Author Archives: John Finnigan

Indiana Governor’s Inaction Results in First Rollback of Energy Efficiency Standards in the Nation

Indiana State Capitol, Source: David Schwen

Indiana State Capitol, Source: David Schwen

At the end of March, the Indiana legislature passed a bill repealing the state’s energy efficiency standard, becoming the first state in the nation to roll back its energy savings goals. Governor Mike Pence could have signed the bill into law or he could have vetoed it. He did neither; instead, the bill became law because he took no action within the prescribed time period. His statement as to why he allowed the bill to become law left us scratching our heads.

Here’s what he said:

“I could not sign this bill because it does away with a worthwhile energy efficiency program developed by the prior administration. I could not veto this bill because doing so would increase the cost of utilities for Hoosier ratepayers and make Indiana less competitive by denying relief to large electricity consumers, including our state’s manufacturing base.” Read More »

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Roberto Rocks the House (and the Senate Too): Why Protecting Ohio’s Clean Energy Standards is Imperative

Source: American Insurance Association

Source: American Insurance Association Flickr

Cheryl Roberto, Associate Vice President and leader of EDF’s Clean Energy Program, recently testified before the Ohio Senate Public Utilities Committee against S.B. 310, which would freeze Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards at current levels. Sen. William Seitz, the Committee Chair, described her testimony as “passionate,” “very persuasive” and “thought provoking.”

Roberto described how the electric grid has changed. The old model, in effect for the past hundred years, relies on one-way power flows from large, centralized utility power plants, with limited customer service options and limited information available to customers on their energy usage. The new model involves two-way power flows between the utility and customers who own small, on-site solar, wind, and combined heat and power units. Customers receive detailed, real-time energy usage and price information. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency, Ohio, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Utility Business Models | Tagged | 5 Responses

Changing Times for Electric Utilities

Source: Edison International

Source: Edison International

Two seemingly unrelated announcements drew much attention in the electric utility industry recently. First, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) (the trade group for the U.S. electric utility industry) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) jointly recommended changing how utilities should be regulated. Second, Duke Energy announced it will sell 13 Midwest merchant power plants. These announcements are actually related because they both result from the same dramatic changes affecting the electric utility industry. As Bob Dylan aptly noted, “the times they are a-changin’.” Regulators and other stakeholders must be prepared to address these changes.

Under the traditional business model, electricity usage grew steadily. Utilities built ever-larger plants to serve this growing load. The bigger plants were more efficient than existing plants, so the unit cost for electricity steadily declined. Utilities benefited by steadily increasing their revenues. Customers benefited from declining unit costs. For utility customers, it was like paying a lower price per gallon of gasoline every time you filled your tank.

But this traditional model is crumbling, due to several factors: Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Demand Response, Dynamic Pricing, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Utility Business Models | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Smart Planning for a Successful Smart Grid Roll-Out

John Finnigan PhotoBen Franklin famously said, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”  This saying certainly holds true for smart grid deployment plans, which can cost utilities several hundred million dollars.  Given these high stakes, good planning is essential.

Many utilities have installed smart grids.  Currently, 25% of U.S. electricity customers have smart meters, a key component of the smart grid.  Some early deployments were rocky, but utilities have learned their lessons.  Utilities have incorporated these lessons learned in the planning process for more recent smart grid deployments.  A well-thought-out smart grid deployment plan should address the following topics: Read More »

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The Arizona Public Service Ruling on Solar: Here’s Why it’s Win-Win

John Finnigan Photo

This commentary originally appeared on EDF Voices blog.

Rooftop solar owners in Arizona will pay higher costs for utility service under a new decision by state regulators, but the increase was much lower than the amount sought by Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility company. Both sides claimed victory. The case is part of a growing trend of more states reviewing these charges.

What is net metering?

The case involves a practice known as “net metering” where the utility pays rooftop solar owners for the excess energy the rooftop solar panels send back to the grid. Most states allow net metering.  In many states, the utility company pays rooftop solar owners the full price the utility charges for power it delivers to customers. Utility companies claim this price is higher than their actual cost to produce electricity. The rooftop solar industry claims that raising costs would crush a new industry that provides cheap, clean energy and fails to recognize the benefits provided by rooftop solar.

Regulators must find the right balance between utilities and the rooftop solar industry by allowing utilities the opportunity to recover all their costs while ensuring that rooftop solar owners receive full credit for the benefits they provide to the electric distribution system.

Read More »

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EDF Steps Up to Protect Ohio’s Clean Energy Standards

John Finnigan PhotoOhio’s clean energy standards have helped jumpstart an industry that is spurring economic development, creating jobs, boosting energy independence and cutting the state’s carbon footprint.  Recently, these standards have come under attack and EDF’s own Cheryl Roberto, Associate Vice President of Smart Power, stepped up to defend them by testifying before the Ohio Senate Public Utilities Commission on Senate Bill 58 (S.B. 58).  As a former Ohio Public Utility Commissioner herself, Roberto made it clear that S.B. 58 would destroy Ohio’s clean energy standards and unjustly enrich the state’s electric utilities.

Ohio adopted clean energy standards in 2008, and is one of 29 states with a renewable energy standard and one of 25 states with an energy efficiency standard.  Based on these standards, Ohio will acquire 12.5% of its power by renewable energy and will reduce its energy use by 22% by 2025.  The energy efficiency standard has allowed Ohio to reduce its energy use by over 3%, and the renewable energy standard has already added 466 mw of wind energy in the state, enough to power 466,000 homes.  Ohio is now ranked fourth in the nation for wind energy jobs, with over 5,000 direct and indirect jobs supported by the industry.

