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Today’s lede: Judge allows activists’ legal challenge to N.Y. nuclear subsidies. A New York State Supreme Court judge’s ruling will allow a legal challenge to New York’s program subsidizing three nuclear power plants in the state to move forward, Oswego County Today reports. The challenge was brought by a group of environmental and anti-nuclear activist groups.

“This is a David vs. Goliath victory,” said Hudson River Sloop Clearwater’s Manna Jo Greene. “We were opposed by the PSC, the nuclear energy plant owners, Entergy, Exelon, and Constellation, and their phalanx of lawyers. But we prevailed and proved our issues are substantive and triable. It’s vitally important that the court fully adjudicate the reasons why these nuclear subsidies don’t belong in the Clean Energy Standard. It doesn’t serve the public interest or even follow the law that New York’s ratepayers are required to pay to keep these nuclear plants open, when they are no longer economically viable without a subsidy.”

“It’s a victory for democracy that we are going to get our day in court,” said the Nuclear Information and Resource Service’s Tim Judson.

The lawsuit challenges a Public Service Commission decision requiring electricity consumers to subsidize select nuclear power plants along with renewable energy resources as part of the state’s Clean Energy Standard committing the state to obtaining 50 percent of its electricity from renewables.

Since the order establishing zero emissions credits to prop up the nuclear plants took effect nine months ago, the FitzPatrick, Ginna and Nine Mile Point nuclear plants have received an estimated $360 million in consumer subsidies, according to activists who peg the subsidy’s cost at $40 million per month. The ZEC program is expected to cost the state’s electricity consumers $7.6 billion over 12 years. The Indian Point nuclear plant near New York City, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has fought to shut down, does not qualify for the subsidies.

N.J. nuclear subsidy bill gets married with Murphy’s pro-environmental agenda. New Jersey lawmakers, after meeting behind closed doors yesterday, are expected to unveil a modified version of legislation sought by Public Service Enterprise Group to obtain consumer subsidies for its nuclear power plants in the state, Tom Johnson reports in NJSpotlight.

Yesterday’s negotiations “focused on aligning the legislation more closely with the goals of clean-energy advocates and Gov. Phil Murphy, and less specifically with purported problems facing nuclear plants in New Jersey, according to various sources,” Johnson writes.

Murphy and/or his representatives were hands-on in the legislative bargaining yesterday, which apparently resulted in marrying the nuclear subsidies with incentives for offshore wind and energy efficiency, NJ Advance Media’s Brent Johnson reports.

Murphy told reporters Thursday that his administration had some “very good conversations” with the Legislature’s Democratic-controlled leadership. “Our position has not changed,” Johnson quoted Murphy. “We are completely committed to keeping those nukes open as long as they are run safely. Too many jobs at stake. It’s the biggest bridge to a 100 percent clean-energy future – again, as long as they are run properly.”

The bill is scheduled for consideration by the Senate Budget Committee Feb. 5. “We’re moving forward,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney told reporters. “This is an important issue. And I want to get it done.”

S.C. house votes to revamp utilities commission oversight board. South Carolina’s House approved a measure to disband the Public Utilities Review Committee, which put state lawmakers and others in charge of screening and evaluating appointments to the Public Service Commission, Avery Wilks reports in The State. It will be replaced by a Utility Oversight Committee subject to stricter rules, including prohibitions on accepting political contributions from utilities.

Wilks reports that utilities “poured almost $300,000 in the campaign coffers of legislators who were on the Utilities Review Committee.” The proposed change comes in the wake of the PSC’s approval of nine rate hikes saddling consumers with billions in costs for a failed nuclear development project.

“We imposed the most rigorous ethics requirements anywhere in state law over the Utility Oversight Committee,” said Rep. Micah Caskey. “The House thought it was necessary to signal that we are not going to tolerate even the appearance of impropriety.”

Columnist decries Va. lawmakers as ‘pusillanimous patsies’ of utilities. Roanoke Times columnist Dan Casey takes a sharp pen to lambast Virginia lawmakers for a 2015 state law limiting the State Corporation Commission’s authority to order utilities to refunds for more than $400 million in overearnings. “Last week, Del. Sam Rasoul took to the House floor and blasted that law as “corrupt.” In politics, those are fighting words. But, if anything, Rasoul, D-Roanoke, understated the problem,” Casey writes.

“Passing it was no isolated incident. It was part of a long-running effort by electric monopolies and their pusillanimous patsies in the General Assembly to defang a regulatory framework that protected consumers,” Casey asserts, calling utility-backed legislation addressing the 2015 law “more Richmond treachery in the works.”

“If the General Assembly approves a new regulatory scheme promoted by power companies and their legislative lackeys, it’ll be the fourth time in 11 years ratepayers have been screwed. Why are voters putting up with it?”

Solar tariffs? Bad! The negative fallout of the administration’s decision to impose tariffs on imported solar panels continues as President Trump travels to Davos for the World Economic Forum, where he is expected to tout the U.S. as “open for business.”

“He spent his campaign promoting an ‘America First’ energy policy, and slammed solar as expensive and wind turbines as ugly. But after growing rapidly during the Obama years, Trump now faces a wind and solar industry that may have come too far for even a pro-fossil-fuel administration to stuff back into the barrel — especially after they’ve created tens of thousands of jobs in both red and blue states,” Politico reports.

“I think it’s going to be very hurtful to our products in South Carolina,” Politico quoted Sen. Lindsey Graham telling reporters in a scrum. “I hope I’m wrong, but I’m afraid it’s going to cost us jobs.”

The Washington Post focused on negative reaction from Republican quarters. “In Washington, at least half a dozen Republican senators condemned Trump’s decision — his first tariff action — exposing GOP divisions over international trade that threaten the uneasy alliance between the president and lawmakers of his own party,” the Post’s Erica Werner, Heather Long and David Lynch report. “I don’t agree with it. I think it’s a bad path to head down,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said of the decision toimpose tariffs on not just solar panels but imported washing machines as well. “The retaliatory tariff fight is never a good fight, and I generally think we need to be more positive about our trade opportunities.”

The New York Times, meanwhile, reported that the outlook for the domestic solar industry isn’t so sunny any more. The piece focuses on Tommy Vinson’s family-owned farm in North Carolina, where Vinson has opted to quit planting soybeans and tobacco in favor of developing a solar farm. “But for those venturing into solar farming like Mr. Vinson, the future of this vibrant industry is now cloudy,” Ana Swanson and Brad Plumer write.

Bloomberg’s Saheli Roy Choudhury quotes her boss, former New York City mayor and putative presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, as tweeting that the tariffs decision will “destroy U.S. jobs, raise Americans’ electric bills and hurt our environment.” Bloomberg called on Congress to “stand up for American workers and consumers and overturn the administration’s harmful decision.”

SunPower wants tariff exemption. SunPower Corp. CEO Tom Werner told Politico’s Morning Energy that his company’s panels made in Malaysia receives no government support and therefore should be exempted from the tariff. He told Politico he’d met with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and, “We haven’t gotten a strong no or a strong yes.”

Wis. jury finds Chinese turbine maker guilty of stealing US trade secrets. Following an 11-day trial, a jury in Wisconsin has found Chinese wind turbine manufacturer Sinovel guilty of stealing proprietary technology from AMSC, a U.S. wind turbine producer, Reuters and other news agencies report. “Prosecutors said that as of March 2011, Sinovel owed AMSC $100 million for products that had been delivered and had contracts to buy more than $700 million in future products. But prosecutors said that Sinovel conspired beginning in 2011 to obtain AMSC’s copyrighted information and trade secrets so that it could make wind turbines and retrofit existing ones in order to avoid having to pay AMSC.”


