In recent months, several states have approved policies to dramatically increase their renewable energy targets, including California, New York, Vermont and Oregon. Now, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. are attempting to follow suit with proposals introduced to more than double their existing renewable portfolio standards.
A recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that renewable portfolio standard (RPS) programs produced more than $7 billion in benefits from avoided greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants in 2013. Despite these benefits, it's not assured that new targets will pass. Meanwhile, states with higher targets are currently in the process of figuring out how to implement them.
Maryland’s House of Delegates has passed a bill (HB 1106) to increase the state’s RPS goal from 20 percent by 2022 to 25 percent by 2020. The Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2016 incentivizes the build-out of roughly 1,300 megawatts of new clean energy, and is expected to create more than 1,000 new solar jobs and 4,600 new jobs in wind. Having passed with a strong majority (92-43) in the House, the bill now goes to the Senate for approval. Lawmakers have until April 11 to take action, when Maryland’s legislative session scheduled to close.
On March 17, lawmakers gave final approval to a separate bill (HB 610/SB 323) that requires Maryland to reduce climate pollution economy-wide by 40 percent below 2006 levels by the year 2030. An existing law requires the state to reduce emissions by 25 percent below 2006 levels by the year 2020. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2016 renews and extends that mandate.
If HB 610 is signed by Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland will have one of the strongest greenhouse gas targets in the nation. If HB 1106 passes, it will help the state meet its new climate goals.
The New Jersey Senate has passed a bill (S1707) that would require utilities in the state to source 80 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2050, PV Magazine reports. The measure now heads to the General Assembly, where it could see strong support from the Democratic majority, but faces a veto threat from Republican Governor Chris Christie. New Jersey’s current mandate is to reach 20 percent renewable energy by 2020-2021, with a requirement that utilities source 4.1 percent of their electricity from solar PV by 2028.
The New York Public Service Commission has approved Con Edison's $1.285 billion advanced metering infrastructure deployment plan for all of the company’s electric and natural gas customers, according to Advanced Energy Economy’s PowerSuite.
Separately, regulators continue to work on a plan to meet New York’s mandate of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 and to evaluate ways in which nuclear power plants can remain open as a bridge to the RPS goal (15-01168/15-E-0302). Comments on the proposed program to keep nuclear power plants operational are due by May 2, 2016.
Pennsylvania has met its solar carve-out under the state’s renewable portfolio standard five years early, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The law requires .5 percent of all utility power purchased in Pennsylvania to come from solar generation by 2021. Clean energy advocates argue that the target is too weak.
Separately, the state PUC has approved plans submitted by several of Pennsylvania utilities detailing efforts to reduce energy consumption and peak demand through 2021.
On March 23, regulators in Washington, D.C. approved the $6.8 billion merger between Exelon and distribution utility Pepco in a 2-1 vote. The decision comes after nearly two years of back-and-forth between stakeholders. Opponents say Exelon’s aging nuclear fleet will result in higher costs to D.C. customers and will make it harder for the District to meet its clean energy and climate goals. Proponents say the benefits package included in the deal will reduce energy bills.
Exelon and Pepco completed their merger transaction hours after the Public Service Commission made its decision. Experts at Washington Analysis believe the approval could motivate other utilities with merchant exposure to identify regulated businesses to acquire.
Separately, a bill has been introduced in D.C. that would more than double the District’s RPS. The existing law requires utilities to get 20 percent of their retail sales from renewable resources, with a 2.5 percent solar carve-out, by 2023. The proposed bill B. 21-0650 would raise the RPS to 50 percent, and double the solar carve-out to 5 percent, by 2032.
On March 9, Georgia Power completed the issuance of $325 million worth of green bonds, becoming the first retail electric provider to do so. Green bonds were created to fund projects with environmental benefits.
“Georgia Power is a leader in responsible renewable development, thanks to a shared commitment and collaboration with the Public Service Commission and renewable developers,” said CEO Paul Bowers. “The issuance of these bonds will help us bring more renewable energy to the state while ensuring reliability and keeping our rates low for customers.”
In Georgia Power’s 2016 Integrated Resource Plan, filed with the Georgia Public Service Commission in January, the company proposed to bring an additional 525 megawatts of renewable generation into service.
The Alliance for Solar Choice has filed a petition for judicial review of the Nevada PUC’s decision to eliminate net metering, the Las Vegas Sun reports. TASC argues the recent decision to lower the net-metering credit and impose new fixed fees on solar customers “puts a stake in the heart of future rooftop solar development” and unfairly applies the new rate structure to existing customers.
Meanwhile, the Bring Back Solar Alliance continues to gather support for a November ballot initiative to overturn the solar policy changes.
A recent survey by Public Opinion Strategies found that voters in swing states, including Nevada, are more likely to vote for a Republican candidate who supports solar. Support is especially strong among Independents, with 88 percent reporting that the opportunity to adopt rooftop solar is an important part of providing choice and competition in the electricity market.
California’s three major regulated utilities -- SDG&E, PG&E and SCE -- are calling for regulators to modify or vacate their recent net metering 2.0 decision, which kept the existing policy largely intact. Utilities are calling for the CPUC to rehear the case or at least raise the non-bypassable fee for solar customers from 2 to 3 cents to 4 to 5 cents. SDG&E recently issued a statement addressing critiques of the utility-led effort, stating that it is designed to help poorer residents pay less to support solar customers.
Separately, SDG&E announced this month that it is seeking up to 140 megawatts of new "preferred energy resources," including energy storage, renewable energy, distributed generation, energy efficiency and demand response.
