3,200 employees, will install at least 100 megawatts of solar on affordable multifamily housing developments where 80% of residents earn below 60% of the area median income. “We have a very broad vision for how residential rooftop solar can change our energy system,” says Sunrun chief of policy Anne Hoskins, “but we have to make sure that can happen across all income levels.” Since Sunrun was founded in 2007, says Hoskins, the company has aimed to democratize access to solar. It pioneered a solar-as-a-service model, in which homeowners could lease solar panels from Sunrun and pay for electricity usage, but avoid the cost of paying for the panels outright. That substantially reduced the expense associated with residential solar, especially considering a home solar system in 2007 cost around $53,000 (the price has dropped to about $20,000 today). Though it’s expanded this model to 23 states and Puerto Rico, Sunrun has been on the lookout for opportunities to deepen its impact in low-income communities, which, Hoskins says, are too often subject to the negative externalities of coal and fossil-fuel-based energy systems, while lacking access to renewables.

Signs of fuel cell scaling: Ballard Power inks $163 million investment from Weichai Power. The latest investment and partnership activity in the fuel cell sector. In late August, Canadian fuel cell manufacturer Ballard Power Systems announced a strategic collaboration with Weichai Power, the large Chinese engine, auto parts and logistics conglomerate. Weichai agreed to purchase a 19.9 percent stake in proton-exchange membrane fuel cell pioneer Ballard for $163 million, representing a 15 percent premium to the latter’s stock price, a $90 million technology transfer program for Ballard’s next-generation fuel cell stack and power modules, a joint venture to pursue China’s fuel cell EV market, and to supply at least 2,000 fuel cell modules for commercial vehicles by 2021. The collaboration diversifies Ballard’s China options, and its existing China partner Broad-Ocean agreed to purchase $20 million in shares to maintain its 9.9 percent ownership level, further bolstering the company’s treasury. By fuel cell sector standards, Ballard is doing well — its cumulative adjusted EBITDA over the past seven quarters is positive — and the agreement would help keep it on pace for the production growth it projected at its analyst event last year. The company plans to reinvest the considerable proceeds in its fuel cell business while evaluating M&A opportunities.

Orsted sells half of vast offshore wind farm for $5.88 billion. Danish energy business Orsted has signed an agreement to sell 50 percent of the Hornsea 1 offshore wind farm to Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP). The total sales price for the facility, which is located in the North Sea off the English coast, comes to around £4.46 billion ($5.88 billion), which is set to be paid between 2018 and 2020, Orsted said in a statement Tuesday. Hornsea 1 is currently being built and is set to be the world’s largest offshore wind farm when it’s commissioned in 2020. Made up of 174 Siemens Gamesa turbines, the project will have a total capacity of 1,218 megawatts (MW). This is enough to power over 1 million homes in the U.K., according to Orsted. “This is our third partnership with GIP, and we are delighted to have one of the world’s largest infrastructure funds as a partner, in what will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm,” Ole Kjems Sorensen, Orsted’s executive vice president for M&A, partnerships and asset management, said in a statement. Europe’s total offshore wind capacity increased by 25 percent in 2017, according to WindEurope. Just over 3.1 gigawatts (GW) of new offshore wind was installed in Europe last year, with total capacity hitting almost 15.8 GW, according to the trade body.

Choice energy claims its switching website ‘saves customers $1 million’ in Australia. CHOICE says it has helped Australians save a combined $1 million on their annual electricity bills since launching its electricity switching service in May. The consumer group says customers have saved an average of $622 by using its website While Choice declined to reveal numbers, that would work out to about 1600 people so far.

French draft power sector reform draws criticism from independent firms. The French government plans to reform the way independent power firms buy nuclear electricity from state-run EDF, but has drawn criticism from the smaller firms which say the draft proposals will reduce competition and increase their costs.


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Is Southern’s troubled $27 billion nuke build headed for meltdown? (09/19/18)

Today’s lede: Is Southern Co.’s troubled, massively over-budget new nuclear power development effort melting down? Southern Co. has insisted on pushing ahead with its massively over budget new nuclear development project at its Vogtle nuclear power station, despite similar efforts being dropped by other utilities before a shovel pierced the ground, and as South Carolina politics continue to be roiled by SCANA’s failed development effort at its V.C. Summer plant and the billions of dollars it foisted on that state’s captive ratepayers.

But the coming days may spell trouble for Southern as its development partners are scheduled to vote on whether to stand firm in the wake of yet another announcement that the project has gone over budget. The Jacksonville electric authority is mired in litigation as it tries to get out from under its ballooning financial obligations to the project across the border in Georgia, and now has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to weigh in. Meanwhile, several Georgia PSC candidates are running on platforms that oppose the nearly 30 billion in nuclear spending and call instead for development of renewable resources like solar.

Jacksonville’s municipal utility and city officials have filed a lawsuit to void its decade-old agreement obligating the city’s ratepayers to help build and eventually buy power from the two nuclear reactors under construction in Georgia, marking “a significant escalation in a fight over the future of the only active nuclear power project in the United States,” Nate Monroe writes in the Florida Times-Union.  The In response, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, one of the co-owners of the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion project, filed a federal lawsuit against Jacksonville electric agency for having “a clear intent to breach its contract, abandon its obligations” and to “undermine and disrupt” the future of the project, Monroe reports.

This apparently prompted the Jacksonville municipal utility to ask FERC to intervene in its dispute with MEAG, Monroe reports. A hearing at FERC would require MEAG to demonstrate that the agreement with Jacksonville has maintained reasonable terms and conditions, the Florida muni believes. “e do not believe MEAG can meet this burden,” Alan Howard, chairman of JEA’s board, told MEAG in a recent letter.

Texas lawmaker, AARP call for competitive suppliers to pass through utilities’ federal corporate tax cut savings. “State regulators have forced utilities in Texas to pass along $333 million in federal tax savings by cutting their electric distribution rates, but consumers may never see a dime of that money,” L.M. Sixel writes in the Houston Chronicle. “The reason is the state’s deregulated power markets. Under the market structure, electricity providers bill for both the cost of the electricity and utility charges for moving power from generators to homes and businesses. Under state law, retail companies can charge their customers whatever they want; they are under no obligation to pass along the savings when utilities lower distribution rates.”

Sixel, without attribution, states that some 85 percent of electricity customers are in deregulated electricity markets, such as Houston’s ERCOT market, and are therefore at risk of not seeing a pass-through of tax savings from competitive retail suppliers. CenterPoint, the local wires company, has lowered its transmission and distribution rates by $62 million in response to the federal tax cuts, leading the two largest competitive retail suppliers, NRG Energy and TXU (both with PUC-regulated sister companies in Texas), to pass along the tax savings to their customers, Sixel reports. “But the state’s third-largest power retailer, Direct Energy, would not comment on its plans for passing along the tax windfall. Several other companies, including Gexa Energy, Infinite Energy and Our Energy did not respond to requests for comment.”

“The federal tax cut was a huge gift to retail electric providers and utility companies in Texas,” said AARP’s Tim Morstad. “We feel that ratepayers should share in that windfall.”

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, who chairs the legislative panel with PUC oversight authority, sent a letter to the commission calling for retailers to pass along the tax savings from the utilities to consumers, whom she said are “ultimately entitled” to the money. If electricity providers ignore the request, Hancock threatened to file legislation that would give the commission authority to order retailers to pass along tax savings to consumers, Sixel reports.

Texas PUC yanks 221 power plans from shopping website for not offering English-language offers in Spanish. As promised, the Public Utility Commission of Texas removed from its Power to Choose electricity shopping website 221 electricity offers from 18 competitive retail power providers because those English-language promotions were not also offered on the Spanish-langauge site, Poder de Escoger. A commission spokesman noted the 221 electricity offers can be reactivated on Power to Choose if suppliers list them on the Spanish-language site.

“Some retail providers said they don’t get much traffic from Poder de Escoger and were reluctant to spend the money it would take to translate their rapidly changing offers into Spanish,” L.M. Sixel reports in the Houston Chronicle.

The action comes after PUC chair DeAnn Walker on Friday provided short notice of Monday at 8 am to ensure electricity offers get bilingual treatment or be removed from the shopping website. “I’m not happy with that at all,” Walker said. “They’re not going to have one on the English and not on the Spanish.”

Parties spar over proposed transmission line to import cheap Canadian hydropower to New England. Massachusetts-based CommonWealth magazine is providing a forum for both advocates and opponents of a controversial planned powerline project to allow the state to import cheap hydropower energy from Canada. In one commentary, John Carroll of New England Clean Energy Connect and Lynn St-Laurent of Hydro-Quebec defend the controversial project against criticisms from regional environmental groups.

