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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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