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Record coal capacity retirements seen for 2018; Influential S.C. lawmaker urges against rate action that threatens Dominion merger (10/31/18)

Record drop in U.S. coal-fired capacity likely in 2018 as plants grow increasingly uneconomic. This year will most likely see a record set for coal-fired power capacity retirements in the U.S. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis expects a total of 15.4 gigawatts of capacity to close in 2018 through the retirement of 44 units at 22 plants in more than a dozen states. At least 11GW have already been closed this year, and the retirement trend is on pace to easily exceed the record 14.7GW of coal-fired generation capacity closed in 2015.

Key S.C. lawmaker urges against rate action that thwarts Dominion’s SCANA acquisition. The leader of the S.C. House cautioned the state’s utility watchdog Monday against pursuing an SCE&G rate cut so big that it could be defeated in court and “cost South Carolina ratepayers more money in the long term.” Instead, in a Monday letter, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, was supportive of concessions for ratepayers that were included in Virginia-based Dominion Energy’s latest offer to buy SCE&G’s parent company, Cayce-based SCANA. The Darlington Republican urged the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff to pursue a rate cut for SCE&G in the neighborhood of the temporary, $21-a-month cut that S.C. lawmakers passed earlier this year. Dominion’s latest offer permanently would cut SCE&G’s rates by a similar amount — about $20 a month, double what the Virginia-based company previously offered. “These concessions by Dominion are undoubtedly victories for ORS and, most importantly, the ratepayer,” Lucas wrote to Regulatory Staff executive director Nanette Edwards.

Dominion Energy offers to take over management of Santee Cooper. Dominion Energy has offered to take over and manage Santee Cooper to help it save costs after the state-owned power company racked up $4 billion in debt on a failed nuclear project. In a Monday letter to Santee Cooper chief executive Jim Brogdon, Dominion CEO Tom Farrell wrote the “unique management arrangement” would save Santee Cooper’s electric customers “hundreds of millions of dollars in overhead, fuel and capital related costs.” The proposed arrangement also would save Santee Cooper from being bought by another investor-owned utility, which “would in our view only result in higher rates for Santee Cooper’s electric customers,” Farrell wrote. Dominion has not offered to purchase Santee Cooper, which has 1,650 employees and is based in Moncks Corner.

Millions pumped into fight for, against Arizona’s renewable energy proposition. The state’s largest electric company has now poured more than $30 million into its bid to persuade Arizonans not to force it and other utilities to use more renewable resources. And the spending by Arizona Public Service under the banner of Arizonans for Affordable Energy doesn’t count another more than $734,000 pumped into the campaign against Proposition 127 by rural electric cooperatives, plus about $165,000 from Unisource Energy, the parent company of Tucson Electric Power. That’s not to say the dollars are all on one side of the issue. Citizens for a Healthy Arizona, financed largely by a political action committee formed by California billionaire Tom Steyer, already had spent close to $24 million by Oct. 20, the last day of the reporting period for the newly filed disclosure forms. The initiative would require utilities to obtain half of their power from renewable sources by 2030, a list that includes solar, geothermal and wind. By contrast, the current rules adopted by the Arizona Corporation Commission mandate just a 15 percent renewable standard by 2025.

N.J. regulators tap Rutgers to conduct energy storage assessment. The state is looking to get a better handle on how it should go about achieving aggressive goals to use energy storage systems in New Jersey, a technology crucial to the policy of transitioning to cleaner sources of energy. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities this week awarded a $300,000 contract to Rutgers University to do a comprehensive analysis of the state’s energy-storage needs and opportunities.

Maryland, Pennsylvania regulators consider large upgrade to electric grid. As the regional electric grid resolves significant congestion at the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, at least two projects are going to come close to home. Among those proposed is the upgrade of a 9.8-mile transmission line between Washington and Frederick counties. The upgrade would protect the area from widespread power losses should a large expansion of the Mid-Atlantic grid move forward, but it will also mean taller poles across Catoctin Mountain and the expansions of the substations on either end. “The key thing to remember is that Potomac Edison does not need to rebuild this line or upgrade the Ringgold and Catoctin substations with new equipment if Transource does not build its line,” said Potomac Edison spokesman Todd Meyers.

Florida regulators sign off on TECO solar projects in Tampa Bay. The Florida Public Service Commission on Monday gave a key approval to a Tampa Electric Co. plan that will add five solar-energy projects in Hillsborough and Polk counties.

ENGIE Resources acquires Plymouth Rock Energy from private equity fund. MVC Capital, Inc., a publicly traded business development company that makes private debt and equity investments, announced that MVC Private Equity Fund, L.P. has agreed to sell its stake in Plymouth Rock Energy to ENGIE Resources. Consummation of the transaction is subject to the satisfaction of certain closing conditions, including receiving approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The anticipated closing is expected by Nov. 30. On Oct. 29, ENGIE agreed to purchase Plymouth, a leading retail energy provider of natural gas and electricity. “The Plymouth team has built a leading energy marketing company in the Northeast through the hard work of its highly-skilled personnel and strong investment partners,” said Adam Sokol, President of Plymouth. “Since 2004, we have organically grown the business through strong customer relationships and customer service, and we believe that the business is well positioned for future growth under ENGIE,” said David Sokol, Vice President of Plymouth. “We are very happy with the purchase, and the fine job done by Plymouth staff to build this portfolio of customers,” said Graham Leith, Senior Vice President, Head of Retail, ENGIE Resources. “Plymouth’s customers will join our portfolio of over 25,000 commercial & industrial power & natural gas customers, expanding our market share in New York, and it should give us a much larger presence down-state.”

Maryland residents can install home energy storage and receive state tax credit. CleanChoice Energy, a renewable energy company that provides clean energy products to customers across the country, has partnered with Swell Energy to offer home energy storage batteries to Maryland residents for the first time. Through the partnership, Marylanders can now get clean home energy backup and may be eligible to receive a state tax credit of up to $5,000. Home energy batteries provide power during outages without the need of polluting home generators. Last year, more than 36.7 million people–including 88,000 Marylanders–were affected by 3,526 reported power outages across the country. “People need reliable backup power now more than ever. Climate change is fueling extreme weather that makes the grid more vulnerable to power outages at the exact time that we all depend on electricity for nearly everything. Marylanders can now have peace of mind knowing their lights will stay on when the power goes out,” said Tom Matzzie, CEO of CleanChoice Energy. “Home battery backup makes our homes more resilient, helps move us closer to 100 percent clean energy, and can make dirty generators obsolete.” “This program enables us to offer Maryland CleanChoice Energy consumers a radically simple, cost-effective clean energy and smart home solution,” said Matthew Rising, CRO of Swell Energy.

Cinemark signs nine-year wind VPPA. Cinemark USA, Inc. announced Oct. 29 it has signed a nine-year VPPA with AEP Energy Partners for up to 40 megawatts of renewable energy from AEP’s Trent Mesa wind energy center in Nolan County, Texas. Cinemark will receive RECS for the wind power capacity representing approximately 38% of its current total annual domestic energy consumption. “We remain committed to reducing our carbon footprint through both onsite and offsite renewable energy projects,” said Mark Zoradi, Cinemark’s CEO, in a statement. “This new virtual power purchase agreement between Cinemark and AEP is the next step in our ongoing efforts.”

Canadian Solar’s project to supply California’s Silicon Valley, Monterey. Canadian Solar Inc. agreed to sell output from a solar-storage project in California to municipalities in Silicon Valley and the Monterey area. Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Monterey Bay Community Power, which buy renewable energy on behalf of homes and businesses, signed 15-year contracts with the 150-megawatt project being developed by Canadian Solar’s unit Recurrent Energy, according to an emailed statement. Terms weren’t disclosed. Falling battery prices are prompting more solar developers to add storage to their projects, helping extend their output. The Slate solar project in Kings County is expected to begin operations in 2021. It will feature 180 megawatt-hours of battery storage.

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Big spending aims to sway voting next week on Nevada’s electricity choice ballot question; Minnesota regulators make ratepayers financially responsible for new gas-fired power plant (10/30/18)

Adelson and Buffett clash in Nevada showdown over electricity. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and investor Warren Buffett are set for a desert showdown over electricity next week as the two billionaires’ interests collide on election ballots in Nevada. At issue in the Nov. 6 election is the cost and control of power from the neon lights shining on the Las Vegas Strip to the state’s gold mines. A measure supported by Republican donor Adelson, who is also Las Vegas Sands Corp’s chairman, would force state legislators to break up control over much of the state’s electricity effectively held by a unit of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc, NV Energy. It would allow customers to choose their own power provider by 2023. Buffett has supported liberal causes and backed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. Unlike previous western duels, both sides in Nevada are showing up with cash.

Big money and star power highlight energy choice fight in Nevada. Opponents of Nevada’s Energy Choice Initiative have outspent supporters two to one but those in favor of opening the state’s electric market to competition are bringing the star power. Property Brothers star Jonathan Scott said he applied the no BS mentality to Nevada’s energy market after installing solar on his Las Vegas home a few years ago. He is now the face of the Yes on Question 3 campaign starring in commercials for the cause. “All of these profits are going to billionaires who are not Nevadans. They don’t live here. Why should all of the profits go there instead of bringing down the rates of the millions who live here,” Scott said. The battle has generated around $100 million in fundraising between the two sides, with opponents raising nearly two-thirds of that total.

Minnesota regulators put ratepayers on the hook for new gas-fired power plant. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 3-2 Monday to approve a proposal for a natural gas plant that would be built across the border from Duluth in Superior, Wisc., despite objections from clean energy and ratepayer groups, as well as some large industrial customers that would receive power from the new facility. The Nemadji Trail Energy Center would be a joint venture between Minnesota Power and the Dairyland Power Cooperative in Wisconsin. If Wisconsin regulators approve the plan, the new power plant would produce at least 525 megawatts of electricity. Minnesota Power and its ratepayers would be on the hook for half the $700 million cost.

Santa Monica, Calif., selects 100 percent renewable energy as default option. The Santa Monica City Council approved the selection of 100 percent renewable energy as the default product for all residential electricity customers starting in February 2019. This will offer residents and businesses in Santa Monica the ability to use electric utility options from cleaner sources. The 100 percent renewable energy tier is one of a variety of options being offered to residents and businesses. The Clean Power Alliance (CPA) of Southern California, a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, will serve the electricity to residents and businesses.

Calif. community choice aggregation supplier touts savings. David Baker has noticed a change in his energy bill. The president of RobbJack, a Lincoln-based manufacturer of carbide cutting tools, used to get his electricity from Pacific Gas & Electric, until this past February when Pioneer Community Energy launched in Placer County. Baker says representatives from Pioneer worked closely with him on a plan to cut electricity costs. RobbJack runs air conditioning and power for industrial machines in a 42,500 square-foot space, so Baker says even small savings make a big dent. Pioneer’s entrance into the market has also been a win for Thunder Valley Casino Resort, another customer. It has seen rates drop by 2-3 percent, says Doug Elmets, a spokesman for the United Auburn Indian Community, which owns the casino. “Currently, we know collectively we’re saving ratepayers here in Placer County $10 million a year,” says Placer County treasurer and tax collector Jenine Windeshausen of the switch to Pioneer. “And it’s highly likely that money is going to be spent here.”

Pennsylvania in no rush to support uneconomic nuclear power plants. As other states move to rescue their uneconomic nuclear power plants, Pennsylvania is still weighing whether to take action. Fueled by concerns over climate change, grid reliability, and job retention, states including Illinois and New York have recently given billions of dollars to support nuclear energy by essentially broadening their definitions of clean power. In May, New Jersey approved $300 million annually to help support its nuclear fleet. A similar push is underway to persuade Ohio lawmakers to rescue two facilities there. Two of Pennsylvania’s five nuclear generation facilities face early closure — Exelon’s Three Mile Island plant outside Harrisburg and FirstEnergy Solutions Beaver Valley plant near Pittsburgh. At the moment, there appears to be little urgency at the state level to keep them open, although a report expected to be released next month will lay out possible options.

