Utilities across the country offer energy efficiency programs, many of which obtain good results simply by replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). In Pennsylvania, however, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and other environmental groups are going further by seeking more comprehensive and longer-term efficiency measures.
Compared with neighboring states, Pennsylvania’s efficiency programs tilt heavily – 65 percent – toward the residential sector. Since residents account for only 37 percent of the state’s total electricity, environmental groups see substantial efficiency opportunities exist in the commercial and industrial (C&I) sectors. Read More
FirstEnergy, the giant Ohio-based company that owns power plants and transmission lines in several midwestern and northeastern states, is ready to raise electricity prices for its customers. This is in part because three of its oldest coal-fired power plants are set to close, but also because of a few bad business bets.
Though finally shuttered this week, the three plant closures were announced in January 2012 so FirstEnergy could take advantage of a power auction planned by PJM Interconnection, the power grid operator in the Mid-Atlantic region. That auction determines the most efficient power plants to serve this region for the next three years.
By taking these old and dirty units out of the auction, FirstEnergy was able to push up prices for its other power plants.
At the time, environmentalists argued FirstEnergy should account for the efficiency gains that would result from state-mandated programs. Lower demand for electricity caused by efficiency improvements would have reduced the auction price for power. Although such energy efficiency is typically “bid” into PJM auctions in the same way coal or nuclear energy is, FirstEnergy refused. Read More
Source: via Wikimedia Commons
Microgrids are getting a lot of attention. Yet how they’re developed could dramatically alter today’s electricity system.
At the most obvious level, microgrids could disrupt today’s utilities and their regulated-monopoly business model, because they challenge the centralized paradigm. In a nutshell, microgrids are localized power grids that have the ability to disconnect from the main, centralized grid to operate independently when the main power grid experiences disturbances. This significantly boosts grid resilience. For almost a century, large centralized power plants have generated electricity and delivered that energy over high-voltage transmission lines to customers. But with microgrids, all that could change.
Less obviously, microgrids challenge the basic assumption that the power grid must be controlled by a monopoly electric utility. Multiple microgrids on the south side of Chicago, for example, could be owned by different entities (not just a utility or even a platform provider, which would provide an exchange between customers and distributed energy generators) with contract arrangements among them controlling the sharing of power. Put another way, microgrids open the distribution system to some level of competition and, thereby, engage entrepreneurs and advance innovation. Read More
$5 billion is a lot of money, yet that’s the difference in cost estimates between an Ohio-based, consumer advocacy group and FirstEnergy for the utility’s proposed bailout plan.
FirstEnergy, the giant Akron-based company that owns power plants and transmission lines in several midwestern and northeastern states, calculates its proposed plan to raise electricity rates will eventually save Ohio customers $2 billion. The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, in contrast, estimates the subsidies will cost Ohioans $3 billion.
To appreciate the differences, consider a little history.
Several years ago, FirstEnergy thought it could profit in emerging regional electricity markets, so it convinced regulators to allow it to set up a separate subsidiary that would generate and sell electricity. That unit was to be independent from another subsidiary company, which managed the power wires and delivered power to customers. This partial step toward free markets, however, didn’t work out too well for FirstEnergy. Now, it’s asking regulators to abandon competition. Read More
America’s electricity landscape is changing dramatically. Clean energy resources like solar and wind are becoming cost competitive with conventional coal, global corporations like Walmart, Google, and Facebook are pressuring utilities to increase their share of renewables, and the cost of investing in energy efficiency measures is now under half the cost of building dirty, coal-fired power plants.
While some in the utility industry are adapting their business models to accommodate these changes, others are fighting it. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Ohio, where Akron-based power company, FirstEnergy, recently gained regulatory approval to abandon its energy efficiency programs. While this move is expected to raise electricity rates for FirstEnergy customers and increase harmful emissions from the coal-fired power plants that will be needed to “fill the gap” of previously offset energy demand, FirstEnergy has much more in store for the Buckeye State. In fact, they are waging an all-out war on clean energy in a last-ditch effort to protect their inefficient, polluting, and unprofitable fleet of coal-fired power plants. Read More
In Dublin, Ohio, the Community Recreation Center decided to reduce its energy waste. Rather than rely on an electric utility to burn more coal or natural gas to provide electricity, as well as its own boilers to burn more fuel to provide heat, the facility decided to install a combined heat and power (CHP) unit.
The CHP or “cogeneration” project produces both electricity – allowing the Center to keep its lights on during power outages – and heat – keeping offices and swimming pools warm. The CHP unit is financed with private capital and will allow the Center to save roughly 10 percent on its energy bills.
“It’s pretty simple,” said Patrick Smith, a co-developer of the Dublin project. “It’s a generator, and we happen to capture the heat.”
Technology of the past…
Cogeneration is not a new concept or technology. In fact, Thomas Edison’s first power plants sold both heat and electricity to nearby buildings and factories. Yet to electrify America quickly in the early 20th century, policymakers and power companies created monopoly electric utilities that were protected from competition and guaranteed profits based on how much money they spent. As a result, for many decades, utilities favored larger and larger power plants that were placed far away from the buildings and factories that could have used their wasted heat. Read More