The number of days most federal and state lawmakers have remaining in session before summer break is winding down, sparking a flurry of activity.
In Congress, Republicans are advancing legislation that would prevent the U.S. EPA from enforcing carbon limits on states through the Clean Power Plan (CPP). State leaders are also preparing legislation and public comments in anticipation of the final EPA rule, which is expected to be released sometime in August. The National Conference of State Legislatures offers a comprehensive list of state action on the CPP.
At the same time, policies and regulations are rapidly changing around renewable energy and distributed generation. California, for instance, recently grabbed headlines when the state Senate passed legislation that would dramatically accelerate the deployment of clean energy over the next 15 years.
While some state policies are up for debate, overall, the United States is seeing a rapid expansion of renewable energy use. Today, 11 states generate more than 10 percent of their electricity from non-hydro renewable energy sources, and three of those states -- Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas -- exceed 20 percent, according to a new report from Clean Edge.
We chronicle many of the latest developments in state-level clean energy news in the following roundup. (You can find last month’s state dispatches post here.)
Lawmakers in the California Senate recently passed a dozen bills that would significantly boost the state’s clean energy and climate change mandates, including legislation (SB 350) that would require the state to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
Existing law requires renewables to make up at least 33 percent of electricity sold to retail customers in California by 2020. In addition to increasing the state’s renewable energy target, SB 350 calls for cutting petroleum use in the transportation sector by half, and doubling the energy efficiency of buildings over the next 15 years. A version of SB 350 is now making its way through the state Assembly.
A separate senate bill (SB 32) recently passed that would boost California’s greenhouse gas reduction target to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, ahead of the existing target of 80 percent below 1990 levels to be achieved by 2050. The bill aligns with Gov. Jerry Brown’s new greenhouse gas goals.
Anthony Earley, president and CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric, told Greentech Media last week that his utility supports the ambitious greenhouse-gas goals, as long as utilities are given ample flexibility.
“The issue going forward will be, we’re looking for optionality,” said Earley, who is working with the legislature on the package of climate bills. “At some point, costs get very high, and so we’re looking to create an environment where for renewables, energy efficiency and electric vehicles -- use all of those tools to try and reduce your greenhouse gas emissions.”
Public Utility Commissioner Michael Picker expressed a similar point of view at a recent conference in Washington, D.C. where he called for shifting away from renewable energy mandates to a more flexible set of climate change goals that take into account reliability issues. Picker pointed to reliability concerns as the primary reason for approving the controversial Carlsbad gas plant proposal.
Regulatory staff at the Arizona Corporation Commission recently recommended rejecting changes to solar net metering proposed by Tucson Electric Power until the changes can be evaluated in a full rate case, reports the Arizona Daily Star. The proposal would increase monthly fees by about $22 over what solar customers currently pay.
Staff recently issued the same recommendation for net metering changes proposed by Arizona Public Service that would increase monthly fees on solar customers by $21 per month, up from the current $5 per month charge. Unisource Energy Services has also proposed a new net metering plan, but, unlike the other two investor-owned utilities, the changes were submitted as part of a rate case. In addition to reducing incentives for solar, the case would increase fixed costs and lower charges for energy usage on all customers.
Stakeholders in Nevada reached an agreement last month to increase the state’s net metering cap. The deal, brokered by Gov. Brian Sandoval, will allow for 235 megawatts of residential systems to qualify for net metering in NV Energy territory through the end of the year.
Solar advocates lobbied fiercely for the change with the cap approaching. The original law allowed for solar penetration up to 3 percent of NV Energy's peak load. Last month, lawmakers passed a bill giving utility regulators the option of imposing a monthly fee on residential solar customers, but did not increase the net metering cap. The new deal shifts responsibility for net metering policy from the legislature to the public utilities commission going forward.
In mid-May, state regulators in New Mexico unanimously rejected Public Service Company of New Mexico’s (PNM) proposal to increase residential electric rates and apply fees on home solar customers. PNM’s rate case would have increased fixed charged on households by $7.80, plus an additional 16 percent in monthly charges, starting in 2016. New solar customers would have had to pay $21 to $26 per month to connect to the grid.