Coal-fired power plant closure squeezing gypsum manufacturers. The Bruce Mansfield coal-fired power plant in Shippingport, Pa., is connected by a nearly mile-long system of conveyor belts to the National Gypsum drywall manufacturing plant across the road. There, some of the power plant’s waste is turned into the building blocks of future walls and ceilings. So when Bruce Mansfield closes by June 2021, as its owner FirstEnergy Solutions announced in August, the impact will ripple along the conveyor belt to its neighbor. National Gypsum plans to keep running the plant, where 90 people work, indefinitely, spokeswoman Beth Straeten said. “We have diversified the sources of supply of our gypsum and we are committed to operating our Shippingport plant long term,” she said.

Coal’s next big thing could be mini power plant. If coal has a future, the Energy Department is banking on small modular coal-fired power plants that it says would generate more energy out of the same amount of coal, while polluting less. With 40 percent of the existing coal fleet retired or facing closure, the agency is trying to use new technologies—ranging from advanced materials that can operate at higher temperatures to improved sensors and controls—to revive the coal industry. “What we’re proposing to do is leapfrog over that 40- to 50-year old coal technology,” Steve Winberg, head of the agency’s fossil energy office, told Bloomberg Environment. “This small modular size range is also what the developing world needs so that would mean jobs in the United States.”

Xcel Energy and Google launch effort to develop new energy solutions. Xcel Energy announced it is working with Google to deliver tools customers can use to manage their energy use and save money. Through this collaboration, Xcel Energy is launching its first set of voice actions using the Google Assistant as a seamless way for customers to access information about improving energy efficiency in their homes. “Xcel Energy is always seeking ways to bring value to our customers through new energy options and enhanced service,” said Brett Carter, executive vice president and chief customer and innovation officer at Xcel Energy. “We are excited to partner with Google and other tech leaders, as we create new ways to develop and deploy innovative energy solutions for our customers and leverage our investment in smart meter technology.”

EDF cannot limit nuclear energy sales to competitors – regulator. Power demand from French utility EDF’s retail subsidiaries cannot limit the amount of cheap nuclear electricity that is available for its competitors to buy, the energy regulator said on Monday. Under the so-called ARENH mechanism, EDF’s many smaller competitors have the right to buy up to 100 terawatt hours of power – about a quarter of the state-controlled utility’s annual nuclear energy output – to  compensate for EDF’s monopoly on nuclear production and boost competition. In recent years, competitors have made limited use of the arrangement as market prices were below the ARENH price, which has been fixed at 42 euros per megawatt hour since 2012. But with market prices now around 75 euros per MWh, demand for access to the mechanism is high. Alternative power suppliers have argued that the available ARENH volume has been limited by the demand of EDF’s unit Sowee, which like other alternative suppliers offers competitive market rates rather than the regulated power tariffs offered by EDF.

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Spending on Nevada’s energy choice ballot measure tops dollars for closely watched Senate contest (10/29/18)

Today’s lede: Spending on Nevada electricity choice ballot question more than for pivotal senate contest. Politico reporters Darius Dixon and Eric Wolff report on the “billionaire’s brawl” between Warren Buffett’s NV Energy utility and Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson to determine Question 3 on Nevada’s ballot. The tens of millions of dollars dedicated to swaying voters over the electricity choice ballot measure has topped spending for the state’s pivotal Senate race between incumbent Republican Dean Heller and Democrat Jacky Rosen, a nationally watched contest that could determine whether the Trump administration faces an opposition Senate next year.

“More than a dozen states have broken up their electric monopolies over the past quarter century in favor of competitive markets, but Nevada would be the first to do so by ballot initiative. Squashing the amendment in Nevada could help stave off similar challenges to utilities in other states where regulated monopolies have dominated — and made steady cash — for a century,” Dixon and Wolff write.

See also:

Why firefighters, law enforcement groups oppose Question 3. Nevada firefighters and law enforcement groups strongly oppose Question 3 because it’s a risky constitutional amendment that would leave Nevada consumers with higher electricity rates, fewer consumer protections and a less reliable electricity system.

 

Other electric industry news items of interest:

PJM to test blockchain for trading for renewables. Blockchain, the technology that underpins cryptocurrency transactions, is about to get tested in a trading system for matching clean-energy buyers and sellers in the largest U.S. power market. PJM Interconnection LLC and Energy Web Foundation are developing a digital ledger system to track electricity from wind and solar power plants as it’s produced, delivered, traded and sold, according to Jaclynn Lukach, vice president of PJM’s environmental information services unit. They expect to start a pilot program by the end of the first quarter. It’s a big test for an emerging technology that developers say has the potential to make transactions faster and cheaper, through a secure trading platform that can attract more participation than existing mechanisms.

Pa. township manager calls for legislation to prop up nuclear power. Unless our state Legislature and governor fix broken energy policy, we are less than one year away from the Three Mile Island Generating Station’s permanent closure. Unfortunately, current energy policy places nuclear energy at a disadvantage in Pennsylvania.  The “clock is ticking” on a solution that will not only save 675 good-paying jobs in our community, but also protect thousands of jobs for other nuclear power plant employees and skilled laborers who work as contractors in plants across the state to keep them safely and efficiently running. Fixing our state’s broken energy policy would also keep our air clean and ensure the reliability of our power grid.

S.C. regulators begin hearings on cost recovery for failed nuclear plant. Fifteen months after two S.C. utilities abandoned their decadelong effort to build two new nuclear reactors in Fairfield County, teams of lawyers will duke it out during a month-long hearing to decide who — S.C. residents or their utility and its owners — will be stuck with those gargantuan costs. At stake when the S.C. Public Service Commission meets Thursday is how big the power bills of SCE&G customers will be in the future. The Cayce-based utility’s own future also is on the line in one of the lengthiest and most complex rate cases the PSC ever has held. A ruling that favors customers could send SCE&G — once the darling of South Carolina’s business community — spiraling toward bankruptcy.

Santee Cooper wants $351 million in merger benefits from Dominion’s SCANA acquisition. If Virginia-based Dominion Energy gets the state’s OK to purchase SCANA, making refunds to its S.C. electric customers who paid $2 billion for a failed nuclear project, Santee Cooper wants a cut, too. In a Friday afternoon filing, the state-owned minority partner in SCANA’s $9 billion V.C. Summer expansion project asked the S.C. Public Service Commission to require that Dominion and SCANA set aside $351 million for Santee Cooper. The money would go for refunds or lower power bills for the roughly 2 million South Carolinians who rely on Santee Cooper’s electricity, either directly or through a co-op, Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said Friday. In the filing, Santee Cooper argues the PSC can approve SCANA’s purchase only if it serves the public interest of South Carolina. But, currently, Dominion’s buyout proposal takes care of only customers of SCANA subsidiary SCE&G, Santee Cooper’s attorneys wrote.

Former Nevada regulator endorses renewable energy ballot measure. Today, we can demonstrate that that early investment continues to pay dividends. In the past decade, we have seen the price of renewable energy projects drop drastically — now cheaper than fossil fuels — with solar costs decreasing by more than 80 percent. The cheapest project proposal in this nation this year was in Nevada. We expect prices will get even lower. That’s why we need to continue our support and vote “yes” on Question 6, which will double our current standard to 50 percent by 2030.

W.Va. utilities chided for ‘power play’ aiming to ‘strangle’ solar. About eight years ago, my husband and I installed solar panels on our farm in Calhoun County. The panels provide about 35 percent of our total electricity. In our rural area, power outages are frequent and it has been common to lose power for many consecutive days. Our solar and battery storage system provides security so that our critical appliances, especially the water pump, which provides household water from the well, and the deep freezer, which preserves food that took countless hours to raise and put up, stay operational even when Mon Power’s power is out for many days at a time. Our investment is now at risk, thanks to Mon Power and Appalachian Power. These utilities are asking the Public Service Commission to drastically reduce the rate at which solar homeowners are compensated for the power we produce.

N.J. assemblyman touts state’s pivot to renewables. The people of our state overwhelmingly favor renewable energy — like wind and solar — and they want us to move to a completely clean energy future faster than we are heading today.

American Sustainable Business Council endorses bill to make D.C. carbon neutral. Hundreds of mayors throughout the United States have taken up the challenge and pledged to transition their cities to 100 percent clean energy by 2035. Here at home, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has pledged to move the District to becoming a carbon-neutral city by 2050. D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) introduced the CleanEnergy DC Omnibus Act of 2018 in July. Let’s get going and pass this common-sense bill. Our residents and businesses deserve no less.

N.H. governor lauded for making high electricity costs a priority. Here in New Hampshire, we are faced with some of the highest electricity rates in the nation. Gov. Chris Sununu immediately recognized the need to address energy costs. In an effort to get those costs down, or at least keep them from getting any higher, he took action by eliminating the electric consumption tax in his version of the state budget. Gov. Sununu knows it is critical to tackle electric rates in whatever way possible to ensure that families don’t have to make the hard decisions about what bills to pay, and so that we keep businesses of all sizes in the state employing our people and growing our economy.

Judge rejects claim Connecticut illegally raided ratepayer funds to balance budget. A U.S. District Court judge in New Haven has rejected claims made by a coalition of utility ratepayer and consumer advocacy groups claiming that Connecticut government officials lacked the authority necessary to raid energy efficiency and clean-power programs in order to balance the state’s budget. Judge Janet C. Hall issued her 27-page ruling late Thursday. In her ruling, Hall contends the legal language which allows the state’s electric utilities to collect ratepayer money for projects that improve energy efficiency and pay for renewable energy doesn’t explicitly prohibit those funds for any other purposes.

Consumer watchdog decries re-nomination of Los Angeles ratepayer advocate.  The re-nomination for a second term of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s ratepayer advocate, Fred Pickel, by a city-appointed committee is a betrayal of all of the municipal utility’s ratepayers, Consumer Watchdog said today. The Mayor and City Council should reject the recommendation or abolish the Office of Public Accountability that Pickel heads, the group said. “Choosing to nominate Fred Pickel to another 5-year contract at nearly $300,000 a year without even talking to some of the most qualified applicants for the job betrays all DWP ratepayers,” said consumer advocate Liza Tucker. “It had nothing to do with picking a true ratepayer advocate to protect the interests of ratepayers and everything to do with Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson wanting a rubber-stamper of DWP decisions.”

Officials warn area residents about door-to-door utilities scammers. An anonymous caller reported to HARCATUS Family Support staff that people are going door-to-door in Newcomerstown asking residents to let them see their utility bills to confirm that they have received their $50 gift card credit. “To our knowledge, the Ohio Percent of Income Payment Plan Plus (PIPP Plus) has not authorized this activity,” said Michele Lucas, Community Services Director for HARCATUS Tri-County CAO, Inc. “We consider it to be a scam. Please do not give personal information of any kind to strangers, who cannot properly identify themselves.”

Energy alternatives on the rise in Michigan–slowly. Residents pay less for electricity from the grid when they produce some energy themselves from solar, wind and other alternative sources, according to a recent report. But their efforts still don’t make up much of the state’s energy needs. The energy from alternative sources produced in Michigan by energy users increased from 21,888 kilowatts in 2016 to 29,571 kilowatts in 2017, according to the report by the Public Services Commission. That’s a 35 percent increase, but it makes up only 0.032 percent of Michigan’s retail electricity sales.

Portland General Electric to award 100 MW of renewables. Portland General Electric is on track to award several 20-year contracts for a cumulative 100 MW of renewable energy generation by the end of this year, with short-list proposed projects including wind, solar, and battery storage.

Sunrun challenging Tesla in the home solar business. “It is all but guaranteed that Sunrun will emerge as the top residential solar installer in the U.S.,” said Allison Mond, a senior analyst at Wood Mackenzie, which provides consulting on various issues including energy and renewables. “Tesla’s residential solar business is in rapid decline as the company has cut many sales channels.” Wood Mackenzie, which tracks and supplies solar data for the Solar Energy Industries Association, says Tesla accounts for 9.3 percent of residential solar installations nationwide this year, followed by Sunrun at 9.0 percent, in a fragmented industry. In 2015, SolarCity had one-third of the market while Sunrun had 5 percent.

