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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.