“Massachusetts’ leadership on energy policy has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move the needle on clean energy,” the duo write, noting that project would result in nearly half of the state’s electricity consumption being supplied by clean energy resources. “Surprisingly, some environmental advocates, like the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Council of Maine, oppose this opportunity and are standing with the fossil fuel industry to maintain the status quo, and sink the state’s clean energy agenda.”

Rather than supplant development of renewable energy in New England, as the environmental groups complain, the Canadian hydropower will encourage more “closer to home” renewable energy because the region will have “a foundation of affordable, clean, and reliable energy,” Carroll and Laurent maintain. “As close neighbors, we have the opportunity to create a powerful, regional partnership. The approval of contracts proposed in the Massachusetts clean energy procurement process will see large quantities of 100 percent hydropower flow onto the New England grid around the clock every day of the year. The agreements will return unmatched consumer value in economic and reliability benefits, while helping the Commonwealth achieve a clean energy future.”

Tony Donovan  and Becky Bartovics of Sierra Club Maine fired back, calling for readers to consider Carroll’s and Laurent’s association with the controversial project. “New England Clean Energy Connect project proponents put a nice spin on their joint project, but they respond as public relations employees rather than with scientific facts. The project will only truly benefit the shareholders and administration of Central Maine Power, its parent company Iberdrola, and Hydro-Quebec,” the environmentalists write.

“To suggest that it is a clean way for Massachusetts to don a renewable energy cloak going into the future is patently ridiculous and mendacious.” They say. “We are opposed to Hydro-Quebec power, and stand opposed to a high-voltage transmission line ruining the landscape of Maine’s unique environment. We absolutely do not ‘stand with the fossil fuel industry,’ as the authors stated. Period.”

“The damage to Maine’s environment for Massachusetts to wallow in fake clean power from Quebec is huge,” the say. “The transmission line crosses 115 streams, 126 wetlands and numerous lakes and ponds while dangling towering power lines over one of our most iconic forested waterways. Central Maine Power’s transmission line rights of way will be clear-cut and ‘maintained’ with periodic spraying of a chemical soup of herbicides putting local streams in harm’s way. Bisecting forests with this 54-mile corridor will fracture habitat throughout the region, decreasing biodiversity that interconnects and makes our world habitable. The transmission line is definitely neither clean nor green.”


More electric Industry news of interest:

Oregon PUC report evaluates how to expand consideration of climate change and equity. Agency would need changes in state law to properly consider impacts on carbon emissions in much of its deliberations. The Oregon Public Utility Commission has developed a road map for adapting regulation to the changing electric sector, with an eye to making progress on climate change and equity. The report was required by the Oregon Legislature when it passed Senate Bill 978 in 2017. Many of the suggested changes would require action by the Legislature to expand or alter the regulatory body’s authorities. The report recommends action in six areas: climate change; affordability, equity, and environmental justice; retail customer options; utility incentive alignment ; regional market development ; participation and inclusion. “The PUC’s strength is using unbiased, economic analysis and independent decision-making that balances trade-offs among competing priorities,” stated Megan Decker, commission chair, in a press release. “This report creates an overarching framework for the PUC to organize its work to adapt to an evolving sector.”

Xcel Energy opens huge, $1 billion wind farm on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. Rush Creek, state’s largest wind farm, has 300 turbines and spans five counties. It will start commercial operation Oct. 31. With a plan to get the majority of its power from renewable energy by 2026, Xcel Energy Colorado on Tuesday celebrated the completion of one of the projects that will help realize that goal — a 300-turbine wind farm that sprawls across five counties on the Eastern Plains. The 600-megawatt Rush Creek Wind Project covers nearly 100,000 acres in five counties: Lincoln, Arapahoe, Elbert, Kit Carson and Cheyenne. It is the largest wind farm in the state and the first large-scale wind farm owned and operated by the utility. Rush Creek was built with all made-in-Colorado turbines, produced in Vestas plants in Brighton, Pueblo and Windsor. “It’s a billion-dollar investment. It’s a huge investment for us,” said Kent Larson, Xcel Energy’s executive vice president. “There’s enough wind in these wind turbines that it will serve over 300,000 homes.”

N.J. legislative proposal aims to spur electric vehicles with rebates, fast-charging infrastructure. Months of negotiations have led to a new effort to electrify New Jersey’s transportation sector with a measure that tries to allay ‘range anxiety’ for consumers. A legislative push to kick-start the state’s lagging efforts to promote the use of electric vehicles calls for the development of hundreds of fast-charging stations across New Jersey and rebates to those who buy zero-emission cars. The legislation, expected to come up for consideration in October, stems from months of negotiations among clean-energy advocates, lawmakers and the Murphy administration. A draft bill essentially merges features of several proposals that came before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee in May. The proposal is viewed as a way to accelerate what many see as a top policy imperative — electrifying the transportation sector, the state’s biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to climate change.

Maryland PSC rejects Pepco-owned microgrid proposal, without prejudice. Energy Choice Matters reports the Maryland PSC issued an order, without prejudice, denying two proposed utility-owned microgrid pilot projects from Pepco, which were advanced for the commission’s consideration to meet a condition imposed as part of Exelon’s acquisition of the utility company. “Although Pepco has made a good faith filing as required by Condition No. 13, we find the proposal lacks critical details that preclude our approval of the proposed pilot microgrid projects at this time,” the PSC said in its order. “Most significant is the company’s proposal to recover all microgrid costs solely from its Maryland customer base, which is contrary to the commission’s direction in Order No. 86990. The proposal also lacks essential metrics for a pilot study and a definitive sunset date.” (Case 9361)

Pa. PUC holds more hearings for proposed power line project (video). The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission held another set of hearings in reference to the proposed Transource power line project. Many residents from Franklin County told the judges they were not in favor of the project and believed it would not be beneficial to Franklin County. Some even commented saying they were not in favor of the practice of eminent domain. And while there was much opposition, Transource officials say there is also a lot of misunderstandings about the project as well. “I asked some more questions, and did a little bit of math and realized we’re talking about pennies per month for somebody’s electric bill for something that was going to scar Franklin County forever,” said Bob Ziobrowski, Franklin County Commissioner.

Kentucky schools gear up to preserve special rate treatment. Schools prepare to fight proposed utility rate increase fearing a $500,000 bill. In anticipation of a utilities rate hike, Fayette County Public Schools board members voted to ask the state’s School Boards Association to represent them before the state’s Public Service Commission. Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas & Electric have announced plans to ask for a rate increase before the state Public Service Commission. The amount of the proposed rate increase will be announced by Sept. 27, said KU spokeswoman Chris Whelan. The increase is needed for “safety and reliability and to ensure that we continue to invest in our system,” Whelan added. When KU won approval of a rate increase in 2017, the Kentucky School Boards Association was successful in getting a “school-only rate.” The new rate saved the district $200,000, said Poteat. But Whelan said the “school-only rate” was only a temporary pilot program for a limited number of schools and may not be available again. “It was paid for by the rest of the customers. You and I and every other customer basically covered those costs. Obviously that’s a big benefit to the schools but it’s a detriment to our other customers,” said Whelan.

BGE gas rate hike would have ‘significant impact’ on Baltimore industrial plants. W.R. Grace & Co. and the company that operates the Domino Sugar refinery asked the Maryland Public Service Commission to “carefully scrutinize” BGE’s proposed $63.3 million gas rate hike.

Gas company faces fallout from Mass. explosions, fires. The natural gas-related explosions and fires last week in the Merrimack Valley are credit negative for Bay State Gas and NiSource and could result in deteriorating finances at the companies, according to a leading credit rating agency. Moody’s Investor Service on Tuesday also forecast a “more contentious regulatory relationship” for the companies that operate Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, the utility under scrutiny in the wake of Thursday’s disaster that led to one death, 25 hospitalizations and damage to more than 60 homes. In a new advisory, Moody’s said pipeline explosions on a similar scale in San Bruno, California in 2010 led to more than $500 million in claims against Pacific Gas & Electric that were mostly covered by insurance. “However, the California Public Utilities Commission and interveners were sharply critical of PG&E,” Moody’s said. “As a result, PG&E shareholders had to fund more than $4 billion of unrecoverable costs and penalties.”

Report: Connecticut utilities increasingly must fend off cyberattacks. A new state report shows Connecticut’s electric, natural gas and large water companies fended off an onslaught of cyberattacks last year. A new state report says Connecticut’s electric, natural gas and large water companies successfully fought off a growing number of sophisticated cyberattacks last year. The Connecticut Critical Infrastructure 2018 Annual Report released Tuesday found utilities are spending more time, devoting more resources and educating their workforces to meet the increased level of threats. Electric utility Eversource, for instance, receives about 1 million threats a day from nation states and private actors. The attacks range from attempting to compromise systems to phishing directed at employees. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has pushed for stronger cybersecurity measures in Connecticut, notes that challenges still remain and “we must continue to practice diligence.” Four utility companies participated in the security review, conducted by Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. Cable and broadband companies declined.