Buddhist monks start electricity retail business in Japan. A company in Kyoto launched by Buddhist monks will begin selling electricity in western Japan in April next year as part of efforts to combat global warming, a representative of the business said. In cooperation with Miyama Power HD in Fukuoka Prefecture, TERA Energy aims to sell electricity generated only from renewable sources, including utilizing photovoltaic solar panels and small hydropower generation. Initially, however, the company will sell power generated from traditional, non-renewable sources.

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UT study confirms market reality that natural gas, renewables most cost-effective new generation resources (10/26/18)

Today’s lede: University of Texas research allows policymakers and stakeholders to slice and dice data on new electricity generation costs . Updated data from the University of Texas Energy Institute confirms market trends indicating that renewables and natural gas offer the most cost-effective resources for new electricity generation.

“Researchers analyzed data for the most competitive sources of new electricity generation,” UT’s Energy Institute said in a press release. “Wind again proved to be the option with the lowest cost, on a levelized basis, for a broad swath of the country, from the High Plains, the Midwest and Texas, and even portions of the Northeast. Solar power is the cheapest technology in much of the Southwest, and, based on updated data, also in the eastern and northern regions of the U.S. Natural gas prevailed for much of the rest of the country.”

The new data updates the institute’s white paper, “New U.S. Power Costs: by County, with Environmental Externalities,” which is part of a comprehensive study, “Full Cost of Electricity (FCe-), issued in 2016. The research provides a series of maps reflecting shifting market conditions, a new policy environment and other factors affecting electricity generation costs in counties across the United States. The new version also offers the data according to congressional districts.

The institute also developed online calculators to foster “discussion among policymakers and others about the cost implications of policy actions associated with new electricity generation,” the institute said. “We think our methodology is sound and hope it encourages constructive dialogue,” said Joshua Rhodes, a research affiliate at the Energy Institute and lead author of the paper. “To enable this dialogue among stakeholders who disagree about the various cost factors, we’ve created tools to allow them to change the factors and observe the outcomes.”

 

Other electric industry news items of interest:

Termination of S.C. MOX fuels plant yet another setback for the U.S. nuclear sector. Shoddy construction, midprocess design changes and mismanagement have claimed another major nuclear energy project in the United States. Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Energy terminated construction of a facility in South Carolina designed to transform 34 metric tons of surplus military plutonium, enough for about 17,000 nuclear weapons, into fuel for nuclear power plants. DOE says the project is unnecessary and too expensive, while supporters say it is needed to keep a federal promise to move the plutonium cache out of state and to preserve 1,800 jobs at the site. The Aiken, S.C., project began in 2007 and was at least $2.6 billion over its $4.9 billion estimated cost and still years from completion. The cost escalations and delays were akin to those afflicting the pair of Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors under construction in nearby Vogtle, Ga., and another pair killed last year at South Carolina’s VC Summer plant.

San Diego community choice aggregation program will be state’s largest yet. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced Thursday he will pursue an alternative energy program that would see the city take over energy purchasing and price setting for residents and businesses. The city’s Climate Action Plan, proposed in 2014, states that San Diego must achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, and community choice aggregation is laid out as one option to reach that goal. The mayor had entertained a second option proposed by SDG&E, but the utility withdrew its proposal in a letter on Monday. If approved by the City Council, San Diego’s community choice program would be the largest of its kind in the state. SDG&E would still take care of energy delivery, grid maintenance and customer billing. Nicole Capretz, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign and a chief proponent of community choice, praised the mayor’s decision. “Today is a watershed moment that will transform both our energy and political systems,” she said in a statement. “It’s about the community taking control of our energy destiny and putting the public interest above corporate profits. We could not be more excited about this new day in San Diego.”

Dominion reframes rate incentive in S.C. utility acquisition bid. Dominion Energy’s latest offer to buy S.C. Electric & Gas includes dropping its offer of a $1,000 customer refund in exchange for reducing monthly bills even further. In a new filing with South Carolina’s utility regulators, the company says it is willing to cut SCE&G’s electricity rates by 14 percent from where they were earlier this year. That’s double its previous offer. The extra savings translates to about $10 more off a monthly bill for the typical home. The reduction is part of the debate over what the company will ultimately pay for SCE&G’s failed effort to build a pair of nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer power plant north of Columbia. SCE&G ratepayers have pumped some $2 billion into the nuclear project, and they might be on the hook for billions more.

Michigan rate bill aimed at thwarting self-generation by Hemlock Semi-Conductors. Newly enacted legislation allowing the Michigan Public Service Commission to create long-term industrial electric load rates for specific industrial customers was a move aimed at Hemlock Semi-Conductors in Saginaw County, one of the largest electricity users in the state which has been examining developing its own power generation plant. With 7 percent of all Consumers Energy Co. power sales to Hemlock, Consumers warned it would have to raise rates to customers by more than 1 percent or more than $60 million to make up for the loss of Hemlock’s business. House Bill 5902 gives authority to the PSC to allow customized electricity rates for companies meeting certain criteria. Supporters of the legislation said the bill was necessary to block Hemlock from developing its own power generation plant.

Ohio PUC orders utilities to cut rates after tax cut. The Ohio body regulating utilities is directing those utilities to lower rates in light of last year’s federal corporate income tax cut – a process several utilities have already started. “The PUCO (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio) warned of penalties for utilities that fail to initiate the process for rate reductions,” an Ohio Consumers’ Counsel spokesman said in an email on the order. “Today the PUCO chairman announced that utilities must give Ohioans back ‘every dime’ the utilities over-collected for federal taxes,” Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Bruce Weston said in a statement. “I applaud this tough stance for consumer protection. And I appreciate the few utilities that have reached out to (the Office of Consumers’ Counsel) to settle-up for the benefit of their customers. We’ve been advocating that all utilities should reduce customers’ monthly bills to match the utilities’ reduced taxes.”

Pa. homeowner wins battle with zoning board over rooftop solar installation. Bill Hopping watched a work crew on Monday install solar panels on his Birmingham Township home, taking a small measure of satisfaction at the end of a year-long struggle with local authorities over renewable power. The crew scrambled for footholds on the slick, pitched metal roof, not unlike the slippery slope that Hopping and his wife, Yolanda, embarked on in 2017 when the Chester County town’s zoning board rejected their proposed system. It did not comply with rules prohibiting rooftop solar panels from being visible from the street. Hopping, a former corporate lawyer who now has a part-time private practice, sued the township, saying it could not constitutionally prohibit rooftop solar panels on purely aesthetic grounds. Both sides dug in for a long battle. But last month the township conceded and let the Hoppings install their $60,000 rooftop solar system on their Radley Run house, facing the street.

In wake of devastating hurricane, Puerto Rico contemplates 100 percent renewables. The Puerto Rican government is considering committing the island to a 100 percent renewable energy grid by 2050, according to a new plan introduced Wednesday. The plan, introduced as an adjustment to the territory’s energy bill by Governor Ricardo Rosselló, specifies that the island will stop the use of coal for electricity by 2028, prioritizing solar instead. The bill also would exempt solar panels for energy storage from sales tax.The bill “will guide a resilient, reliable and robust energy system, with fair rates and reasonable for all classes of consumers, making it possible for the user of the energy service to produce and participate in the generation of energy, facilitate interconnection of distributed generation and micro networks, and disaggregate and transform the electrical system to an open one,” according to the draft text.

Washington state regulators question Avista, Hydro One merger impacts. Washington state regulators spent more than four hours Tuesday asking questions to officials from Avista Utilities about their proposed merger with the Ontario-based company Hydro One. Utilities and Transportation Commission members have concerns with how the Spokane utility might be affected by moves made by the provincial government of Ontario. The concerns stemmed from a shakeup earlier this year in Hydro One’s board of directors, which came after voters elected a premier who promised to lower electric rates and cut executive pay. The board and CEO stepped down. “This is structured in a way that is durable and for the long term, and in a way it really didn’t matter what happened in Ontario around politics and boards and CEO’s. The issues that we’ve put in place in order to ensure that Avista maintains its ability to serve its customers, stakeholders, no matter who is on the board or who is CEO of Hydro One, and that is the critical piece to make sure it all works for us,” Avista CEO Scott Morris said in an interview with Spokane Public Radio.

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Tri-State G&T facing defections as co-ops seek cheaper, greener energy supply; McIntyre, citing health, steps down as FERC chairman (10/25/18)

Today’s lede: Colorado co-op votes to buy out coal-heavy long-term contract to obtain cheaper green energy supply. Electric cooperative G&T provider Tri-State Generation & Transmission is facing multiple customer defections with co-ops increasingly looking to obtain less-expensive clean energy supplies as an alternative to Tri-State’s coal-heavy supply mix. The latest defection comes as Delta-Montrose Electric Association in Western Colorado voted to issue stock to raise enough money to buy out its Tri-State supply contract.

Bill Patterson, the co-op’s board president, said the decision boiled down to dollars and cents as renewables and natural gas offer a more cost-effective electricity supply than coal. “You can politicize it all you want, but in the end economics is really what drives it,” Patterson told High Country News.

The defection trend started in 2016 when Taos, N.M.-based Kit Carson Electric Cooperative paid $37 million to buy out its Tri-State contract and obtain a cheaper renewable energy supply from Guzman Energy.

Colorado’s La Plata Electric Association is another co-op champing at the bit to obtain a cheaper, greener energy supply than Tri-State’s. The co-op is reaching the 5 percent limit for alternative supply in its Tri-State contract, and is exploring its options to get around that limitation under a contract that does not expire until 2050.

Also in Colorado, the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association board of directors adopted a resolution last month calling for Tri-State to “work expeditiously in a transparent process to determine if significant cost savings are achievable by adjusting Tri-State’s fuel mix and provide the findings to Tri-State’s members by the end of calendar year 2018.”

Tri-State serves 43 rural co-ops in four states.

Chatterjee replaces McIntyre as FERC chairman. As expected, President Trump last night named Neil Chatterjee chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission after Kevin McIntyre stepped aside for health reasons. It marks Chatterjee’s second stint as chairman. For the first two-thirds of 2017, the normally five-member FERC had just one commissioner, Democrat Cheryl LaFleur. Chatterjee was named interim chairman after he was confirmed by the Senate in August of last year. McIntyre became chairman when he joined FERC last December. McIntyre joined FERC after being treated for a brain tumor earlier in the year.

“After surgery and subsequent treatment, I was able to hit the ground running as Chairman and Commissioner upon taking office,” McIntyre said in an Oct. 22 letter to President Trump. “However, I very recently experienced a more serious health setback, leaving me currently unable to perform the duties of Chairman with the level of focus that the position demands and that FERC and the American people deserve. I therefore propose to step aside from the position of Chairman and its additional duties so that I can commit myself fully to my work as Commissioner, while undergoing the treatment necessary to address my health issues.”

Chatterjee and his two Democratic FERC colleagues issued statements wishing McIntyre well as he battles his unidentified health problems. “It is with a heavy heart that I step into this role while my friend and colleague, Kevin McIntyre, focuses on what’s most important: his recovery and his family,” Chatterjee said in his statement. “I am confident that the Commission will continue to benefit from his consummate knowledge of the law and of energy policy through his service as Commissioner.”

“I also look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Chatterjee in his new role,” LaFleur said in her statement. “This is a time for close cooperation among everyone at the Commission, and I will work as hard as I can to keep our work moving forward. We have experienced a lot of change and transition during my time at the Commission. I know that our wonderful employees will stay strongly focused on their important work and the mission of the organization during leadership changes, as they have in the past. We are very lucky to have such a strong team in place across the Commission.”

“I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Commission’s important responsibilities,” Glick said in his statement. “FERC rightly has a reputation and tradition of being a non-partisan decisionmaking body. In the coming weeks, let us reaffirm our commitment to consensus building and to maintaining the agency’s independence as we engage the nation’s energy business.”

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a Nov. 15 hearing to consider the nomination of DOE’s Bernard McNamee to fill the fifth commissioner slot at FERC, which has been vacant since former Pennsylvania utility regulatory Rob Powelson left in August to take a position in the private sector.

