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Election highlights: Will Nevada go ‘all in’ on electricity choice? On election eve, Arizona regulators add retail electric competition to meeting agenda

Special election edition: Rolling the dice in Las Vegas as RPS ballot initiatives are in a Steyer situation. “There is great electricity in the air,” President Trump said on the campaign trail last night. But while all eyes are on the balance of power in today’s mid-term election, it is also without question one of the most consequential in terms of the obscure issue of electricity regulation as any in memory. Like a gambler on winning-streak high, voters in Nevada will decide, all in, yea or nay, whether to amend the state’s constitution to end monopoly regulation of electric utilities, namely Warren Buffet’s NV Energy, and allow the state’s consumers to shop among competing electricity providers.

The most recent Rasmussen poll (September) doesn’t bode well for Nevada’s Question 3, as the customer choice initiative is known. Las Vegas Sands Corp. gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson, who happens to be a big financial supporter of the GOP agenda and candidates, has been outspent 2-1 in an unprecedented $100 million advertising war over today’s vote. It is the second of two required votes. The initiative must be passed twice by voters in order to effectively alter the state’s constitution.

In the 2016 election, voters overwhelmingly approved the energy choice initiative. More than 70 percent of voters agreed that monopoly protection for NV Energy should end, and consumers should be able to choose among competing suppliers of electricity.

NV Energy remained neutral two years ago, leading to the landslide approval of the initiative. This year, NV Energy, a unit of Berkshire Hathaway, went all in, wagering some $70 million that a fear-mongering campaign over the prospects of electricity competition in the state will sway voters to reject the ballot question as risk to continued renewable energy investment and stable rates. Supporters have countered with the fact that more than a dozen states have adopted competitive retail energy markets for electricity, driving down consumer costs and enabling cleaner energy-generation technologies.

If Question 3 fails to muster enough votes today, it likely won’t be the end of the debate in Nevada. Especially since many political leaders expressed support for competition, but rejected the constitution-altering ballot measure as the vehicle for effectuating such a change. Pass or fail, the debate over electricity restructuring in Nevada will move to the state Legislature after today’s vote.

The Arizona Corporation Commission election will determine the line up as the commission appears poised to revisit the idea of retail electric choice. Incumbent Justin Olson and fellow Republican Rodney Glassman face off against Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Kiana Sears. Olson and fellow commissioners Robert Burns and Boyd Dunn have suggested the state revisit the idea of restructuring to promote electricity competition. Tomorrow’s commission agenda has been amended to include a “possible vote on a policy regarding retail electric competition.”

While the mainstream media’s attention will be on pivotal Senate races in Nevada and Arizona, the trade and financial press will be watching to see what happens with two Tom Steyer-funded ballot initiatives to establish stricter renewable energy mandates in those sun-rich states. There is a marked contrast in how utilities in the two states have responded to the ballot measures that billionaire Democratic activist Steyer has spent millions to promote. In Nevada, NV Energy has not weighed into the fray against Question 6, which would require at least 50 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030. Arizona’s Proposition 127 also would create a 50 percent renewables mandate by 2030, but the state’s utilities – Pinnacle West in particular – have spent millions of dollars to thwart its passage. Another important ballot initiative is in Washington State, where voters will decide whether to impose a tax on carbon emissions. Ballot Initiative 1631 would impose a $15 dollars per ton fee on carbon emissions, an amount that would rise $2 per ton annually until the state meets specified emissions-reduction goals.

Meanwhile, the election of Public Service Commission members in Georgia promises to be a de facto referendum on the state’s commitment to impose nearly $30 billion in costs on the state’s electricity consumers to build two new nuclear power reactors at the Plant Vogtle nuclear power station. With generous campaign finance support from Southern Co., Georgia’s PSC has always been friendly to the utility giant’s agenda. But this year candidates have stood out in their opposition to the immense costs that Southern’s nuclear development program is imposing on consumers, while calling for the state to do more to promote renewable energy development.

In two PSC races, challengers have been running against the incumbents’ support for the expensive nuclear development program. Republican incumbent Chuck Eaton and Democratic challenger Lindy Miller have been engaged in a rhetorical battle over the extent to which Georgia’s electricity costs are increasing. That race also features Libertarian candidate Ryan Graham. Republican incumbent Tricia Pridemore, an ardent proponent of the Vogtle nuclear expansion and nuclear power in general, faces Democrat Dawn Randolph and Libertarian John Turpish.

A win by the nuclear cost-skeptical challengers could mark a turning point in the state’s Southern-dominated regulatory climate.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Other electric industry news items of interest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Today’s lede: Invoking national security for power market intervention ‘entirely valid,’ FERC’s McIntyre says.  Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Kevin McIntyre, in remarks today at the Energy Information Administration’s 2018 energy conference in Washington, D.C., was asked to comment on the “dilemma” posed by the Trump administration’s intent to intervene in competitive wholesale power markets to provide financial succor to economically struggling baseload coal and nuclear plants.

“I would not characterize this as a dilemma,” McIntyre replied, offering his opinion that invoking national security as the “rule of law” for requiring consumers to subsidize uneconomic baseload generation “would be entirely valid.”

Should the administration move forward and intervene in the markets under Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act and/or the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, as President Trump apparently ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to do Friday (click through here and here), then the issue would likely land in FERC’s lap in terms of a cost-of-service ratemaking docket, McIntyre said, calling such proceedings the commission’s “bread and butter.”

In a scrum with some 14 reporters outside the conference hall, McIntyre said any contested rate cases generated by the administration’s pending market intervention policy would be subject to the Federal Power Act’s “just and reasonable” standard. If the matter came before the commission in terms of a negotiated settlement, it would be subject to a less stringent “fair and Reasonable” standard, he said.

In his formal remarks as a conference keynoter, McIntyre began by noting his “philosophical underpinnings” as a “strong believer in the rule of law.” This would appear to lend some heft to his later statement that invoking national security as the “rule of law” to intervene in the marketplace would be an “entirely valid” exercise by the administration, despite protestations to the contrary from a wide range of industry interests.

Trump’s direction to Perry on Friday is an extension of an effort begun last year when the energy secretary, pursuant to his authority under the Federal Power Act, forwarded to FERC a notice of proposed rulemaking that would have required electricity consumers to subsidize economically struggling baseload coal and nuclear plants. Preserving baseload generation was necessary to preserve electricity grid “resilience,” Perry said, introducing a new buzzword into the electric industry lexicon.