Given corporate tax savings, Duke forgoes hurricane cost recovery in Fla. Duke Energy has abandoned plans to ask Florida utility regulators for recovery of some $500 million in costs related to Hurricane Irma, citing the company’s windfall from the new federal law cutting corporate taxes. The announcement follows a similar move by Florida Power & Light, News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders reports. “We are pleased that this solution will prevent a rate increase for our customers,” Harry Sideris, Duke Energy Florida state president, said.

AARP Florida, meanwhile, is urging the Florida Public Service Commission to permanently lower electricity rates to allow consumers to benefit from the reduction in the federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, Susan Salisbury reports in the Palm Beach Post.

St. Louis paper editorializes against Ameren-sought rate bill. Ameren has failed to justify any need for a rate relief measure under consideration by Missouri lawmakers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board opines in an editorial on SB 564, which Republican lawmaker Doug Libla has campaigned against in an opinion piece published by the newspaper.

“It’s difficult to see why Ameren needs relief from the sweet monopoly deal it already enjoys,” the Post-Dispatch editorial board says, concluding that Ameren “hasn’t made a persuasive case that Missouri’s regulatory system is so broken it needs to be fixed.”

There’s more on the give-and-take over Missouri rate legislation in the Missourian.

The reviews are in on Musk’s eye-popping compensation package. “Elon Musk’s new pay package has attracted almost as much divided opinion as Elon Musk himself. Advocates have claimed that it is ‘radical’ and ‘bold,’ praise often used to describe Tesla. Others argue that it is a publicity stunt. But, as with most things, the reality is likely in between these extremes,” Alex Edmans writes in the Harvard Business Review.

Meanwhile, Joann Muller reports in Forbes that Tesla has locked in Musk’s services just as the company is about to get swamped by a tide of competitors offering electric vehicles.

And two federal agencies are investigating a crash in California involving a Tesla Model S that the driver said was operating under Tesla’s semi-autonomous driverless “Autopilot” system, the Associated Press’ Tom Krisher and Dee-Ann Durbin report.

In privatizing troubled utility, Puerto Rico should adopt competition. “Privatization without competition is like a bicycle without pedals,” Rafi Farber writes in “There is no reason for a single company to buy up the entirety of PREPA’s assets. Aside from the fact that doing so would be problematic because of the debt situation, a single company need not be the sole supplier of electricity on the island. Several would be better. Like all free market competition tends to do, it would lower prices and increase service quality overall.”

Distributed generation tech gets cash infusion. American Electric Power, Centrica Innovations and Statoil Energy Ventures are among 10 investors who have agreed to provide EtaGen, a manufacturer of linear generators, with $83 Million in Series C financing, the company announced. Intended to deliver onsite electricity capacity to commercial businesses, the company said its linear generator “uses a low-temperature reaction of air and natural gas to drive magnets through copper coils to produce electricity. The company’s novel design achieves high efficiency with few moving parts, making it affordable and reliable with lower greenhouse gas emissions than the grid.”

Another solar developer sues Montana PSC over PURPA compensation. The Montana Public Service Commission decision to alter PURPA compensation scheme under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act has prompted a third lawsuit from a solar energy project developer, Tome Lutey reports in the Billings Gazette. Cypress Creek Renewables is challenging the PSC’s decision to end guaranteed rates for small renewable energy projects for 25 years at $66 per megawatt-hour.

The legal challenge came just days before Montana PSC Chair Travis Kavulla testified at a House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing where a PURPA reform bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., was considered (H.R. 4476). Walberg said it was important to bring a “40-year-old law into the 21s century.” Testifying on behalf of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, Kavulla voiced support for Walberg’s bill, which would allow for a competitive solicitation process to substitute for the law’s regulatory determination of a utility’s “avoided cost” in setting rates paid to PURPA power providers, known as qualifying facilities or QFs.

“This type of administrative pricing essentially requires states to guess at future market prices, allowing QFs to lock in rates that often substantially overstate the actual avoided cost,” Kavulla said in prepared testimony. “This approach is fundamentally different when compared to procurements that use competitive mechanisms like auctions or requests for proposals to discover the least-cost resource.”

NRG settles class-action suit for $7 Million. NRG Residential Solar Solutions LLC has reached a $7 million settlement of a class action lawsuit alleging the company or its vendors engaged in robocalls to residential phone numbers on the federal do-not-call registry, reports. NRG denies the allegations. The company exited the residential solar installation business early last year.

Court finds PUCO refund order was ‘unlawful retroactive ratemaking.’ The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio engaged in “unlawful retroactive ratemaking” when it ordered FirstEnergy in 2013 to refund $43 million to consumers the agency deemed the utility had overspent for renewable energy credits purchased to meet Ohio renewable energy mandates, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled. The purchase of RECs, allegedly including some from a FirstEnergy affiliate, was done in accordance with the utility’s filed rate schedule, which did not provide for refunds, the court found.





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Today’s lede: The nuclear subsidy bill is dead. Long live the nuclear subsidy bill. New Jersey lawmakers are slated to take up tomorrow a nuclear subsidy bill that died earlier this month in a lame-duck session of the Legislature. The measure would require New Jersey electricity consumers to cough up an estimated $300 million annually in subsidies to help Public Service Enterprise Group’s three nuclear power plants navigate the turbulent seas of competitive wholesale power markets with prices suppressed by cheap fracked natural gas.

PSEG said the need to protect nuclear energy remains urgent, Tom Johnson reported in NJSpotlight. “We encourage the Legislature to move quickly and look forward to working with the administration and Legislature to bring about a clean energy future that includes nuclear,’’ the utility said in a statement.

Critics of the proposal warned that lawmakers are rushing the measure. “The Legislature is rushing this forward without having any consideration of what the Murphy administration thinks,” said Jeff Tittel,  director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This bad idea obviously needs a good wooden stake,” said Steven Goldenberg, an attorney representing large energy users .

In an op-ed published by NJSpotlight, Goldenberg argues that New Jersey’s consumers can ill afford “the massive wealth transfer and regulatory capitulation” that the PSEG-supported subsidy bill would impose.

“Because there is no issue regarding the nuclear plants’ current profitability, the relief the bill would provide is unwarranted. New Jersey should follow Connecticut’s recent example and require PSEG, as a condition precedent to the receipt of any future relief, to make comprehensive financial disclosures regarding the current and projected profitability of the nuclear plants. The BPU should test the merits of such disclosures in contested proceedings in which interested parties are permitted to intervene with full rights as litigants. There is no reason why contested proceedings cannot be utilized in this context, as they were utilized years ago to litigate the analogous stranded-cost issues,” Goldenberg writes.

“The threat of windfall profits is real, as illustrated by the payment of $3 billion in nonexistent stranded costs to PSEG when its generation fleet was highly profitable. Those who are justifiably concerned about the potential for job losses should therefore also consider the jobs lost when New Jersey’s businesses are forced to make the kind of wealth transfers that the bill would require.”

Lawmakers anticipate N.J. rejoining RGGI. Former Gov. Chris Christie withdrew New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon emission trading program involving most states in the Northeast. With Phil Murphy, a new pro-environment Democrat now ensconced as governor promising to have the state rejoin the lucrative program, state lawmakers are already debating how to allocate the millions expected to roll in, Tom Johnson reports in NJSpotlight.

