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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.