September has seen a lot of clean energy activity at all levels of policymaking, from meetings on the Exelon-Pepco merger at the Washington, D.C. Mayor’s Office to a new set of global development goals from the United Nations.
The U.S. Congress has also been busy, with Senate Democrats unveiling a sweeping climate change proposal and the House Energy and Commerce Committee passing a comprehensive energy reform bill. Congress also passed a stop-gap budget this week that will avoid a government shutdown through the end of the year. Clean energy advocates are now pushing for lawmakers to renew incentives for wind, fuel cells and solar.
Meanwhile, there have been several business, regulatory and legislative changes at the state level. More state news from the Midwest, Northeast, West and Southeast is below. (You can find our last state dispatches post here.)
Public Utility Commission staff in Ohio recommended earlier this month that regulators reject FirstEnergy’s controversial proposal (14-1297-EL-SSO) to buy all of the electricity from two of its ailing Ohio power plants, owned by the utility’s unregulated arm. FirstEnergy says the 15-year deal is necessary to maintain grid reliability and energy affordability, and estimates the proposal will save ratepayers $2 billion in the long run. Detractors say guaranteeing income for the two plants could cost ratepayers $3 billion.
Commission staff said that FirstEnergy should do a better job of spreading risk. Staff also called for an independent study of what would happen if the two plants -- a large, aging coal plant and a large, aging nuclear plant -- were closed. The commission indicated that a revised proposal could pass. Hearings will continue through September.
American Electric Power has also filed a proposal (14-1693-EL-RDR) to buy power from the utility's own power plants. In February, the PUC rejected a similar plan, but determined that such a deal could pass if found to be in ratepayers' interest. Commissioners began hearing arguments this week on AEP's proposal. According to the Sierra Club, the plan could cost ratepayers $2.5 billion through 2024, Columbus Business First reports.
The future of Ohio’s clean energy targets is also in limbo. The General Assembly's Energy Mandates Study Committee is expected to recommend extending a two-year freeze on the renewable energy goals. Advocates are now calling on Gov. John Kasich to reject the recommendations. Kasich recently said, through a spokesperson, that an indefinite freeze on the RPS could be "unacceptable," the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum reports.
Also in Ohio, S&C was recently awarded a new project by Half Moon Ventures to supply and build a 7-megawatt energy storage facility -- one of the largest in the state. The project will be able to participate in PJM’s frequency regulation market, and will help to offset the cost of grid upgrades.
Last year, Indiana lawmakers voted to eliminate the state’s Energy Efficiency Resource Standard and defund the Energizing Indiana program, which came to a close in December 2014. In May, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a new law (SB 412) that allows utilities in the state to set their own energy-efficiency targets.
Duke Energy Indiana and Northern Indiana Public Service Company filed their efficiency targets for 2016-2018 this month, which advocates have complained are far lower than they would have been under the mandate, Midwest Energy News reports. For example, NIPSCO proposed saving 114 gigawatt-hours in 2018, which is well below the original 339 gigawatt-hour mandate. The watchdog group Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana (CAC) alleges utilities could also be overcharging customers for their plans.
CAC and the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, a watchdog group, are now calling on the PUC to reject the utilities’ proposals. Hearings for Duke and NIPSCO are set to begin on Oct. 13 and Oct. 20, respectively, with final orders expected by the end of the year.
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers in Michigan introduced a package of bills earlier this month designed to remove barriers to renewable energy production, including raising the state’s net-metering cap and introducing a community solar program.
A separate bill (SB 438) would eliminate net metering in Michigan. The bill would also lower net metering credits to be closer to wholesale electricity rates. These bills have fueled debates over the value of solar, which could continue through the end of the year. The Michigan state legislature's current session is scheduled to end December 31.
Minnesota lawmakers are debating what to do with the state's largest and most polluting coal plant as it prepares to comply with the EPA Clean Power Plan, Midwest Energy News reports. The Legislative Energy Commission held a hearing last week to hear public comments on the rule. Representatives from Great River Energy, Otter Tail Power and Minnesota Power said the plan would likely cause rates to increase by forcing power companies to retire coal plants early in favor of renewable power. Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, did not weigh in at last week’s hearing because it is still reviewing the Clean Power Plan.