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee, in its first meeting of the new legislative session, voted for the state to return to the RGGI fold. The panel “also approved a measure that would direct all of the initial $300 million raised by rejoining RGGI to go to programs to promote the use of electric vehicles, an idea that had only tepid support from environmentalists,” Johnson reports.

The New Jersey Business & Industry Association’s Sara Bluhm said New Jersey already has lower emissions from power plants than neighboring states. “We are going to increase our costs without having any environmental benefit,” Bluhm said. “If we don’t act we’ll see an economic catastrophe in some of our communities,” predicted Environment New Jersey’s Doug O’Malley, referring to damage from coastal storms expected to increase in a warming climate.

Sen. Bob Smith, the Senate energy committee chair, defended his panel’s actions, calling the cost of RGGI for New Jersey consumers minimal, Nicholas Pugliese reported in “In addition, Smith said, raising the cost of generating electricity using fossil fuels would make New Jersey’s nuclear power industry more competitive and reduce or eliminate the need for subsidies to keep the industry afloat.”

Senate hearing looks at grid performance during ‘bomb cyclone’ event. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing looking into how the grid performed during the recent “bomb cyclone” cold-weather blast. It offered a forum for views on the recent notice of proposed rulemaking the Trump administration advanced at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require consumers to subsidize economically struggling coal and nuclear plants in order to preserve “grid resiliency.” FERC rejected the NOPR but initiated an administrative proceeding to perhaps identify an alternative, market-based approach address so-called grid resiliency.

“I’ve often said that federal law and policy must enable energy to be affordable, clean, diverse, and secure,” panel Chair Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in opening remarks. “The Secretary of Energy’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, issued in September, and the recent FERC Order in response were focused on these same issues.”

“We must ensure that our nation’s natural gas supply – a boon to our economy and to our national security – can be reliably delivered to a changing marketplace. At the same time, it’s not clear what the reliability and economic impacts will be of a grid whose primary electricity resources are less diverse over time, as baseload nuclear and coal units continue to retire,” Murkowski said.

Assistant Energy Secretary Bruce Walker told the Senate panel that the cold-weather event demonstrated that the power grid is at risk from the retirement of coal and nuclear generating facilities, Josh Siegel reported in the Washington Examiner. “What was apparent during this weather event was the continued reliance on baseload generation and a diverse energy portfolio,” Walker said. “Without action that recognizes the essential reliability services provided by a strategically diversified generation portfolio, we cannot guarantee the resilience of the electric grid.”

PJM’s Andy Ott said the nation’s largest grid operator could not have kept the lights on without coal-fired power, which met 40 percent of demand during the cold spell. “We could not have served customers without coal,” Ott said. Nevertheless, he supported the retirement of a number of old, inefficient coal plants didn’t run during the weather event.

FERC chair Kevin McIntyre expressed confidence that the grid would have performed equally well absent coal resources.

“Although we are still receiving and reviewing data, it appears that, notwithstanding stress in several regions, overall the bulk power system performed relatively well,” McIntyre said, noting that even coal resources ran into operational issues during intense cold weather. “In this recent weather event, we wouldn’t have seen widespread outages absent coal,” McIntyre said. Noting the renewable resources performed well, he callied for an “all-of-the-above approach.”

S.C. guv supports legislation barring consumer payments for failed nuke project. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster sent a letter to lawmakers supporting legislative efforts to protect the state’s electricity consumers from further payments in support of SCANA’s failed V.C. Summer nuclear development project. Dominion has warned lawmakers that such a bill would blow up the company’s proposed deal to acquire the state’s troubled investor-owned utility company.

In the letter, McMaster vowed to veto any bill that “continues to place the financial burden of this corporate failure on South Carolina ratepayers,” Avery Wilks reports in The State. “The proposal McMaster wants, which the S.C. House and Senate already are considering, effectively would kill Virginia-based Dominion Energy’s deal to buy SCANA and refund its electric customers about $1,000 per household,” Wilks reported.

“It would be irresponsible for the General Assembly to allow SCANA – or any prospective purchaser – to continue collecting money from ratepayers for this project,” McMaster wrote. “The free market and principles of corporate responsibility demand that the consequences of SCANA’s errors land where their dividends and profits have landed: with its corporate shareholders and executives.”

Staff’s rosy bankruptcy view ‘wrong and misleading,’ SCANA says. The South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff’s conclusion that SCANA is “unlikely” to go bankrupt if denied cost recovery for its failed nuclear development effort is “wrong and misleading,” and reflects misunderstanding of accounting rules, the utility told regulators. “The accounting conclusions reached in the ORS Report are demonstrably wrong,” Iris Griffin, chief financial officer, said in an affidavit filed with the Public Service Commission. Regulatory Staff’s opinions based on those conclusions “are not entitled to any weight or credibility in this matter,” she asserted.

Avery Wilks reports in The State.

Utilities push back against Missouri senator’s opposition to rate reform bill. A trade group representing investor-owned utility interests in Missouri is pushing back against a state senator’s campaign to highlight his concerns with S. 564, pending legislation that would enact reforms in the ratemaking process.

In opinion pieces published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star newspapers, Republican Sen. Doug Libla pans the measure as a sop to utilities that will harm electricity consumers by limiting ratemaking review discretion from the Missouri Public Service Commission. “The PSC is the only consumer protection against monopolies. This bill adopts ratemaking mechanisms that greatly benefit utilities with even higher profits, and all classes of customers will experience much higher electric rates,” Libla maintains.

Responding in the Post-Dispatch, Missouri Energy Development Association President Trey Davis asserts that Libla “mischaracterizes” the bill, which he said would “be of significant benefit to the customers of the electric providers” by making rates more stable and predictable while supporting the buildout of a smarter, more reliable power grid better able to withstand physical and cyber attacks.

“The energy industry is rapidly changing with new innovations and smart technologies being introduced every day. Missouri needs to step up and work toward fostering discussions with a goal of implementing progressive energy legislative reform so our state doesn’t continue to fall behind. Everyone wins with a modernized energy grid that is smart, secure and stable,” Davis writes.

“This bill does nothing for the grid; it’s all about the greed,” Libla maintains.

Electricity from N.C. dams lucrative, but no longer support smelter jobs. Alcoa closed down its North Carolina aluminum smelting operations in 2007, but continued to operate the old hydroelectric dams built to provide electricity for its smelting operations, earning $225 million in revenues over the past decade, Associated Press business writer Emery Dalesio reports.

After successfully fedning off opposition from state officials and obtaining a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allowing the four Yadkin river dams to continue operating at least until 2055, Alcoa last year sold the generating facilities to Cube Yadkin Generation, which Dalesio described as a Maryland-based private company with seven layers of corporate ownership ultimately controlled by entities based in the Cayman Islands.

“Cube reported to federal regulators that the dams generated 570,000 megawatt hours of electricity in the year ending last September. Wholesale price data provided by energy information company Platts on Monday means the dams would have generated revenues of about $15 million over the 12-month period,” Dalesio reports. “Cube would not say how much profit the company earned from the power sales, but the nearly 40 percent reduction in power production from the previous year was caused by dry weather in the watershed, Vice President of Operations Mark Gross said in an email.”