The issue awaited McIntyre when he joined the commission as chairman in December. In January, a unanimous FERC rejected the proposed rule and instead embarked on a fact-finding proceeding to assess what exactly grid “resilience” is and whether or not it represents a problem the commission should address in a market-based manner (click through here).

McIntyre told the conference crowd that FERC was in the process of “working through the record” amassed in the proceeding (RM18-1) and noted that he hoped FERC would “take action soon.” During the Q&A session, the FERC chairman said the concept of power grid “resilience” should be much broader than just wires and should encompass generation as well. He said he expected to “build a concept of resilience” and to address the “attributes” of power grid resilience.


DOE Under Secretary Menezes forcefully defends power market intervention. Warning of “dire consequences . . . if our lights go out and stay down,” Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes, in a keynote address to the Energy Information Administration’s 2018 energy conference in Washington, D.C., strongly defended the Trump administration’s intent to intervene in competitive wholesale power markets to financially prop up uneconomic baseload coal and nuclear power plants.

Menezes underscored the importance of bolstering the power grid’s “resilience,” which he appeared to define as the ability of the grid to “withstand a high-impact attack or disaster.” The many retirements of baseload coal and nuclear plants “threatens our ability to recover” from such a high-impact event, he said, suggesting the administration needed to intervene to counter the electric industry’s “historic shift from diverse, fuel-secure resources to pipeline-dependent resources.”

Menezes noted that the North American Electric Reliability Corp., which has authority from FERC to oversee mandatory reliability standards for the electric industry, including cybersecurity protocols, has no authority over natural gas pipelines, which are not subject to mandatory cybersecurity protocols.

The former Republican congressional aide and lawyer who represented utilities that stand to gain from the administration’s planned initiative also defended the proposed market intervention as a means of shoring up the nation’s ability to export its nuclear power expertise to other countries. With half of the U.S. nuclear fleet retiring, he said, countries that might want to purchase U.S. nuclear power plant technology are questioning why they should invest in U.S. technology rather than, say, China’s.

The competitive wholesale markets were designed to support baseload nuclear and coal generation, and natural gas was intended to provide mid-merit and peaking capacity, Menezes suggested. “We’ve inverted the price stack,” he said. “We do have a problem.”


PJM official warns chief benefit of industry restructuring at risk. A barrage of state and federal efforts to reregulate the electric industry is putting at risk the greatest consumer benefit of industry restructuring, the reassignment of financial risk from captive ratepayers to investors, Craig Glazer, PJM Interconnection’s federal government policy vice president, said Monday at the Energy Information Administration’s 2018 energy conference in Washington, D.C.

The “selective reregulation” represented by state-mandated subsidies for nuclear power and the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to financially buttress floundering baseload coal and nuclear plants in wholesale power markets ignore the fact that “the good old days” under regulation “weren’t so good,” Glazer said. He likened the mood of the industry and electricity consumers back then to that of Howard Beale, the protagonist in the 1976 film “Network,” who captured the public mood by saying, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

Glazer, a former Ohio utility regulator, said a key factor in the decision to engage in competitive restructuring of the industry was a wave of nuclear power development in the 1970s that came in dramatically over budget, resulting in billions of dollars being passed through to captive ratepayers. In today’s competitive markets, consumers are not at risk if a resource investment fails or comes in substantially over budget. Glazer noted that Enron’s post-restructuring bankruptcy passed without imposing costs on consumers, and markets absorbed the economic cratering of such a central player in the sector without any significant price impacts. “There was no Enron rate case,” he observed.

Glazer’s remarks came as a panelist in a breakout session moderated by Stan Kaplan, director of EIA’s Office of Electric, Renewables, & Uranium Statistics, who noted factually that captive ratepayers in the Southeast are having to absorb the multibillion-dollar costs of failed investments in nuclear power and clean-coal plants. He asked Glazer if the fact that such big baseload power plants aren’t being built in organized wholesale power markets like PJM’s represented a good outcome or an indicator that the markets aren’t working.

“We didn’t restructure this market to pick technology (winners). We restructured to drive efficiency. The market is doing what it was designed to do – drive efficient investment,” Glazer replied. Rather than continue down the path of piecemeal reregulation, he concluded, “the challenge for all of us is to make this restructured industry work.”


See also:

Stepping on Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand: Trump’s unwarranted intervention in power markets. Despite the fact that the country’s grid operators vehemently disagree with this assessment, the Trump Administration appears bent on slowing the demise of these uneconomic resources, at least until the DOE (with other agencies) “further evaluates national security needs and additional measures to safeguard the Nation’s electric grid…” The issue of resiliency related to generating assets is not so immediate as to require a subsidy to line the pockets of coal mining companies, coal plants, and nuclear facilities. For a President from the GOP – whose traditional mantra has been a strict reliance on market forces – this is a radical departure from the norm.


How Trump’s ‘Soviet-style’ coal directive would upend power markets. A federal order to keep coal and nuclear plants from retiring could reshape government’s relationship with the power sector, regulators and analysts say. “What Trump’s doing is going back to a Soviet-style system,” said former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, a Democrat appointed by President George W. Bush. “This will blow the market up.”


We’ve already bailed out Three Mile Island twice. The third time isn’t a charm. It wasn’t that long ago that Pennsylvania policymakers proclaimed that the market is best suited to determine which energy technologies should move Pennsylvania forward. Remember when nuclear power generators embraced the marketplace and were betrothed to electric deregulation after they received a $9 billion engagement ring? Now two nuclear corporations, Exelon and FirstEnergy, are suing ratepayers for a divorce. Hold on to your wallets. Turns out that a handful of politicians and their donors know what’s best for Pennsylvania ratepayers. Alimony is going to be in the billions. Welcome to this century’s version of corporate socialism.


The clock is ticking to save TMI and keep our air clean. It has been one year since the announcement that Three Mile Island will close prematurely in the fall of 2019. That means we are just 16 months away from Central Pennsylvania losing this critically important asset if action isn’t taken by government officials to prevent this unnecessary closure. The clock is ticking.


Activist decries N.M. utility political contributions as ‘corruption.’ PNM Resources, the parent corporation of Public Service Company of New Mexico, has contributed $440,000 in the last few weeks to a political action committee supporting the reelection of two incumbents to the Public Regulation Commission, Andrew Oxford writes in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

“The company that probably powers your home is wielding a very different kind of power ahead of Tuesday’s primary election,” Oxford writes. “The Public Regulation Commission has power over the rates electric utilities such as PNM can charge customers. That can have a big influence on the sources of energy these utilities invest in and develop — a big issue in the ongoing debate over coal vs. renewable energy sources.”