Proposed solar array in New York fails to get county legislative support. A Cayuga County Legislature committee Tuesday voted against approving a land development agreement for a 6.5 megawatt solar power project on property near the Cayuga County Jail. The Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee defeated a proposed solar panel array from developer Abundant Solar by a 3-3 vote. The project was previously approved at the August meeting of the Public Works Committee before being tabled at that month’s Ways and Means meeting. The project from Abundant Solar Power centers around a land development agreement, with a 25-year lease, for a 35-acre piece of county land at the Natural Resource Center at 7445 County House Road. Besides Abundant, which would actually build and own the array, the project was developed partly by the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board, of which Cayuga County is a member.

Maine regulators call utilities’ response to October 2017 windstorm ‘reasonable’.  State regulators say the response by Maine’s major electric utilities to last October’s windstorm was reasonable, after investigating the utilities’ reaction to the storm, which left as many as 467,000 customers without power. Maine Public Utilities Commission chairman Mark Vannoy says that given a weather forecast that underestimated the wallop Maine would take, Central Maine Power and Emera made the right moves — mostly. “When you have a bad forecast and expected maybe 50,000 outages and you ended up with 400,000 outages, then you’ve got to adapt and respond. And the adaption and response was I think, again reasonable,” he says.

Sempra Energy announces agreement with Elliott Management and Bluescape Energy. Sempra Energy today announced that it has entered into a cooperation agreement with affiliates of Elliott Management Corporation and Bluescape Energy Partners LLC. Funds affiliated with Elliott and Bluescape collectively own a 4.9-percent economic interest in Sempra Energy valued at $1.6 billion. As part of the agreement and the ongoing refreshment of the Sempra Energy board, the parties have worked cooperatively together to identify a discrete list of final board nominees and expect to work together for Sempra Energy to announce and appoint two new directors to Sempra Energy’s board that are mutually agreed between the parties in the coming weeks. Additionally, Sempra Energy will repurpose its board’s current LNG Construction and Technology Committee into a new LNG and Business Development Committee. The new committee will consist of its three current members and, upon appointment to the Sempra Energy board, the two new directors. The LNG and Business Development Committee’s updated charter calls for it to work with management and the board in leading a comprehensive review of Sempra Energy’s businesses. The charter also allows the committee to retain its own independent consultants and advisors. Sempra Energy intends to update the market on the results to date of the strategic review, including any actions to be taken, in the first quarter of 2019. Elliott and Bluescape also have agreed to customary standstill, voting and other provisions. “Sempra Energy is committed to an open dialogue with our shareholders and to considering all investor perspectives on the company’s existing strategy and longer-term opportunities to create shareholder value,” said Jeffrey W. Martin, CEO of Sempra Energy. “We are pleased to have reached a positive outcome with Elliott and Bluescape. Our management team looks forward to working with the LNG and Business Development Committee and our full board on the continued thoughtful examination of our business and capital allocation opportunities.” “We are confident that Jeff and his team, along with the directors who will be added to the board and the LNG and Business Development Committee’s review, will lead a new era of sustainable value creation for all of Sempra Energy’s stakeholders.” Jesse Cohn and Jeff Rosenbaum of Elliott issued the following statement. “Today’s agreement will help create long-term value for all Sempra Energy shareholders,” said John Wilder, chairman of Bluescape. “This outcome is a credit to the Sempra Energy board, and we believe the board and management are well-positioned to lead the company on this path forward.” The full cooperation agreement between Sempra Energy and Elliott and Bluescape will be filed on a Form 8-K with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Voltus wins largest demand response procurement in industry history. Award brings Voltus portfolio above 1,000 MWs of demand response under management. Voltus Inc. announced that it has been selected as a winning supplier of the Illinois Power Agency’s capacity procurement for Ameren Illinois. The 653 MWs of capacity procured in this process is for planning years 2019/2020, and the award secures Voltus’ position as the only demand response provider to win a contract in the IPA all-source procurement process, which began in 2007. “Although we’re not at liberty to disclose the size of the award, we can say that it is the largest demand response public procurement award in the history of the demand response industry. It takes us well above 1,000 MWs of demand response under management across our portfolio in the United States and Canada,” said Gregg Dixon, CEO of Voltus. “And the MWs that Voltus is delivering are zero-emission credit-quality resources that don’t need subsidies to provide safe, reliable, affordable and clean energy to Illinois electricity customers.”

Company offering fast charging tech for EVs advances to Buffalo, N.Y., startup competition finals. Joshua Aviv, an alumnus of the Information Management M.S. program at the School of Information Studies, has advanced to the final round of a $5 million startup competition in Buffalo, NY. Aviv, founder and CEO of SparkCharge, a portable, fast charging unit for electric vehicles, will compete in two rounds of live pitching at 43North, a Buffalo-based startup competition offering eight cash awards, including a $1 million grand prize and seven awards of $500,000.

Tesla is facing U.S. criminal probe over Elon Musk statements. Tesla Inc. is under investigation by the Justice Department over public statements made by the company and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, according to two people familiar with the matter. The criminal probe is running alongside a previously reported civil inquiry by securities regulators. Federal prosecutors opened a fraud investigation after Musk tweeted last month that he was contemplating taking Tesla private and had “funding secured” for the deal, said the people, who were granted anonymity to discuss a confidential criminal probe. The tweet initially sent the company’s shares higher. Tesla confirmed it has been contacted by the Justice Department. The investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in the Northern District of California follows a subpoena issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission seeking information from the electric-car maker about Musk’s plans to go private, which he has since abandoned.

Marubeni to double global renewables portfolio in shift from coal. Marubeni has revealed plans to halve its 3 GW global coal-fired power portfolio by 2030, and double its holdings of renewable energy within the next five years.


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Iowa truck stop challenges Alliant Energy tariff barrier to electric vehicle charging; Pa. PUC rejects surcharge to encourage competitive electricity shopping (08/18/18)

Today’s lede: Iowa truck stop operator challenges Alliant Energy tariff barring electric vehicle sales by the kilowatt-hour. Iowa 80 Truckstop in Walcott, Iowa, is challenging before the Iowa Utilities Board a provision in Alliant Energy’s tariff that bars retailers from offering electric vehicle recharging services by the kilowatt-hour, Mitchell Schmidt reports in The Gazette newspaper.

“Currently, fuel retailers cannot sell energy by the kilowatt-hour — only by increments of time or, commonly, by giving it away free if a driver pays for a parking spot,” Schmidt writes. Iowa 80’s Delia Meier complained that the prohibition is stymieing her company’s plans to install state-of-the-art chargers at its truck stop. “This needs to be settled,” Meier said. “I think you’re going to see very little infrastructure in Iowa until it’s resolved.”

At Iowa 80’s request, the Iowa Utilities Board opened an investigation into Alliant Energy’s 2017 energy tariff, which prohibits the sale of energy by the kilowatt-hour for electric vehicle charging, Schmidt reports. “The board also is considering if the sale of energy by a retailer for electric vehicle charging should be allowed by the kilowatt-hour statewide.” The board has scheduled an Oct. 17 workshop on the issue.

Alliant’s Gilbert Nuñez said the sale of energy needs to be easy for consumers to understand. “When you pull up to a station, if a station says it’s going to be $5 to fill your battery up, it’s easy to understand versus having something by the kilowatt-hour. Customers really don’t understand kilowatt-hours and what they mean.”

Iowa 80’s Meier rejected the utility’s argument, contending consumers will be better served by a measurement of quantity, not time. “Kilowatts are something we all kind of know, just like gallons,” she said. “We all post our price per gallon and you know it driving down the street. For electricity, the common measurement is kilowatt.”

Alliant’s Nuñez countered that under state law the sale of energy by the kilowatt-hour is allowed only for utilities, meaning that if Iowa 80 were to do so, it technically would be acting as a utility infringing on Alliant’s exclusive service territory.

But Iowa’s consumer advocate Mark Schuling said energy sold from an electric vehicle charging station already has been purchased from the utility at retail cost, so the measurement for sale by the retailer shouldn’t really matter. “So there is no loss of sales as a result of electric vehicle charging stations,” Schuling said. “People need them out there along the roads for traveling, so I don’t understand why any utility is throwing up a roadblock for electric vehicle charging.”

FirstEnergy’s proposed surcharge for default service customers nixed by Pa. PUC. A proposed surcharge for FirstEnergy’s default service utility customers in Pennsylvania was rejected by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Jim Martin reports in the Erie Times-News. The surcharge was intended to encourage consumers to shop for alternate providers, not to make money for the utility, a FirstEnergy spokesman said.

Ken Springirth, an “independent consumer advocate” who petitioned the PUC to hold public hearings on the proposal, told the paper he was pleased with the decision. “Customer choice is a good thing, but it has to be simplified,” Springirth said. “I think the only ones that should be offered are ones with fixed rates.”