State officials are still upset that the dams no longer support the 1,000 jobs at the Alcoa plant. After losing the relicensing battle at FERC, Dalesio notes that State Attorney General Josh Stein last month filed a challenge with the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, asking the three-judge panel “to rule whether the FERC wrongly discarded North Carolina’s objections that Alcoa changed the social contract of using the river in return for community benefits when it shifted to simply selling the electricity.”

[Editor’s note: Stein should get another “Chevron” on his uniform if he prevails with the court.]

Energy crisis-era law challenged in Calif. A legal challenge to a state law shielding the California Energy Commission’s decisions regarding the siting of power plants, a vestige of the 2000-2001 energy crisis that emerged from a botched electricity restructuring effort, can move forward, an appeals court has ruled, Bob Egelko reports in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The 2001 law directed that legal challenges to Energy Commission power plant decisions be filed directly with the state Supreme Court, rather than first going through lower courts, and specified that the commission’s factual findings in such cases were final and could not be reviewed. A 2012 legal action complained the law was an unconstitutional infringement of judicial powers.

“Superior Court Judge Gail Bereola dismissed the suit, saying it was overly broad and premature because the environmental groups were not challenging the Energy Commission’s approval of a power plant and could not show that the law was causing them specific harm. But the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco disagreed and ruled that the suit could proceed,” Egelko writes.

“What’s at stake is California’s future and the planet’s future,” said Lazerow, a lawyer with the nonprofit Communities for a Better Environment, which brought the original 2012 action along with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need to transition off of fossil fuels. Having the agency that permits gas-fired power plants immune from court review really stands in the way of that.”

Threat of ballot initiative has industry eyeing carbon tax legislative alternative. Washington state energy industry interests appear to view a legislative effort to implement a carbon tax proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee as a better alternative to a ballot initiative activists have threatened to advance, reports Josh Kelety with the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Olympia News Bureau. Voters rejected a similar ballot initiative in 2016 by some 20 points, Kelety writes.

Opinions regarding legislation to implement Inslee’s proposed carbon tax were voiced at a Jan. 16 hearing of the Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee. “We have very real momentum for the simple reason that people realize that the legislative process allows for a healthy debate and dialogue,” said  Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D–Seattle, the panel’s chair and primary sponsor of  Inslee’s carbon tax bill. “To govern by ballot initiative is inherently less flexible and is really a one-size-fits-all top-down approach.”

Calling the proposed $20-per-ton levy “a very steep tax, Cascade Natural Gas and Northwest Natural Gas lobbyist Charlie Brown said, “We absolutely prefer a legislative solution to this issue rather than an initiative.”

“Without legislation we know there are well-funded groups ready to pursue a ballot measure. We’re among those that believe that the best results will come from a collaborative effort here among people looking for fair and reasonable results,” said Avista Corp.’s John Rothlin. “We think it’s appropriate that there be a modest tax rate and a pause at some point to ensure that it is meeting environmental objectives without making adverse economic impacts.”

Puget Sound Energy’s Steve Secrist said his company’s ultimate support must “take into account the impact to customer’s energy bills and how those customer investments translate into real carbon emission reductions.”

“Because we have concerns on the impact to our electrical customers, we are here today in opposition,” said Kathleen Collins of Pacific Power.

AEP Ohio rate case to get a do-over. AEP Ohio’s failure to post a public hearing notice in its rate case has prompted the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to schedule a new hearing Feb. 12, Kathiann Kowalski reports in Midwest Energy News.

AEP pointed out its oversight last month, calling the omission of public notice inadvertent, and most parties are in agreement on the issues in the settlement, but Ohio’s consumer advocate agency objected nonetheless, noting that Ohio law places a primary duty on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to provide that notice.

Despite the fact that many consumers were aware of the case and prior hearings, hearing examiner Greta See said she found it “necessary to conduct another public hearing to ensure the public is notified of these proceedings and afforded an opportunity to provide testimony.”

Ohio town chooses new suppliers for municipal aggregation program. The village council has chosen the Ohio Municipal League and Palmer Energy to replace Aspen Energy as electricity and natural gas provider for the town’s community aggregation program, Fred Main reports in the Mount Vernon News.

Fla. city extends Gulf Power franchise for one year. The city council in Destin, Fla., agreed to extend and expiring franchise agreement with Gulf Power for one year to allow more time to renegotiate the deal of pursue other options, such as municipalization, Tony Judnich reports in the Destin Log. City officials complain that utility rates are much higher than those available from other utilities in the state. Destin has about 15,600 customers.

One option discussed would involve the city buying the system from Gulf Power and selling it to another utility. “You have every right to buy the system and operate it,” said Wendell Smith, Gulf Power’s vice president of customer service and sales. But flipping the purchased assets to another provider would violate the terms of the franchise agreement. “We believe it is inconsistent with the purpose of that original purchase option,” said Gulf Power attorney Steve Griffin.

Utility officials held out the prospect that rates would soon be lowered as a result of the federal corporate tax reduction.

Report assesses VC funding for emerging technologies. Global energy storage, smart grid and efficiency firms raise $1.5 billion in venture capital funding during 2017, an increase over the $1.3 billion raised in 2016, according to a new report from Mercom Capital. The firm found that, over the course of 2017, global battery storage firms raised $714 million, smart grid companies $422 million and energy efficiency firms $384 million, Tildy Bayar reports in Power Engineering International. The number of players raising funds also increased last year.

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Today’s lede: Trump administration imposes 30% solar import tariff. As expected, the Trump administration responded favorably to a petition from two domestic producers and announced the imposition of a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels. The move, which was decidedly panned by the solar industry and environmentalists, came despite a barrage of advocacy against adopting protectionist measures.

The conservative Heritage Foundation weighed in just before the decision came down, arguing that Trump should deny the petition to preserve innovation, competitiveness and a healthy job market.  “There will be negative implications for the rest of the industry and the indirect jobs it creates if the administration bends over backward to shore up two failing companies. The federal government shouldn’t be the arbiter of whose job is more valuable,” wrote Katie Tubb, a Heritage policy analyst, in the Daily Signal.

“Trump should decline to do what far too many congressmen of both parties are eager to do—namely, use the power of government to manipulate energy markets in favor of their preferred energy technologies or against the ones that don’t fit their political narratives,” Tubb said. “Trump has spoken unapologetically about unleashing the competitiveness of the entire energy sector. The best way to get there is to remove barriers, rather than create them.”

The Energy Trade Action Coalition, the group formed to combat the imposition of solar tariffs and which includes Heritage and the Solar Energy Industries Association among its members, sent a last-minute letter rebutting arguments that cheap Chinese imports have caused U.S. manufacturers out of business. Scroll down at this link here for the letter and accompanying charts.

Yet it was all for naught. “You’re going to have people getting jobs again and we’re going to make our own product again. It’s been a long time,” President Trump said as he signed the order late yesterday. “The President’s action makes clear again that the Trump Administration will always defend American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. The decision provoked instant indignation from both the left and right.

“The effect of today’s decision will be felt across the U.S. economy given that the thriving solar industry was responsible for creating one out of every 50 new jobs in the U.S. in 2016.  We expect the Trump Administration to closely monitor the impact that this decision has on U.S. manufacturing and if, as expected, this decision leads to a significant solar industry contraction in the U.S., to take steps to immediately undo this counterproductive approach to American economic growth,” ETAC said.

“While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs,” SEIA President Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement.


