At the heart of every major transformation are the people carving the new path forward. The same goes for the transition currently occurring in our electricity system, which is moving away from traditional monopoly utilities relying on coal, to a world with distributed energy generation (like rooftop solar),new technology, and disruptive market entrants.
But just who are these trailblazers and how do we identify them? Earlier this year, energy-centric outlet Midwest Energy News set out to do just that for seven states. It launched a call for nominations to recognize “emerging leaders throughout the region and their work to accelerate America’s transition to a clean energy economy” for its 40 Under 40 awards.
Recently, Midwest Energy News announced the winners, who come from a variety of sectors including industry, government, regulatory, business, academic, and advocacy. Environmental Defense Fund is proud to say the group includes Andrew Barbeau, our senior clean energy consultant leading efforts like our demand response collaboration in Illinois. Read More
The list of things FirstEnergy isn’t good at continues to grow. First it was transparency. Then accuracy. Now it’s time to add consistency to the list.
You’ll recall that Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy is asking the Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to grant it a $3-billion bailout in order to keep operating uneconomic power plants. Years earlier, FirstEnergy spoke out in favor of deregulation – and the competition it enabled – and against government support. But the bailout request represents a complete reversal for the utility giant.
De-regulate, no, re-regulate
Back in 2007, FirstEnergy’s CEO regaled about the wonders of deregulation and competition. In testimony before the Ohio legislature, he declared,
Competition drives innovation, a desire to succeed, efforts to improve productivity, and lower prices. This basic reality applies to today’s electricity markets – and it should remain a driving force for our business and industry in the years ahead.”
Maybe he didn’t mean the eight years between his testimony and the company’s current efforts to restrict competition. Read More
One million is a big number, but that’s the goal for getting smart thermostats into Northern Illinois homes. In partnership with environmental and consumer groups, Chicago-based electric and gas companies this week agreed to offer rebates that will cut an intelligent monitor’s cost in half, helping empower people to reduce both their energy bills and pollution.
This smart-thermostat initiative is the nation’s largest and makes devices eligible for up to $120 in rebates (on average, a smart thermostat will run you about $250). The partnership between the utilities and advocacy groups expects the financing will lead to the installation of one million smart thermostats across Northern Illinois over the next five years.
A diverse group announced the program this week: Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), Nicor Gas, Peoples Gas, North Shore Gas, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Illinois consumer advocacy group Citizens Utility Board, Illinois Commerce Commission, and smart thermostat manufacturers, ecobee and Nest. Read More
Nobody can predict the future. But from markets to sports, so much of our world is focused on speculation. Ohio-based FirstEnergy has a habit of missing market predictions in spectacular fashion, often because the numbers it advances “prove” the political point that would most benefit the utility’s bottom line.
Consider the case of Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce mercury and particulate emissions from power plants. FirstEnergy wanted to kill the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) and argued the recommended rules would cost it some $3 billion to comply. That predicted cost came in the third quarter of 2011, before the EPA standard was finalized. A year later, after the final rule was released, FirstEnergy cut its estimate nearly in half, to $1.7 billion. A year later the number was down to $465 million, and by 2015 the company admitted it needed to spend only $370 million to comply with MATS.
FirstEnergy’s forecasting “prowess” also extends to its bailout request now before the Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO). According to Cathy Kunkel with the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis (IEEFA), “FirstEnergy needs to show PUCO that wholesale market prices are likely to rise steeply so that ratepayers will benefit from the new contract it seeks.”
At FirstEnergy, too much is never enough.
According to one Wall Street analyst, the Ohio-based utility “benefitted substantially” from recent auctions by PJM, the electric grid manager in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. In fact, it appears the company’s bounty for the next two years is $435 million more than it was projected to earn.
This is a direct result of FirstEnergy and other utilities’ successful efforts earlier this year to convince PJM to change how its electricity auctions were structured.
After the Polar Vortex of 2014, when many power plants shut down because they couldn’t obtain fuel over frozen pipelines or highways, the utilities argued PJM should provide higher payments for power plants that could provide reliable electricity in winter months as well as in the summer when air conditioning demands are high. The change, of course, would provide more revenue to coal-fired and nuclear-fired units that tend to run consistently, including FirstEnergy’s old and inefficient power plants.
You might think FirstEnergy would celebrate its success in redesigned power markets. But you would be wrong. Despite the auction windfall, the company maintains it still needs the Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to approve a $3 billion bailout from Ohio customers to keep its inefficient, dirty power plants running. Fortunately, it appears the PUCO staff has seen right through this request. Read More
After a long summer and several delays, the Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is scheduled to begin hearing FirstEnergy’s plea for subsidies today. Over the past few months, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and other stakeholders have hit the streets, airways, and internet to explain the company’s proposal. Thankfully for you, we’ve summarized the high-points of all this analysis in an easy-to-read outline. Here are the basics:
What is First Energy requesting?
- FirstEnergy is asking PUCO to approve non-competitive purchase agreements that would enable the utility’s distributors to buy power at above-market prices from FirstEnergy’s subsidiary power plants. August 31 marks the beginning of testimony and cross examination of FirstEnergy executives, as well as diverse stakeholders, including EDF. This process may take up to seven weeks.
- FirstEnergy is seeking subsidies for the 52-year-old Sammis coal-fired plant; two 60-year-old coal-fired power plants (Kyger Creek in Cheshire, Ohio, and Clifty Creek in Madison, Indiana); the Davis-Bessie nuclear plant, which is two years from the expiration of its 40-year license; and for the utility’s share of the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation. The subsidies essentially shift the financial risk of these older and more expensive generators from FirstEnergy’s shareholders to its customers, who would fund the proposal through fees and higher rates.