Oxford notes that in the northwestern corner of New Mexico, Janene Yazzie is running for the commission’s District 4 seat with the backing of environmental groups. “They say incumbent Lynda Lovejoy has been too friendly to electric utilities. With no Republican running, the primary election will almost certainly decide this race.” In the state’s southwestern corner, former state senator Steve Fischmann is running for the commission’s District 5 seat “and also is enjoying the backing of major environmental organizations that say incumbent Sandy Jones is deferential to the energy industry,” Oxford reports.

“The new political committee funded by PNM has gone on the attack against the challengers,” he writes. “And while it is a Democratic Party primary, the attacks appear directed by consultants tied to the GOP.”

The group, New Mexicans for Progress, spent more than $200,000 during the last several weeks — more than any other PAC in the state during the same period, Oxford reports, noting that most of that money was spent on advertising and mailers produced by McCleskey Media Strategies, the firm of a top adviser to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

The utility’s political spending is “the definition of corruption,” said Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the advocacy group New Energy Economy. “There’s no longer even the pretense of regulation. When PNM’s parent company spends $440,000 to bankroll the regulators of their choice, we have to seriously question the ability of the commission to govern on behalf of the public,” Nanasi said.

Pahl Shipley, a spokesman for PNM Resources, said the company’s donations to the PAC are legal, appropriate and necessary to help ensure a fair election. “PNM Resources is supporting New Mexicans for Progress to ensure that voters have the facts regarding key energy and economic issues that will impact our customers and the state as a whole,” he said.


Alabama PSC candidate won’t be certified by GOP. A Republican candidate for a seat on Alabama’s Public Service Commission is under fire for comments he’s made on social media and radio that could be offensive to women, blacks, Jews and Muslims, prompting the Alabama Republican party to censure the candidate and to declare that they won’t certify the votes of a statewide candidate who’s come under scrutiny for “egregious” comments, the Associated Press reports.

“The decision announced Thursday means Jim Bonner, who’s running for the utility-regulating Public Service Commission, won’t get the party’s nomination even if he’s the leading vote-getter in Tuesday’s primary,” AP reports. Bonner says his public comments are being taken out of context, and he’s appealing the party’s decision. A two-time delegate to the Republican National Convention, Bonner is trying to unseat incumbent Jeremy Oden.


DOE contractor cites ‘growing promise for tidal energy.’ “Tidal energy has been slow to develop into a reliable form of grid power, but recent demonstration projects suggest that might be changing,” David Hume, a marine engineer contractor supporting the U.S. Department of Energy Water Power Technologies Office’s marine renewable energy portfolio and founder of The Liquid Grid, writes in Axios. “If the technology continues to mature, tidal energy could become a significant renewable power source in many countries.”


Other electric industry news of note:

Will FERC uphold state support for clean energy? FERC says it’s up to FERC. And that’s a worrisome sign. The energy law community is abuzz with the news that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) weighed in on a high-profile case challenging a state-level support program for nuclear generators. In a May 29 amicus brief joined by the U.S. Government, FERC argues that the Seventh Circuit should not resort to the “extraordinary and blunt” remedy of preempting Illinois’ nuclear subsidy program. Some are now celebrating the brief’s apparent defense of state environmental policies, but that reaction is premature. Rather than defend state programs, FERC has asked the court to let it decide what’s right. If the Commission follows its recent practice in approving capacity market reforms that shift costs to generators that receive state environmental policy support, that could spell bad news for state-supported clean energy.

Nevada electric utility seeks to partner with 6 solar firms. Nevada’s main electric utility said Thursday that if voters reject a statewide energy choice constitutional amendment in November, it plans to partner with six solar power development firms to buy enough power from projects to be built around the state to supply more than 600,000 homes, NV Energy announced it will submit to the state Public Utilities Commission on Friday an energy resource plan to have projects on an Indian reservation near Las Vegas, two southwest of Boulder City, two in Washoe County and one near Battle Mountain serving customers by 2022, according to a company statement. Company chief executive Paul Caudill put costs at more than $2 billion, and called it the largest investment of its kind in state history.


NV Energy rolls out renewable energy supply plan, Sandoval wavers on support for Energy Choice Initiative. The unveiling of the NV Energy Integrated Resource Plan, a state-mandated document laying out the company’s future energy supply and demand management required every three years, typically attracts little public attention outside of energy attorneys and policy wonks. But prominent state lawmakers, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani, Rep. Ruben Kihuen and Gov. Brian Sandoval were all on hand Thursday at the Springs Preserve to applaud the company’s proposal to add massive solar and battery storage projects to double the state’s renewable energy capacity over the next five years. The event on Thursday also marked a significant withdrawal of direct support for the Energy Choice Initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment which would require NV Energy to divest its generation and power contracts in favor of a retail market by 2023, from a major figure — Sandoval.


NV Energy CEO criticizes Energy Choice ballot amendment. The president and CEO of NV Energy told a business luncheon on May 23 that while energy choice should be good for major electric customers, it likely won’t be for residential customers. “Our company thinks this is a really bad idea, not so much for us and our employees but for the state of Nevada,” Paul Caudill told the Northern Nevada Development Authority luncheon in Minden. The Energy Choice Initiative, Question 3 on the November ballot, is up for a vote for the second time. If voters approve it again, it would put deregulation of electric utilities into the Nevada Constitution. In his talk May 23, Caudill said he wasn’t talking about protecting NV Energy, which serves 90 percent of electric customers in Nevada. “Our company will be fine,” he said. Rather, his concern is the 1.2 million residential customers and “the jury is out on whether residential customers as a group will benefit,” he said. “Major customers commercial and industrial will likely have the opportunity to save some money,” he said. “Residential customers kind of take the brunt of this transition.”

Cryptocurrency mining in Tri-Cities requires new electricity policy. Growing interest in cryptocurrency mining and related blockchain operations in the Tri-Cities area has Benton PUD taking steps to ensure reliable electricity delivery.

The world set a new record for renewable power in 2017, but emissions are still rising. In 2017, the world deployed an ever-expanding amount of solar and wind power, setting a new record for renewable-power capacity added to the grid. In fact, the money spent on renewable installations was more than twice the sum spent on nuclear and fossil-fuel power, according to the annual Global Status Report (click through here) published by renewables policy group REN21.

CORRECTION. The June 4, 2018, issue of Electric Industry News has been corrected to note the Trump administration is looking to employ presidential powers under the 1950 Defense Production Act, not the Defense Authorization Act, to require financial support for uneconomic baseload power plants in competitive markets. The copy editor has been hanged, drawn and quartered.