Meanwhile, Minnesota regulators determined that People's Energy Cooperative broke commission rules by establishing a $5 per month net-metering fee. People's Energy must refund all distributed-energy customers for all fees collected. According to EQ Research, the commission has also directed its staff to open a docket where all types of utilities -- IOUs, cooperatives and municipals -- must report net-metering charge information.
Massachusetts lawmakers held a hearing on Tuesday to discuss a suite of energy bills, including pending legislation to raise the state’s net metering cap. According to solar advocates, roughly half of the cities and towns in Massachusetts have already reached their limit.
Governor Charlie Baker testified on two pieces of legislation this week, one of which (H3724) would raise the net-metering caps until the state reaches its target of 1,600 megawatts of installed solar. Baker also testified in support of long-term utility contracts for offshore wind and hydropower projects.
The solar industry is supportive of Baker’s net-metering bill, but says it falls short of giving the industry long-term security. After the state hits the 1,600-megawatt target, Baker has proposed reducing the net-metering credit for commercial and industrial, and virtual net-metered projects from the retail rate to the wholesale rate. Historically, the vast majority of solar projects installed in Massachusetts have been commercial-sized, virtual-net-metered systems. Residential projects would not be affected by the legislation.
Fred Zalcman, managing director of government affairs for the Northeast states at SunEdison, told GTM that Baker’s proposal “would render the vast majority of solar projects in the pipeline economically unviable.” While the exact date is unknown, Massachusetts could hit the 1,600-megawatt target by the end of next year, he said.
The Massachusetts Senate has already passed legislation to lift the net-metering caps. Both Senate President Stan Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo have said they want to pass a solar bill, the AP reports. Massachusetts’ two biggest utilities, National Grid and Eversource, oppose raising the caps.
The New Hampshire PUC has opened a docket (IR-15-296) to address grid modernization stemming from legislation (HB 614) signed into law in July. Initial comments were accepted until Sept. 17. The comments will inform PUC staff as they write recommendations that will shape the state’s future energy landscape, the Concord Monitor reports. The PUC is looking to conduct a broad investigation of the electric system, including the integration of distributed energy resources, demand response, microgrids and utility rate structures.
Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced $175 million in awards for five large-scale clean energy projects in New York state: a wind farm, a biogas-to-power facility, a fuel-cell project and two hydropower projects.
These projects will add approximately 116 megawatts of new renewable capacity to the New York grid, which will generate about 356,000 megawatt-hours of clean renewable energy per year, which is enough energy to serve more than 54,000 average-sized homes per year.
In addition, New York City launched the NYC Retrofit Accelerator this week, a first-of-its-kind service that will “provide free technical assistance and advisory services for building owners to go green through critical energy efficiency, water conservation, and clean energy upgrades.”
Vermont's Public Service Department has issued a draft of its Comprehensive Energy Plan, which reaffirms the state's goal to get 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. The report also recommends that stakeholders design and implement a financially sustainable net metering program. The PSD will hold public meetings on the plan throughout October. Comments on the plan are due by November 9. Vermont last updated the CEP in 2011.
Exelon filed a petition with the D.C. Public Service Commission on Monday, asking regulators to reconsider Exelon’s $6.8 billion takeover of Pepco Holdings. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office confirmed it is working with both companies on a settlement agreement.
The 43-page appeal primarily takes issue with the PSC’s determination that the merger is not in the public interest. Exelon insists that the deal will unlock millions of dollars in energy savings, enhance reliability, create job growth in the District, and ensure Pepco advances on its sustainability goals, among other positive outcomes.
“We remain convinced our merger offers significant benefits to customers and the District, and we continue working to complete it,” said Chris Crane, president and CEO of Exelon. “Since the Public Service Commission explained why it didn’t approve the merger last month, we’ve worked to learn what’s most important to the District -- and we are responding.”
“The PSC unanimously rejected Exelon’s attempt to buy Pepco in August for a very simple reason: the merger is not in the public interest. Nothing Exelon said today will change that fact,” said the opposition group Power DC, in a statement. “Exelon’s business model is fundamentally at odds with the District’s ability to control its own power supply.”
Separate from the merger, the D.C. PUC has opened a docket (FC1130) "to identify technologies and policies that can modernize our energy delivery system for increased sustainability and will make our system more reliable, efficient, cost-effective and interactive." The first workshop on the proceeding was Oct. 1.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued a final permit for an 80-megawatt solar farm developed in a partnership between Community Energy and Amazon Web Services. Once built, the project will be the largest solar facility in the Mid-Atlantic, and is expected to help drive greater clean energy investments in Virginia.