 

Other electric industry news items of interest:

Shelk to step down as EPSA chief effective mid-2019. Electric Power Supply Association President and CEO John Shelk announced he will retire in mid-2019 when his current contract ends. “On behalf of EPSA’s Board of Directors, I want to thank John for his many years of excellent service,” said EPSA Chair Mauricio Gutierrez, President and CEO of NRG Energy. “EPSA is fortunate to have a strong staff team working with its members to promote competitive power markets. EPSA members have reaffirmed their strong support for the organization, which continues to grow and effectively advocate for competitive market policies.” The EPSA board has retained the global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry to assist it in the search for EPSA’s next leader.

New Michigan law provides reduced electricity rates to certain industrial customers. Large industrial manufacturing companies that meet certain criteria can apply to receive a reduced electricity rate under legislation signed today by Gov. Rick Snyder. “The availability of this new long-term industrial load rate will allow companies with high energy costs to continue expanding in Michigan, providing opportunities for economic growth and more jobs for Michiganders,” Snyder said. House Bill 5902, now Public Act 348 of 2018, gives the Public Service Commission authority to allow customized electricity rates for companies meeting certain criteria. Current law requires electricity rates to be based on cost of service. This bill authorizes the commission to make an exception, providing that certain requirements are met.

SDG&E withdraws counterproposal to community choice aggregation in San Diego. With a decision pending on whether the city of San Diego should adopt a government-run power program, San Diego Gas & Electric has notified city officials it is withdrawing from putting together a counterproposal to what is called Community Choice Aggregation. For the past two years, SDG&E has worked with city officials to create a program that would contract for increasing amounts of renewable energy to reach the city’s Climate Action Plan goal of 100 percent renewable sources by 2035. But in a letter to the city Monday, SDG&E’s vice president of energy supply, Kendall Helm, said “there is no clear scenario” to develop an all-renewables plan that would leave the city free of financial or legal liabilities when it came to procuring energy contracts. The utility also doubted whether the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, would approve such a proposal if a scenario developed in which customers who did not take part in the program saw an increase in their costs. The CPUC would have concerns about approving a program in which one set of customers bore the costs attributed to another set of customers, SDG&E officials said. “I’m a little surprised that this is (SDG&E’s) response but not entirely shocked, given the ambitious goals of the Climate Action Plan,” said San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez. “In order to accomplish the (100 percent renewable goals), it’s going to take a lot of work … I can only assume their math led them to that decision.”

New Yorker reports on 50 percent RPS ballot initiative battle in Arizona. Billionaire Tom Steyer, whose year-long effort to pass Proposition 127, an amendment to Arizona’s constitution that would require power companies to generate fifty per cent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030, has faced aggressive opposition from the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service. In Arizona, where a recent poll found that three-fourths of the electorate wanted more solar energy, APS has spent close to $22 million campaigning against Prop 127. “You’d think we were proposing something truly harmful and dangerous,” Steyer said.

SCANA releases latest financial report in wake of nuclear fiasco. SCANA, the struggling South Carolina power company staggered by last year’s failed nuclear construction project, announced a better financial picture Thursday than it has in recent months. The company said its earnings for the third quarter of this year were $67 million, or 47 cents per share, compared to earnings of $34 million, or 24 cents per share, for the third quarter of 2017. Last year, the company was dealing with an impairment loss of $132 million associated with the V.C. Summer nuclear project, SCANA said in a news release. But overall, the company continues to struggle. SCANA’s earnings for the first nine months of 2018 were $82 million less than in the first nine months of last year.

Bartlett, Texas, voters to decide proposal to privatize municipal utility. “We get nothing for our money but high bills, high electric,” said Paul Mathis. “Trees are literally up into the lines. The transformers are old and going out left and right. Some of these polls, if you just look around, the polls are at a 45-degree angle,” said City of Bartlett Mayor Landry Pack. For almost two years, the city has been working to sell the utility company, until Pack was elected mayor in May. “I just fought as hard as I could, you know tooth and nail, that to at least have the citizens say so,” said Pack. On November’s ballot, citizens can vote to keep or sell their city-owned utility company.

Louisiana rural electric cooperatives seek to keep executive compensation private. Angered by the lucrative and largely unknown perks, Louisiana utility regulators last month demanded rural electric cooperatives give them an accounting of pay, insurance and other benefits for board members and executives of the nonprofits. And cooperatives have supplied that data to the Louisiana Public Service Commission. But most of the co-ops did so under a seal that keeps the information out of the public. “That really makes me sick,” said PSC Commissioner Foster Campbell, adding that the whole point was transparency because so few consumers or regulators know what is going on in the small and little-noticed cooperatives. “I’ll address that,” Campbell said. “How come they don’t want to tell their members how much they pay their people? I don’t like the way that smells.”

Washington State regulators scrutinize Avista Corp. acquisition by Hydro One Ltd. The proposed sale of a Spokane-based utility to a Canadian company came under intense scrutiny from Washington regulators this week. The state Utilities and Transportation Commission held a lengthy hearing in Olympia on Tuesday, with members asking how they could protect Northwest customers from bad decisions by the Ontario government.

Solar developer faces NIMBY opposition in Vermont. The developers behind the Babcock Solar Project seek to limit the scope of what its neighbors can raise concerns about, meanwhile the state has laid out a schedule for future proceedings including the date of a site visit and public hearing. Babcock Solar Farm LLC, backed by Conti Solar, of Edison, New Jersey, seeks to build a 2.2-megawatt solar facility near the intersection of Park Street Extension and 21 Country Club Road. To do so, it needs a “certificate of public good” from the state Public Utility Commission. Since announcing the project, Babcock Solar has received a fair amount of backlash from the project’s neighbors, town officials and regional planners.

A closer look at Vermont gubernatorial candidate’s record as electric co-op CEO. In her telling, Christine Hallquist transformed an antiquated organization on the brink of bankruptcy into one of the most innovative utilities in the country. She empowered employees, modernized equipment and implemented cutting-edge programs. Hallquist, now the Democratic candidate for governor, cites her 12 years as chief executive officer at Vermont Electric Coop to make the case that she’s qualified to lead the state. The Hyde Park executive, who stepped down as CEO in February to run for office, is widely credited with bringing stability to VEC. Under her watch, the co-op strengthened its finances, professionalized workplace policies, embraced new technology, reduced outages and sourced more power from renewable energy sources. Nevertheless, the version of events Hallquist has told on the campaign trail has sometimes been exaggerated and inaccurate. Public documents, regulators, customers and employees tell a less dramatic and more nuanced story about her time at VEC.

Former Pittsburgh councilor decries Aqua America-Peoples Gas proposed merger. On Tuesday, the Bryn Mawr-based water utility, Aqua America, announced plans to acquire Pittsburgh-based Peoples Gas for $4.275 billion. The all-cash deal encompasses the gas utility’s subsidiaries – including Peoples Natural Gas Company LLC, Peoples Gas Company LLC, and Delta Natural Gas Company Inc. – and the assumption of approximately $1.3 billion of Peoples’ debt. Peoples is the state’s largest natural gas provider, and the deal took many by surprise. The announcement comes just months after Peoples made an unsolicited proposal to partner with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, the public utility that provides drinking water for Pittsburgh residents. That proposal outlined a private-public partnership that foresaw Peoples footing the bill for the city’s lead line replacement and building a brand new water treatment plant, among other things. Former Pittsburgh councilor and Food & Water Watch Western Pennsylvania Outreach Liaison, Doug Shields, believes the acquisition is an orchestrated move by Peoples and Aqua to privatize the PWSA. “I don’t think anybody should be approving this merger at all,” says Shields.

Australian electricity retailers warn that default price will threaten smaller players. Energy retailers are warning that the government’s move to set a “default” tariff for household electricity starting in mid-2019 will act as a cap on prices that could squeeze smaller suppliers out of the market and choke competition. Suppliers both big and small voiced concern on Tuesday that the “safety net”-style tariff represents a return to the regulation of power prices and will stifle innovation and deter needed investment in new plants.

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Illinois regulator touts new rules on sales and marketing by competitive suppliers; Retail suppliers weigh in at FCC in proceeding on robocalls (10/24/18)

Today’s lede: Illinois regulator touts enhanced rules governing competitive energy suppliers. An “influx” of consumer complaints led the Illinois Commerce Commission in October 2017, two decades after Illinois opened its electricity market to competition, to undertake a rulemaking proceeding examining sales and marketing practices of alternative retail energy suppliers, ICC Commissioner Sadzi Martha Oliva writes in a “viewpoint” column published by Utility Dive. It was co-authored by Oliva’s legal and policy advisers, Gerardo Delgado and Janel Haretoun.

“In recent months, the alternative retail electric supply industry has come under scrutiny in Illinois for misleading and deceptive practices,” Oliva and her co-authors note. “The Illinois Commerce Commission is applying new and stronger consumer protection rules, stakeholder engagement and consumer education tools to evaluate the deregulated electric supply market.”

The resulting new rules governing competitive retailers’ sales and marketing took effect May 1 “ensuring that adequate disclosure and transparency exist in transactions taking place between consumers and (alternative retail energy suppliers). With nearly 1.8 million Illinois residential customers receiving power from an ARES, the more stringent marketing rules better equip consumers with necessary tools to make informed choices when entering into contracts for electricity with a supplier other than their utility company,” Oliva and her advisers write. “In addition to placing a high value on improved business practices, some suppliers are shifting their business model to enhance the customer’s experience and understanding of the services provided by an ARES.”

The column placed a high value on consumer education efforts, quoting Ruby Haughton-Pitts, Director of Advocacy & Outreach for AARP Illinois: “AARP believes a well-educated consumer will have the best opportunity at getting the lowest rates possible in the electric market.” Oliva et al. noted that since finalizing the new rules, the ICC has begun a push for providing a price-to-compare on consumers’ bills. Commonwealth Edison has proposed to provide its default service price on bills in the coming weeks.

Competitive retail energy suppliers among commenters in FCC call-blocking proceeding. The Retail Energy Supply Association, a trade group representing retail electricity and natural gas suppliers operating in state-level competitive markets, was among those commenting in a Federal Communications Commission proceeding on call-blocking technology, attorneys with the law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo report in Lexology.

The FCC is reviewing and evaluating initial comments received as of Sept. 24, as well as reply comments received under an Oct. 8 deadline, in a proceeding examining call-blocking technologies and other technological solutions for unwanted and illegal robocalls, a leading consumer complaint and concern.

“The Public Notice aimed to build upon the FCC’s earlier inquiry into provider-initiated call blocking, and asked several questions about methods to reliably identify and block illegal robocalls, the use of traceback efforts, and how to reduce false positives that result in the improper blocking of legitimate calls,” the Mintz lawyers write. “Many industry commenters argued that over the past two decades, the FCC’s (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) interpretations have strayed significantly from the statutory intent, and this Public Notice represents an opportunity for the FCC to realign its interpretations to strictly target unwanted telemarketing robocalls.” This has led to overblocking of calls, industry commenters said.

RESA’s comments focused on “false positives” and urged the FCC to initiate “near-term action to ensure that commercial calls are no longer blocked and mislabeled.” RESA said its members “depend on the public telephone network to reach current and prospective customers in order to expand the growth of competitive energy services. Unfortunately, the illegal blocking of RESA’s members’ marketing efforts threatens to impede the further growth of competitive energy suppliers, thereby significantly degrading competition in retail energy markets and ultimately harming consumers.”

 

Other electric industry news items of interest:

Opponents of N.J. nuclear subsidies say plants are in the black and don’t need support. New Jersey’s three remaining nuclear power plants are making money and need not be subsidized by utility customers to remain open, according to briefs submitted to a state agency this week. In the first formal comments in a proceeding to determine whether the nuclear units require up to $300 million in annual subsidies, critics of the subsidies argued it makes no economic sense to close the Salem and Hope Creek plants in South Jersey. Using publicly available data, the independent market monitor for PJM, the nation’s largest power grid, contended there is no evidence – as its operator, PSEG Power contends – the plants are in danger of being prematurely retired. “The PSEG units are economic and expected to be economic in the foreseeable future based on market data,” according to Joseph Bowring, president of Monitoring Analytics, LLC. A consultant for PJM Providers Group, a coalition of power suppliers, agreed in another brief. “New Jersey’s nuclear plants are making money – consumers should not be forced to make them more money,” added Paul Sotkiewicz, founder of E-Cubed Associates, LLC.