Draft report paints murky picture of Millstone’s profitability. A draft of a report due Connecticut lawmakers Feb. 1 suggests that Dominion’s Millstone nuclear power plant will remain profitable through 2035. It appeared to fault Dominion for failing to be fully responsive in providing accounting data to support the company’s warning that profitability concerns might prompt closure of the generating facility. Nonetheless, it recommends that Dominion be allowed to sell its output in a state market in competition with other emission-free resources like solar and wind resources. If Dominion is more responsive with audited financial information in support of its economic claims, then the nuclear plant’s output could be sold in that market at even more favorable terms.

“The hypothetical retirement of the Millstone Nuclear Units would have significant negative impacts on the region’s electric grid with respect to fuel diversity, energy security, and grid reliability,” the report warned.

Dominion Power Generation Group President and CEO Paul Koonce praised the report and its conclusions, Gregory Hladky reported in the Hartford Courant. “Millstone is vital for Connecticut to meet its cheaper, cleaner and more reliable energy goals and aggressive carbon reduction goals,” Koonce said.

“The state’s own consultants confirmed the plant will be profitable at least through 2035,” NRG spokesman Dave Gaier told Benjamin Kail at The Day. “It defies logic to conclude that Millstone is a ‘renewable’ resource like wind and solar, while it generates waste that will be hazardous for thousands of years.”

The report called for protections against Millstone obtaining above-market rents for its power output. This prompted Claire Coleman of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment to temper her criticism somewhat, as reported by Mark Pazniokas in the Connecticut Mirror: “The resource assessment continues to confirm that Millstone does not currently need any financial support through 2035 from ratepayers to be profitable, and Connecticut’s investments are better directed towards renewables for our future,” Coleman said. “At the same time, if managed carefully, DEEP’s proposed procurement process seems to include some protections for ratepayers and the potential for more strategic investments in new renewable resources like energy storage.”

“Opponents have labeled the bid initiative as a ‘payout’ for Dominion that would cost ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars in higher costs. They also question Millstone’s claim that it’s struggling financially because of cheaper gas-fired electricity,” Bill Cummings reported in the Connecticut Post. “Millstone isn’t asking for a subsidy that it needs,” the group Stop the Millstone Payout says on its web page. “It’s demanding a corporate handout straight from Connecticut consumer’s pockets.”

Former Pa. regulator backs Va. legislation promoting greater competition. Advocates of dark horse legislation in Virginia to increase competitive choice in electricity have enlisted John Hanger, a former Pennsylvania regulator who helped open up that state’s electricity market to competition in the late 1990s, to help support passage of the legislation.

The Virginia General Assembly soon will consider vital proposed legislation – Senate Bill 837 and House Bill 1528 –  that would increase choices for electricity consumers, boost renewable energy that has been stunted by electricity monopolies, and provide opportunities for energy savings for consumers.  Standing in determined opposition to these improvements for Virginia and its consumers is principally Dominion Energy, which is using all its lobbying might to block needed energy reforms,” Hanger writes in Blue Virginia.

The companion House and Senate bills would lower the demand threshold customers must meet before they can shop for competitive supply from 5 MW to 1 MW. It shortens from five years to three months the period a utility’s customer who switches to a competing supplier is barred from returning as a customer of the utility. And it would allow any customer to actively shop for 100 percent renewable energy and eliminates the restriction in current law that bars such shopping if the incumbent utility offers a renewable option.

“These are important reforms that would increase choice, competition and environmental performance, while maintaining regulatory protections and oversight of the electricity marketplace,” Hanger writes in Blue Virginia. “Policies implementing competition are not the same as ‘deregulation,’ where there is no public oversight of corporate behavior. Market rules, and the means to enforce them, are vital to insure competition is real and beneficial to the economy and environment.”

Troubled FirstEnergy gets a cash infusion. Shares of FirstEnergy Corp. jumped 12 percent on the utility’s announcement of a “transformational” $2.5 million cash infusion from Elliott Management Corp., Bluescape, GIC, and Zimmer Partners. The investment includes $1.62 billion in mandatory convertible preferred equity and $850 million of common equity, FE said. The preferred equity has an initial conversion price of $27.42 per share and will receive dividends payable on FirstEnergy common stock on an as-converted basis and be non-voting, except in limited circumstances. The common equity was issued at a price of $28.22 per share. “The proceeds of the private offering will be used to reduce FirstEnergy’s holding company debt, contribute to its pension fund, and for general corporate purposes. The investment also will strengthen the company’s investment-grade balance sheet,” FE said.–2-5-billion-equity-inves.html

Texas Coalition for Affordable Power touts savings opportunities in competitive market. “Many Dallas-Fort Worth residents are paying much more for electricity than they could be — hundreds of dollars per year, in many cases, according to research from a consumer advocacy group,” Gordon Dickson reports in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. “Why? Because too few residents are taking advantage of a deregulated industry that was set up years ago to lower their utility costs,” according to the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power.

“The good news is, it’s not too late to shop around for a better electricity plan,” Dickson writes. “There are amazing electricity deals out there, but finding the right one for each household takes a little bit of research work.”

Governor eyes privatizing Puerto Rico’s electric utility. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló expects it to take 18 months to privatize the island’s insolvent Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, with its 3.3 million customers, National Public Radio’s Scott Neuman reports. “The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority does not work and cannot continue to operate like this,” Rosselló said in a televised address.

Neuman quotes the Associated Press: The AP notes: “Many also wonder who, if anyone, would be willing to buy a power company that has a $9 billion debt load, filed for bankruptcy last year and faces longstanding accusations of mismanagement and corruption. But Puerto Ricans in a flurry of exchanges across social media after Monday’s announcement seemed to agree that any change would be a good one, though they remained wary that the utility could fall into the wrong hands.”

Mass. communities renew aggregation contract. The Attleboro, Mass.-area communities of Attleboro, Norton, Plainville, Seekonk and Rehoboth have renewed their participation in an electricity aggregation program under a new three-year supply contract that began in January, Stephen Peterson reports in the Sun Chronicle. The electricity will be supplied to the community aggregation program by Public Power under an agreement brokered by Good Energy. The aggregation program previously had been supplied by Constellation, an Exelon company. “The town has been able to achieve lower rates in most instances than National Grid,” Plainville Selectmen Chairman Rob Rose said, “Another benefit is the stable price that Good Energy provides in contrast to the six-month roller coaster pricing that customers experience with National Grid. As the consortium of towns grow in the Good Energy sphere, I expect that pricing in future contracts will be even more to our advantage.” The Attleboro-area communities are are among 23 Massachusetts cities and towns in the Community Electricity Aggregation program, the largest aggregation effort in the state and the third largest of its kind in the country, Peterson reports.

A rich compensation package for Musk, tied to exponential growth for Tesla. Elon Musk has agreed to a compensation package that would keep him at electric car and solar panel manufacturer for years to come. However, Musk’s compensation is tied to exponential growth in the company’s market cap, according to the New York Times which was provided details. “Tesla has set a dozen targets, each $50 billion more than the next, starting at $100 billion, then $150 billion, then $200 billion and so on, all the way to a market value of $650 billion. In addition, the company has set a dozen revenue and adjusted profit goals. Mr. Musk would receive 1.68 million shares, or about 1 percent of the company, only after he reaches milestones for both. To put these numbers in perspective, Tesla is worth only about $59 billion today.” The Times quoted Musk as saying that he would receive no compensation if those goals are not met. “I actually see the potential for Tesla to become a trillion-dollar company within a 10-year period.”