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Electric Industry News, April 6, 2018

Today’s lede: Nuclear subsidies, paired with renewables, advance in New Jersey. Legislation providing for consumer subsidies of Public Service Enterprise Group’s nuclear plants is advancing in New Jersey, along with companion measures boosting renewable energy and offshore wind, requiring the state to obtain 50 percent of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2030, Tom Johnson reports in

It’s another example of the playbook used in Virginia, where a Democratic governor’s support for utility-backed legislation is won by pairing it with clean energy advancement. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has set a goal for his state to obtain all of its energy supply from clean sources by 2050.

The package of legislative proposals moved out of their committees of jurisdiction after months of “contentious debate and false starts,” Johnson writes. The bills are expected to come up for a vote in both houses of the state Legislature next week.

The bills will impose billions of dollars in costs on New Jersey electricity consumers, rate counsel Stefanie Brand warned. The nuclear subsidy measure is projected to cost consumers $300 million a year, or $3 billion over the next decade. The clean energy measure would cost consumers $430 million over the next decade, she said.

See also:

NJ Landowners in Federal Court to Fight Pipeline Company

Dozens of New Jersey landowners were in court yesterday to challenge PennEast’s efforts to take possession of parts of their properties


FERC Staff Alleges PSEG ER&T Violated Tariff By Allegedly Submitting Incorrect Cost-Based Bids


‘We’ll be looking at 202,’ Trump says in W.Va. coal country. President Trump, at an event in West Virginia, said his administration would “look at” a request from FirstEnergy to exercise emergency authority under federal law to prop up the utility’s economically ailing coal-fired power plants. Trump referred to it as “202,” the section of the Federal Power Act establishing the emergency authority that FirstEnergy is asking the administration to utilize to intervene in the market in favor of the utility’s generation.

“We’ll be looking at that 202. You know what a 202 is? We’ll be looking at that,” Trump said. “We’re trying. Nine of your people just came up to me outside, ‘Could you talk about 202?’ We’ll be looking at that as soon as we get back.”

Specifically, the provision is Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act, which begins, “During the continuance of any war in which the United States is engaged, or whenever the Commission determines that an emergency exists by reason of a sudden increase in the demand for electric energy, or a shortage of electric energy or of facilities for the generation or transmission of electric energy, or of fuel or water for generating facilities, or other causes . . .”

Critics tend to emphasize the opening clause’s references to “war” and “emergency” to scoff that FirstEnergy is overreaching in its request, and a history of the Department of Energy’s use of its Section 202(c) authority shows that it was employed during hurricanes, the 2000-2001 California energy crisis and the 2003 blackout, but also during a few more prosaic events. But in every instance grid reliability was at risk. In this case, PJM Interconnection says there is no immediate threat to continued grid reliability from the closure of FirstEnergy’s economically struggling power plants.

Trump’s comments in West Virginia come a day after he reportedly met with FirstEnergy lobbyist Jeff Miller, who managed Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s presidential campaign.




Ohio PUC Initiates Proceeding To Protect Customers From FirstEnergy Solutions Bankruptcy

PUC Says It “Cannot Guarantee” FES Customer Contracts Won’t Be Impacted By Bankruptcy


Roberts: Why aren’t climate hawks ‘freaking out’ about nuclear closures? Former Grist contributor David Roberts, a long-time advocate for clean energy solutions and policies in response to climate change, has penned a provocative piece in Vox arguing that nuclear plants facing closure in the markets should be supported as non-carbon-emitting resources.

“Here’s my question: Why aren’t climate hawks freaking out about this?” Roberts posits after presenting data about the emissions impact of threatened nuclear plant closures by FirstEnergy and Exelon. “With a few exceptions, environmental groups are silent on the closures, or even support accelerating them.”

In a similar vein, see:

Ohio’s Kucinich Picks Nuclear Power


Analysis finds record low electric industry carbon intensity in 2017. An annual assessment of the carbon intensity of the U.S. electric industry has found that emissions last year were the lowest recorded in over two decades. While coal’s fall from grace and the increased market entry of renewable energy clearly is at play, there is also to consider that, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity use last year was at its lowest point since the 2008 economic downturn largely due to mild weather.

Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems and Carnegie Mellon University announced the results of the 2018 Carnegie Mellon Power Sector Carbon Index at CMU Energy Week, hosted by the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation.


Arizona lawmakers put competing renewables initiative on ballot. Voters in Arizona could be asked to consider two ballot initiatives in November that would alter the state constitution to require 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewables.

Lawmakers approved a utility-backed ballot measure, the“Clean and Affordable Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment,” to compete with the “Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment” being financed by billionaire political and environmental activist Tom Steyer.

While both would mandate 50 percent renewables, the utility-supported initiative would allow the Arizona Corporation Commission to nullify the mandate if it determines the renewables mandate would raise electricity prices or negatively impact the state’s well-being.

Howard Fischer, writing for Capitol Media Services, quotes state Sen. Steve Farley (D) as calling the measure “a cynical maneuver to try to confuse voters at the ballot so that they think this is the real clean energy initiative as opposed to one that’s being run by advocates at the same time.”



Other electric industry news of note:

Cheaper power bills? Rooftop solar wins major victory over utilities in SC House

Colo. clean-energy group criticizes Platte River Power Authority net-zero study

Bill to keep utility staff off Colorado Public Utilities Commission advances

Maine solar advocates powerless again as House upholds LePage’s veto by 3 votes

For the third year, a bill that would have supported the affordability of solar power among homeowners, and was approved by a majority of lawmakers, died at the hands of Gov. Paul LePage.

Maryland approves Washington Gas acquisition. Here’s what’s required

Dan Weeks: Setting the stage for a clean energy boom in New Hampshire

Opinion: Offshore wind energy could also power labor unions

Pennsylvania Utility Commission will investigate a proposed rate hike by Columbia Gas

Dispute over $5.4 million in legal fees for Aguirre may sink new San Onofre deal

How to Build a Foundation for New Utility Business Models

Regulatory reforms are becoming increasingly important, but regulatory processes can constrain the ability to design policies well.