Southern Environmental Law Center launches website on utility fees for rooftop solar. The Southern Environmental Law Center launched the Rates of Solar website, an interactive site that provides simple, straight-forward information about how utilities across the Southeast are treating customers with rooftop solar on their homes. The website provides easy access to information on more than 400 utility solar policies across SELC’s six-state region. “With Rates of Solar, we aim to distill complicated rooftop solar policies for hundreds of utilities across the Southeast into simple, compelling stories that resonate with customers, advocates, utilities, and decision-makers,” said Jill Kysor, SELC staff attorney. “This website provides a road map for educating and engaging communities interested in how their local utility stacks up against others when it comes to rooftop solar issues across the region.” The website’s launch coincides with the release of the “2018 Solar Makers & Brakers” in the Southeast.

Washoe County Republican urges ‘no’ vote on Nevada’s electricity choice ballot question. State ballot propositions are almost always measures that their backers couldn’t get through the Legislature so instead of being decided by those whom we elect to examine all sides of an issue they are crammed onto an already overcrowded ballot. Their backers and opponents then buy air time and media space to convince voters that a simple “yes” or “no” vote will solve all of the state’s problems so don’t waste time reading them. Backers of Question 3 say it would lead to creation of a free market of multiple suppliers of electricity, driving rates down and giving consumers and businesses choices of plans best suited to their needs. Opponents say deregulation would eliminate the Public Utility Commission’s control of electricity prices and drive Nevadans back to kerosene lamps. My take: No on Question 3.

Arizona’s renewables mandate ballot measure gets little support in Navajo County. In Navajo County, where people have been feeling the economic losses from the decline of coal-fired power plants, few seem to be embracing Proposition 127 – the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona ballot initiative. The measure seeks public approval for a constitutional mandate to require Arizona utilities to provide 50 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2050. Currently Arizona’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) — the amount of renewable energy required by law — is 15 percent renewable energy by 2025. The state presently gets about 12 percent of its energy from renewable sources. The proposition has become the most expensive in state history, with over $40 million spent either for or against the measure.

Editorial: Reform PURPA now. It’s time to liberate the nation’s electric utilities from a 40-year-old federal law that is badly outdated and in need of reform to reflect the realities of the modern power generation market. U.S. power producers are being forced to buy power they don’t need at above-market prices, thanks to a law Congress passed in response to the 1970s oil crisis. The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978 is obsolete and should be repealed or amended.

Florida governor: All electricity providers have goal of restoration by early November. Gov. Rick Scott announced that electric utility providers in Northwest Florida, which still have customers experiencing power outages, have set a goal and will have nearly all power restored to customers who are able to receive it by early November. This includes those in the hardest hit areas of Mexico Beach and towns in Calhoun and Jackson counties where the electrical infrastructure required a complete rebuild. By setting and working toward this goal, electric utility providers are ensuring the massive power restoration effort following Hurricane Michael, a destructive Category 4 storm, would complete one of the most challenging restoration efforts ever.

Entergy’s Palisades nuclear plant shut down in Michigan ahead of refueling. The Palisades nuclear power plant in southwestern Michigan is shut down for repairs ahead of a planned refueling outage. Officials say operators shut down the reactor Oct. 13 for work on a degrading control rod drive seal and during the maintenance an internal transformer fault occurred, resulting in the loss of power supply to several components. The plant says it remained in safe and stable condition. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said last week that radioactive water leaked through the seal, but it never reached outside the plant’s barriers and there’s no threat to the public. The plant is owned by New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., which plans to close it in 2022. The plant is in Van Buren County’s Covert Township, along Lake Michigan.

N.Y. news report cites Ginna refueling outage as economic engine. Monday morning, the Ginna Nuclear Power Plant shut down. It was a planned refueling outage and it happens every 18 months. Ginna shuts down the plant to work on maintenance activities and replace a third of the used fuel with clean fuel. Approximately 700 additional workers travel to Wayne County filing hotels, restaurants and shops for several weeks. “We notice as a rental unit, how fast we fill up, how many workers that actually have to come in so we generally sell out around this time as well,” said Mark Ehlers, operations manager at Avalon Suites. Lakeside Restaurant has also become a frequent stop for many workers. “A lot of them stay in Webster there’s not really hotels out this way, so on their way through they stop here and on their way home they stop again,” said Colleen Wells, manager. Over the years, both the workers and local businesses have come to look forward to the several weeks during the plant’s refueling.

Shell joins Global Wind Energy Council. In a move that was likely unthinkable only two decades ago, Royal Dutch Shell, better known as Shell, the British and Dutch oil and gas supermajor, has joined the Global Wind Energy Council. Shell is said to also be expanding its wind business as part of its Shell New Energies Strategy and will take part in the council’s recently announced Offshore Taskforce which will work to accelerate development of offshore wind technology in non-European markets such as Asia and North America. “We are pleased to join GWEC and their Offshore Taskforce to help accelerate the development of offshore wind, an important part of Shell’s growing New Energies portfolio,” said Dorine Bosman, VP Shell Wind Development. “We look forward to working with Ben and his team and the other GWEC members.”

U.S. corporate renewable energy procurement hits record levels. Corporate renewable energy procurement is currently on track to exceed 5 gigawatts (GW) in 2018, according to figures announced recently by the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, which is so far tracking a new record of at least 4.96 GW worth of new capacity already acquired this year. So far this year (as of October 19) there have been 59 deals signed by US corporates for a total of 4.96 GW — already a new record over the previous high of 3.22 GW set in 2015, and representing the most first-time buyers in a single year.

Walmart, SunPower announce 23-MW solar agreement in Illinois. Renewable energy agreement is projected to cover 21 sites in Illinois. Walmart announced that it has reached an agreement with SunPower to have the commercial energy provider install solar systems at 19 stores and two distribution centers in Illinois. As part of the project, a mix of rooftop and ground-mount solar systems are expected to account for 23 megawatts, with start of construction targeted for the first half of 2019. This commitment moves Walmart closer to its 2025 goal of supplying its global operations with 50 percent renewable energy.

Facebook boosts Los Lunas data center with another 100 MW of solar. Facebook’s $1 billion data center in Los Lunas in New Mexico will benefit from an additional 100 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity after approval was granted for the construction of two 50 MW solar farms, ensuring that the data center is served with 100% renewable electricity.

Dynamic Energy breaks ground on community solar project in New York. Dynamic Energy Solutions, LLC begins construction on the Capital Region Community Solar Garden – the largest community solar garden in New York State. The solar garden, located in Albany County, NY, offers National Grid Zone F customers an easy and cost-effective way to go solar. The 5,486 kW ground mounted, community solar project will generate over 7,300,000 kWh per year, the equivalent of powering over 800 New York homes. The Capital Region Community Solar Garden requires no up-front cost, no installation, and a discount based on past electricity rates for as long as a resident subscribes. Renters, homeowners, businesses, and many others who are not able to go solar on their own, now have access to clean, renewable solar energy.

Nestlé Waters North America signs renewable energy agreement with ENGIE Resources. Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA), together with ENGIE Resources, today announced they have signed a renewable energy agreement through which ENGIE will supply over 50 percent of the energy needed for NWNA’s manufacturing and distribution facilities in Texas. With this agreement, NWNA operations in Travis, McLennan, Dallas, and Harris counties will be supplied by renewable wind energy from the Midway Wind Farm in San Patricio County, Texas, supporting Nestlé’s global goal to transition to 100 percent renewable energy use in its operations.

Commission approves €200 million in public support for renewable energy for self-suppliers of electricity in France. The European Commission has approved under EU state-aid rules a measure to support electricity production from renewable sources for self-consumption in France until 2020. The measure will further the EU’s energy and climate objectives without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “This scheme will stimulate competition between renewable energy sources for self-suppliers and will further increase the share of renewables in France’s energy mix. The technology-neutral tenders will contribute to France’s transition to low carbon and environmentally sustainable energy supply, in line with the EU environmental objectives and our state aid rules.”

EU negotiators agree on ‘dynamic pricing’ of electricity. Energy companies with more than 200,000 clients will be obliged to provide households with at least one offer comprising dynamic price contracts, under an EU-level agreement reached behind closed doors last week, EURACTIV.com has learned. European Union legislators made headway on a proposed overhaul of EU electricity market rules, striking an agreement on “aggregators” – or virtual power plants, which make money from storing electricity or managing the energy consumption of their clients. The deal on dynamic prices makes way for aggregators to enter the electricity market en masse and disrupt the sector in the same way that virtual network operators disrupted the telecoms market.

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S.C. judge reportedly about to declare unconstitutional state law allowing nuclear cost pass-through; ComEd to provide price-to-compare on consumers’ bills (10/23/18)

Today’s lede: S.C. lawmaker tells reporters state’s CWIP law about to be ruled unconstitutional. The regulatory jargon for it is a “construction work in progress,” or CWIP. That is the essence of a controversial state law that has allowed South Carolina Electric and Gas to pass on billions to captive ratepayers for a failed nuclear power plant development effort.

Citing a state senator and unnamed sources, Avery Wilks, reporter for South Carolina’s The State newspaper, writes that the state judge considering a challenge to the highly controversial 2007 Baseload Review Act, will by week’s end declare unconstitutional the law allowing consumers to be on the hook for the multibillion-dollar failed new nuclear build effort.

“The ruling could be disastrous for SCE&G, which has threatened to file for bankruptcy if its shareholders are forced to eat the nuclear project’s costs,” Wilks writes. What an understatement. The utility’s stock tanked immediately on the news that, not only is SCG&E’s pending collections under the CWIP law in doubt, but it could be on the hook for refunding billions it has already collected from consumers who will never see an electron from the abandoned project unless a security guard scuffs a shoe.

The judge has reportedly asked attorneys challenging the law to draft rulings he could issue declaring the state law unconstitutional. In additional to the financial earthquake, such a ruling likely would be a death knell for Dominion’s pending acquisition of the South Carolina investor-owned utility.

See also Andrew Brown’s bylined story on the stunning development in the Charleston Post and Courier.

Commonwealth Edison to include price to compare on bills. Exelon’s Commonwealth Edison will include its default price on bills providing a price-to-compare for customers purchasing from alternative competitive suppliers in the state’s electricity market, Steve Daniels reports in Crain’s Chicago Business.

“Guess we should have read the fine print. Because that’s where consumers will need to look on their bills to find ComEd’s price-to-compare if they start to suspect they’re paying too much to keep the lights on,” Daniels writes disparagingly. “How will this help the thousands of residential customers who have no clue they’re paying far too much for electricity after they’ve signed up with an alternative supplier? It’s not a stretch to say that it won’t.”

It’s curious to have a crusading consumer reporter at a business newspaper. Nevertheless, based on Daniels’ reporting, the newspaper recently editorialized in support of Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s call for the state to end electricity competition in the residential market.

“So why is ComEd doing this, particularly after a second-straight annual [Illinois Commerce Commission] report showing households getting their power from non-utility suppliers collectively paying well over $100 million more than they would with ComEd?,” Daniels posits. “Might it have something to do with the fact that ComEd’s sister company, Constellation Energy, is the largest retail electric supplier in Illinois? The opposition of Chicago-based Exelon, parent of both ComEd and Constellation and arguably the most politically potent corporation in the state, has prevented meaningful reform in Springfield of an industry in desperate need of it,” he opines.

“Burying price-to-compare information on people’s electric bills does nothing to inform and protect consumers,” Daniels quotes a Madigan spokeswoman’s email. “We will continue to push for utilities to make this information clear and complete so customers can make informed decisions about their electricity and cancel service with expensive and predatory alternative suppliers.”