Credit: Julia Collins

Credit: Julia Collins

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group of conservative state legislators, is leading a nationwide effort to repeal state clean energy standards, including S.B. 58 in Ohio.  ALEC has previously supported controversial “stand your ground” laws as well as laws classifying environmental civil disobedience as terrorism.  To date, ALEC has failed to repeal clean energy standards in any state.  Read More »

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The U.S. Power Grid’s Cyber War Games

In the 1983 thriller WarGames, Matthew Broderick plays a teen-age computer geek who unknowingly signs onto a Pentagon computer while hacking into a toy company’s new computer game. Thinking that he’s simply playing a game called Global Thermonuclear Warfare, Broderick launches the game and nearly starts a nuclear war.  The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) will hold its own war game next month with a simulated attack on the U.S. power grid.

The drill, called GridEx II, will take place on November 13-14 of this year. The participants will include 65 utilities and eight regional transmission organizations, representing most of the nation’s electricity customers.  The drill will test how well the electric utility industry and the grid itself respond to physical and cyber attacks.

A NERC Critical Infrastructure Protection Committee (CIPC) working group will begin the drill by sending participants a series of simulated physical and cyber attacks, climaxing in a national security emergency.  Participants will then respond and interact with each other, just as they would in a real emergency.  The simulation will last 36 hours, and the CIPC working group will evaluate the participants’ responses and provide feedback on how their actions impact the ongoing scenario.  After the drill, the working group will analyze the results and prepare a report on lessons learned.

Read More »

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A Smart Approach To Smart Meters

John FinniganA new documentary about smart meters opens on September 5th called Take Back Your PowerThe film suggests that smart meters cause illness.  According to an August 12 USA Today story, the film’s director was inspired by a friend who became seriously ill after a smart meter was installed at his home.  Naturally, this type of personal experience might shape one’s view on smart meters, but correlation is not causation.

Electric utilities have installed over 38 million smart meters across the country and there “has never been a documented injury or health problem associated with such meters.”  According to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), “no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses.”

Smart meters send information to utilities by using radio frequencies (RFs) such as those currently used by televisions, radios, baby monitors, cell phones and wifi routers.  RF signals have permeated our atmosphere for as long as we’ve had televisions and radios.

We use these devices every day, and many of them create much higher levels of RF exposure than smart meters.  The exposure level depends on the strength of the RF signal emitted by the device, the duration of the RF signal and—importantly— the distance from the source.  Cell phones emit up to several thousand times more RF signals than smart meters.  Smart meters also transmit intermittently and briefly during the day, while we talk on cell phones for long periods.  Finally, smart meters are located outside the home, while cell phones are often used close to one’s head.

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U.S. Electric Grid Under Cyber-Attack

John FinniganIf Ben Franklin lived today, he might say that nothing is certain but death, taxes and cyber-attacks.  Cyber-attacks occur when individuals or groups hack into another group’s computer information systems to steal, alter or damage key infrastructure.  Our nation’s electric grid is under constant attack according to a survey of electric utilities by U.S. House Representatives Henry Waxman and (now) Senator Edward Markey.  The grid was the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th Century, but cybersecurity was equally unknown to those grid engineers as it was to Ben Franklin.  We need to do more to protect our energy infrastructure.

The U.S. has finally called out China for repeated and pervasive cyber-attacks.  Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm, released an alarming report in February 2013 regarding the ongoing cyber-attacks by the Chinese army.  James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, described cyber-attacks as a soft war already underway and a dire global threat in his April 2013 World Threat Assessment to the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.  In May of this year, for the first time, the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on the Chinese military openly accused China’s military of repeated cyber-attacks on the U.S. government and defense contractors.

Cyber-attacks are underway not only by China, but also by Iran, Russia, Al-Queda, organized crime, industrial spies, ex-utility employees and rogue hackers.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigated over 200 serious cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure during the first half of 2013.  The electric grid was targeted in over half of these attacks.  At the recent Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, Cyrill Brunschwiler of Compass Security explained how the smart grid’s wireless network can be easily exploited to steal electricity and to cause massive blackouts.  Though innovation and new clean energy technologies are key to modernizing our antiquated energy system, the electric grid is more vulnerable to cyber-attacks with increased use of smartphones, tablets, mobile apps and electric vehicles to connect with our home electronic devices.  A July 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlines the various threats to the electric grid.

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Big-Box Retailers Turn To Solar, How Can Electric Utilities Adapt?

Source: Costco

The electric utility industry faces the risk of declining revenues as more customers install solar panels on their homes and businesses.  Solar power currently supplies 2% of the country’s electricity needs, and is projected to grow to 16% by 2020. In 2013, solar panel prices for commercial installations fell 15.6%, from $4.64/watt to $3.92/watt.  To protect their revenues, some utilities are raising electricity costs for solar panel owners – but with mixed results.  Credit ratings agencies are also expressing concern.  Is there real cause for alarm or are these companies crying wolf?  Judging by one customer segment – big-box retailers – the threat is real.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) ranks U.S. companies based on their solar energy capacity, and the top five companies on the list are big-box retailers:

  • Walmart tops SEIA’s list with 65,000 kW of solar power, which is enough to supply the annual energy needs of over 10,000 homes.  They recently installed ten new solar rooftop systems in Maryland, totaling more than 13,000 panels.  Walmart is the largest retailer in the U.S. and in the world by revenue, with 4,423 U.S. stores and over 10,000 stores worldwide. Walmart and EDF have been working together since 2004 to reduce the Walmart’s environmental footprint.  With more than 200 solar installations across the country, Walmart plans to have 1,000 solar installations by 2020.  Walmart’s goal is to eventually supply 100% of its energy needs with renewable energy.

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