Regulators said they threw out the rate case because PNM failed to adequately show how those changes would affect consumers. PNM says the rate changes are needed to pay for $585 million in capital expenses, including the restructuring of the San Juan coal plant (which is opposed by environmentalists and clean energy groups). PNM plans to refile its rate case in September.
Following the national trend, the Intermountain Rural Electric Cooperative in Colorado is reviewing the credits it offers residential solar customers, the Denver Post reports. At the same time, the state PUC is reviewing the net-metering policy of the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy. Xcel recently announced that its small-business and residential customers in Colorado will see their bills fall by 4 percent this fall.
Gov. Jay Inslee recently authorized utilities in Washington state to rate-base EV charging infrastructure, like any other grid investment. The move is widely seen as a positive development for the EV market.
Several pieces of energy-legislation -- including a bill that would effectively eliminate net metering (HB 2045), a bill that would implement a state carbon market (HB 1314), and a bill that would give utilities more flexibility in meeting the state renewable energy target (SB 5735) -- are being held at current status as the legislature enters its second extended session.
The Oregon Public Utility Commission is currently reviewing a proposal from Idaho Power that would set the standard contract eligibility cap for wind and solar projects to 100 kilowatts and change the contract term length from 20 years to two years.
The Obama administration recently granted conditional approval for Shell Oil to drill off the coast of Alaska this summer. This week, Shell subsidiary Polar Pioneer was met with protestors in kayaks as it tried to exit Puget Sound. The company must wait for final approval on July 1 before it can start drilling.
Alaska is also seeing developments in cleantech. The Department of Energy launched a program to support clean energy development in five Alaskan villages this month. In addition, the Chugach Electric Association announced late last month it will deploy a hybrid battery storage and flywheel project in collaboration with Beacon Power.
Earlier this month. Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed into law the country’s first 100 percent renewable energy requirement. The state currently gets about 22 percent of its electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy resources. Under the law, all of Hawaii’s electricity must come from renewables by 2045.
Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) -- which supplies power to 95 percent of Hawaii’s population through Hawaiian Electric Company, Maui Electric Company, and Hawaii Electric Light Company -- came out in support of the 100 percent renewable energy goal. The proposed merger between HEI and Florida-based NextEra Energy would provide additional resources to help make the renewable energy target a reality, according to an HEI press release.
Earlier this month, HEI shareholders, the parent company of the state’s three investor-owned utilities, approved the proposed NextEra merger. But not everyone in the state supports the deal. Two activist groups in Hawaii are pushing to have local co-ops take over the state’s electricity operations instead.
Separately, the city and country of Honolulu has agreed to pay a fine and build a $16 million solar power project by 2020 in order to resolve Clean Air Act violations.
A ballot initiative that would allow for third-party solar ownership in Florida is proving to be highly divisive. The effort is being spearheaded by the conservative group Floridians for Solar Choice, which has collected more than 88,000 signatures in support of the campaign. The Florida League of Women Voters recently came out in support of the initiative and Florida newspapers the Gainesville Sun and Ocala Star-Banner have voiced their editorial support.
But not everyone is in agreement. The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, for instance, recently filed a brief opposing the Solar Ballot initiative, claiming that the current ballot language does not properly inform voters of potential increases to their electricity rates that would if the amendment is approved. Attorney General Pam Bondi and a number of influential utilities -- Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power -- want the Florida Supreme Court to block the initiative, because they feel the language is “misleading.”
The Supreme Court process is currently underway. Meanwhile, the Florida PSC is accepting comments from utilities, businesses and the general public on practical ways to promote solar energy in Florida through June 23.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill (HB 57) into law last month that allows for third-party ownership of rooftop solar in Georgia, which doesn’t have a net metering policy. The measure also allows Georgia Power to recoup interconnection costs from solar customers.
In addition, Georgia Power is taking advantage of the new law by launching its own rooftop solar business. Solar advocates are concerned that the utility would use its monopoly advantage to dominate the market. Georgia Power has yet to finalize the program (which is set to launch on July 1), but the company asserts its rooftop solar product will be offered solely through its unregulated arm.
Stakeholders in South Carolina finalized a compromise agreement last month, which South Carolina Electric & Gas anticipates will lead to 85 megawatts of new solar capacity in the state by 2021. The agreement allows rooftop solar customers to benefit from net metering credits, and it also allows customers who may not be able to install their own solar system to participate in a community solar project and still get a credit on their bill.