CleanChoice Energy Launches CleanChoice Community Solar

New Platform Connects Customers and Community Solar Projects; Lowers Cost of Customer Acquisition and Servicing

PUCO Awards To Retail Supplier 100% Of Certain Low-Income Customer Load At DP&L

Study Says Clean Energy Options Could Replace Snake River Dams

Consumer Advocates Want More Protections For Illinois Electricity Customers


The power of unity: Consultant hopes to get Illinois cities to team up for cheaper electricity rates

French consumer group says EDF monopoly boosts power prices


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Electric Industry News, April 3, 2018

Today’s lede: Ariz. lawmakers aim to nullify ballot initiative before votes are cast. Liberal activist billionaire Tom Steyer is garnering plenty of headlines around his quixotic effort to impeach the president. Less well known is another effort in which he is bankrolling efforts to pass ballot initiatives in three states to establish renewable energy mandates. In Arizona, Michigan and Nevada, the ballot initiatives, if passed, would establish renewables mandates of 50 percent, 30 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

In Arizona, backers of the initiative are being confronted by legislation that would effectively nullify the ballot initiative before a single vote gets cast. The measure, HCR 2017, would allow the Arizona Corporation Commission to overturn the will of the voters, should they pass the initiative, based on cost or if the ACC determines the measure would affect the state’s “well being.” This came after Gov. Doug Ducey signed another measure into law that would effectively minimize the penalties Arizona utilities would face for not meeting any renewables mandate the voters may approve.

“Right now the voters have a take-it-or-leave-it vote regarding this out-of-state billionaire’s attempt to impose what many people believe will be a financially ruinous renewable-energy mandate which, in addition to wreaking havoc on the economy and household budgets, will potentially make the grid less stable,” State Sen. John Kavanagh, sponsored of the legislation written by Arizona Public Service Commission, said in a report by Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services.

The Daily Courier newspaper editorialized against preemption of the ballot initiative, noting the political weight of political campaign contributions from APS. The paper suggested that APS contributions to campaigns of the elected ACC commissioners is why voters feel a need to take policy matters out of the hands of the commission. “The citizen-petition initiative helps to even out the ‘playing field’ that, in elections, has become severely tilted by those with some extra cash available to influence election outcomes,” the newspaper’s editorial board said.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Arizona’s solar industry players felt the need to band together to form the Distributed Energy Resources Alliance to further education about and promote of distributed energy resources.

APS, meanwhile, has released a study predicting job losses and other adverse economic impacts should the 50 percent renewables mandate by 2030 be adopted by voters, according to another report by Capitol Media Services’ Fischer.

The analysis, by Arizona State University business school professor Timothy James, predicts up to 501,000 “job years of employment’’ lost by 2060 if the ballot measure becomes law, as well as $3.5 billion in lost state taxes and $2.3 billion in lost local taxes, Fischer reports. The analysis assumes the Palo Verde nuclear plant would be shut down as a result of the renewables mandate.

Supporters of the initiative cite a study by a different ASU researcher, Wesley Herche,  who found “no correlated rate increase” in states that enacted renewable-energy requirements between 2005 and 2012. Herche told Capitol Media Services that renewable energy technologies have become “so cheap recently.”



Study faults 100% renewables plan advanced by SDG&E. A San Diego Gas & Electric Co. plan to meet San Diego’s goal of 100 percent renewable electricity supply by 2035 is coming under question after an independent analysis found the utility’s proposed alternative to a community choice aggregation program “possibly feasible” while raising “more questions than it answers.”

The assessment by  MRW & Associates was posted on the city’s website. A chief concern was that the utility’s alternative proposal would require approval of the California Public Utilities Commission. Any rejection or a lengthy review process could put achieving the city’s Climate Action Plan at risk, KPBS’s Andrew Bowen reports. The report also raised questions about the cost of the utility program, noting SDG&E’s proposal “gives little or no information about the approach, costs, or risks.”

“Overall [the report] just reinforces what we’ve been saying the entire time, which is there is only one feasible pathway for the city to reach its commitment to 100 percent clean energy. And that’s community choice,” said Nicole Capretz, Climate Action Campaign executive director community choice aggregation advocate.

“The truth is government-controlled energy providers are simply not delivering on their promises to create more jobs and provide cheaper and greener energy, and we should not expect the results in San Diego to be any different,” said Tony Manolatos, a spokesman for the Clear the Air Coalition, which advocates the city delay a decision on community choice.


Cleveland inks municipal aggregation deal with NOPEC. In what would appear to be one of the more significant municipal aggregation deals since Boston’s last year, the Cleveland City Council has agreed to a deal with the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council to provide electricity to customers of FirstEnergy’s The Illuminating Co. unless they elect to opt out of the program, Robert Higgs reports in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.

The arrangement, which expires May 2020, is expected to save the average customer about $1.20 per month, and the typical small business customer about $4.30 each month.


Enviros boost municipal aggregation plan in Newton, Mass. A planned municipal aggregation program in Newtown, Mass., is receiving rave reviews from environmental advocates since city officials plan to solicit renewables.

“We’re hoping lots of people will like Newton Power Choice because it increases the amount of green electricity in a very powerful way,” said Mayor Ruthanne Fuller in an interview after the meeting. “This is the most important initiative that Newton will undertake.”

Ann Berwick, the city’s co-director of sustainability, said that prices for the plan cannot be determined until the city signs a contract with an electricity supplier, which happens after the state regulatory review and approval process for Newton Power Choice. “One of the difficult things about talking about this program…is that we don’t know what it’s going to cost people,” said Berwick. “We don’t know what the baseline is. We don’t know what energy costs are going to be when we go out to bid.”

The city will offer three options for residents, including a 100 percent renewables option.

“Newton has this extraordinary opportunity to set an example” for other communities, said Marcia Cooper, president of Green Newton. “Climate change does not recognize municipal boundaries.”

“Newton residents get it…we can’t wait for Washington to get it right,” said Prof. Michael Gevelber when he spoke in support of the plan at the podium inside the City Council chambers.


Coal group sees promise in FERC’s grid ‘resiliency’ effort. American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity president and CEO Paul Bailey said his group is committed to working with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s process designed to develop an alternative to the Trump administration’s grid “resiliency” proposal to establish consumer subsidies for economically struggling coal and nuclear power plants, veteran energy reporter John Siciliano writes in the Washington Examiner.

Bailey said his group would roll up its sleeves and work with FERC to develop a market-based approach to rewarding power plants that contribute to power system resiliency, even if the effort is a prolonged. “We are not anti-market at all,” Bailey said.

Siciliano contrasted Bailey’s views with those of FirstEnergy, which made a renewed bid for Department of Energy market intervention to prop up its struggling power plants in the lead up to a bankruptcy filing over the weekend to protect the utility’s generation arm from creditors.