The PUC apparently has similar concerns, Martin reported. “As part of its order, the PUC ruled that the Office of Competitive Market Oversight should convene a group of stakeholders as part of the Customer Assistance Program — available to customers with financial hardships — with the goal of ensuring that customers enrolled in the program can only use alternate providers that provide electricity at a lower cost than the utility.”

PG&E proposed exit fee seen as existential threat to San Jose’s community choice ag program. Advocates of the community choice aggregation program just launched by the city of San Jose, Calif., warn that the program – intended to provide energy from clean, renewable power resources – is jeopardized by a Pacific Gas & Electric request for the California public Utilities Commission to impose a proposed exit fee, Emily DeRuy reports for the Bay Area News Group.

“The commission, which PG&E is heavily lobbying, is considering raising that fee, which varies significantly per household or business, by as much as 25 percent,” DeRuy writes. “Currently, the city says its program would be about 1 percent less expensive than PG&E. But if it’s forced to absorb the potential increase, which it says it would rather do than pass the cost on to customers, the city’s program could actually be more expensive, which could jeopardize it altogether.”

“By threatening the clean energy programs that are launching in San Jose and cities throughout the state, there is no more damaging decision that could be made in this state to hinder our efforts to put California on a more sustainable path,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “Overwhelmingly, people want to be part of a solution to this climate change crisis that we’re facing, and it’s important that we offer opportunities for people who can’t afford a Tesla to be part of the great dividend that green energy is bringing to us.”

PG&E rejects the idea that the charge is an exit fee, DeRuy reports, and maintains the payment is required to ensure customers who remain with PG&E aren’t burdened with costs incurred to meet the demands of the departing customers. “Really for us, it comes down to ensuring all customers are treated equally and ensuring that customers do not pay for other customers,” said spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo.

Liccardo disputed the utility’s argument. He asserted the charges are intended “to limit the ability of community choice programs like San Jose to launch and to grow.”

The mayor is determined that the new program move forward. “It’s a program that will enable every resident, every business to be able to choose the source of their electricity, to be able to find electricity that is cheaper and greener,” he said. “This is the most impactful thing that we can do in any city to be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be able to put our city and our planet on a more sustainable path.”

Electricity restructuring pioneers Wood, Brownell, put concerns about Nevada ballot initiative into perspective. Two former regulators who pioneered competitive electricity choice in Texas and Pennsylvania offered some perspective on concerns raised as part of a multimillion-dollar utility-funded campaign to defeat the required second passage of a ballot initiative that would end monopoly regulation in Nevada and allow consumers to choose among competing providers.

Opponents of Nevada’s November ballot Question 3 are concerned that customers would be vulnerable to bad actors looking to take advantage of consumers, such as providers offering plans that start low but have built-in rate increases, Yvonne Gonzalez reports in the Las Vegas Sun.

Pat Wood, who became chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission after working to restructure the Texas electric market as chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, walked the reporter with the Las Vegas Sun through the Texas Power to Choose website and its 150 energy plans offered. “I never get past the first page,” Wood said. “I just look at the cheaper ones.”

Wood noted that if one of those companies should attempt to game the system and take advantage of consumers, there would be deep consequences — the PUCT can issue fines up to $1 million daily.

“Wood and other supporters of energy choice in Nevada say the state has had an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of other states, such as the rocky rollout in California. The Texas website is based on the one in Pennsylvania.” Gonzalez writes.

Nora Brownell, who joined Wood at FERC in the early 2000s after spearheading customer choice in the Keystone State as a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, underscored the outreach effort the state undertook to educate the state’s consumers about customer choice in electricity. “We had a massive consumer education program,” Brownell said. “It was run by the PUC, not by the utilities, because the utilities were giving out bad information.”

Gonzales notes that opponents of energy choice also contend a restructured market in Nevada would jeopardize an expanding renewable energy portfolio as well as net metering. “Wood said Texas became a leader in renewable energy and Brownell said Pennsylvania added wind energy after restructuring, all driven by consumer demand.”

PJM looks to accommodate Illinois nuclear subsidies in FERC proceeding. PJM Interconnection’s Vince Duane touted value of the power grid operator’s competitive electricity market in an op-ed published by Crain’s Chicago Business. But he also emphasized the balancing act PJM will need to undertake to accommodate state subsidies for nuclear power in Illinois, recently upheld by a federal appeals court, with a mandate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure state-mandated resource programs don’t jeopardize the “competitive integrity” of PJM’s market.

“On Sept. 20, PJM will join stakeholders at the Illinois Commerce Commission Policy Forum to discuss the path forward to address FERC’s order and its potential impact on consumers. PJM seeks to work with the Illinois Commerce Commission, consumer representatives, generation owners and others to adjust the design of its capacity market as ordered by FERC,” Duane writes. “The proposal we file on Oct. 2 must preserve the functional purpose of the market — achieving reliability at the lowest reasonable costs — while affording states like Illinois an opportunity to advance environmental and social policy objectives important to their citizens. Ultimately, it is imperative that electricity customers in Northern Illinois continue to enjoy the reliability and savings that PJM’s markets have delivered for over 20 years.”


More electric Industry news of interest:

Virginia companies ask for better access to suppliers offering renewable power. A letter to Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration asks for more flexibility for companies seeking to buy from alternative suppliers. Virginia needs to make it easier for companies of all sizes to access greener energy sources, according to a letter signed by a dozen major energy users. In a wide-ranging letter to the state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy last month, the group of businesses, universities and healthcare institutions said Virginia’s competitiveness depends on broader access to renewable power. “To stay competitive, Virginia should offer a range of choices for large customers to access and procure renewables from both utility and non-utility providers,” the Aug. 24 letter says. Large users “should also be able to aggregate their load across the Commonwealth and procure less than 100 percent renewable energy if they so wish.” The letter was submitted as part of a now-closed public comment period for the Virginia Energy Plan, a ten-year strategic vision for energy policy being devised at the behest of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. The companies submitted the comments in hopes of accelerating the fledgling energy transition underway in the state, which passed expansive energy legislation last winter that is already spurring interest and conversations around clean energy.

Mackinac Center: Consumers Energy’s IRP costly to Michigan residents. In June, Consumers Energy submitted its 2018 Integrated Resource Plan — the planning document that will guide its business decisions well into the future — to the Michigan Public Service Commission. That plan commits the utility to closing its most reliable electricity generation plants and moving toward less diverse and less reliable options by 2040. State government regulators should reject the plan as unreasonable and overly risky. An August 2017 U.S. Department of Energy study described how plans to replace always-on, baseload generation plants could lead to electric grid disruptions and higher energy costs. But Consumers Energy appears eager to test the validity of the federal agency’s claim that maintaining “a diverse portfolio of generation resources and well-planned transmission investments” is “critical to meeting regional reliability objectives.” Consumers Energy currently makes use of a diverse portfolio of generation assets. It owns or purchases electricity from a mix of sources, including coal, nuclear, natural gas and renewables. But its 2018 plan sets out to deliberately divest from those reliable sources by eliminating about half of its natural gas generation and closing or ceasing purchases of all nuclear and coal-fueled electricity over the next two decades. In reality, the company’s plan to divest from most of its current generation capacity creates the exact opposite of a balanced and diverse system. By moving away from reliable nuclear, natural gas, and coal, it is creating a system that is far more likely to suffer from temporary and sudden outages or price spikes. Unfortunately, its new system will also be at the mercy of extended periods of inclement weather, as happened in the U.K. earlier this year when wind speeds dropped to near zero for a week. Here Consumers should pay heed to the DOE study, which stresses the difference between long- and short-term reliability.

Electricity firm faces Connecticut ban, $1.5 million fine. Liberty Power plans to dispute a possible $1.5 million penalty and a six-month ban on enrolling new electricity customers in Connecticut, as the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority conducts an ongoing investigation into what PURA has described as ongoing enrollment of customers without permission, “back billing” and other tactics. In a statement provided the website Energy Choice Matters, Liberty Power indicated it will seek a hearing as allowed under PURA rules to demonstrate actions it has taken to create “a strong, transparent sales quality program” in the company’s words, among other steps. To date this year, PURA has registered a half-dozen complaints by Connecticut residents of Liberty Power enrolling them without their consent.

Robo calls attributed to utility prompt Destin, Fla., officials to issue FAQs about possible power plant purchase. The City Council in Destin, Fla., on Monday agreed to have the city’s special counsel help provide answers to residents’ “frequently asked questions” about the city’s possible purchase of Gulf Power’s electric plant and other property in Destin. The questions include those that ask about the cost of such a purchase, the annual operating cost and revenues of a city-owned electric utility, and the city’s ability to quickly restore electricity after it’s knocked out by a major storm. The answers to such questions could be posted on the city’s website and shared via other means. Some council members said the information would help combat a recent spat of “robocalls” sent to scores of Gulf Power customers in Destin. Some council members said a lobbying firm working with Gulf Power is responsible for the robocalls, which they said spread false and misleading information about the city’s possible utility purchase. The city entered into a 30-year franchise agreement with Gulf Power in May 1986 and, after several updates, that contract is set to expire on Friday. At its special meeting last week, a majority of the council agreed to exercise an option that indefinitely preserves the city’s right to purchase the company’s electric plant and other property in the city, and also to continue to negotiate a new potential franchise agreement with the company.