In addition, SCE&G plans to issue a request for proposals for large-scale solar projects, with the aim of installing at least 30 megawatts of utility-scale solar by the end of 2016.
North Carolina is currently considering legislation (H332) that would freeze the state’s renewable electricity standards, rather than see the state meet 12.5 percent of its energy needs with renewables by 2021. Major internet brands Apple, Google and Facebook, all of which have data centers in the state, have come out in strong opposition to the bill. The legislature is scheduled to be in session at least through the end of the month.
Solar co-ops are cropping up around West Virginia, most recently in Wheeling and Morgantown. The city of Charleston, as well as Monroe and Fayette counties, have already formed co-ops with help from the nonprofit group WV Sun.
The state of Kentucky is one of the strongest opponents to the EPA Clean Power Plan. The state has refused to submit a compliance plan and was a part of a 12-state lawsuit challenging the rule. But ironically, the state could end up complying with the rule “accidentally” as natural gas continues to push coal-fired generation out of the market, according to Inside Climate News.
Entergy, meanwhile, is planning to build the first utility-scale solar-plus-storage project in New Orleans. At the recent Edison Electric Institute annual convention, Entergy CEO Leo Denault said New Orleans is becoming a hub of energy innovation and education, with thousands of new tech jobs being created over the next decade. “It’s a time of almost unprecedented opportunity in the South,” he said.
The Texas legislature adjourned last month without repealing the state’s renewable portfolio standard and its Competitive Renewable Energy Zones transmission initiative, North American Wind Power reports. Throwing out the RPS would have severely affected the market for trading and selling renewable energy credits.
At the regulatory level, Texas is mulling changes to its competitive energy market that could create new opportunities for distributed energy resources. Regulators are also considering changes to the treatment of demand response. A recent study revealed that Texas could have saved more than $200 million over five days in 2012 and 2013 if regulators allowed demand response to fully participate in ERCOT’s market.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill this month outlawing cities and counties in the state from implementing bans on hydraulic fracturing. Fallin said the aim was to make state standards uniform. Texas recently finalized similar legislation.
Residential customers that own distributed generation in Oklahoma could soon see demand charges on their bills under a new tariff structure regulators are studying, The Oklahoman reports. Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma have both indicated they will apply for new tariffs before the end of the year.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill (SB 91) into law late last month that made the state’s 20 percent renewable energy portfolio into a voluntary target. Wind already produces more than 20 percent of Kansas’ electricity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. SB 91 also repealed a lifetime property tax exemption for customer-sited energy generation, while maintaining a tax exemption for existing renewable energy projects and giving a 10-year tax exemption to new renewable energy projects. New projects were previously offered a lifetime exemption.
Brownback signed a separate bill last month directing the state to develop a plan to comply with the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The law comes despite ongoing opposition to the climate initiative. Kansas was one of a dozen states that attempting to sue against the rule, but the case was thrown out for being premature.
Changes in the Kansas legislature come as Westar Energy seeks to increase fees on rooftop solar customers through a rate case, KCUR.org reports. National solar advocates say the move will kill the state’s rooftop solar industry (there are only about 300 rooftop solar customers in Kansas today). However, the state’s independent ratepayer advocacy group commended Westar for addressing solar before it becomes a major disruption to the grid. The Alliance for Solar Choice, a national rooftop solar group, has been barred from participating in the rate case.
Lawmakers in coal-reliant Missouri have sent legislation to the governor requiring a broad review before the state sends a Clean Power Plan implementation plan to the EPA. Lawmakers are currently considering legislation (HB 215) that would prevent the enforcement of any federal regulation before it's been considered by the General Assembly.
This spring, the Illinois state legislature has been debating several divisive pieces of controversial legislation concerning the future of nuclear energy, net metering and the state’s renewable energy standard. However, those initiatives “fizzled” when the regular legislative session ended in June, the Chicago Tribune reports. Lawmakers could take up the legislation during a two-week session in the fall, after the Clean Power Plan is released, or wait until the New Year.
