Author Archives: John Finnigan

Utilities’ Rate Designs Can Help or Harm Solar Adoption

Solar_panels_on_house_roof_winter_viewA recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) concludes that the way a utility charges customers can greatly influence whether they will install solar panels. It is a timely analysis because utilities across the country are redesigning their rate structures to accommodate our changing electricity system, which is becoming cleaner and more efficient than ever before.

What’s unfortunate is that some utilities are intentionally trying to destroy customers’ incentive to install solar panels. Why? Because rooftop solar reduces shareholder profits and revenue for utilities.

Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), a solar industry trade group, reports that in 2014, residential customers installed solar panels at an astounding 36 percent growth rate compared to 2013. But the LBNL study says the rate design changes now being proposed by utilities across the country could slash solar panel growth up to 60 percent. Clearly, poorly designed rate changes could devastate the potential for solar panels to help transform the electricity sector. Regulators should not let this happen.

Utilities have the opportunity to change their rate design to provide incentives for more solar adoption while also recouping investments and properly balancing their books. Read More »

Posted in Electricity Pricing, Solar Energy, Utility Business Models| Comments are closed

Another Ohio Utility Seeks a Bailout When It Should be Upgrading the Grid

coal smoke morguefileFirstEnergy isn’t the only utility trying to stick Ohioans with the cost of its poor business decisions.

AEP Ohio has also presented a similar proposal to bail out several old, uneconomic coal plants, asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to guarantee the purchase of power produced by its coal plants. The utility tried the same tactic earlier this year and failed, but is now back with an updated proposal. Last week, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed testimony opposing the deal and recommended that AEP Ohio should invest in grid upgrades if the PUCO decides to approve AEP Ohio’s proposal.

Ohio has a competitive retail electric market, meaning customers can buy electricity from many different sellers. But utilities still have a monopoly when it comes to service territories. So if you live in AEP Ohio’s territory, the company will deliver your electricity – even if you purchase it from a different provider. Since AEP Ohio’s bailout proposal applies to its entire service area, essentially the utility wants to force all of those customers to pay for its coal plants, including those who don’t buy their electricity from AEP Ohio. Read More »

Posted in Ohio| Tagged , , , , | Comments are closed

Ohio’s FirstEnergy Buys Customers’ Electricity Using a No-Bid, Self-Dealing Contract…It’s Déjà vu all over again

CaptureitIn a long-awaited hearing which began last week, Ohio’s largest utility is seeking approval for a rate hike of $3 billion. FirstEnegy is asking the Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) to force customers to pay for its old, dirty, uneconomic coal plants and a nearly-expired nuclear plant.

Although there are many reasons to oppose the bailout proposal, one key objection is that FirstEnergy’s sister company – FirstEnergy Solutions – owns these power plants. Rather than undertaking a competitive bid to find the best deal and most affordable prices available, FirstEnergy agreed to buy the power from FirstEnergy Solutions. Imagine if the owner of your company forced you and every employee to buy expensive health insurance from their cousin, even though you could easily get a better price if you shopped around.

If this sounds bad, it gets worse – this isn’t the first time FirstEnergy has tried this tactic. The utility did the same thing in 2013, and the PUCO slammed FirstEnergy for doing so. This is just a case of déjà vu all over again, and FirstEnergy should expect the same result. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Ohio| Comments are closed

Finding a Balanced Solar Policy in Kansas

Black_&_White_Handshake_-_Still_from_the_film_Colour_Blind_(2009)How does a utility company structure charges for the electricity it sells? That depends on where you live, and across the country, utilities are filing for rate increases with state agencies and commissions. The utility’s charges may be some combination of a fixed monthly fee, a fee based on the volume of electricity used, and a fee connected to the customer’s peak energy use.

Westar Energy in Kansas is one example of a utility company filing for rate increases. The company recently asked the Kansas Corporation Commission for permission to increase the fixed monthly charge for residential customers. That’s not unusual in itself, but the amount of the fixed charge increase was shocking.

Westar also proposed a special rate structure squarely aimed at residential customers with solar panels, essentially penalizing them for using clean energy and discouraging more people from installing solar panels.

Environmental Defense Fund disagreed with Westar’s approach, and we filed expert testimony with Kansas regulators explaining why. Westar finally reached a settlement with the other stakeholders – and our recommendations were instrumental in eliminating the utility’s proposal to impose discriminatory rates on solar customers. Last week the Commission issued the order to approve the settlement. Read More »

Posted in Electricity Pricing, General, Smart Grid| Tagged , , , | Read 1 Response

What do the New Apple Watch and Home Energy Monitors have in Common?

apple watch lwyang flickrThe new Apple Watch, which went on sale last Friday, is attracting huge attention. Among many other features, the watch will monitor your health by tracking fitness and activity, like the Fitbit. In its first day on the market, nearly one million were sold.

The popularity of this wearable device speaks to a larger trend happening in technology that one might call “life tracking”: the ability to track, analyze, and hone your personal activities through the use of connected devices. From fitness to finance, technology like the Apple Watch is enabling more choice and efficiency than ever before. And, just as fitness wearables monitor our personal activity, other devices can monitor our home energy activity – leading to an array of cost-saving and environmental benefits.

Home energy monitors

The Nest thermostat is one of the most well-known home energy monitors. It learns how you like to set your home temperature, and then automatically programs itself to follow your patterns.

For example, if you work an office job and are away from home nine to ten hours a day, the Nest thermostat may cycle the air conditioner down to increase the home temperature a couple of degrees during the day while you’re gone, and then automatically reduce the temperature an hour or so before you return to re-establish your preferred home temperature. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Demand Response, Electricity Pricing, Smart Grid| Tagged | Comments are closed

Ohio Electricity Regulators Reject Bailout for Uneconomic Power Plants

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOhio’s clean energy economy celebrated a big win this week. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) denied American Electric Power Company’s (AEP) request for guaranteed profits to operate its aging, uneconomic coal power plants. EDF, along with many other parties, opposed AEP’s proposal.

EDF applauds the Commission for recognizing AEP’s proposal would not benefit Ohio residents and businesses. These old coal plants cost more to operate than the value of power they generate. Plus, they produce harmful greenhouse gas emissions which, if the plants continue to operate, would make it more difficult for Ohio to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan, which would set the first-ever limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants.

The Public Utilities Commission’s decision sends a clear message: power companies can no longer rest on their laurels. Clean energy businesses, entrepreneurs, investors, and Ohioans are ready for a new era – one in which utility profits are not placed ahead of Ohio’s best interests.

With gas prices low, an increased use of renewable energy, and weak demand resulting from customer energy efficiency improvements, some utilities like AEP are now burdened by their heavy reliance on coal – and looking to their customers to bail out their uneconomic power plants. Thankfully, yesterday’s decision assures that the market will remain competitive, giving clean energy resources an equal opportunity to compete with legacy fossil fuel plants. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Ohio| Tagged | Read 1 Response
  • Senior Regulatory Attorney
    John Finnigan is the senior regulatory attorney for EDF’s US Climate and Energy Program, representing EDF before state public utility commissions on smart grid deployments and energy efficiency matters.

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