Running washing machine in the evening could soon cost Calif. utility customers more money. If you like to crank up your air conditioner or dishwasher in the evening, think twice. It’s about to cost you more on your electricity bill. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District will launch a new rate system next month that charges residential users higher rates between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. — and lower rates at other times. SMUD, which provides electricity to more than a half-million residences in Sacramento County, has begun notifying some customers. The rate overhaul will phase in groups of residential customers between October and April, officials said. Some customers with rooftop solar panels have been on the time-of-day system since earlier this year. SMUD is among several major utilities in the state switching to rate systems that encourage customers to reduce energy use when peak demand strains the providers’ ability to buy and deliver electricity. SMUD and other utilities must pay premium prices for energy they buy during peak hours, which in turn forces higher customer rates, utility officials said.

Devil in the details of Rhode Island’s 400 MW renewable energy RFP. The request for proposals issued last week by National Grid includes contract terms that are anything but favorable to renewable energy developers, and seeks projects so large that they will be difficult to site. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is touting the successes of her first term. And as far as renewable energy goes, she has a lot to be proud of. Raimondo has set an even more aggressive goal for the state to reach 1 GW of renewable energy by 2020. As a major step to reaching this goal, last week utility National Grid issued a state-ordered request for proposals for 400 MW of renewable energy. However, the details of this RFP show a request that may be very difficult for developers to fulfill, for several reasons.

Editorial: Wind power could blow Long Island away. Wind energy is coming to New York. And that’s good. It’s an important part of the state’s power portfolio in the fight against climate change. We’ve already seen the impacts of warming temperatures here on Long Island. The rising seas that threaten our coastline provide frightening evidence for the need to stop burning fossil fuels and start harnessing renewable forms of energy — like wind. But the urgency to convert to wind doesn’t diminish the need to do so responsibly. Largely, that’s what’s been happening and it’s especially important for Long Island, which is going to play a major role in the state’s wind revolution. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has set a strong but not unreasonable goal of generating 50 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030 — including 2,400 megawatts from offshore wind farms.

N.J. looks to build nation’s largest offshore wind farm. New Jersey opened the largest single solicitation for offshore wind development in the nation’s history, when the state Board of Public Utilities approved an order Monday morning. The state is now soliciting proposals to build an offshore wind farm capable of generating 1,100 megawatts of electricity in the designated lease areas off the Jersey Shore. “In the span of just nine months, New Jersey has vaulted to the front of the pack in establishing this cutting-edge industry,” Murphy said. “We campaigned on rebuilding New Jersey’s reputation as a clean energy leader and that involves setting an aggressive timetable on offshore wind. Thanks to the Board, today we took another enormous step toward realizing that goal with the largest single-state solicitation of offshore wind in the country.”

N.J. ready to solicit bids for 1,100 MW of offshore wind. Solicitation expected to be just first step in realizing governor’s aggressive goal of 3,500 megawatts by 2030. The state yesterday took a significant step toward achieving its goal of developing a robust offshore-wind industry by offering the nation’s largest solicitation to build offshore capacity. The unanimous action by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities opens a window beginning Thursday for at least four developers to vie to build up to 1,100 megawatts of capacity off the Garden State’s coast. More importantly, it commits the state to open up two additional solicitations within the next four years to reach Gov. Phil Murphy’s oft-stated goal of having 3,500 megawatts of wind capacity by 2030, enough to power, the governor claims, more than a million homes.

Ohio electric co-ops tout 50-year-old coal-fired power plant as ‘clean, safe, reliable and affordable’. Ohio had joined 25 other states in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the CPP and the Supreme Court eventually stayed the plan. With the change from the Obama to the Trump administration, a new clean energy rule is being implemented. “It regulates carbon dioxide emissions from power plants inside the fence. There are not standards on the implementation of efficiency requirement or renewables. It is a more balanced approach and gives more control to states over how to regulate and control carbon dioxide emissions,” explained Doug Miller, vice president of statewide services for Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives. The Buckeye Power cooperative took over management and operation of the 1,800-megawatt coal-fired plant on March 1. Buckeye Power owns Units 2 and 3 and now manages the entire plant under the banner of the Cardinal Operating Co. Cardinal is turning 50 years old this year. Miller said the plan for Buckeye Power under the new regulation isn’t changing from Buckeye Power’s inception more than 50 years ago. “We continue to be about clean, safe, reliable and affordable power for our members. We think coal is a valuable and meaningful resource for generating power,” he said.

NRC grants license extensions for Entergy’s Indian Point reactors in New York. “After a famously long review process, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved new licenses Monday for both of Entergy Corp.’s Indian Point nuclear reactors,” Politico reports. “Yet it’s something of a mixed blessing for the nuclear industry. The company spent 11 years trying to get the licenses renewed but instead of running for another 20 years — the normal length of an extension — the units will only be allowed to run through April 2024 and April 2025 as part of an agreement reached with New York state and Riverkeeper to close the reactors early. Many, many, MANY Democratic politicians have raised hell about Indian Point over the decades, pouncing on every real and perceived flaw the plant had, especially after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, without really acting to shut the plant down. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proved himself to be dogged on the issue and last year’s deal calls for Entergy to close the plant in 2021 but the extra few years is meant offer a buffer in case the state’s grid operator says that reliability upgrades need to be made before the units can be taken offline.”

Cat gets into substation, temporarily knocks out power to thousands in New Orleans. Thousands of Entergy New Orleans customers lost power for more than an hour after a cat got into a substation Monday morning. A statement from the company said a cat got into a substation and caused a flash when it touched the equipment. The outage caused traffic light failures in some of the city’s key thoroughfares and intersections as rush hour was coming to an end. It also temporarily closed businesses and had those that have to start preparing food for the lunch rush put behind on their preparations. “Honestly it’s unbelievable. I wouldn’t think an animal would be able to do that,” Duc Bui, Fharmacy Sous Chef, said. Business owners say the frequency of the outages is frustrating. “It would be okay if it was a one-time thing,” said Justin Pitard of Avery’s restaurant on Tulane Avenue. “It’s a really big inconvenience.”

Beat rising energy costs: solar power jumps in Snohomish County, Wash. Incentives and technology mean there’s no better time to switch to solar. With rising energy costs, more Washington homeowners are looking to alternatives. For more and more, those alternatives are coming from the sun. Consider the numbers. By 2014 Snohomish County had only a total of 500 solar projects. In the last year, Snohomish County has seen at least 350 residential solar installations completed. “Snohomish County is a part of the growing solar industry with on average seven solar projects being installed each week in 2018,” says Anders Alexander, with Everett’s Blossom Solar. “Snohomish County is growing, in population and in electricity usage. More homes are being built each week, more electric cars are being purchased and plugged in, and more homes are installing air conditioning. All of these changes require more electricity and solar is a solution to utility rates that are increasing each year just to keep up,” Anders says.

Pittsford, N.Y., moves forward with community choice aggregation (video). The town of Pittsford is one step closer to having more control over their energy rates. The Zoning Board decided to move forward with legislation on “Community Choice Aggregation” at a meeting held Monday. The idea is to buy electricity directly from the supplier, with the goal of saving money. Pittsford, Brighton and Irondequoit are all exploring the idea.

Citing rapid electrification, Cadillac puts new diesels on hold. Cadillac has put diesel engine development on the back burner, citing the industry’s rapid shift to electric vehicles. Cadillac President Steve Carlisle, speaking last week at the XT4 compact crossover launch here, said the brand is re-evaluating diesel technology. “We have been working on diesel, but the markets may be changing more quickly than we anticipated,” he said. “Going forward, we will focus on electrification.”

Saudi wealth fund invests more than $1 billion in electric carmaker Lucid Motors. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has agreed to invest more than $1 billion in Lucid Motors, adding to the emerging competition facing U.S. electric vehicle maker Tesla. The funding will enable Silicon Valley-based Lucid to achieve the commercial launch of its Lucid Air electric vehicle in 2020, PIF said in an announcement on Monday. Lucid joins Daimler-owned Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen’s Audi and Porsche divisions in the battle for dominance in the market for premium battery cars. Tesla shares initially dropped 2.2 percent on Monday’s announcement before recovering to positive territory. In August, Tesla founder Elon Musk said the Saudi sovereign wealth fund could help him to take his company private. The Lucid investment, which PIF said is more than $1 billion but did not give an exact figure, is also part of Saudi Arabia’s plan to build an environmentally friendly economy, to diversify the kingdom away from reliance on crude oil.