A poll released this week by the Florida Chamber of Commerce finds that 76 percent of Florida voters support the “Smart Solar Amendment,” an amendment put forward by a lobby group that opposes third-party solar leasing in the state. According to the group, Consumers for Smart Solar, the poll shows that only 41 percent of Florida voters support an amendment in favor of third-party leasing put forward by Floridians for Solar Choice, while 35 percent oppose it.
The debate over third-party financing in Florida has intensified in recent weeks, as both groups gain momentum. Utilities in the state, which are the only entities currently allowed to sell electricity to consumers, have filed a brief opposing the amendment from Floridians for Solar Choice.
Georgia Power’s unregulated subsidiary has made its first sale under its new rooftop solar program, Ervan Hancock recently told GTM. The utility has received thousands of inquiries to date via its new online solar platform. The program was enabled by legislation passed earlier this year that allows third parties to sell solar directly to customers.
In recent weeks, the Georgia Power’s parent company, Southern Co., announced it is partnering with the Electric Power Research Institute on a 1-megawatt lithium-ion battery storage system. Separately, Georgia Power announced it is developing a closure timeline for all of its 29 coal ash ponds; the schedule will be released within the next six months.
Meanwhile, the state’s Environmental Protection Division is preparing to comply with the Clean Power Plan and will hold its first stakeholder meeting on Oct. 8.
The North Carolina General Assembly passed a budget earlier this month that did not include an extension of the state’s 35 percent solar tax credit. The credit is now slated to sunset at the end of 2015.
The decision, which was strongly criticized by clean energy advocates, comes as North Carolina hits 1 gigawatt of installed solar capacity. According to the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, the state’s solar industry accounts for more than $1.6 billion in revenue. North Carolina follows California, Arizona and New Jersey as the fourth largest solar market in the nation, and the largest in the Southeast.
On Sept. 25, Arizona Public Service submitted a filing to drop its proposed fee increase on solar residential solar customers. The utility said that complaints recently filed by solar advocates against members of the Arizona Corporation Commission were intended to disrupt the regulatory process, and had turned ratemaking into “political theater.” APS called on regulators to launch a formal investigation into the value of solar.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has appointed Paul Thomsen as director of the Nevada Office of Energy. Thomsen, who has a background working on renewable energy, takes his post on Oct. 1 as the state continues to debate the future of its net-metering policy. In August, the Nevada PUC voted to extend the state's existing solar net-metering policy through the end of year. Regulators are now required to decide on a permanent net-metering structure by December 31.
Under AB 327, California regulators have until the end of 2015 to create a “NEM 2.0” tariff that balances the needs of utilities and both solar and non-solar customers. SDG&E, Pacific Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison have filed proposals to roughly halve the compensation for net-metered solar systems starting as early as next year. Solar advocates have argued to keep net metering unchanged. The CPUC is scheduled to hold hearings on the proceeding (R1407002) starting on Oct. 5.
California has seen several other clean-energy-related developments in recent weeks:
- Shortly after the legislature passed a bill to increase California’s RPS to 50 percent by 2050, the state’s Department of General Services announced it will contract with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District for 100 percent renewable energy for California’s capitol buildings.
- SCE has filed a request for offers to acquire up to 100 megawatts of new clean power resources. SCE is also partnering with SolarCity on a $4 million pilot project to demonstrate how solar PV, batteries, controllable thermostats, and smart inverters can be deployed and aggregated to benefit customers and the electrical grid.
- In early September, the CPUC decided not to approve PG&E’s $654 million EV-charging station proposal.
The city of Boulder presented the Colorado PUC with several alternative ways to transition to a municipal utility this month, BizWest reports. The latest filing came in response to the PUC staff’s recommendation to reject the city’s original application, which sought to simply seize assets from Xcel Energy to create the municipal utility.
Oregon has opened a docket (UM 1751) to develop energy storage guidelines by January 1, 2017, in accordance with legislation (HB 2193) passed in June. The PUC has yet to schedule hearings. Also, on Sept. 18, PUC staff issued their Design Recommendations for a proceeding (UM 1746) on community solar. One of the specifications is that the systems be non-utility-owned. A final report is due to the legislature by November 1.
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.