Energy Exchange

FERC approves pipeline despite concern over controversial business arrangement

Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the proposed Spire STL Pipeline. Blessings for the controversial 66-mile project come even though St. Louis already enjoys excess capacity from other pipelines, and despite the fact that the only customer of the pipeline, Spire Missouri, does not actually have any growth in customer demand. It is estimated that the project will cost ratepayers $30 million annually over the next twenty years.

The proceeding reveals much about how the agency assesses the legally-required “market need” for new pipelines when both buyer and seller in the contract used to demonstrate that market need are two different arms of the same company. These so-called affiliate transactions are a growing trend as retail gas utilities seek new revenue to offset stagnating demand.

The risk with these types of transactions is that we could end up with expensive new pipelines that aren’t needed. What’s more, these deals are specifically engineered to shift financial responsibility for these costly projects away from private shareholders and onto retail ratepayers (i.e., the public). They can also lock utility customers into decades-long gas contracts at precisely the time when competitive alternatives – from renewables to energy storage – are transforming the market. Spire presents a textbook example of these concerns.

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Posted in Natural Gas, Utility Business Models / Comments are closed

Resilience proceeding gives FERC a chance to advance gas-electric coordination

Last September, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) started a conversation on resilience, asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to provide new revenues and guaranteed profits to the owners of old, inefficient coal and nuclear power plants to compensate these resources for certain reliability and (undefined) resilience attributes.

FERC swiftly disposed of that proposal in a January 8 order, finding that it was not warranted and would run counter to its pro-market regulatory model. FERC then asked all of the Regional Transmission Operators (RTOs) and Independent System Operators (ISOs) to explain how they are evaluating and addressing resilience within their respective markets.

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Posted in Gas to Clean, Grid Modernization, Natural Gas, Regional Grid / Comments are closed

DOE’s compensation scheme for coal and nuclear is dead – Now what?

In a January 8 Order, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) swiftly dismissed the Department of Energy’s (DOE) proposed out-of-market compensation scheme for coal and nuclear units.  DOE’s proposal would have provided guaranteed profits to coal and nuclear plants, despite the fact that these aging units are losing out to more efficient and affordable resources.  Instead, FERC took a more measured approach, asking all regional market operators to submit additional information on resiliency issues within 60 days, and providing interested parties an opportunity to respond to those submittals within 30 days.  Here’s what we can expect next. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Grid Modernization, Utility Business Models / Comments are closed

Stopping the self-deal: Preventing pipeline investors from offloading risk on ratepayers

A recent report published by Oil Change International highlights the failure of regulators to protect ratepayers against utility affiliate-backed contracts for new pipeline capacity -in other words, when a regulated utility acts as both the developer and customer for a new pipeline.  It’s a widespread and growing issue. Case in point: Con Ed’s investment in the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia and Virginia, hundreds of miles from Con Ed’s New York service territory.

Con Ed claims that signing up for transportation service on the pipeline will result in cost savings for customers. But the day Con Ed signed up as a pipeline customer, the company also formed a new “midstream” entity to invest in the pipeline. The new unregulated entity shares the same corporate parent as the regulated utility, but operates under significantly different rules and legal obligations. This transactional structure means that Con Ed’s ratepayers would be  on the hook for paying for the project, while Con Ed’s midstream arm will enjoy a return in excess of risk. From the company standpoint, it’s heads-I-win, tails-you-lose. Read More »

Posted in Gas to Clean, General, Natural Gas / Comments are closed

It’s time to harmonize New York’s natural gas and climate policies

New York is a national leader on energy and climate. The state’s Clean Energy Standard provides that half its electricity will come from renewables by 2030. The state has also committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new plan to reduce methane pollution directs state agencies to develop policies to inventory emissions and identify strategies to reduce them.

These are ambitious goals that require proactive, flexible policies from New York regulators. However, embedded within New York Public Service Commission precedent and policies are preferences for utility decisions weighted in favor of natural gas utilization and infrastructure. These policies risk locking in that infrastructure at the expense of alternatives.

Dusting off old policies

One such policy, in place since 1989, incentivizes utilities that expand gas service into new areas by increasing the rate of shareholder return they’re allowed to earn on these investments. Others put the finger on the scale for increased utility investment in natural gas pipelines and delivery infrastructure. Read More »

Posted in Gas to Clean, Natural Gas / Read 1 Response

Greater Flexibility, Efficiency in Gas Markets Requires New Standards

Markets for electricity and natural gas in the U.S. grew up independently of one another. The rules in one do not always align with the rules in the other, creating challenges for both operators and regulators. Cumbersome inefficiencies are becoming more evident with the rapid evolution of the electric system. With more gas-fired power plants coming online, and the growing requirement to balance intermittent renewable sources on the electric grid, there is now a pressing need to synchronize these two markets. Fixing the disconnects means the two systems need a better framework for doing business with one another. The place where the markets meet is gas generators’ use of the nation’s pipeline system.

Flexibility is Key

Pipelines primarily make money by selling firm (i.e., premium) transportation service. This type of service places value on one thing: moving gas from point A to point B. This market design means that pipelines have no commercial incentive to provide services that are actually needed by gas generators (they get paid regardless of how the capacity is used). The fuel supply needs of gas generators vary over the course of the day and therefore require pipelines to deliver gas on a more variable basis—a “smart” service far more valuable to power generators because they are paying for what they use, rather than for pipeline capacity. Furthermore, signing up for firm service is often too expensive for gas generators who don’t need the service on every day of the year and are not guaranteed recovery of these costs in the electric markets. Read More »

Posted in Gas to Clean, General, Natural Gas / Comments are closed