Tesla has ‘no credible competition,’ analyst says. Tesla Inc. faces no competition at present, and when it does it will be able to hold its own, analysts at Bernstein said in a note Monday. And all the hand-wringing about potential rivals for its electric cars glosses over Tesla’s greatest long-term competitive advantage: its “unparalleled brand,” they said.

Tesla is facing tougher Model S and Model X competition at an inconvenient time. While all eyes are focused on Tesla’s Model 3 ramp and Elon Musk’s erratic behavior, rivals are unveiling compelling high-end electric cars. Intensifying high-end competition could spell more pressure for Tesla to execute on its huge Model 3 production ramp. For the time being, the Model 3 lacks a true peer in the sub-$50,000 electric car market. While rival vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt have their fans, reviews make it clear that the Model 3 is cut from a different cloth in fields such as looks, handling and performance. It also comes with a superior infotainment system, and — should a buyer opt for the Model 3’s Premium Interior and Enhanced Autopilot options — can also provide luxury trimmings and driver-assistance features that products like the Bolt and Leaf can’t match for now. The Model 3 will face somewhat tougher competition in 2019, as the likes of Volvo and Volkswagen launch new electric cars. But judging by what’s known about the upcoming launches, it’s hardly panic time.

Audi unveils e-tron, the latest model to challenge Tesla’s luxury EV dominance. In a city where Teslas are a common sight — and just a few minutes from the factory where Elon Musk’s company is cranking out a record number of electric vehicles — Audi rolled out an all-electric SUV it hopes will cut into Tesla’s dominance of the luxury EV market. Audi’s new e-tron, which hits the market next spring, has been heralded as a game changer by leaders of the German automaker.

Elon Musk sued by cave rescuer he accused of being a pedophile. Elon Musk, the brash Silicon Valley billionaire, was sued on Monday by a British cave explorer he had accused of being a pedophile after the two butted heads over the high-profile rescue of children from a cave in Thailand this summer. In the lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in California, lawyers for the caver, Vernon Unsworth, accused Mr. Musk of embarking on a defamation campaign “to destroy” Mr. Unsworth’s reputation “by publishing false and heinous accusations of criminality.” “Musk’s influence and wealth cannot convert his lies into truth or protect him from accountability for his wrongdoing in a court of law,” one of the caver’s lawyers, L. Lin Wood, said in an emailed statement. The suit is seeking damages in excess of $75,000.

S&P Global report warns Australian government intervention in electricity market could drive prices higher. A global business intelligence report says the Australian government’s threat to intervene in the electricity market may initially cut power bills but the failure to establish a national energy policy is creating uncertainty that will inevitably drive up costs. The Morrison government has come out strongly against the energy industry, threatening it with interventions including forced divestments and creating a regulated basic power price. However, S&P Global says the moves may have the unintended consequence of pushing costs higher. Australians may see a short-term power relief but a lack of energy policy is likely to drive up prices in the long run. “Regulatory intervention may only offer short-lived benefits,” S&P Global’s report said. “Potential regulatory intervention could limit incentives for market participants and negatively affect the sector’s credit quality over the longer term, despite alleviating some price pressures on consumers in the short term. Although the measures may offer short-term reprieve to end consumers, they could hurt the profitability of market participants and subsequently may price out some of the smaller players, thereby reducing overall competition.”


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Nevada utility seeks ‘impact’ fees from noncustomer; ERCOT’s summer survival deemed a result of its market (09/17/18)

Today’s lede: Nevada utility seeks ‘impact’ fees from noncustomer. A company looking to build a biofuels plant in Nevada filed with state regulators in June, pursuant to state law, to bypass NV Energy and purchase its electricity needs in the competitive market. Now NV Energy is telling the Nevada Public Utilities Commission the noncustomer, California-based Fulcrum Bioenergy, must pay ongoing “impact” fees to the utility along with a one-time $1.179 million payment for “lost portfolio optimization opportunities,” Riley Snyder reports in the Nevada Independent.

“If accepted by the PUC, the company’s proposed fees could foreshadow the treatment of similar applications by businesses filing to preemptively leave NV Energy as a customer before operating in the state, including one filed by the (NFL football franchise) Raiders last week and a possible application from Google for a potential future Nevada data center,” Snyder reports.

The utility’s testimony counters findings by commission staff that an impact fee isn’t called for because the proposed exit by Fulcrum, which will transform waste into jet fuel and other products, would not have a financial impact on NV Energy or its customers, according to Snyder’s report. The staff also expressed that a “prudent utility” should plan ahead and avoid any adverse impact from a facility that won’t come online until September 2019.


Texas grid’s survival of hot summer with tight supply deemed market success. More reports coming in about how the ability of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to survive the hot Texas summer despite a razor-slim reserve margin demonstrates the superiority of its “energy only” market model, which unlike PJM and other big U.S. electricity markets does not have a capacity market.

“Power market advocates pointed to Texas’ success this summer as an example of market forces sending the right signals to power plant owners to keep the lights on, or to retire,” Politico reports.

The San Antonio Express-News talked about the “balancing act” feat with ERCOT president and CEO Bill Magness. “What we saw through the summer was, number one, there was great performance. And I think from the generating units that make the power, we saw outage rates that were … very low. There were also a lot of days when the wind production was high when we needed it. So the various types of generation came through. And we also saw a period of extreme heat in late July when we set an all-time record, several all-time records for energy use in ERCOT. But we didn’t see that kind of heat maintained all the way into August and through August that you see in some years,” Magness said. “In that time, when we broke records, we saw the market respond as it’s designed to respond.”

Rye Druzin, the Express-News reporter who conducted the interview, asked if ERCOT simply dodged a bullet this summer. “I think the industry operated effectively, performed very well, and we had certainly some very hot, pretty extreme weather periods,” Magness responded. “I think part of it is sort of an operations mentality that the bullet’s coming at you every day from somewhere.”

Meanwhile, others are citing the Texas experience this summer as a means of criticizing the Trump administration’s putative call for consumers to subsidize uneconomic baseload coal and nuclear power plants.

“The Texas electricity market proved once again why it’s a leading innovator, and power customers around the world should pay attention,” Chris Tomlinson writes in the Houston Chronicle. “Texas’s lightly-regulated market, heavily reliant on renewable energy, worked as planned. The sky did not fall.”

ERCOT proved grid operators can shut down uneconomical coal plants, rely on renewable energy and still provide reliability and reasonable prices, Tomlinson concludes. “Secretary of Energy Rick Perry should pay particular attention to the system that he helped deploy when he was governor. Perry claims that America’s electric grids cannot rely on natural gas and renewable sources. He wants to force consumers to pay $3 billion in subsidies to keep open uneconomical coal and nuclear power plants.”

“Power plants that are uneconomic should shut down,” Pat Wood, former chairman of both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, declared in the Politico report.



See also:

Texas PUC ‘not happy’ with power companies offering different plans in English and Spanish on state-run website. The companies have been given a Monday morning deadline to fix the problem. A top Texas regulator is calling out power companies for offering different plans on the English and Spanish-language versions of the state’s “Power to Choose” electricity shopping website. The website is where Texans living in places that don’t have a city-owned utility – like Houston, Dallas and rural areas across the state – can go to find an electric plan. “57 [power companies] are on Power to Choose, and 34 of those do not have both English and Spanish offerings,” Texas Public Utility Commission Chairman DeAnn Walker said at a Friday meeting. “They’re not the same on both sites, and I’m not happy with that at all.” Walker gave the companies a deadline of 8 a.m. Monday to fix the problem, or the commission will begin taking those companies off the website. She says if the companies don’t make the deadline, they will still be able to translate their electric plan offers into both languages and then be placed back on the website. “But they’re not going to have one on English, and not on the Spanish, and that’s just where I am on it,” Walker said.


Texas regulators crack down on power companies that don’t offer same deals to English, Spanish speakers. State regulators put retail electricity providers on notice Friday that if they don’t offer the same electricity plans to their Spanish-speaking customers as they do to their English-speaking ones, the Public Utility Commission of Texas will yank them off the state’s Power to Choose website, where millions of Texans shop for power.


Time-of-use rates get a ‘thumbs down’ from letter writer in Colorado. Tim Fecteau of Fort Collins provided a “Thumbs Down” opinion of new time-of-use electricity rates in a letter to the Coloradoan: “After hearing about the new tripled electric rates during dinner time, I have a few suggestions to save money. Do not cook your chicken dinner; eat the chicken raw. Eat your dinner by candle light; it will be cheaper and the fumes are good for you. Turn off your refrigerator during these hours and save twice by not having to heat your lukewarm food so much. I would love to hear other suggestions.”