 

Other electric industry news items of interest:

Ameren announces agreement to build a Missouri wind farm. Ameren said Monday that, when completed, it will acquire power from a new 157-megawatt wind farm in Atchison County, in northwest Missouri. “Our transition to cleaner forms of generation is building momentum,” said Michael Moehn, Ameren Missouri’s president, in a release announcing the move. Monday’s announcement comes just five months after the company etched plans to build an even bigger Missouri wind farm. In May, Ameren took “its first major step” toward its new renewable energy goals when it announced that it would get power from a 400-megawatt wind farm in northeast Missouri — billed at the time as the largest in the state, once completed.

Arizona needs to use its solar capabilities. Why do we need to pass Proposition 127? Because it is good for the state, our economy and the planet. Last year, APS’s 15-year energy plan submitted to Arizona utility regulators included adding 5,500 megawatts of electricity from gas and only a minuscule 16 megawatts from utility-scale renewables, which will lock in fossil-fuel generation for decades. Arizona has one of the best solar resources in the U.S. and solar is now routinely purchased by utilities for less cost than gas, a new paradigm in energy generation. Additionally, combinations of solar with batteries are rivaling the cost of gas. It simply makes sense to generate power from solar, rather than gas, which contributes to climate change, which is more expensive and volatile in price.

Buyer, watchdog group at odds on timing of Vermont Yankee sale. The current and prospective owners of Vermont Yankee are pressing for a quick state decision on the Vernon plant’s future, but one watchdog group wants to put on the brakes. Entergy and NorthStar are asking the state Public Utility Commission to rule on the sale of Vermont Yankee by next week. With federal regulators having already approved the transfer of the plant’s nuclear license to NorthStar, an attorney for the two companies argues that there is “no need for any further filings or process” in the long-running state review. But the Conservation Law Foundation argues that state officials should take more time to consider the recent decision from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which imposed a few new requirements on the transaction. “This is a major proceeding and a very significant project for Vermont,” said Sandra Levine, a senior attorney with the law foundation. “It is important to make sure the (state) is able to carefully consider all the information available, including the new provisions from the NRC.”

DOE announces $53 million in new projects to advance solar technologies. Today, the Department of Energy announced selections for up to $53 million in new projects to advance early-stage solar technologies. Through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, DOE will fund 53 innovative research projects that will lower solar electricity costs and support a growing solar workforce. “Innovation is key to solar’s continued growth in our nation’s energy portfolio. It increases our energy diversity and reinforces our ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy,” said Energy Secretary Rick Perry. “Developing new skills through workforce training is critical to expanding job opportunities in the renewable sector, which is why we are following through on our program to reach out to military veterans with new projects that will target this committed workforce.”

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Advertising war intensifies as clock ticks down on Nevada electricity choice ballot measure; Chicago business newspaper editorializes in support of shutting down residential electricity choice in Illinois (10/22/18)

Today’s lede: Advertising war peaking as clock ticks down to vote on Nevada’s Question 3. KTNV television cites election reports indicating nearly $100 million in contributions related to Nevada’s ballot initiative to end monopoly utility regulation in the state and allow consumers to choose among competitive suppliers. The Coalition to Defeat Question 3, as the ballot measure is called, has amassed a $63 million war chest, with the vast majority of that coming from NV Energy, the Berkshire Hathaway-owned utility company serving Nevada. The group advocating passage has collected some $33 million, primarily from the Las Vegas Sands casino company and Switch, the data services company.

“That is $63 million in ratepayer money, the money that we paid in electric bills,” complained a spokesman for Nevadans for Affordable, Clean Energy Choices, the group advocating passage of Question 3. NV Energy denied that any ratepayer funds were being used in support of the effort to defeat Question 3.

The initiative passed in 2016 with the support of more than 70 percent of those voting. It must pass a second time in order to effectively change the state constitution to mandate electricity competition. But NV Energy sat out that election without taking a position either way. It looks like the vote next month will have a different outcome now that NV Energy is battling passage. According to the KTNV report, polling last month by Suffolk University, sponsored by the Reno Gazette-Journal, found those opposing the ballot measure with a 19 point lead in the race, while 16 percent of respondents were undecided.

Meanwhile, the Nevada Independent has a brief feature on the latest ad opposing Question 3. And Thomas Mitchell, a columnist who columns are published in several Nevada newspapers, is writing in support of passage. “Free markets tend to reduce cost and encourage innovation,” Mitchell writes. “Let the free market system do what it does best, vote for Question 3.”

Finally, a media watchdog is highlighting the fact that the Las Vegas Review-Journal, owned by Question 3 supporter and Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson, is editorializing in favor of Question 3. Media Matters for America is blasting the paper for kowtowing to its owner’s financial interests alledgedly without revealing its ties to the “GOP campaign donor.” It cited an Oct. 18 editorial officially endorsing passage of the ballot measure.

But it should hardly come as a surprise to any voter in Nevada that Adelson owns the newspaper and is putting his money behind passing the ballot question. And it’s not like the paper is trying to hide anything, as it clearly stated in a previous editorial published Sept. 29:

“For the record, the Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon Adelson, who has provided financial support for Question 3. But this paper has a decadeslong history of supporting free choice and free markets. Competition has proven a boon to consumers in virtually every nook of the economy and has driven America’s long prosperity. Why prevent Nevada consumers from reaping the potential benefits when it comes to their energy provider?”

Chicago business newspaper editorializes in favor of ending residential choice in electricity. In the wake of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s headline-grabbing call for the state to end electricity choice for residential customers, Crain’s Chicago Business has published an editorial supporting closing down the residential market and questioning whether those campaigning to be the next attorney general will have the “appetite” for such an “audacious” agenda.

“Just over two decades after Illinois made national headlines by deregulating its electricity markets, it’s painfully clear that the experiment – at least on the residential side of the equation – has failed miserably,” the editorial board writes. “Legislation that would pull the plug on the residential market collapsed in Springfield this year, but the power marketers’ deceptive tactics have been so prolific – and the regulatory oversight so weak – that consumers can only hope some intrepid lawmaker will try again.”

The editorial was skeptical that the candidates vying to take Madigan’s job in next month’s election will carry the torch. “The open question now is whether the two candidates vying for Madigan’s seat – Democrat Kwame Raoul and Republican Erika Harold – have any appetite for this battle. It’s fair to have doubts, given that front-runner Raoul has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from utility interests. His power industry haul eclipses Harold’s, but utility players lately have been hedging their bets and throwing thousands her way as well.”

 

Other electric industry news items of interest:

DOE’s Perry defends subsidy plan for baseload coal, nuclear power plants. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, speaking to reporters in San Antonio, said his department is still committed to giving support to coal and nuclear subsidies. He said the department’s plan is with the Trump Administration. When asked about reports that the plan, is stalled in the White House, Perry said “You can find a report about anything in Washington.” He likened the subsidies to government spending on the military, calling the issue a matter of national security.

Trump administration foregoes coal and nuclear bailout in win for free market-loving Americans. It seems the possibility of the Trump administration bailing out coal and nuclear plants has been put to rest for now. This is good news for electricity customers, the integrity of competitive markets, limited government fans, states, and in the long term, the coal and nuclear industries as well.

Plans to finish Bellefonte Nuclear Plant may be collapsing. Plans to complete Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in northeast Alabama – expected to create a economic windfall for the rural area – are in jeopardy of falling through. Bill McCollum, CEO of the group in the process of purchasing the half-completed plant outside Scottsboro, said in a guest column published Friday in the Memphis Commercial Appeal that if Memphis Light, Gas & Water declines to agree to purchase electricity from the plant, it could scuttle the entire deal for the plant. Nuclear Development LLC has applied for more than $8 billion in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy to complete the plant. Without an updated “letter of intent” from Memphis Light to purchase the power – a non-binding version of which Memphis Light signed in January – McCollum wrote in the guest column that the company could walk away from Bellefonte.

Graham co-op CEO says no to Arizona’s Prop. 127. I am the CEO of Graham Electric Cooperative, the nonprofit electric cooperative that provides electricity to the families, schools, churches and small businesses of Graham County. I am voting no on Proposition 127 — the initiative that will mandate that utilities provide 50 percent of electricity from renewables by 2030 — I hope you will consider my reasons for doing so. In voting no on Proposition 127, my reasons are founded in keeping our county affordable for families of all incomes and in making sure our businesses remain successful for years to come.

Environmentalist sues to block smart meters at N.Y. utility. A local environmentalist is suing the New York Public Service Commission and Orange & Rockland to stop the rollout of smart electric meters and gas modules across Orange, Sullivan and Rockland counties. Deborah Kopald, of Highlands, recently filed suit in state Supreme Court in Albany County against the utility and the PSC, an Albany-based state utility regulator that approved Orange & Rockland’s smart meter rollout plan. Kopald argues the PSC didn’t adequately consider the forced obsolescence of working meters; exposure to potential cyber threats from hackers; health concerns; and privacy and up-charging worries from the mass collection of energy use data. O&R contends the meters will provide greater choice, control and convenience over energy use, support quicker service restoration after outages, and reduce meter reading and field services costs.

Pacific Power tells Oregon county officials they lacks authority over smart meters. On Thursday, the Josephine County Board of Commissioners met for their first reading of an ordinance intended to appease those who have resisted Pacific Power’s transition to smart meters. By Friday, the utility company had responded — indicating that no such thing was possible. “As a member of the local community, we always seek to earn our customers’ business and uphold their trust. That responsibility includes providing clear and helpful information around Josephine County’s proposed ordinance,” Pacific Power said in a statement. The utility company said that they had sent a letter directly to the County, laying out their response. Pacific Power also said that they had requested that the proposed ordinance be removed from consideration. “We were compelled to send this letter because the rates and regulations that govern our business are determined exclusively by the Public Utility Commission of Oregon. This ensures fairness for all of our Oregon customers. We are committed to addressing all stakeholders’ concerns within the framework established by the Oregon legislature and the Public Utility Commission of Oregon,” Pacific Power said.

North Dakota-based co-op expanding renewable energy resources. The business of generating electricity is changing, according Jeff Haase, leader of member technology and innovation for Great River Energy. Haase told the Jamestown Area Chamber of Commerce energy luncheon Tuesday that GRE generates much of its electricity in North Dakota, including the Spiritwood Station in Stutsman County, although its consumers are located in Minnesota and Wisconsin. GRE is an electric cooperative made up of member cooperatives that serve about 1.7 million homes farms and businesses. “Our forecast is for competitive and stable rates,” Haase said.

NorthWestern’s crusade against renewables in Montana. At issue this time is a 2005 Montana law aptly titled the “Renewable Power Production and Rural Economic Development Act.” The law requires monopoly utilities, such as NorthWestern, to get a certain amount of power from community renewable energy projects. By design, compliance with the law would necessitate multiple projects being built, thereby spreading jobs and tax revenue across rural areas of the state. NorthWestern has had 13 years to comply with the law, but it has never done so. Instead, per usual, the company has spent considerable time and effort before the Montana Legislature and Public Service Commission fighting the renewable energy law and making excuses for why it can’t support rural economic development. That’s 13 years of lost opportunity for new jobs, local government revenue, and environmental benefits for Montana communities.

McNally advocates for Montana utility customers. Much of the work of the Montana Legislature involves complex public policy issues. One of the most complex is utility regulation. Voters in Billings may not be aware of the work in this area of Sen. Mary McNally. Several years ago, McNally proposed that NorthWestern Energy use competitive solicitations to ensure it was receiving the lowest price for new electricity supply resources. Although the bill was not approved, Sen. McNally acted as a strong advocate for utility customers.

Sunrun tops list of solar companies in Navigant Research assessment. Navigant Research gives Sunrun top billing in an assessment of 10 rooftop solar providers’ “strategy and execution” in the residential market. “These players are rated on 12 criteria: vision; go-to market strategy; partners; production strategy; technology; geographic reach; sales, marketing, and distribution; product performance; product quality and reliability; product portfolio; pricing; and staying power,” Navigant says. The rankings after Sunrun were, in order: “Tesla, Vivint Solar, E.ON, SunPower, Sunplug, Sunnova, Huawei, Soligent and ZEN Energy.