See also:

Dying Coal- and Nuclear-Powered Utility Asks Again for Government Bailout

The FirstEnergy bailout

The more you learn, the less you’ll like it

How to declare bankruptcy, shutter your biggest assets, and still earn $14 million

FirstEnergy throws a tantrum. Again.

FirstEnergy Bankruptcy a ‘Cautionary Tale’ for Coal and Nuclear Industry

Electric services giant FirstEnergy Corp. announced over the weekend that its embattled coal and nuclear units have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.


Offshore wind development sans consumer subsidies seen feasible. Markian Melnyk, president of Google-supported subsea transmission grid developer Atlantic Grid Development LLC, published an op-ed in touting the prospect for developing offshore wind resources without consumer subsidies. New Jersey’s long moribund efforts to support offshore wind development have been revived by Gov. Phil Murphy, an advocate of renewable energy resources.

“Reaching parity between offshore wind and other energy options should be the long-term goal of New Jersey’s offshore wind policy because it will allow self-sustaining, clean-energy production and job creation that ratepayers can afford,” Melnyk writes, asserting that offshore wind in Europe has achieved price parity with conventional energy resources. Newer, larger offshore wind turbines are available that would make development in New jersey’s waters more economically feasible than in the past, he said.

“New Jersey’s utilities are required by federal law to provide nondiscriminatory open access to the grid, so if they built and operated New Jersey’s offshore grid there would be a level playing field that would promote greater competition and lower offshore-wind costs,” Melnyk writes. “Just as open access to highways and railroads promotes competition in goods, an open-access offshore grid would be good for New Jersey. The savings ratepayers get from a smart approach to offshore transmission will allow New Jersey to afford more of the governor’s clean energy agenda.”


Bill would give Minnesota nukes special ratemaking consideration. A tussle is developing in Minnesota over proposed legislation that would provide for special ratemaking procedures for the state’s nuclear power plants. The measure is facing opposition from the state Department of Commerce and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, while Gov. Mark Dayton has “aired concerns,” Aaron Larson writes in Power magazine.

Gov. Dayton won’t sign the bill because it undermines the authority of the PUC, Emma Foehringer Merchant writes in “These end runs to the legislature to try to give special interests what they want violates the whole purpose of the Public Utilities Commission,” Dayton said.




Other news of note:

Nebraska ‘really going to regret’ not making public power share cost info, critics say as bill nears passage

Market-based IRPs: A new paradigm for grid planning?

Instead of forecasts, utilities like Hawaiian Electric and Xcel are beginning to use real-world prices in their integrated resource plans.

El Paso utility to use tax cuts to lower rates. Will CenterPoint follow?

Utilities calculate impact of tax break on NH ratepayers

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Electric Industry News, April 2, 2018

Today’s lede: FirstEnergy’s generation company files for bankruptcy protection. In a highly anticipated move, FirstEnergy has filed for bankruptcy protection for its generation arm, which has been pummeled by weak prices in competitive electricity markets that are the result of abundant, inexpensive shale gas.

It’s been a tumultuous journey for the utility company with utility subsidiaries spanning Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Early on, it was not a fan of competitive markets. The company that brought us the sprawling historic blackout of 2003 by failing to adequately maintain its transmission corridors hired “experts” in an attempt to blame the blackout on competition producing electricity flows that taxed the system. The joint U.S.-Canada report on the blackout put that to rest.

Then natural gas prices spiked, driving healthy returns for its generation fleet in electricity markets, and FirstEnergy had a fox hole conversion – even joining the COMPETE Coalition, a multimillion-dollar advocacy campaign sponsored by merchant power producers to support competition in wholesale electricity markets under attack because gas prices were driving electricity prices higher. Then shale gas came along and ruined that party.

Now FirstEnergy is at the forefront of efforts to obtain consumer subsidies for power plants struggling economically in competitive markets. It was reportedly Murray Energy Corp., FirstEnergy’s primary coal supplier, who convinced the Trump administration to forward a proposed rule to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year calling for electricity consumers to subsidize economically ailing coal and nuclear plants in the competitive markets.

FERC earlier this year rejected that proposal, but FirstEnergy has returned to the trough, now seeking an emergency order from the Energy Department that would allow it to continue operating its old, inefficient plants at consumers’ expense. The company also renewed its call for lawmakers in Ohio and Pennsylvania to enact legislation to economically buttress its power plants in those states. Those state-level efforts have met with understandable skepticism from lawmakers, but clearly FirstEnergy looks to its bankruptcy filing and the prospect of plant closures to sway lawmakers to support subsidies. A DOE response is legally problematic, as the authority for such an order as FirstEnergy seeks is predicated on emergencies such as war. The so-called war on coal would not meet legislative intent

For its part, electricity system operator and market overseer PJM Interconnection has weighed in saying there is no emergency to justify special treatment for FirstEnergy’s plants. “PJM can state without reservation there is no immediate threat to system reliability,” Vincent Duane,PJM’s  senior vice president and general counsel, said in a letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry. “”Indeed, the FES units that announced their expected retirement earlier this week, by their own disclosures, will  remain operational in most cases until through May 2021.”

Natural Resources Defense Council attorney John Moore blogged on the company’s bid for subsidies, calling it “an illegal power plant bailout” that will require “millions of utility customers [to] pay the price for this scheme to boost FirstEnergy’s bottom line.”

The Trump administration has proven itself amenable to such anti-consumer market intervention, whether the failed bid at FERC or import tariffs for solar, steel and aluminum. So few will be surprised if the DOE issues the legally problematic order FirstEnergy is seeking.

Here’s a news roundup on the bankruptcy filing:









Retail supplier blasts Mass. AG’s ‘one-sided’ report. Competitive retail suppliers were blindsided last week by a high-profile report issued by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey criticizing them for predatory marketing practices costing consumers millions more than if they’d stayed with utility default service. The report, urging lawmakers to ban competitive retailers from serving the residential market, opened a new front in a battle royal begun last year when regulators in New York proposed banning residential sales. Pushback against the New York Public Service Commission’s proposed ban on residential saleshave thus far proven a success, and retail suppliers are coming out swinging in Massachusetts.

Direct Energy’s Chris Kallaher is scoring headlines across the state in a piece by State House News Service’s Colin Young, in which Kallaher criticized the report as based on a “profoundly misguided premise” to pursue “a serious mistake” in energy policy.