EDF touts new white paper on lessons learned from New York’s REV. The Environmental Defense Fund has a new white paper available on the lessons learned from New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision, or REV. The paper, Driving Environmental Outcomes Through Utility Reform: Lessons from New York REV, “is a roadmap for electric utilities seeking to accelerate decarbonization, or the elimination of fossil fuels,” EDF said.

“New York leads the way in shaking up the old monopoly utility business model,” said EDF’s Elizabeth Stein. “Pushing electric utilities to provide supportive platforms for innovation and create opportunities for customers and service providers ensures everyone in the marketplace is well-positioned to adopt clean energy measures.”




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Today’s lede: Utility-backed ‘reform’ bills introduced in Va. Budding controversy surrounding a 2015 Virginia law that limits the State Corporation Commission’s ability to review earnings and order refunds to customers is driving significant legislative activity. After rejecting utility reform measures twice in the Senate – including one measure that would have restored SCC oversight of utility earnings – lawmakers sympathetic to the state’s leading utility company, Dominion Energy, have introduced a suite of legislative measures to overhaul Virginia’s utility regulatory regime.

The presumably Dominion-backed legislation would have the utility refund to consumers $133 million of the $426 million that SCC staff has estimated Dominion overcollected since the 2015 law took effect. It also would have Dominion forgo a $25 million/year payment for converting coal plants to biomass and would incentivize a 4,000-MW investment in solar energy by Dominion.

News coverage of the legislative package was mixed. Alan Suderman reported for the Associated Press that “the proposals were quickly panned by critics as a massive giveaway to the state’s biggest electric utility and most politically powerful corporation, Dominion Energy.”

“The legislative battle over how to reset the regulatory landscape for Virginia’s two largest electric utilities — nearly three years after the controversial 2015 rate-freeze law that has allowed Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power to keep millions in excess earnings — can now begin in earnest,” pronounced Robert Zullo in his piece for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The Washington Post’s story by Gregory Schneider called the bills a “bipartisan” overhaul of the controversial 2015 law. “The legislation would once again subject the state’s largest utility to rate reviews by the Virginia State Corporation Commission, but it would set those reviews every three years instead of every other year, as had been the state’s practice,” Schneider reported, citing legislative sponsors. “This is a major step backwards for consumers, further reduces the authority and independence of the SCC, and provides only pennies on the dollar for the excess profits already earned in 2015 and 2016,” said Steve Haner, lobbyist for the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

In the days leading up to the legislative push, the Virginia Poverty Law Center’s Haner placed an op-ed in the Washington Post complaining, “Virginia officials are letting electric companies rip off customers.” In it, Haner complains about a Virginia Senate panel’s rebuff of a bill aimed at reversing the 2015 law and restoring the SCC’s ratemaking oversight authority, which presumably did not meet with Dominion’s favor. The op-ed also complained about appearances by SCC Chair Judith Jagdmann, related to her bid to obtain another term. At an appearance before the Senate panel overseeing the state’s utilities, two ranking lawmakers sought assurances from Jagdmann that she would take her lead at the commission from pending legislative proposals addressing the 2015 law, Haner said. “The preemptive attack on any potential show of independence by the commission launched by [Senate Democratic leader Richard] Saslaw and [Republican committee chair Frank] Wagner on Monday must be viewed as the first of what will be many brushback pitches in the game just beginning. The outcome Virginia consumers should be hoping for is a return to full SCC authority and an almost immediate rate case to review the earnings during the recent regulatory holiday. It does not sound as though that is the plan the leading senators have in mind,” he wrote, presaging the suite of bills now interoduced.

Southern Co. drops plans for power plant in Va. Southern Co.’s Southern Power affiliate has sent a letter informing the Pittsylvania County, Va., economic director that the company no longer intends to pursue development of a natural gas-fired power plant in the county, Denice Thibodeau reports in the Danville Register & Bee. “After several years of hard work, the current market condition in PJM have limited our ability to execute long-term customer opportunities that align with our business model,” Elizabeth Wash, state and local affairs manager for Southern Power, said in the letter.

Solar tariffs watch. The U.S. solar industry is “on edge” in anticipation of a Trump administration decision in response to a request from two domestic producers for imposition of tariffs on imported solar panels, the Associated Press reports. “Businesses that install solar-power systems are benefiting from a glut of cheaper panels made overseas, mostly in Asia. That has made solar power more competitive with electricity generated from coal and natural gas,” AP reports. “The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group for U.S. installers, says tariffs would drive up the cost of installing solar-power systems, leading to a drop in demand.”

Clark County schools weigh exit from NV Energy. The Clark county School District board in Nevada is considering a solar development plan that would entail the large energy user paying an exit fee to NV Energy, Meghin Delaney and Amelia Pak-Harvey report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Capital Dynamics, an independent global asset manager, is promising the school district significant economic savings if it moves forward with the plan. Tenaska Power Services would provide energy management services under the proposal. A number of large energy users have already exited NV Energy’s system to purchase competitively priced electricity, including MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, and data center management firm Switch. In 2016, Nevada voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative calling for opening the state’s electricity market to competition. They must vote again on the measure this November before the state’s electricity industry can be restructured.

Competitive choice, not mandates, seen as best for advancing renewables in Ohio. Responding to a letter advocating mandates for renewable energy in Ohio, Greg Lawson, Research Fellow at the Buckeye Institute, maintains that supporting greater customer choice in electricity is a better path forward than mandates.

“All Ohioans can choose an electricity plan from competing providers that uses 100 percent renewable electricity. This market system gives renewable energy companies an incentive to innovate, compete, and create sustainable jobs. Government mandates just give renewable energy companies an incentive to lobby government officials. Mandates in effect subsidize special interests at the expense of all Ohioans,” Lawson writes. “Ohio should open its doors to clean energy by encouraging choice and competition, rolling back restrictive regulations, and eliminating subsidies to any energy company.”

Texas paper’s editorial board critical of former governor. “How terrible was Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposed bailout for the coal industry?” the editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News asks. “So terrible the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected it. No small feat since the five-member commission includes four appointees from President Donald Trump, three of them Republicans.” Perry’s proposed rule to require consumer subsidies for economically struggling coal and nuclear power plants would have been “bad for consumers and bad for competitive electricity markets,” the editorial notes. “If the loser here is the former Texas governor then the winner is agency independence,” the editorial concludes. “The commissioners flexed their independence and followed the best policy for Americans. Perry should think about doing the same.”

More accounting of winners and losers in FERC’s decision. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s ruling rejecting the Trump administration’s power plant subsidy program was a win for consumers and competitive markets and a loss for the coal industry, Tom Sanzillo and Cathy Kunkel  of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis conclude in an op-ed published by The Hill, a newspaper widely read by congressional staff and lawmakers. “The Energy Department plan ignored the importance of competitive markets,” the due write. They also took heart from another FERC ruling rejecting FirstEnergy’s bid to move a merchant plant into ratebase in West Virginia. “Now that FERC has spoken so clearly, it’s time for the federal government — and the coal industry — to recognize that the transformation of the U.S. electricity sector is well underway.”

Commies! That’s what Pensacola News Journal cartoonist Andy Marlette called state officials who rejected a proposed ballot initiative to allow voters to decide whether to open the state’s electricity market to competition. “It was your rare, glorious, shining opportunity to vote on whether or not you wanted to end Florida’s state-sanctioned monopoly of utility companies and open the Sunshine State’s electricity business to the good old-fashioned forces of free market competition and capitalism.