More electric Industry news of interest:

Why have U.S. electricity sales surged in 2018, after stagnating for years? Sales of electricity in the U.S. have barely increased despite nine straight years of economic growth. It almost looks as if the conservation ethos for American consumers has finally taken hold. That restraint also applies to large commercial and industrial customers as well. And foreign consumers seemed even less interested in plugging in. A discouraging drip, drip of bad news for the electricity industry. Well, something happened. For the eight months ended August, electric consumption in the U.S. actually rose 3.3 percent compared to last year. In other industries that’s not a high growth number, but for electric utilities with virtually 100% market penetration it constitutes unusually high levels of sales growth. Electric industry participants in recent years have gotten used to 0 percent as a normal “growth” rate. What changed? Sales to residential customers rose a spectacular 7.8 percent, commercial sales rose a solid 2 percent and the U.S. industrial sector, assumed growth engine of the economy, purchased 0.1 percent less power.

Historic rains from Hurricane Florence cause water release at Sutton Power Plant in Wilmington, N.C. Historic rains from Hurricane Florence caused the release of stormwater, which may have come into contact with coal ash from a lined landfill, at the company’s Sutton Power Plant in Wilmington, N.C. Because of the heavy rainfall amounts, it is difficult to calculate the amount of water that may have reached Sutton Lake, the cooling pond that was constructed to support plant operations. Inspections today identified a slope failure and erosion in one section of the coal ash landfill, which displaced about 2,000 cubic yards of material and would fill about two-thirds of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The majority of displaced ash was collected in a perimeter ditch and haul road that surrounds the landfill and is on plant property. Coal ash is non-hazardous, and the company does not believe this incident poses a risk to public health or the environment. The company is conducting environmental sampling as well.

Florence’s rains: Coal ash landfill collapses in Carolinas. The coal-fired Sutton plant was retired in 2013 and Duke Energy has been excavating millions of tons of ash from old waste pits and removing it to safer, lined landfills. Environmentalists have been warning for decades that Duke’s coal ash ponds were vulnerable to severe storms and pose a threat to drinking water supplies and public safety. “Disposing of coal ash close to waterways is hazardous, and Duke Energy compounds the problem by leaving most of its ash in primitive unlined pits filled with water,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who has battled the company in court. “In this instance, it appears that Duke Energy has not done enough to ensure that its new Wilmington landfill safely stores coal ash. After this storm, we hope that Duke Energy will commit itself to removing its ash from all its unlined waterfront pits and, if it refuses, that the state of North Carolina will require it to remove the ash from these unlined pits.”

Duke Energy exec: Florence is ‘absolutely the worst’ storm I’ve ever seen as a lifelong N.C. resident. David Fountain, president of Duke Energy’s North Carolina operations, told CNBC on Monday the impact from Hurricane Florence on his state has been the most severe he’s ever experienced. “I’ve lived in North Carolina my entire life, and I’ve seen a lot of bad storms, a lot of bad hurricanes. But this is absolutely the worst,” he said. In a Squawk Box interview, Fountain described Hurricane Matthew, which slammed the Carolinas in 2016, as a “100-year flood.” Matthew caused $10.3 billion in estimated damage. “I thought that [Matthew] would be the worst I’ve ever saw in my life. But this [Florence] certainly surpasses that,” he said.

How this small Florida firm is making a power play in the Carolinas. Company invests $2 billion to challenge Duke Energy for wholesale power business. Florida-based NTE is spending $2 billion to build plants and battle Duke Energy for wholesale utility customers — a sign of increased competition in what could become a wave of new players across the Carolinas.

Michigan utility moves forward with gas plant amid legal challenge. As DTE Energy prepares the site for a new $1 billion natural gas power plant near Detroit, several questions remain for the contested project. A legal appeal by environmental groups could send the 1,150 megawatt project back to the Michigan Public Service Commission for reconsideration, which might affect the project’s timeline — and potentially its viability. The Blue Water Energy Center would be built in St. Clair County near the company’s Belle River coal plant. DTE says it will be the most fuel-efficient combined cycle gas power plant in the state once it’s operational in 2022. Advocates maintain that clean energy — renewables, energy efficiency and demand response — and market purchases are a better deal for ratepayers. The groups challenging the plant’s certificates of need are the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Ecology Center, Solar Energy Industries Association, Union of Concerned Scientists and Vote Solar.

America’s oldest operating nuclear power plant to retire on Monday. The Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, located 50 miles east of Philadelphia in Forked River, New Jersey, is scheduled to retire on Monday, September 17. The plant first came online on December 1, 1969, making it the oldest commercially operated nuclear power plant in the United States. Oyster Creek was previously expected to retire on December 31, 2019, but its retirement was accelerated by more than a year to coincide with the plant’s fuel and maintenance cycle. According to Exelon, the plant’s owner, Oyster Creek will undergo a six-step decommissioning process. The typical decommissioning period for a nuclear power plant is about 60 years, so parts of the Oyster Creek plant structure could remain in place until 2075.

Pending BPU hearings will determine the future of nuclear power in New Jersey. With public hearings imminent, the debate begins in earnest about what part nuclear should play in the state’s future and whether utility customers should pay billions of dollars to prop it up. The future of nuclear power in New Jersey will begin taking shape in the next few months as the state begins debating a controversial plan to subsidize plants to avert their closing. The agency that will oversee the effort plans to begin public hearings on a proposal to have utility customers pay up to $300 million a year to prop up the three plants in South Jersey, and possibly other units in neighboring Pennsylvania. The hearings set to begin early in October come as the nation’s oldest nuclear plant, the Oyster Creek unit in Lacey Township, is scheduled to close tomorrow — the latest in a series of nuclear facilities that have closed prematurely in the past few years.

Let’s be smart about community solar in New Jersey. NJ’s recently signed energy legislation will allow many more residents and businesses to access solar energy. We must learn from other states how to do it well. One provision in the legislation will eventually allow many more residents and businesses in New Jersey to access solar energy. The provision calls for the state Board of Public Utilities to establish a pilot program for what is known as community solar. These are smaller-scale solar installations to which customers can subscribe, agreeing to purchase a certain amount of power and receiving an equivalent credit on their legacy electricity bills, even if they can’t host a solar installation themselves. This will be particularly beneficial to people who rent, including those living in apartment buildings, and residents and businesses in urban areas without enough sunlight in their neighborhoods to allow their own rooftop solar installations. The BPU has until late this year to formalize a framework for installing community solar. Properly implemented, community solar can bring multiple benefits without subjecting its host communities to significant negative impacts. But the way the BPU writes the rules will be key to the long-term success of the program.

Duquesne Light seeks to raise home rates by 4 percent, give one-time credit of $25. Pittsburgh utility Duquesne Light Co. wants to increase electricity rates for average residential customers by 4.44 percent, or about $4 more per month, documents filed Friday with state regulators show. If approved, the new rates could take effect Dec. 29. Commercial customers would see an increase of 1.98 percent, or about $20 more per month, and industrial users would see their rates go up by 1.5 percent, or about $365 more per month. The utility company also plans to pass along $24 million in federal tax savings in the form of one-time credits to customers’ bills, according to the proposed settlement filed with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. The typical residential customer, using about 600 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month would get a one-time bill credit of about $25 in January.

Snohomish County, Wash., PUD board candidates question ‘secrecy’ in CEO hiring process. The board, with two seats up for grabs, defends its plan to hire a CEO before the November election. The Snohomish County PUD appears to be getting close to hiring a new leader, but the public utility board isn’t naming names. The board could reveal who that is and the details of a proposed contract with a salary range of $350,000 to $450,000 when it meets Tuesday. For now, that mystery person is only known as “Candidate D.” Because of procedural rules, the commission can’t actually offer the candidate a job at that meeting. However, the board could introduce a resolution to make a job offer. The public would then have two weeks to comment on the choice. A new chief executive could be announced Oct. 1.

Watt It Takes: How Sunnova’s John Berger convinced oil & gas investors to believe in solar. This week on Watt It Takes: how a Texas entrepreneur with fossil fuel roots came to see solar and storage as the future of energy. We feature a conversation with John Berger, the CEO of the residential solar-and-storage firm Sunnova, about his mission to convince traditional energy investors to put their money into solar. Sunnova has pulled in tens of millions of dollars from investors who once thought solar was laughable. “I’m proud of getting a bunch of oil and gas money. I worked hard to get that money. And I want a lot more of it. The reason is that there’s been a lot of success — whether you love it or not — there’s been a lot of financial success in oil and gas and there’s a lot of really talented companies that have built big companies. And we need them to start putting their money in this space,” says Berger. Today, Sunnova is the fourth-biggest third-party solar provider in America, according to Wood Mackenzie’s U.S. Distributed Solar Service. Berger’s path is different than a lot of others in residential solar, who’ve mostly come from tech, finance or the environmental world. In this edition of Watt It Takes, Powerhouse CEO Emily Kirsch talks with Berger about his time at Enron, his belief in battery storage, his focus on resiliency in Puerto Rico, and his leadership strategy.

