By Bret Fanshaw, Solar Program Coordinator, Environment America
This week, Environment America Research & Policy Center is showcasing Shining Rewards, a new review of 16 value-of-solar studies from around the country. The report shows what we already know intuitively: Solar panels provide pollution-free energy that delivers far reaching benefits to people, the environment, the economy, and the electric grid.
Powering homes and businesses with rooftop solar can help communities avoid greenhouse gas emissions, reduce air pollution that’s harmful to public health, and avoid the cost of increasingly expensive fossil fuels.
In our report, we found at least 8 key benefits of rooftop solar, all of which have real value that can be measured by regulators, policymakers, and utilities as the conversation around the future of distributed energy – solutions like rooftop and community solar – evolves. Read More
For New Yorkers wanting more clean, distributed energy, the recent Con Edison rate case offers some good news.
Presented to New York’s Public Service Commission (NYPSC), which regulates utilities in the state, a rate case is a process utilities use to adjust policies and set rates charged to customers. A rate case occurs once every few years and provides an opportunity for state and local governments, along with consumer and environmental advocacy groups, to seek cleaner, cheaper, and more customer-friendly electricity.
The Con Edison rate case is considered a bellwether for similar proceedings involving electric utilities throughout New York State – which is part of why a recent filing with the NYPSC is so important. Along with more than 20 other parties (including Con Edison, the Real Estate Board of New York, the New York Energy Consumers Council, and several environmental advocacy groups), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on September 20th filed a joint proposal with NYPSC that (among other recommendations) calls for changes to the current standby tariff that are likely to be approved by the Commission. Read More
More than 1,000 people gathered in Nashville, TN this week for the summer meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). The meeting is one of three yearly where thought leaders gather to socialize the knottiest issues of the day in regulated utility industries, including telecommunications, electricity, natural gas, and water. Two electricity debates dominated the stage and the halls during this summer’s meeting: nuclear power and rate design.
NARUC meeting participants represent state public utility commissioners and their staffs, federal energy agencies, regulated industries, and special interest groups. The meetings are a place to define issues, float solutions, and begin to understand and narrow disagreements.
Nuclear power and rate design were hot topics at this summer’s meeting because of cracks in the present electricity system created by new technologies and environmental regulation.
By: Beia Spiller and Kristina Mohlin
The price of most goods we purchase is generally based on the costs associated with the goods' production, including the raw materials used to generate them, the labor associated with their manufacturing, and so on. However, when it comes to pricing residential electricity, many regulators choose to use a flat price per unit of electricity (kilowatt-hours, or kWh) that unfortunately fails to adequately reflect the underlying costs of generating and delivering energy to our homes.
This creates incorrect incentives for conservation and investments in distributed energy resources (like rooftop solar, energy storage, and demand response). Getting these incentives right can go a long way in creating more opportunity for efficiency and clean energy resources.
Pricing electricity generation
The cost of generating electricity from large-scale power plants varies significantly over the course of a day. When demand is low, electricity providers call upon the most efficient and inexpensive power plants to produce electricity. As demand increases, they must also utilize more inefficient and expensive power plants. So, for the price of generation to accurately reflect these costs, it too must vary with the time of day. Time-variant pricing charges customers more for using electricity during periods of high demand (such as during hot afternoons) and less when demand is not as great. This pricing system is an accurate reflection of generation costs.
In contrast, flat rates that don’t vary over time incentivize customers to consume more electricity when it’s most valuable to them, even though consuming during times of high demand places a larger cost on the system. Thus, the current, static pricing system creates incorrect incentives for conservation and electricity use. Read More
As a former state utility regulator, I know the difficulty of balancing competing interests in making decisions and communicating those decisions to constituents. Solutions deemed “fair” by some parties may have harsh or unintended consequences for others.
This challenge of balancing competing interests is playing out with the current debate on electricity rate design as the system struggles to deal with the impact of new, distributed forms of energy like rooftop solar. From Nevada and Arizona, to Kansas and New Hampshire, we’ve seen these debates leave the hearing rooms of public service commissions and enter the public arena. Increases to fixed charges, changes to net metering, demand charges, time-of-use rates, minimum bills, or a combination of these options, are just some of the policies that states have either implemented in response to this debate, or are currently considering.
But many questions remain about the best path forward: What design will adequately compensate utilities for their investments, support the need to upgrade the electric grid, and encourage new technologies and innovation, while being perceived and accepted as fair? To answer these and related questions, a “good” rate design process needs to be put in place – one built on transparency, fairness, accessibility, and accountability. Read More
Late last month, New York took a major step toward rethinking utility economics when it issued the “Order Adopting a Ratemaking and Utility Revenue Model Policy Framework” (also known as Track 2 Order). This action aims to better align New York’s electricity system with Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), the state’s initiative to transform the electric grid into a cleaner, more efficient, and affordable system.
But buried in this 180-plus page document is another important development for New York’s clean energy future: Nearly 10 pages are dedicated to re-examining the state’s controversial standby tariff.
Frequently cited as a major obstacle to distributed power generation (e.g. combined heat and power (CHP) systems, rooftop solar panels, energy efficiency, and storage), the standby tariff is a special electricity rate charged to large commercial and industrial customers who produce some of their own electricity but remain connected to the grid. While utilities say they need standby tariffs to recover the costs of maintaining a reliable electric grid, many potential and existing large electricity customers producing their own power see standby tariffs as perversely designed to undermine the business case for distributed generation.
Unless the standby tariff is fixed in a manner that clears the way for investment in customer-owned and sited distributed generation, it will be hard to make REV’s revolutionary vision for a decentralized, competitive electricity market a reality. Read More