The year is winding down, but there’s still plenty of ongoing energy policy action.
In a major win for the renewable energy industry, Congress passed five-year extensions for both the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and the wind Production Tax Credit (PTC) this week as part of an omnibus spending bill. The extensions were added to appease Democrats in exchange for lifting the 1975 crude oil export ban, a move championed by Republicans.
The bill now heads to the White House. While President Obama threatened to veto a standalone bill lifting the oil export ban earlier this year, he is expected to sign the broad spending package.
States have also been busy advancing energy projects and policies in recent weeks. But as the year runs out, many are looking to wrap up business in early 2016. Read our state energy news updates below. Click a region to jump to news from the West, South, Midwest or Northeast. You can read our previous state bulletin here.
Over the summer, NV Energy announced that it had reached Nevada’s 235-megawatt (or 3 percent of peak load) net metering cap. Stakeholders passed a stopgap measure in August. Now, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission has just days remaining to decide the future of the state’s net energy metering program (15-07041).
The solar industry and its supporters have been lobbying to raise the cap and keep net metering at the retail rate. NV Energy wants to reduce the credit by roughly half -- from the current 11.6 cents to 5.5 cents.
Last week, Sunrun filed a lawsuit against Governor Sandoval seeking public records related to conversations he and his staff have had with NV Energy lobbyists. Sunrun asked for a text message log in August as part of a larger Freedom of Information Act request, but has yet to receive a response. The solar company is specifically seeking communications during the 2015 legislative session, when legislators shot down a bill to increase Nevada’s net metering cap.
The PUC is expected to reach a decision on Tuesday, just ahead of its December 31 deadline.
Earlier this week, the CPUC released a proposed decision in the in the NEM 2.0 proceeding (R1407002). The proposal would keep net metering at the retail rate -- a victory for solar companies -- but it would also add charges for net-metered customers. New fees, coupled with minimum bill requirements and time-of-use rates, could hurt the value proposition for solar.
California regulators have said they will miss their year-end deadline to finalize a new net metering tariff. The CPUC is now accepting public comments on the proposal until Jan. 7 and is expected to vote on the policy before the end of next month.
Utilities have reacted negatively to the CPUC proposal so far. Pacific Gas & Electric argued that retail-rate net metering will increase bills for non-solar customers by $45 monthly by 2025, if left in place. Solar groups said the policy isn’t perfect, but support moving forward. Bryan Miller, head of policy at Sunrun, said that it’s critical for the solar industry to keep building momentum around the proposal as utilities lobby to alter it.
In addition to NEM, the CPUC is also working to restructure the state’s Self-Generation Incentive Program. On November 23, staff released their comments on modifying program goals and requirements. Responses are due by January 8, 2016, with reply comments due by January 23, 2016. A final decision is expected sometime in 2016.
Also in California, nonprofit group Earthjustice has filed an appeal of the CPUC’s decision to let SDG&E repower a natural-gas plant in Carlsbad. The gas plant, which is intended to replace generation from the retiring San Onofre Nuclear Plant, will produce over 800,000 tons of carbon per year, according to the group. Earthjustice argues that renewable energy alternatives should have been prioritized. Meanwhile, the San Diego city council voted this week to transition to 100 percent renewables by 2035.
“It’s not a partisan issue at all,” said Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer, according to The New York Times. “It’s about putting a marker down. It’s the right thing to do.”
The Arizona Corporation Commission opened a proceeding on November 18 to examine the potential cost and reliability impacts of the Clean Power Plan (E-00000J-15-0393). The ACC has yet to set a schedule.
After months of back and forth, the debate over solar rates in Arizona has been delayed until next summer, when Arizona Public Service, the state's largest utility, will file its next rate case. Tucson Electric Power filed its rate case in November. Both utilities seek to increase fees on solar customers.
Sunrun, the second-largest solar installer in the U.S., opened a new corporate office in Denver, Colorado earlier this month. The company plans to hire up to 800 workers over the next few years. Colorado's solar industry currently employs 4,200 people.