“But instead, a few big-government-loving members of the Constitution Revision Commission killed it in a lowly committee vote last week. Commies!” Marlette wrote in an op-ed published by the newspaper. Citing an in-depth examination of the disconnect between the adoption of competition in Texas and Florida’s commitment to monopoly regulation, by reporter Joe Baucum, published by the paper last year, he derided as “commies” Florida’s governor and other leading Republicans for failing to “advocate for common-sense conservative values and free-market competition when it comes to utility companies.”

Opponents of the Florida ballot initiative warned of “blackouts, power failures and miscellaneous problems,” Marlette wrote. But “none of those problems have plagued the state of Texas since it shifted to competitive energy,” he noted.

“So throw a yellow rose on the tombstone of ‘Proposal 51.’ It was your lonesome chance to choose for yourself what sort of economic freedom should be allowed here in Florida. And then get mad. And call your local Republican legislator, governor, regulator or attorney general, and ask them why the heck — if they’re such loyal, honest, courageous, free-market conservatives — are you still being forced to surrender a portion of your monthly paychecks to a price-rigged, government-sanctioned monopoly? And if they don’t give you a straight answer, you know what they really are. Commies!”

Utility union officials defend Michigan’s anti-choice energy policies. “Without question, electric deregulation is a failed experiment” of the 1990s, Michigan State Utility Workers Council President Patrick Dillon and James Harrison, senior national representative for the Utility Workers Union of America, declare in an op-ed, “Michigan deserves affordable, reliable energy,” published by The Oakland Press.

“The proponents of electric choice, or deregulation, want customers to forget that this is not a new idea. We have been there and done that. Michigan passed full deregulation in 2000 and it proved to be such a failure that the state had to pull back in less than eight years in 2008 to avoid potentially serious reliability issues,” the two union officials write.

Responding to a Jan. 5 op-ed by state Rep. John Reilly, they attack customer choice in electricity as a threat to reliability. They deem it unfair that the 10 percent of Michigan load allowed to shop for electricity don’t support utility power plants that contribute to reliability. They also maintain that rates in deregulated states are 25 percent higher than in those with monopoly regulation.

“Michigan is poised to be a national leader in shaping energy policy. It is going to require the type of planning, investment and innovation that deregulation has proven to be incapable of providing. No matter how they dress it up or manipulate the data, choice is old news that has failed wherever it has been tried,” the op-ed concludes.

Audit finds utility bankruptcy unlikely if S.C. consumers stop paying for failed nuclear project. An audit by the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff concluded it is unlikely that SCANA’s South Carolina Electric & Gas utility will go bankrupt if it is denied cost recovery from customers for its failed nuclear development effort and those costs are instead borne by investors denied dividend payments, Thad Moore writes in the Charleston Post and Courier. “I have not been convinced that SCANA would go to go into bankruptcy,” S.C. Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman said.

S.C. utility seeks reimbursement for parts diverted to Chinese nuke project. Westinghouse promised South Carolina Electric & Gas that it would replace the reactor coolant pump it was diverting to a nuclear project in China. Then the company entered bankruptcy. Now the South Carolina utility wants the $14.5 million it paid for the item returned. Another avenue the utility is pursuing to reduce its costs for the failed project rests with overtures from Georgia Power to divert reactor parts from the V.C. Summer project to the ongoing Vogtle plant project under construction by the Southern Co. affiliate, Sammy Fretwell reports in The State.

More pipeline capacity not the only answer, ISO New England analysis finds. Building additional pipeline capacity to bring greater natural gas supply into New England is just one of nearly two dozen scenarios ISO New England considers in its recently released fuel security analysis, David Brooks writes in the Concord Monitor. “It examined 23 scenarios involving different mixes of fuel supplies – for example, if more liquefied natural gas is brought in by ship – and different power needs, such as if more energy efficiency requirements are imposed. It also added various obstacles to the mix, some as extreme as the assumed shutdown of a nuclear power plant or the closing of one of the region’s five major gas pipelines for the entire winter. Then it estimated what would happen in each case. Of the scenarios, 19 say that with rolling blackouts pipes would likely be necessary during a severe winter, while four of the scenarios avoid that problem without any gas pipelines,” Brooks reports. One scenario that determined blackouts could be averted assumed a large influx of offshore wind power and distributed solar power, along with 1,000 megawatts of imported electricity, such as might be realized by the controversial Northern Pass project.

Court rejects generators’ challenge to ISO New England’s security pricing mechanism. The D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has rebuffed a challenge to two Federal Energy Regulatory Commission orders approving ISO New England’s security pricing mechanism. The pricing mechanism kicks in when supply in the real-time market is scarce. When insufficient energy is being produced or energy prices become excessive, the price in the real-time market is set based on so-called Reserve Constraint Penalty Factors. The scarcity rates produce higher real-time energy prices under stressed market conditions. The New England Power Generators Association and various merchant generator members of NEPGA challenged the FERC orders, citing an inability to square the real-time scarcity pricing mechanism with the longer-term capacity market. In rejecting the generators’ challenges, the court found they’d failed to prove FERC’s orders were arbitrary and/or capricious.$file/16-1023-1713661.pdf

FERC decides which co-op should interconnect with wind project. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission affirmed the right of Umatilla Electric Cooperative to build a transmission interconnection line for the Wheatridge Wind Energy project, a 292-turbine, 500-MW wind energy project. The order rejected a competing claim by Columbia Basin Electric Cooperative that the Umatilla co-op’s line would encroach on its exclusive service territory granted under state law, Jade McDowell writes in the East Oregonian.

PennEast pipeline gets FERC nod. The controversial PennEast natural gas pipeline, which would bring Pennsylvania shale gas to New Jersey, obtained Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval, much to the chagrin of environmental activists who had waged a stiff campaign against it. In a 4-1 vote, the five-member panel found PennEast had “sufficiently demonstrated that there is market demand for the project” and that “end users will generally benefit from the project because it would develop gas infrastructure that will serve to ensure future domestic energy supplies and enhance the pipeline grid by providing additional transportation capacity connecting sources of natural gas to markets in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.” Commissioner Rich Glick cast the opposing vote, saying the pipeline had not demonstrated its need. Opponents have now set their sights on further regulatory approvals the project must obtain, including a water-quality permit from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. This may be fertile ground for the opposition, as New Jersey’s new Democrat governor, Phil Murphy, has clearly staked out his intention to establish his environmental bona fides. “To the extent that any state approvals remain outstanding, we will ensure that consumers and our environment are protected,” Politico quotes Murphy spokesman Dan Bryan saying. “We don’t see any way this pipeline can be built and meet those standards,” said Tom Gillbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy NJ and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, in reporting by NJSpotlight’s Tom Johnson. Gilbert  noted the proposed project route crosses 38 “C-1 streams,” the most pristine in the state. “If they enforce regulations, this project won’t pass muster,” Gilbert declared.

Blogwatch: EDF continues gushing about competitive market in Texas. The competitive market in Texas “is driving the clean energy economy forward,” Sarah Ryan writes in a new Environmental Defense Fund blog post that cites recent clean energy investment decisions. “Solar and wind power are more common and affordable than ever, and Texas cities, businesses, and schools are spreading the message. With economics on our side, Texas can build a brighter, more affordable energy future.” Ryan concludes.