“It is disappointing to see the Attorney General rely on a single, flawed report and flawed conclusions to deny millions of Massachusetts consumers the right to choose an electric supplier,” Kallaher told Young. “Direct Energy and other suppliers would have been happy to discuss these matters with the Attorney General to prevent the release of such a one-sided report, but we were not given the opportunity to do so. As a result, the Attorney General is now pursuing a path that would be bad for Massachusetts consumers and bad for the Commonwealth’s broader energy goals.”

Massachusetts adopted competition in electricity supply as a means of producing better results for consumers and businesses than monopoly utility regulation, Kallaher noted, “and Massachusetts consumers are clearly better off now than they would have been without restructuring.”

Young noted that Gov. Charlie Baker has not taken a position on Healey’s report or her demand for an end to competitive supply options for residential customers. Instead, a spokesman pointed to past efforts aimed at helping consumers make informed energy choices. “The Baker-Polito Administration will review the report and remains committed to protecting residential and small business electricity consumers,” said Peter Lorenz, communications director for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

The Lowell Sun, meanwhile, editorialized in opposition to the AG’s proposed ban on competitive retail sales in the residential market. “While we agree with the spirit of Healey’s measure, we don’t believe legislating this industry out of existence is the answer. In our economic system, individuals should have the right to make their own choices, even bad ones,” the newspaper’s editorial board opined. “However, companies found to have used deceptive or illegal sales practices should be vigorously prosecuted. Subjecting these suppliers to stricter regulations, such as substantiating their marketing claims, should in time separate legitimate suppliers from the fraudulent players. That’s how the attorney general should address this problem.”

See the State House News Service story here:






Va. Supreme Court upholds large consumers’ right to shop for renewable energy. In a clear victory for retail suppliers in a state marked by anti-consumer policies in support of monopoly regulation, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld a State Corporation Commission ruling allowing large energy users to obtain renewable power from suppliers other than the incumbent utility monopoly, which in most of the state is Dominion Energy.

Direct Energy, which has spearheaded efforts in the state to produce this fissure in the regulatory dam protecting monopoly providers, hailed the decision as a victory for consumers. ““We’re very excited for our customers and the fact that the State Corporation Commission twice and the Supreme Court today made clear that it’s time for Dominion to cease its efforts to really unilaterally impose barriers on its residential and retail customers,” Direct’s Ron Cerniglia said. The decision eliminates regulatory uncertainty that was chilling competition and will allow the company to move forward in Virginia, “particularly in the commercial and industrial market,” Cerniglia said.

Virginia was poised to open its electricity market to competition in the early 2000s but reversed course in the wake of the California’s botched effort to create a competitive electricity market. Virginia consumers further took it on the chin a few years ago when Dominion convinced lawmakers to pass legislation that froze rates and effectively hamstrung the SCC’s authority to oversee rates and order refunds to consumers. The state Legislature acted earlier this year after an SCC staff analysis quantified the hundreds of millions of dollars that utilities were overearning in the state. But the law still allows utilities to overearn as long as they make investments in the grid and renewables.

Here’s a news roundup on the decision:





N.H. mayor lambasts Northern Pass siting panel’s rejection. New Hampshire’s economy is being hampered by high electricity prices, and the state’s denial of siting approval for the proposed Northern Pass project was “a very clear sign we either don’t understand the incredible stress the high cost of electricity is placing on our manufacturers or, worse yet, we simply don’t care,” Tony Guinta, mayor of Franklin, N.H., writes in the Concord Monitor:

“For years I’ve been warning anyone who would listen that the business community has been patiently waiting to see if New Hampshire was serious about doing something to reduce the highest electricity costs in the country. Approval of Northern Pass was the one project that would have given manufacturers some solace that we all realized how devastating these rates have been to their businesses and that we were committed to making decisions to address the problem.”

Meanwhile, Garry Rayno writes in the Monitor about the written order in support of the Site Evaluation Committee’s Feb. 1 rejection of Northern Pass, a  192-mile, $1.6 billion transmission line designed to bring low-cost Canadian hydropower into New England. “Given the nature of the master plans and local ordinances along the Project’s route, the Project would have a large and negative impact on land uses in many communities that make up the region affected by the project,” the order concludes.

Mayor Guinta’s op-ed can be seen here:


Clean Line Energy hires former guv to argue case in Missouri. Clean Line Energy is the electricity sector’s version of Monty Python’s black knight. Despite years of effort to site its proposed transmission line to bring wind power from the nation’s bread basket to consumption centers to the east, state regulators have consistently rejected siting approval for parochial reasons. With a pivotal challenge to Missouri’s rejection of Clean Line’s proposed $2.3 billion Grain Belt Express project pending before the state Supreme Court, the company has hired former Gov. Jay Nixon to argue its case.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our state and an important one policy-wise,” Nixon told the Associated Press, which noted that two of Missouri’s seven Supreme Court judges were appointed by Nixon, including one who previously worked for him in both the governor’s and attorney general’s offices. Nixon told the AP he expects no favoritism and sees no potential conflict of interest.

“I don’t think anything says that after you’ve been governor, if you happen to be there for a while, that you should be limited in your ability to aggressively represent the clients that you so desire,” Nixon said. Paul Agathan, who will argue the case on behalf of landowners opposed to the power line, also told the AP sees no conflict in Nixon appearing before judges he appointed. Nevertheless, he noted, “It can’t hurt him, obviously.”






Rising W.Va. electricity prices examined in consumer advocate’s report. Rising electricity prices continue to garner headlines and policy maker concerns in West Virginia. So far, however, the focus has been on the regulatory costs of coal-fired electricity and, unlike in other monopoly-regulated states, there thus far has been little discussion in the public sphere of competition as an alternative to monopoly regulation.

Max Garland writes in the Charleston Gazette-Mail about a recent Consumer Advocate Division’s annual report examining rising electricity costs in the state (a 25 percent increase in costs since 2014). However, the report notes that, despite increasing price pressure, the state enjoys electricity costs that are 10 percent lower than the average customer costs in five cities in surrounding states (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Columbus, Ohio, Richmond, Va., and Lexington, Ky.).

Garland notes that rising electricity costs prompted a debate by state lawmakers of legislation allowing manufacturers to receive a special discount on their electricity. The bill, which would have effectively had residential consumers subsidize large industrial and commercial users, died in the state Senate. He also noted FirstEnergy’s failed effort to move its merchant power plant in Pleasants County into the ratebase, which would have had West Virginia consumers on the hook for the operating costs plus a rate of return for the uneconomic power plant.