The Hawaii PUC is now accepting reply comments on HECO Companies' re-filed time-of-use tariff proposals. Some of the concepts include making the TOU rate “opt-in” and recomputing rates annually. Work will also continue into next year on Hawaii’s landmark proceeding to devise a new valuation scheme for distributed resources (2014-0192).
After five years of deliberation, the Mississippi Public Service Commission finalized its net metering rule this month. Regulators chose not to compensate solar customers at the full retail rate for electricity, however. Instead, Mississippi’s program credits customers at the wholesale electricity rate, plus 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Forty-four states currently offer net energy metering above the wholesale rate for electricity. That number briefly dropped to 43 when regulators closed Hawaii’s program this fall. Members of the solar industry are now challenging that decision.
The Georgia PUC recently opened a docket to examine the value of renewable and distributed energy resources, ahead of Georgia Power’s 2016 integrated resource plan due in January 2016 (36498). A staff report released in November called for the IRP to address a range of distributed energy and renewable energy portfolios, methods to address environmental costs, and the grid impacts of increased solar penetration, among other things.
Floridians for Solar Choice, the group championing a 2016 ballot initiative to allow for third-party-owned solar in the Sunshine State, announced this week that it is exploring options for a 2018 campaign. Although the campaign has received more than 271,000 valid signatures, organizers acknowledged that they may not get the needed signatures by the February 1 deadline to have the initiative appear on the 2016 ballot. The signatures are valid for a full 24 months from the date of signing, which means the 2018 election cycle is also an option.
The announcement comes as a rival group seeking to preserve the status quo continues to gather momentum. Consumers for Smart Solar has raised over $5.9 million since July. The group raised $2.3 million in October alone, with roughly half coming from utilities, including Florida Power and Light. Floridians for Solar Choice has raised a fraction of that amount.
“During the campaign, we have faced vicious opposition with a goal to stop the grassroots movement comprising the full political spectrum as well as the business community,” said Tory Perfetti, chair of Floridians for Solar Choice. “The monopoly utilities have succeeded in making the qualification for 2016 very difficult, but we are well-positioned for 2018.”
Consumers for Smart Solar also has backing from fossil fuel interests, which has created a rift within the politically conservative community. This week, Debbie Dooley, president of Conservatives for Energy Freedom, denounced a report by the James Madison Institute and the Heartland Institute’s James Taylor that attacks the third-party ownership initiative.
“How is it that the James Madison Institute -- which professes to support economic freedom, limited government and personal liberty -- opposes competition and props up monopoly utilities? True conservatives value free markets and competition,” Dooley said in a statement.
The Virginia State Corporation Commission is in the process of writing a new regulation that will increase the state’s commercial net metering cap to 1 megawatt from 500 kilowatts, in accordance with a law passed last year (PUE-2015-00057). The bill text restricts the capacity of net-metered projects to a customer’s “expected annual energy consumption based on the previous 12 months of billing history or an annualized calculation of billing history if 12 months of billing history is not available.” The Energy Collective reports that using historic energy consumption could be a problem if energy usage changes, citing concerns that the restriction will water down net metering.
The new regulations will be adopted before the end of the month. Utilities must file revised net metering tariffs by January 12, 2016.
Hearings continue on the proposed $6 billion Exelon-Pepco merger case (FC 1119). Four D.C. Council members sent a letter to the District’s Public Service Commission earlier this month, urging regulators to ignore a settlement agreement presented by the utilities and D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser and reject the deal. Council members argued that the agreement offers “short-term benefits that in the long term have detrimental costs.” The PSC is expected to make a final ruling on the case in 2016.
American Electric Power has reached a settlement agreement with Ohio PUC staff, the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition, and the Sierra Club that will allow its controversial power-purchase proposal to move forward, Columbus Business First reports.
The deal would guarantee income for AEP’s coal-fired power plants (a 2,671-megawatt ownership share of nine generating units and AEP’s 423-megawatt contractual share of Ohio Valley Electric Corporation generation) for the next eight years. In exchange, the utility pledged to convert three of its coal plants to natural gas by 2030 and to build out 900 megawatts of renewable energy in Ohio by 2030, including 400 megawatts of solar.