‘It’s a big scam’: Quebec company accused of fleecing customers buying solar panels. Hydro-Québec says savings promised by solar company are virtually impossible. A solar-panel company based in Longueuil is being accused of misleading customers with exaggerated claims about what they will save on their energy bill. Lanaudière resident André St-Pierre and Granby resident Francis Gareau both purchased solar panels after being visited by a representative from Rénovations et constructions Gauthier et Péloquin. Gareau said he was promised a 70 per cent reduction in his Hydro-Québec bill if he bought 15 solar panels and a heat pump. That cost him $36,000 through a 10-year financing plan. In both cases, the panels did not deliver the promised savings. According to Gareau, his savings amounted to about $5 per month. “It’s a big scam,” he said.

Greenpeace is selling ‘a lie about the dangers of nuclear power’, expert claims. The price of electricity in Australia is higher than almost anywhere else in the world. Families across the nation are struggling to pay their bills, and just last week new Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised to make it the priority of his government to lower the cost of our expensive and unreliable electricity. But to do so, he says he may have to take provocative action, including overturning the current ban on nuclear power. It is a cheap and dependable power source, but opponents of the idea fear Australia will be the next victim of a catastrophic disaster such as Fukushima. But what if nuclear power isn’t as threatening as we have all been led to believe? Could it potentially be the answer to all of Australia’s power price woes?

Variable rate supply contract costs UK army. Defence chiefs are paying as much as £38 to boil a kettle during winter because of a scheme designed to save energy in winter. The Ministry of Defence has put up notices telling recruits to turn off lights, shut down computers and avoid using microwaves during peak hours. Military bosses have signed up to the scheme despite repeated warnings over UK military funding and fears of a £20 billion hole in funding for the armed forces. Under the pricing system, explained in the warning notices, the cost of boiling a kettle for two minutes rises from two pence to a staggering £38. Running a 900W microwave for three minutes can cost £14 instead of one penny while the price of using a games console for an hour would shoot up from two pence to £2.70.  A 60W lightbulb would cost 90 pence to run for an hour instead of the usual one penny, the signs say. Recruits are told to save energy when EDF, which supplies the MoD’s electricity, alerts it to likely spikes in demand.

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Mild winter forecast may offset price volatility risk from low natural gas storage inventories (10/19/18)

Today’s lede: Will mild winter tamp down price volatility risk from low natural gas storage inventories? There’s been quite a lot of buzz heading into the shoulder months about low natural gas storage inventories this winter heating season. And the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Winter 2018-1019 Energy Market Assessment points to the elephant in the living room, noting that storage inventories going into this winter are at their lowest levels since 2005.

“The Energy Information Administration projects natural gas storage inventories to start the withdrawal season with 3,308 Bcf. This would be the lowest inventory level since 2005 and a 12.7 percent decrease from last year’s level,” FERC staff said in a presentation during yesterday’s regular open meeting. Every region of the country currently has inventories below their five‐year averages, according to the assessment, which notes EIA’s forecast sees inventories building through the winter months to reach historic parity by February.

Given low levels of gas in storage, a cold weather snap – in recent years we’ve experienced the “polar vortex” and a “bomb cyclone” – would spike prices for both home heating and electricity this winter. Fortunately, weather forecasts point to mild winter this year.

“The current NOAA three‐month outlook predicts a higher than average probability for warmer temperatures” this winter, the FERC assessment notes. “NOAA also predicts an El Niño climate pattern this winter, which would result in warmer than average winter temperatures in the Northeast, Mid‐West, and Western states, while Southeastern states would see temperatures on par with historical levels”, the report continues, noting that a warmer than average winter would moderate fuel and electricity demand.  “However, as seen with last winter’s bomb cyclone, prolonged cold weather events would increase short‐term demand for natural gas and electricity.”

The American Gas Association’s winter outlook released yesterday forecasts lower prices this winter for consumers, based on the expectation of a milder winter. But it also warns of the potential for pipeline constraints should demand spike. The Natural Gas Supply Association, however, in its recent winter outlook predicted that record gas demand this winter will be met by record production.

The theme of record gas demand was echoed in the FERC outlook, which noted that natural gas consumption hit a record high this summer season, which set the stage for this season’s low storage levels despite gains in production. “The main contributors to the increase in natural gas demand were electric power generation and LNG exports,” FERC said, while Louisiana and Texas experienced “notable production growth.”

Electricity costs become a campaign issue in Kansas gubernatorial race. Politico reports that Kris Kobach, a Republican running for the Kansas governor’s office, Kansas, is broadcasting an ad accusing his opponent, Democrat Laura Kelly, of being “just like Obama” on energy policy by voting for energy regulations that increased Kansas electricity bills $600 annually. “Did you know that Kansas electricity bills are now 24 percent higher than in surrounding states? We don’t need more costly regulations. We need lower electricity bills, so Kansas families can make ends meet,” Kobach says in the ad.

 

Other electric industry news items of interest:

New England power line opposition brings together unusual alliance. Environmental groups and gas generators both oppose the project, which would carry Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts. The proposed New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line is creating an unusual alliance of opponents in Maine that range from environmental groups to fossil fuel power generators. Groups that are more often on opposite sides of energy debates are making cases against the proposed $950 million, 1,200 megawatt transmission line, which would carry Canadian hydropower through northern and western Maine on its way to Massachusetts. Maine utility regulators will hold the first of five hearings in a final round of testimony Friday on the proposed 145-mile transmission line. The project is a joint venture of the provincially owned Hydro Quebec power generator and the Central Maine Power (CMP) distribution utility.

Utility to run controversial transmission line under Maine’s Kennebec Gorge. The utility under contract with Massachusetts to import Quebec hydro-electricity into New England said that it now plans to run the transmission lines under rather than over the Kennebec Gorge in Maine. The transmission line has stirred opposition in Maine for a variety of reasons, but the prospect of high-voltage transmission wires running 200 feet above a river known for its white water rafting has been a focal point of concern. “We are changing our proposal to address a key concern of state environmental regulators,” said a statement issued by Doug Herling, president and CEO of Central Maine Power. “This has always been under consideration. We believe this change may also encourage stronger support from those who appreciate the project’s benefits, but want to preserve the commercial and aesthetic value of the river as well.

U.S. Interior Department to hold Massachusetts offshore wind auction in Dec. 13. Nearly 400,000 acres of the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area will be up for grabs in December, as the Trump administration holds its next offshore wind auction, officials announced this week.  U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke revealed Wednesday that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will auction off 388,569 acres located on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Massachusetts on Dec. 13.  A total of 19 companies — including Deepwater Wind New England, LLC, Mayflower Wind Energy LLC, and Northeast Wind Energy, LLC, among others – have qualified to take part in the auction, according to the agency’s final sale notice.

N.J. lawmakers hear upbeat update on offshore wind. New Jersey is at the center of a developing offshore-wind industry along the East Coast, ideally situated to reap the economic benefits of a rapidly growing sector, legislators were told yesterday. With the nation’s most aggressive offshore-wind targets in the nation and some of its most abundant wind resources, New Jersey aims to be a national leader in developing the clean energy, according to officials and consultants. “Every dollar invested in clean energy today will provide us with tremendous returns on new economic activity,’’ Board of Public Utilities president Joseph Fiordaliso told the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee. The committee, getting a briefing on the status of the state’s offshore-wind goals, heard a rundown on the spate of wind farms proposed for up and down the Eastern Seaboard, as well as the declining costs of building wind turbines off the coast. “The price for offshore wind is more economical than originally anticipated,’’ said Fiordaliso, when pressed on how much it would cost ratepayers.

Op-ed: What offshore wind could do for economy and jobs in New Jersey. On Sept. 13, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the state is on course to reach its benchmark goal of 3,500 megawatts of offshore-wind energy capacity by 2030. The investment in offshore wind is strategic because of the expected capacity to match – and exceed – existing energy needs. “Wind Power to Spare,” a recent Environment New Jersey report, indicates there is enough wind off the Atlantic coast to generate four times the amount of electricity that the region currently consumes. New Jersey is well-positioned to harness abundant renewable energy from Atlantic Ocean wind currents, with our largest urban areas, Newark and Jersey City, proximate beneficiaries. If the state delivers on the governor’s plan, it would mean a lot for responsible environmental policy and economic development – and for union workers.

Christine Hallquist would like to talk about the power grid. The Vermont Democrat is the first transgender person to be nominated for governor. She’s facing a Republican incumbent whose popularity has tumbled recently. Christine Hallquist is the first transgender person to be nominated for governor by a major party, and she knows people are interested in hearing her life story. She is more than happy to tell it, but the thing she really wants to talk about is the electric grid. “The foundation of all humanity, way back to the beginning, has been energy,” she said, walking outside the Washington County Treatment Court, a drug-treatment program, on a brisk fall day. “The rise and fall of empires has been based on energy.” Ms. Hallquist, 62, a plain-spoken Democrat who spent more than a decade running an electric utility company, has been enthralled by science and engineering ever since she was young, when classmates mocked her for being feminine and the nuns at school beat her and recommended her parents treat her nonconformity with an exorcism.

Citizens Utility Board to discuss future of affordable, clean energy in Illinois. The Citizens Utility Board consumer watchdog group, Coles County Progressives, the Prairie River Network, and Faith in Place will host a discussion to gather opinions from Charleston and Mattoon residents on how Illinois can take advantage of opportunities to make clean energy affordable and accessible to everyone across the state. Participants will be asked to provide feedback on the needs of their communities as they relate to jobs, environmental justice and energy efficiency. CUB’s Environmental Outreach Coordinator Scott Allen, along with representatives from Prairie Rivers Network and Faith in Place, will facilitate this community conversation, titled “How Illinois Can Win a Clean, Equitable Energy Future.” Renewable energy experts from Eastern Illinois University and Lake Land College as well as solar energy installers will also participate in a panel discussion to answer audience questions.

Illinois class action suit accuses electricity retailer with ‘bait and switch’ pricing. A new proposed class action in Illinois federal court takes aim at Sperian Energy Corp., accusing the retail electric supplier of a classic “bait and switch” scheme that fleeced consumers.

Minnesota regulators hold hearing on natural gas plant. State regulators were in Duluth on Thursday weighing Minnesota Power’s proposed $700 million natural-gas plant in Superior. Supporters and opponents of the proposed Nemadji Trail Energy Center packed into the Duluth City Council Chambers as the five-member Minnesota Public Utilities Commission questioned company and state officials about the project’s need and public interest — requirements the project must meet for the PUC to sign off on it. Duluth-based Minnesota Power wants to build the 550-megawatt plant with La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative on a plot of land between Enbridge Energy’s Superior terminal and the Nemadji River.

Florida PSC opens fresh hearings into sale of Vero Beach’s municipal utility to FPL. A citizens group challenging the takeover of Vero Beach’s electric utility by Florida Power & Light Co. questioned the accounting underlying the deal Thursday as hearings opened before the Public Service Commission. The commission has already preliminarily OK’d the transfer — that happened on July 2. Thursday’s hearing centered on the Civic Association of Indian River County’s challenge to an $116.2 million “acquisition adjustment” that FPL would levy against its ratepayers. “They’re saying that without these special favors that they want from the commission that they just can’t do the deal,” said Lynne Larkin, an estates and transactional attorney and former city commissioner representing the watchdog group in her first foray into utilities regulation. “Our position is that there hasn’t been enough negotiation, and enough putting your foot down and saying, ‘Yeah, you can make this better,’” she said. “This deal can go forward. But, for some reason, the will of our government has not been such to put their feet to the fire.” The PSC is expected to decide the matter next month.

$3 billion already spent to end longest blackout in US history. Could renewable energy help Puerto Rico? Visitors to Casa Pueblo, a community center in this mountain hamlet, can tour the solar-powered meeting rooms, listen in on the solar-powered radio station or catch a documentary at the solar-powered movie theater. Later, they could lunch at one of Puerto Rico’s first fully solar-powered restaurants just down the street. On an island gripped by energy anxiety, Casa Pueblo is a calming oasis. “This is the model we want for the rest of the [island],” said Alexis Massol-González, founding director of Casa Pueblo, a community center and renewables advocacy group. “It would be an energy revolution.”