The CPUC has approved PG&E’s time-of-use (TOU) pilot plan advice letter that lays out a plan for three opt-in TOU pilots. The pilots will inform PG&E’s application on January 1, 2018 for a default residential TOU rate and a menu of optional TOU rates. Regulators are now considering a new compromise proposal for PG&E to build 7,600 electric-vehicle chargers. The total budget is not to exceed $160 million, which will ensure that the cost to a typical residential customer is less than $2.75 per year. An earlier plan was budgeted for $222 million.
Other items under consideration: The California PUC is seeking input on demand-response programs in 2018 and beyond (13-09-011). Pending California legislation (A.B. 2699) would require all companies involved in selling, leasing or financing solar PV systems to provide a standard set of disclosures to prospective customers, including a notification that customer bill credits are compensated by other customers of the utility. Comments on the Commission Staff paper on draft 2016 RPS portfolios for generation and transmission planning are requested by March 29, 2016 (R1502020).
The small rural utility UNS Electric has filed a $22 million rate case that could set a precedent for the entire state (E-04204A-15-0142). The proposal would increase the fixed charge for residential and small commercial customers from $10 to between $15 and $20, add an optional demand-charge component for residential and small commercial customers, add a mandatory demand-charge component for solar customers, and introduce a new net-metering tariff which compensates any excess energy sold to the grid at the avoided cost of utility-scale solar. In their response, regulatory staff wrote that they favor mandatory demand charges for all UNS customers.
Solar companies and consumer groups testified in opposition to the changes earlier this month. Tucson Electric Power and Arizona Public Service, the state’s larger utilities, testified in support of the UNS changes, as the outcome could affect their requests to implement similar fees.
As the UNS case advances, the Sulfur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative is also seeking to make changes to its rooftop solar policies as part of a general rate case (E-01575A-15-0312). On March 18, ACC staff submitted direct testimony supporting the utility's request to replace net metering with a rate somewhere in between the retail rate and the utility's avoided-cost rate. Staff opposes the utility's proposal to establish a new residential distributed generation tariff rate and phase in a higher fixed charge for these customers of up to $50 per month. Instead, staff recommended that the residential fixed charge for all customers should be $27 per month. Staff also recommended establishing mandatory demand rates for all residential customers, but acknowledged that that is not possible at this time.
Separately, Tucson Electric Power (TEP) filed its 2016 integrated resource plan earlier this month that anticipates TEP will add an additional 1.1 gigawatts of new renewable capacity by the end of 2030, boosting its total renewable energy portfolio to approximately 1.5 gigawatts. TEP plans to continue investing in large solar arrays and other community scale renewable resources, and will explore how distributed energy resources like rooftop solar panels have created new challenges and opportunities for utilities and their customers. The plan is designed to help satisfy the requirements of the Clean Power Plan. The Supreme Court put a stay on the regulation in February, but TEP CEO David Hutchens said his utility would continue to prepare as the status of the CPP is resolved.
Last fall, Hawaii regulators voted to end net metering and introduce new grid-supply and self-supply tariff options. Five months after the decision, applications for the new tariffs are limited in number but growing. Tam Hunt detailed the changes in Hawaii’s solar market in a recent GTM Squared article.
Earlier this month, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed into law the state’s new mandate to achieve a 50 percent renewable energy mix by 2040.
The Colorado PUC has rejected a settlement agreement between Xcel Energy and three community solar developers that would have added 60 megawatts to the state’s community solar program. The deal was designed to reboot the stalled program and put a floor price on bids for renewable energy credits (RECs) to avoid a negative REC situation, where solar companies have to pay the utility to take the environmental credits from their projects. The floor price, set at 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, would only apply to the 29.5 megawatts of community solar awarded in 2015.
In a press release, regulators said the 3-cent floor price (versus the negative REC values) would force ratepayers to pay more for the solar capacity than they need to. Solar installers and Xcel argue that without a floor price, the program ends up only serving large, high-energy-use customers.
Separately, the PUC gave Xcel Energy approval this month to test two large batteries to store solar power in the Denver area, the Denver Business Journal reports. The decision allows Xcel to spend $9.1 million on two projects.
Utah lawmakers passed a major piece of energy legislation in March that introduces several new clean energy programs and restructures how utility Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) recovers costs.
Among its provisions, the Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan (STEP) authorizes RMP to spend up to $2 million per year on electric-vehicle infrastructure and an average of $1 million per year on clean coal technology. The utility will also spend $3.4 million on various innovation programs, including a battery storage project, a solar generation incentive, an economic development incentive and a program to curb emissions from a natural gas plant.
While the bill offers to boost Utah’s clean energy initiatives, clean energy advocates say they have “mixed feelings” about the bill, which includes an accounting change that could help keep aging coal plants open. Solar advocates also opposed the decision to end a solar incentive a year early. (More here.)
Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Projects (MnSEIP), a sister organization of MN SEIA, has filed two complaints with the state PUC (16-240 and 16-241) -- one against Meeker Cooperative Light and Power Association and one against the Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative. MnSEIP claims Meeker is imposing a distributed generation surcharge against net metering customers without prior PUC approval, and without justifying the amount of the fee. Meeker is also accused of overcharging for interconnection studies and processing. The complaint against the Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative asserts that the utility is preselecting net-metering compensation credit methods for customers, violating a state law that allows customers to choose between three compensation methods and requires utilities to use a standard contract.
A bill (HB 472) has been introduced in Ohio that would revive the state’s stalled energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standard. The bill would require 12.5 percent renewables and 0.5 percent solar by 2025.
Duke Energy Indiana reached a settlement earlier this month with some of the state's key consumer groups on the company's seven-year plan to modernize its aging electric grid, T&D World reports. As part of the settlement, Duke plans to reduce spending from $1.8 billion to $1.4 billion, in part by cutting spending on advanced digital meters.
Policy developments are tracked in partnership with EQ Research, which offers in-depth subscription services covering regulatory developments, legislation and general rate cases in all 50 U.S. states.