But the deal still has plenty of critics. Dick Munson at the Environmental Defense Fund said the deal would lock in pollution, raise rates for Ohioans by roughly $2 billion and give the utility monopoly control in a competitive electricity market.
A similar plan proposed by FirstEnergy has also met with strong opposition (14-1297-EL-SSO). The utility reached a compromise agreement with PUC staff earlier this month, but failed to win support from environmental and consumer groups. Both utility proposals are still subject to approval by the Ohio commissioners.
Xcel Energy’s popular (and somewhat controversial) community solar program in Minnesota is now one year old. But one year into the program, only one small 40-kilowatt community solar garden is in operation. In November, Xcel reported that 24 projects are moving to the initial stages of construction, 615 applications are in the interconnection queue, and 925 applications are still being reviewed.
Separately, Xcel Energy has proposed a program that would allow large businesses to go 100 percent renewable and buy the associated RECs (15-985). Xcel is planning to set aside 75 megawatts from a wind farm and a solar farm to meet demand. Participants would pay a slight premium for the energy, but would be locked in to 5- to 10-year contracts. Initial comments were due December 14. Reply comments are due January 13.
The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has approved another fixed-charge increase, this time allowing Xcel Energy to increase its fixed charge from $8 to $14 a month, according to Midwest Energy News. Last year the commission approved major increases in fixed-rate charges for We Energies, MG&E and Wisconsin Public Service Corporation. This trend has met with strong pushback from clean energy groups, who say that increasing fixed charges makes it less viable to install solar.
In Madison Gas & Electric’s Framework 2030 plan released last month, the utility committed to getting 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources and to reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent by 2030. The utility also promised not to seek a fixed rate increase -- which erodes the value of distributed solar and efficiency -- in its spring 2016 rate case. Clean energy advocates are calling the announcement a win, but remain skeptical, Midwest Energy News reports.
A new report from the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) found that there are more than 300 businesses in Michigan’s clean energy sector -- 187 in solar and 133 in wind. The authors chalk that up to Michigan’s 10 percent renewable energy mandate, which utilities have easily hit.
As lawmakers seek to pass comprehensive energy legislation in 2016, ELPC and others are calling for the expansion of renewable and efficiency targets, and expanded net metering. In 2015, lawmakers introduced competing bills to enhance and erode the value of NEM.
The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center announced the launch of the Mass Solar Loan this week. The $30 million program provides funding to banks and credit unions so they can offer low-interest-rate loans to Massachusetts residents and homeowners that want to directly own solar installations.
Morgan Stanley recently announced it plans to invest $100 million in a group of solar projects in Massachusetts developed by Boston-based BlueWave. The portfolio includes 14 projects, totaling 25 megawatts, which are scheduled for completion by the end of next year. This comes as Morgan Stanley prepares to wind down a group that develops solar projects in North America, as part of a plan to cut jobs in the bank’s fixed-income business.
Meanwhile, solar developers are hoping the Massachusetts state legislature will take up net metering in early 2016. Lawmakers failed to lift the state’s net-metering cap for commercial solar projects last month before the end of the legislative session. As a result, GTM Research estimates the Massachusetts solar industry could miss out on 100 megawatts' worth of development.
On the heels of establishing a new 50 percent renewable energy target, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the NY Green Bank as one of the leading founders of the first global Green Bank Network, which seeks to invest $40 billion in clean energy markets around the world.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has issued an executive order directing the state government to procure 100 percent of its energy from renewables by 2025. Procurement methods must leverage the competitive market. Raimondo also called for state agencies to lead by example on energy efficiency and emissions reduction through EV-charging and other measures. Rhode Island has an overall target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
As the United Nations climate conference was taking place earlier this month, Maryland Democratic lawmakers announced they plan to introduce legislation next year that would increase the state’s use of renewable energy, The Washington Post reports. The bill would require Maryland to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable-energy sources by 2020. The current rule calls for 20 percent by 2022. The bill would also allocate $40 million for worker training and business development.
Separately, Maryland regulators finalized a three-year community solar pilot program this week. Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) has already reported one project application. Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis announced last month that he is launching a nonprofit called Power52 to help low-income customers sign up for community solar. BGE estimates that Power52 participants can save $28 per month on their electric bills.
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.