The CEO of Exelon, the largest nuclear generator in the U.S., said the company would decide what to do with its three struggling nuclear plants in September, after legislation the utility backed failed to advance.
Last fall, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission approved requests from Madison Gas & Electric, Wisconsin Public Service and Wisconsin Energy Corp (WECO) to increase their fixed charges, which the utilities said was necessary to offset losses from distributed generation.
In recent weeks, Northern States Power, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, announced it will also seek to increase customers’ fixed charges starting in 2016. If approved by regulators, Xcel’s fixed charge would more than double -- from $8 a month to $18, the LaCrosse Tribune reports. In exchange, the utility said it would reduce the average rate by about 0.7 cents per kilowatt-hour. Wisconsin Public Service is currently seeking another fixed fee increase (from $19 to $25), six months after its last raise.
These proposals have been met with strong opposition from advocacy groups, including the newly-formed Alliance for Fair Utilities, Repower Madison and The Alliance for Solar Choice. These groups blame Public Service Commission representatives appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker for the “regressive electricity billing schemes.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Walker, who is an expected presidential candidate, issued a letter to President Obama calling the EPA Clean Power Plan “unworkable.”
In other Wisconsin news, Minnesota regulators have approved WECO’s proposal to acquire Integrys Energy Group. The deal needs one more “yes” vote from regulators in Illinois in order to move forward. The Wisconsin utility issued pro rata dividends last week ahead of the pending acquisition of Integrys.
Minnesota is on the cusp of a solar boom. SolarCity announced a partnership with Minnesota's Sunrise Energy Ventures this week to develop up to one hundred 1-megawatt community solar installations. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission recently approved the $250 million Aurora Solar Project by Edina-based Geronimo Energy to build more than 100 megawatts of solar at 21 sites around the state. And one small Minnesota town plans to offset 100 percent of its electricity use through community solar.
Developments on community solar in Minnesota come as a dispute continues between Xcel Energy and solar developers over the co-location of solar gardens. Stakeholders are hoping to reach a settlement before the state PUC takes up the issue next week, the Star Tribune reports. Combined with customer-sited generation, Xcel Energy predicts there will be 300 megawatts of solar operating in its territory by 2020.
On the legislative front, Gov. Mark Dayton signed the 2015 Jobs and Energy Bill into law this month that requires to state to draft a Clean Power Plan implementation program and allowed customers of cooperative electric associations and municipal utilities to qualify for net metering on projects under 40 kilowatts.
Regulators in North Dakota have denied Xcel Energy’s application for an advanced determination of prudence for 187 megawatts of solar power from three projects designed to meet a mandate in Minnesota.
“I don’t believe North Dakota customers should have to pay for the result of policies in a state that they didn’t have a say in passing,” said Commission Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak, the Forum News Service reports.
Michigan lawmakers continue to work their way through a package of energy-related bills (HB 4055, HB 4518, HB 4519, SB 295, SB 297). A suite of bills generated by Democrats seek to double the state’s renewable energy portfolio to 20 percent, while Republicans hope to end the renewable energy target altogether.
The Michigan legislature worked year-round, but progress is likely to be slow. The Democrats’ proposals have yet to make it out of any committee, with the House scheduled for just six days in session through August.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is considering changes to the state’s net metering policy, while a case opposing the policy brought by American Electric Power is still pending, Midwest Energy News reports. Over the next few months, PUCO will also be evaluating requests from several utilities for guaranteed income on certain power plants, the Columbia Dispatch reports.
Ohio’s Energy Mandates Study Committee, established last year by SB 310, which put a two-year freeze on the state’s alternative energy standard, continues to evaluate the future of the state’s renewable energy and efficiency goals. A new report by Environmental Entrepreneurs found there are approximately 89,000 Ohioans that work in the clean energy sector, and that many of these jobs would be lost if the policy were to completely disappear. The subcommittee is expected to issue a report in September.
An order from the Pennsylvania PUC set to come out any day will determine how the state’s energy efficiency sector is structured for the next five years. The stakes are high for companies that work in this space, largely because of the way Pennsylvania’s energy saving goals are currently set up.