NEI defections seen as barometer of the industry. Jim Pierobon in Southeast Energy News takes stock of the decision by NextEra Energy and Entergy to drop out of the Nuclear Energy Institute. “The withdrawals are the latest sign of nuclear energy’s murky future as costs to safely operate reactors continue to rise and new types of reactors are met with growing skepticism about their ability to compete with natural gas, solar and wind,” the former Houston Chronicle reporter turned renewables advocate writes.

Consider distributed resources as part of distribution grid planning, SEIA advocates. A new white paper from the Solar Energy Industries Association, Getting more granular: How value of location and time may change compensation for Distributed Energy Resources, looks at efforts under way in California and New York to combine solar and energy storage, Andy Colthorpe reports in Energy Storage News. “Essentially, to reduce operating costs, add resiliency to power supplies and enable the spread of distributed, clean energy without conferring high capital costs of investment, distributed energy resources should be considered in the planning of a distribution grid, SEIA argues.”

Former Boulder mayor second guesses municipalization effort. Will Toor, Boulder’s former mayor, is expressing reservations about the city’s long-standing effort to carve out a municipal utility from Xcel’s system. Toor was mayor when the city first decided that creating a city-owned utility system offered a better path forward for meeting Boulder’s clean energy goals. In hindsight, Toor now sees this “ambitious” and “idealistic” move as a mistake, Nathanael Johnson relates in Grist.

“Boulder has spent the better part of the past decade pursuing this split, but success is still probably years away. In the meantime, the utility, Xcel, has shown that it’s happy to close coal plants and scale-up renewables,” Johnson writes in “Clean Energy Battlegrounds; Lessons from Boulder’s bad breakup.” The story of Boulder’s struggle provides a valuable lesson for people taking climate action locally, he says.

Meanwhile, imagining a shining muni on the hill. The potential savings from establishing a municipal utility outweigh the very significant costs, Steve Andrews and Susan Perkins , members of Pueblo’s Energy Future, a group advocating for a municipal utility in Pueblo, Colo., write in and op-ed, “Imagine a great electric utility for Pueblo,” published in The Pueblo Chieftan. “Imagine that David beats Goliath after a mammoth struggle. Imagine that Pueblo actually breaks away from Black Hills Energy and sets up a new electric utility in 2021. This isn’t an idle thought experiment since the appointments to Pueblo’s Electric Utility Commission were recently finalized,” the duo write. “Set your skepticism aside; this is doable financially, just not guaranteed. And please realize that customers of municipal electric utilities nationwide pay on average 15 percent lower electricity rates than customers of investor-owned utilities.”

Eastern Colo. officials shill for Xcel’s energy plan. Developing the energy potential of Colorado’s eastern plains region could be the economic equivalent of landing the much-coveted second headquarters of Amazon, the economic development directors for Logan, Yuma and Phillips counties write in the Denver Post. Trae Miller, Maggie Metzler and Trisha Herman cite a study showing that in 2015, eastern Colorado counties had over 4,000 jobs in more than 220 advanced energy businesses. “Eastern Colorado needs more of that,” they say, voicing support for Xcel’s Colorado Energy Plan to develop wind and solar resources in the region, currently awaiting approval by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. “We hope the PUC approves Xcel’s request and we hope the projects submitted to Xcel lead to more wind, and more solar across a broad range of the counties in eastern Colorado.”

Nissan enters UK’s home energy market. Japanese car manufacturer Nissan has launched a residential energy package featuring solar panels, batteries and an energy-management system, PV Magazine reports. How long before they enter the U.S. market?

Ga. Supreme Court weighs challenge to sales taxes on nuclear construction. The Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments in a case in which plaintiffs are challenging Georgia Power’s collection of sales taxes on nuclear construction and municipal franchise fees. The suit also alleges the utility improperly calculated the municipal fees. Georgia Power has appealed a lower court ruling allowing the case to move forward.

Encinitas looks to Community Choice Energy for ‘100% clean electricity.’ Encinitas became the fifth city in San Diego County to commit to a 100 percent “clean energy future,” the Encinitas Patch reports.  The Encinitas City Council voted unanimously to pass a “gold-standard Climate Action Plan.” The city will engage with Community Choice Energy to meet the clean-energy goal. “It is our moral and political imperative to do our part to fight against climate change and leave the planet better than we found it. I am proud of our ambitious yet attainable climate action plan with a commitment to 100% renewables, focus on greater energy efficiency and reducing mobile sources of pollution,” said Councilmember Tasha Horvath-Smith.

Camarillo joins Los Angeles muni aggregation program. The Camarillo City Council voted unanimously to join Thousand Oaks, Ojai, Oxnard and the unincorporated areas of Ventura County in the Los Angeles Community Choice Energy program, Cameron Kiszla reports in the Camarillo Acorn. “The bottom line for me is that this is an opportunity to provide more options to our ratepayers,” Councilmember Kevin Kildee said.

San Jacinto muni aggregation project moves forward. The San Jacinto City Council adopted measures to move forward with the San Jacinto Power community choice aggregation program, Kyle Selby reports in The Valley Chronicle. The city expects to save customers 3 percent on their electricity bills. (CA) SJ approves lower electricity rates.

Newspaper editorial board vexed by San Onofre shutdown deal. The San Onofre shutdown deal remains dogged by too many questions, the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board opines. “It’s been nearly three years since the jaw-dropping revelation the framework for the California Public Utilities Commission’s plan to have ratepayers cover 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost of shuttering the failed San Onofre nuclear power plant was shaped in a secret meeting in March 2013 between then-CPUC President Michael Peevey and an Edison executive at a hotel room in Warsaw, Poland,” the editorial notes. “While a new settlement of how to cover San Onofre closing costs appears imminent — presumably on terms more favorable to ratepayers — there are plenty of reasons for Californians to be bothered, even angry, about the state’s handling of the scandal. The Public Utilities Commission continues to stonewall attempts to get highly relevant evidence — with its lawyers even taking the extraordinary position that there was nothing wrong with Peevey’s surreptitious meeting in Poland.”

Creditors to see $1.5 billion in Westinghouse sale. A wide range of creditors wthat have filed claims against Westinghouse Electric Co. in the company’s pending bankruptcy proceeding will receive $1.15 billion from the company’s $4.6 billion sale to the Canadian asset management firm, Brookfield Business Partners , Any Litvak reports in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette regarding an agreement a group of stakeholders has presented to the judge overseeing the proceeding. Another $100 million is earmarked for Westinghouse’s employee pension fund — Westinghouse froze contributions to that fund last year and $800 million will go toward bankruptcy financing debt. “The remainder, likely more than $2 billion, will go to a group of hedge funds led by the Baupost Group. Boston-based Baupost already has an interest in the bankruptcy. It has been accumulating claims against Westinghouse at a discount.”

Utilities must adapt, RMI says. “Renewable energy is rapidly changing the electric grid, and utilities need to adapt or face still greater disruption in their industry.” So concludes a new Rocky Mountain Institute report, Reimagining the Utility, Mark Anderson reports in IEEE Spectrum. The report looks at various transformative efforts in New York and California, and issues a caution regarding market-based reforms. “Market forces and incentives can shape electric utilities and infrastructure in productive ways… up to a point,” Anderson writes. “But market forces can also run amok and leave many consumers literally in the dark, as the 2001 collapse of Enron exemplifies.” [Editor’s note: Enron’s “collapse” had little to do with California’s failed industry restructuring effort, and everything to do with the company’s dishonest and corrupt accounting practices.]