Montana Democratic PSC candidate sees coal’s uncertainty as biggest challenge. Havre Democrat Doug Kaercher is running against Sun River Republican Randy Pinocci to serve the 19-county District 1 of the Montana Public Service Commission. The seat, which represents residents from Toole, Choteau and Cascade counties east to the North Dakota border, is currently held by Great Falls Republican Travis Kavulla, who is term limited and will join the Washington, D.C. think tank, R Street Institute.

FERC acts on cyber security risks with new supply chain-related reliability standards. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved new mandatory Reliability Standards to bolster supply chain risk management protections for the nation’s bulk electric system. The new standards will augment current Critical Infrastructure Protection standards to mitigate cyber security risks associated with the supply chain for grid-related cyber systems. Today’s final rule closely follows what FERC outlined in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in January 2018.

Ice-based thermal energy installations on the rise as market grows. Air cooling is also one of the easier electrical loads to shift to off-peak demand times. Thermal Energy Storage (TES) is an established technology that reduces grid stress by shifting cooling-energy use from high-peak periods, when demand and rates are highest, to off-peak periods, when rates are lower, and is becoming increasingly prevalent. TES systems involve temporarily holding thermal energy in a hot or cold phase and releasing that energy for later on-demand use. Several U.S. companies use ice-based TES systems installed on rooftops: The ice is made with air conditioning equipment, integrated into the TES system at night – when demand for electricity is low – and then released to cool buildings, skyscrapers and other retail installations such as grocery stores to keep produce cold.

Sharyland Utilities announces transaction with Sempra Energy. Sharyland Utilities announced that it has signed a definitive agreement with Sempra Energy to co-invest in Sharyland’s South Texas utility business as part of a broader set of transactions among InfraREIT Inc. and its subsidiary, Sharyland Distribution & Transmission Services, as well as Oncor Electric Delivery Co. Sempra Energy owns an indirect 80.25 percent interest in Oncor. “For the past 20 years, Sharyland has committed itself to finding value-added transmission solutions that benefit customers throughout Texas,” said Hunter Hunt, founder and Chairman of Sharyland Utilities. “The transaction announced today is an important next chapter in our history, as we believe that Sempra Energy will be a fabulous partner as we continue our development efforts going forward.” The proposed transaction will result in Oncor acquiring InfraREIT and its electric transmission utility business, which Hunt created and grew to $2 billion in assets over the past two decades, along with Sharyland’s Golden Spread Electric Cooperative interconnection and other development projects outside of South Texas. Upon closing, Oncor will own and operate all of Sharyland’s and SDTS’ existing electric transmission assets located in Central Texas, West Texas, and the Texas Panhandle and South Plains.

NRG Launches Renewable Select, Simplified Renewables without the PPA. NRG Energy announces the availability of Renewable Select, simplifying the renewables procurement process and making it easier for businesses to choose renewable energy. The plan transforms the lengthy and complex traditional energy procurement process into a cost competitive, easy to execute transaction. Today’s customers demand renewable energy at grid parity to meet their fiscal requirements while achieving their sustainability goals. Renewable Select is the future of clean energy – built and tailored for business. The plan breaks down and removes the barriers that typically impede the procurement of wind and solar energy, such as untenable contract sizes or lengths, difficult building logistics or complex financial transactions.

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FERC declines comment on rumors chairman will resign; Consumer counsel, large consumers ask Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider ruling denying refunds (10/18/18)

Today’s lede: FERC declines comment on scuttlebutt that McIntyre will resign soon. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s press office declined to comment in response to rumors that Kevin Mcintyre, the commission’s chairman, will soon resign, either as chairman or from the commission entirely. McIntyre, who was treated for a brain tumor last year prior to becoming FERC’s chairman, missed last month’s open meeting, and was a no show at today’s monthly open meeting as well. At last month’s meeting McIntyre voted in absentia, but at this morning’s meeting it was announced that the chairman would not be voting on agenda items.

Rich Heidorn writing in RTO Insider cites sources as reporting that McIntyre “is often absent from FERC headquarters and that meetings with him have been frequently rescheduled as a result.” Heidorn is a former FERC staffer with presumably reliable sources inside 888 First Street, NE..

The five-member commission is currently operating with just four commissioners, as former Pennsylvania regulator Rob Powelson resigned in August to take a job in the private sector, leaving the commission split between two Republican and two Democratic appointees.

Bernard McNamee, a DOE official and former industry lawyer, has been nominated to take Powelson’s seat. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a Nov. 15 confirmation hearing to consider McNamee’s nomination, but it remains to be seen whether he gets confirmed during the lame duck session of Congress.

“The exact timing of when McIntyre will relinquish the chairmanship remains fuzzy – and, should he resign, if he will wait until a successor is confirmed,” Kelsey Tamborrino writes in Politico’s Morning Energy. “Sources suspect that Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, a fellow Republican who briefly served as FERC chairman last year, will once again wield the gavel. Chatterjee is said to have made a trip to the White House on Tuesday but he wasn’t tipping his hand when pressed by reporters on Wednesday at a DOE event. He also appeared with a security detail, which is unusual for a commissioner.”

Consumer counsel, large end users ask Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider denying refunds. Not taking “no” for an answer, the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association and grocery retailer Kroger are asking the state Supreme Court to reconsider an opinion earlier this month denying refunds for millions collected by Dayton Power & Light through a fee that the court determined was illegal, Thomas Gnau reports for the Dayton Daily News (see stories here and here).

The court in a 4-3 vote Oct. 4 denied the parties’ request to order refunds in the proceeding, which involved the utility collecting $294 million of “stability” charges under an Electric Security Plan that was approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. But the court ruled that the charge, intended to assure the utility’s financial stability, was illegal. Collection of the fee was subsequently ended but no refunds were provided for the amount collected through an illegal fee.

“We cannot order effective relief and the appeal is moot,” the court’s majority determined. “Our task is not to set rates; it is only to [see] that the rates are not unlawful or unreasonable, and that the rate-making process itself is lawfully carried out.”

Justice Terrence O’Donnell dissented from the majority opinion, which he said sets a poor precedent. “It not only fails to enforce one of its lawful orders, but it also telegraphs to other utilities that if this court reverses a matter in connection with an application approved by the commission involving collection of unlawful charges, on remand, they can simply follow the procedure here, apply to withdraw the application, and thereby render review by this court wholly meaningless,” he wrote.

The opinion “leaves DP&L’s customers harmed but without recourse after having been subjected to a transition charge that this court deemed to be unlawful,” the parties said this week in asking for the court to reconsider the decision. “As the concurring opinion notes, the effect of the court’s ruling is unfair and results in a windfall to DP&L.”

Interior Secretary Zinke says he’s ‘bullish’ on wind. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he is “bullish” on wind energy as his agency prepares to conduct a lease auction for offshore wind energy sites Dec. 13, Axios reports. “My job is to make sure the government is a partner with you. And I’m bullish on wind,” Zinke said. The comment came as part of a discussion about making waters offshore of Massachusetts and California available for wind energy development.

 

Other electric industry news items of interest:

N.J. solar industry warns of collapse absent immediate action. With less than six months to act, the state needs to quickly transition to a new way of promoting solar energy or risk a collapse in one of its fastest growing sectors, industry officials warned yesterday. In what is shaping up as one of the most difficult tasks the state faces in achieving the clean-energy goals of the Murphy administration, policymakers must agree on an interim system for incentivizing solar development, probably as soon as next March. Unless there is a seamless transition, the industry could shut down, solar executives told state regulatory officials at a stakeholder meeting in Newark yesterday. If that happens, it could cause massive layoffs in a sector that now employs more than 7,000 and has invested in excess of $10 billion in New Jersey.

Florida towns face dark weeks without power: ‘This isn’t a restore. This is a rebuild’. A week after Hurricane Michael’s rampage, large swaths of the Florida Panhandle and tens of thousands of residents face a dark, powerless future. Major utilities say it will still take weeks to repair downed lines and poles and reconnect customers — and that’s only for the homes and businesses in good enough shape to “take electrical service.” The reality is that mass damage left by Michael — which left a monster 80-mile wide path of ruin — means it may take even more time to turn the lights back on in damaged structures. Leaders in some counties are warning it could take up to a month to fully restore power to what is still standing and far longer for homes that were leveled and need to be rebuilt. The utilities also face a daunting challenge reassembling the shattered grid. Gulf Power spokesman Rick DelaHaya said there’s a lot that can’t be salvaged: “This isn’t a restore… this is a rebuild.”

Residents urged to opt out of Illinois village’s electricity aggregation program for cheaper rates from ComEd. North Aurora made the unique move last week to urge its residents to switch out of the Illinois village’s electricity aggregation program because ComEd’s rates were unexpectedly lowered. The village recently renewed its electricity aggregation program through a negotiated contract with Dynegy. On Friday, the village posted a message on its website explaining the new ComEd rates and urging residents to call Dynegy to opt out of the higher, negotiated rate. “It’s unusual in the sense that there was an unusual circumstance,” Village Administrator Steve Bosco said, referencing a recent federal ruling that made ComEd’s rates for the next eight months more attractive for customers than what the village had offered through its program. “Residents are encouraged to return to the lower ComEd rate of 7.29¢, with no early termination fee,” the village said on its website.

Inside the ‘Chaos’ enveloping Illinois’ distributed solar market. At work on a fix, the state faces threats of “not only market confusion, but potentially market failure.” Looking back on the evolution of state solar markets, Will Kenworthy — now Vote Solar’s Midwest regulatory director — remembers companies camping out overnight to turn in applications for incentives in New Jersey. He recalls Xcel Energy representatives in a 2014 meeting hoping for 25 megawatts of applications in the first part of the utility’s community solar program. And he also remembers Xcel raking in applications for more than 400 megawatts in the program’s first week. That cycle of state solar markets opening and quickly being flooded with interest are “just sort of the history of the industry,” according to Kenworthy.

Minnesota PUC delays natural gas power plant vote. Regulators will no longer decide the fate of Minnesota Power’s proposed $700 million natural-gas plant in Superior Thursday after a last-minute petition called for an environmental review of the project. Although the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will still hold hearings on the proposed Nemadji Trail Energy Center at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in the Duluth City Council chambers, the five-member PUC will no longer vote on whether the plant is needed or in the public interest. The move comes after Honor the Earth, a Native American-led environmental group, submitted a petition to the MInnesota Environmental Quality Board on Oct. 8 requesting an environmental assessment worksheet.

Duke Energy announces plans for new renewable energy program in South Carolina. Duke Energy Corp. is looking to expand renewable energy options for its commercial and industrial customers in South Carolina. The Charlotte-based utility recently proposed a program to the South Carolina Public Service Commission that would allow its large business customers in the Palmetto State to receive “bill credits” for electricity generated by a solar site not located on their premises, according to a news release. If approved by the Public Service Commission, the Green Source Advantage program would also enable participating customers to retain renewable energy certificates produced by their facility, the release said. “We’ve received significant interest from our large commercial and industrial customers in offering programs that help them meet their sustainability goals,” said Kodwo Ghartey-Tagoe, Duke Energy’s South Carolina president, in the release. “The Green Source Advantage program will leverage renewable energy options to do just that.”

Vermont attorney general warns scammers targeting utility customers. Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan is warning Vermonters about a spike in scams by fraudsters pretending to be utilities. The Attorney General issued a “Scam Alert” and joins Vermont power companies in warning Vermonters about the scam. These scammers call residents and businesses demanding immediate payment for electricity with a credit card, pre-paid card, or money order. Utilities reported a sharp increase in complaints from consumers this week. In response, the Attorney General issued a “Scam Alert” to over 4,000 Vermonters to warn them of this fraudulent activity. “Our team is working with local utilities to raise awareness and stop these scams,” said Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan. “If any Vermonter is not sure about who is on the other end of the phone, you should not make a payment. Hang up and call the AG’s office or your local utility.”

Swiss government proposes broad electricity market deregulation. The Swiss government proposed on Wednesday complete liberalisation of the electricity market as it moves to decentralise production and promote renewable energy. Opening a period of public comment that runs through January, the cabinet said that while five-sixths of power purchases took place on open markets, more than 99 percent of retail and business consumers remain bound to regulated suppliers. These consumers should in future be allowed to choose where to buy their electricity, the government said in a statement.

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