First, utilities are limited in how much they can spend on efficiency each year. Second, utilities face penalties if they don’t meet their targets. Plus, the commission uses a cumulative accounting period so that only investments made during a specific five-year period count toward the target. Because of this structure, the utilities are dissuaded from taking risks and making long-term investments, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
"There is a lot at stake in Pennsylvania. The Commission is designing a five-year phase, and if they get the goal structure wrong, it could stall or delay investment in efficiency and demand response in the next few years,” said Jim Kapsis, vice president of regulatory Affairs at Opower, in an interview. “But if they get it right, Pennsylvania will become a real growth engine over the next half decade."
As the PUC weighs reforms, legislation has been introduced that would allow commercial and industrial customers to opt out of the state’s efficiency targets. At the same time, environmental groups are calling for Pennsylvania to set higher targets for C&I customers.
Maryland quietly adopted a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing last month as Gov. Larry Hogan let a 30-day veto period on the measure expire. The legislation officially becomes law on October 1.
Gov. Hogan also signed a bill last month in support of community solar through a three-year pilot. The projects will be regulated by the state PSC. Meanwhile, the Maryland PSC approved Exelon Corporation’s $6.8 billion proposal to purchase Pepco. The final decision now rests with regulators in Washington, D.C.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced a plan last month for Virginia to reduce retail electricity consumption by 10 percent by 2020 -- two years earlier than the previous goal. McAuliffe created a 12-member Executive Committee on Energy Efficiency to support the initiative. Virginia currently ranks 35th in efficiency measures and policies, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities is seeking to double incentives for energy storage to $6 million in next year’s budget for clean energy programs. Storage will help backup generation from the more than 35,000 renewable energy projects deployed in the state. New Jersey’s current renewable energy target calls for 22.5 percent of electricity to come from renewables by 2020. Lawmakers are currently considering legislation (S 2444) that would bump up the target to 80 percent renewables by 2050.
The New York Public Service Commission is moving forward with the creation of a distributed resource market through the Reforming Energy Vision initiative, albeit with some difficulty. Under the proceeding, utilities are required to propose demonstration projects by July 1. Central Hudson Gas & Electric became the first utility to submit a project proposal last month. Utilities are required to file their distributed system implementation plans by December 15.
While the PSC works to change the architecture of the power sector, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority announced new funding for seven energy storage projects as part of the REV initiative. The state is also looking for new ways to support the deployment of large-scale clean energy projects. Earlier this month, state’s energy research authority proposed to spend $1.5 billion over the next 10 years to promote the development in renewable energy projects. The program is subject to review by the PSC.
A bill (570) designed to set limits on the fixed fees utilities can charge residential customers in Connecticut failed to pass the House before the legislative session ended, Utility Dive reports. The bill sought to encourage energy efficiency by “reducing, capping or eliminating” fixed charges.
Electric utilities in Massachusetts are quickly approaching the state cap on net metered solar projects, which solar advocates say will stall the solar industry. National Grid already hit the cap in March. Gov. Charlie Baker's administration supports raising the limits in the near term, but not without a long-term plan to address the burden on ratepayers. Earlier this month, Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey said that she supports an immediate cap increase.
Separately, the Baker administration has announced a $10 million energy storage initiative that will support storage companies in the Commonwealth and identify options for storage deployment through a comprehensive two-part study.
After correcting a typo that restored $38 million in efficiency funding, Maine regulators are still grappling with how to incentivize solar in the state. An amendment added to a sweeping energy bill (LS 1263) calls for developing an alternative to net metering in Maine that ensures “the maximum level of compensation for a given technology does not exceed the ratepayer benefits as determined by a commission evaluation of the specific benefits of that technology.”
The amendment recommends following the directives in a white paper entitled "A Ratepayer Focused Strategy for Distributed Solar in Maine,” which was produced by the Office of the Public Advocate. Under this proposal, a “Solar Standard Buyer” would interface directly with solar customers, and “aggregate the energy, RECs, capacity value, and ancillary services potential and monetize these in the applicable markets.”
Solar advocates oppose any changes to net metering in Maine. The conservative pro-solar group Tell Utilities Solar Won't Be Killed announced it will launch a major TV advertising campaign in Maine calling on Gov. Paul LePage to oppose Democratic-sponsored legislation that would alter the state’s net metering policy.