Despite these pro-consumer outcomes, rates will continue to rise in West Virginia due to its reliance on coal-fired power. This has been exacerbated by low-cost shale gas, which unseated coal as the electric industry’s low-cost fuel source. West Virginia utilities can no longer export low-cost excess coal-fired power into PJM’s competitive market, meaning the state’s captive utility customers must pick up the cost of uneconomic resources.

“Our expensive coal-fired power can’t compete in wholesale markets,” James Van Nostrand, director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the West Virginia University College of Law, told Garland. “Most of the United States has diversified and taken advantage of cheaper natural gas, and we’re not doing any of those things.”

Population declines also mean that the ratebase supporting those higher costs is shrinking, exacerbating the problem, Garland reported.

“As long as costs related to them are reasonable in making the power, then everyone has to pay for them,” said Emmett Pepper, executive director of Energy Efficient West Virginia. “If there’s fewer people to pay for them, rates just go up. If we lose a large industrial energy user, then everyone has to make up for them.”


New storage law in Colo. Lauded. The Pueblo Chieftan’s Peter Roper praised Gov. John Hickenlooper’s recent signing into law a measure (SB 9) clarifying the right of Colorado’s monopoly-captive customers to store electricity. “It’s a major step toward letting consumers control when and at what price they use electricity, or even if they will need to purchase electricity from a traditional utility,” Roper writes. “It was another victory for supporters of renewable energy, who argue that being able to store power in large amounts eliminates the biggest objection to wind and solar power: that they are dependent on sunshine and weather.”


Colo. Co-op candidate advocates renewables. David Pierson, a candidate for the board of directors for the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association (PVREA), writes in the Coloradan that the rural co-op should pursue renewable energy solutions and resist the increasing cost of coal-fired electricity from its traditional electricity supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission. The rising costs of coal-fired electricity “will be passed along to us, and our electricity rates will rise. To forestall this, if one of its largest customers — PVREA — aggressively pushes for cheaper renewable energy, Tri-State should be forced to adapt to us or face obsolescence,” Pierson, a retired air traffic controller, writes. “To pressure Tri-State, we should act locally. Whether encouraging homeowners or businesses to install rooftop solar, or building utility-scale solar or wind farms, these are local investments and local jobs. It will pressure Tri-State to meet our needs, not us surrendering to their model. Additionally, by keeping more of our energy local, we reduce the transmission loss of energy — once again helping keep our rates lower.” Tri-State, meanwhile, touted its green bona fides in the Montrose Press, noting that 30 percent of the energy consumed by its member co-ops came from renewable sources.


Colo. municipalization effort results in ‘war’ with utility. Mark Jaffe, writing in The Gazette, provides a comprehensive look at the ongoing efforts by Pueblo, Colo., to potentially withdraw from Black Hills Energy’s system and create a municipally owned utility.

“The tale of Black Hills and Pueblo, a worn and weathered industrial city on southeast Colorado’s high desert, is one that reveals some of the flaws in the way the Colorado Public Utilities Commission has regulated utilities, and it speaks to the changing nature of the electricity business,” Jaffe writes. “Pueblo is searching for a new way to power itself. It could be a municipal utility, another electricity provider or buying bulk power on the market.”

“We will be doing a feasibility study,” said Chris Markuson, executive director of Pueblo County Economic Development. “Everything is on the table.”


Other news of note:

Solar panel makers brush off US tariffs and head to emerging markets

Industry leaders say the Trump administration’s move will backfire on America

Elon Musk’s easy ride at Tesla is over

Tesla’s Stock Now Looks Like a Show-Me Story

U.S. Utilities Look To Electric Cars as Their Savior Amid Decline In Demand

UPS declares the “beginning of the end” for combustion engines by making its London fleet entirely electric


EIA projects that U.S. coal demand will remain flat for several decades

Here’s the quickest way to drive up electricity bills and ruin a competitive market

The electricity business is undergoing a transformation which will bring some volatility, but that comes with a free market. Our policymakers should resist any attempt to choose winners or losers and trust the market to work.

Texas co-op faces citizen’s group advocating for electricity choice–lake-life–TVEC-hears-from-members-of-TVEC-one-VOICE-for-CHOICE/5082

Why San Diego’s franchise accord with SDG&E needs fresh thinking

By Bill Powers, principal of Powers Engineering and chairman of California Local Energy Advancing Renewables; Jay Powell, a member of the city’s Sustainable Energy Advisory Board and a former executive director of the City Heights Community Development Corp.; and Craig Rose, former staff writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Ky. legislative leaders must stop utilities from cornering the market on the sun

By Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council


Offshore wind energy at a turning point in Maine

CenterPoint Energy announces completion of critical electric transmission line in Texas

Site visits, hearings set in Pa. for power-line project


Pa. utility commission needs to move on rate cuts: Our view

R.I Lt. Gov. McKee reports progress on utility rates

ITC to Pass Through Benefits of Lower Corporate Taxes to Customers

PG&E seeks approval to offset rate increases with tax breaks

Michigan regulators OK $65.8 million electric rate hike for Consumers Energy



MPSC orders utilities to report cyber attacks, issues electric vehicle instructions

DTE plan doubles renewable energy investments

With declining energy demand, Springfield, Mo., City Utilities faces new challenges

Making the Business Case for Renewable Energy

In Chain Store Age, by Joe Rinzel, executive director of Employers For Renewable Energy

Paid content: Retail supplier plugs benefits of competition in Pa. business journals


Environmental and energy activist looks to unseat GOP N.Y state lawmaker

Arizona’s solar leaders form Distributed Energy Resources Alliance

Ariz. Corporation Commission takes issue with newspaper’s editorial

PacifiCorp challenges Ore. PUC staff in controversial $1.5B wind power bidding process

Utility answers PUC staff contention that bidding process didn’t yield best results for ratepayers

Vermont solar complaints focus on REC distribution

Don’t let old power plants litter Calif. beaches

Customers demand Madison Gas & Electric switch to clean energy after Oak Creek coal dust incident

How Duke Energy Corporation Makes Most of Its Money

The utility has made some big changes in recent years. This is how it makes money now that the it’s done moving all of the chess pieces.

Duke Energy turning waste from hog farms into electricity

Navigant examines growth of ‘smart services’ as cities set ambitious climate targets

Brattle Economists: Some Hydro Plants Substantially Undervalued In Today’s Power Markets

Global Virtual Power Plant Market Will Hit $5.5 Million Value By 2023

What Does It Take to Electrify Everything in Your Home?

This California family just found out: “Unless you have gone through it, there is stuff you never would have foreseen.”