Coal is still king in 18 U.S. states. But for how long? Even though coal has been in steep decline, it’s still the most-used electricity generation source in 18 U.S. states, according to government statistics published this week. Not even natural gas, a rapidly growing and cleaner burning fuel, leads in that many states. The numbers underscore how large pockets of America continue to rely heavily on coal for power and jobs. “It’s hard to unseat a former champion. It doesn’t change overnight,” said Matt Hoza, manager of energy analysis at consulting firm BTU Analytics. Coal is still the most prevalent fuel for electricity in parts of Appalachia, including Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. It’s also the leader in other major coal-producing states such as Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. But coal’s role in the electric grid is shrinking because of the abundance of natural gas and the plunging prices of renewable energy. Utilities have pulled the plug on countless coal-fired power plants in response to environmental regulations and demands from customers for cleaner fuel.

U.S. Congress passes bill to help advanced nuclear power. Last week, the House passed a bipartisan bill that originated in the Senate called the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (S. 97), which will allow the private sector to partner with US National Laboratories to vet advanced nuclear technologies. The bill also directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to lay the ground work for establishing “a versatile, reactor-based fast neutron source.” The Senate also introduced a second bill called the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (S. 3422) last Thursday, which would direct the DOE to actually establish that fast neutron reactor. That bill also directs the DOE to “make available high-assay, low-enriched uranium” for research purposes. The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act has not yet made it past a Senate vote. Over the last few years, nuclear power in the US has been battered by competition against cheap natural gas and renewable energy. But a recent paper published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that the reason new nuclear builds have stagnated is that the cost of construction is too high, not necessarily that reactor technology isn’t developed enough. Nuclear power has struggled under the sheer expense of building reactors and complying with regulation, not to mention general public concern about safety and hazardous waste. As a result, nuclear power hasn’t seen any significant new expansion in decades, and these two recent bills do not address the looming problem of construction costs.

Divining the data on the U.S. non-wires alternatives market. While the NWA market is still in its infancy, data is emerging to measure its progress. But more transparency is needed to match distributed energy resources with utility grid needs.Energy efficiency, demand response, distributed generation, batteries, EVs and other sources of grid edge flexibility are starting to take the place of improvements to a utility’s “wires” infrastructure. But NWA isn’t so much a market. It’s more of a collection of regulation-driven utility projects. Not everyone calls them NWAs, either. That’s the preferred term in New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision initiative, which is driving the lion’s share of projects in the country, including Con Edison’s groundbreaking Brooklyn-Queens Demand Management program. But in California, they’re being called distribution deferral opportunities, and other states have their own descriptions for the same fundamental concept — as well as their own regulatory models for how utilities and NWA providers can share in the financial benefits. This lack of common nomenclature is matched by a lack of commonly accepted standards for how to compare and contrast the values of wires versus non-wires opportunities, particularly down at the distribution grid level.

Maryland utilities issue RFP for the supply of wholesale electric power. The Potomac Edison Co., Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Delmarva Power, and Pepco have issued Requests for Proposals for full-requirements, wholesale electric power supply to meet their Standard Offer Service obligations in their Maryland service territories. Each utility will provide market-based supply service to some or all of its electric customers who do not take service from competitive retail suppliers. The RFPs will consist of supply contracts ranging in term from three to twenty-four months. For BGE, Delmarva Power, and Pepco, the bidding for Residential contracts will occur in two procurements – October 2018 and April 2019, and the contract term will be twenty-four months. For PE, the bidding for Residential contracts will occur in four procurements – October 2018, January, April, and June 2019, and the contract term will range from twelve to twenty-four months. For BGE, the bidding for small commercial Type I contracts will occur in two procurements – October 2018 and April 2019, and the contract term will be twenty-four months.

NV Energy implements cloud-based demand-side management solution. Utility finalizes new DR implementation, modernizing legacy systems for improved load management capabilities and enhanced cybersecurity. NV Energy has implemented Itron’s IntelliSOURCE Express demand response management system (DRMS). NV Energy will use the solution to manage the utility’s agricultural demand response program. IntelliSOURCE Express includes state-of-the-art cybersecurity protections for both the software and the devices it controls for the Nevada utility, which provides energy services to 1.3 million customers and more than 40 million tourists visiting the state each year. “With IntelliSOURCE Express, NV Energy benefits immediately by using a powerful and secure software platform. Now, they have an extensible solution that enables the utility to incorporate two-way communications to devices, bring your own thermostat customer programs and integration of other distributed energy resources,” said Steve Hambric, Itron vice president of distributed energy management.

Starbucks brews a greener plan for 10,000 environmentally friendly stores. As part of its new “Starbucks Greener Stores” initiative, the coffee retailer plans to have 10,000 environmentally friendly stores worldwide by 2025. Among the goals of the program, announced Thursday, is for the company to generate enough energy by solar and wind power to offset all the electricity needed to run the chain’s stores in U.S. and Canada. Working with environmental verification firm SCS Global Services, the World Wildlife Fund and other experts, Starbucks will develop a framework to build and operate environmentally sustainable stores. An accredited auditing program will be developed so that all 15,000 company-owned stores in the U.S. and Canada can be audited. The resulting framework will be open-sourced so other retailers can use it. The move comes on the heels of the company’s announcement that it will eliminate plastic straws in all stores globally by 2020. “Simply put, sustainable coffee, served sustainably is our aspiration,” Starbucks CEO and president Kevin Johnson said in a statement.

New England retail chain reducing energy use. Ocean State Job Lot has begun a companywide investment in green energy and electricity savings by upgrading to LED light bulbs and advanced lighting control systems in each of its 131 retail locations, and its 1.5 million square foot distribution center. Once installed, in combination with the state of the art control systems, the company expects an annual savings of more than $2.7 million dollars in energy costs. LED lighting with control systems have already been installed in the company’s 1.5 million square foot distribution center in North Kingstown, R.I. and at recently-opened new stores in Fall River, Woonsocket, R.I., Falmouth, Maine, and South Plainfield, N.J. Conversion of the remaining stores is ongoing.,550254

Betting against Tesla: Skeptics make their case. Elon Musk says short-sellers are conspiring to bring his company down. Some seasoned investors say it’s just a matter of fundamentals. “This isn’t only about Musk,” said Mark B. Spiegel, a managing partner at Stanphyl Capital, which has a large position shorting Tesla. “It’s about a terrible capital structure, because of the debt, and a stock price that is out of whack with the demand for the product and the competition that’s coming in.” Mr. Spiegel said he had spoken out to “educate people” about Tesla’s finances. “I’m just putting facts out there that counter the claims Musk puts out there,” he said. “We don’t make up reasons to short something.”

Tesla had a scandal-free week, and the stock gained 12 percent. Tesla and CEO Elon Musk flew largely under the radar this week — a notable reprieve from a slew of stock-moving headlines during the last month — and shares of the automaker gained 12 percent across the five days of trading. It makes for Tesla’s best week since Aug. 3, before Musk sent shares swinging with a take-private tweet.

The promise and peril of blockchain. From carbon-based cryptocurrencies to reward programs for green projects, blockchain is helping tackle issues of transparency, accountability and traceability. What are the most innovative uses of blockchain, and is it actually working?

Blockchain platform hosts first capacity market trade. EDF Energy and UK Power Reserve have completed the first exchange of a capacity market obligation using the blockchain-based energy trading platform being developed by Electron. UK Power Reserve purchased a 2MW contract for demand-side response (DSR) covering the 2017/18 delivery year from EDF Energy. According to Electron, conventional trades can take up to five days to process, presenting a barrier to participation in the market, particularly for distributed energy resources such as batteries, electric vehicles and DSR. The firm said incorporating capacity market trading rules into the platform has allowed compliance checks to be carried out automatically, bringing huge improvements to the speed and efficiency of transactions which can now be processed almost immediately.

SSE, Npower tap Martin Read as chair of merged UK retail energy group. Energy suppliers SSE and Innogy have appointed Martin Read as chairman designate of the new energy supplier to be formed through a merger of their retail arms. Mr Read — a former chairman of Laird and chief executive of IT services company Logica — will take up his role on October 1, ahead of the planned listing of the new retail company in the first quarter of next year. Alistair Phillips-Davies, chief executive of SSE, said Mr Read’s appointment would ensure “the business is ready to hit the ground running”. He will join chief executive designate Katie Bickerstaffe and chief financial officer designate Gordon Boyd in the leadership of the yet to be named energy supplier, which combines the retail arm of SSE and Innogy’s UK retail subsidiary Npower. The creation of the new company will reduce Britain’s “big six” energy suppliers to five and create a new listed company with just under 13m customer accounts. It will have a larger share of electricity supply than British Gas, the market leader, with a 24 per cent share compared with 22 per cent. Its market share for gas will be significantly lower than that of British Gas, however.