Energy Exchange

Dear FirstEnergy, America doesn’t need your coal plants

Why do grocers mark down the price of asparagus in the spring, or strawberries in the summer? Because they’re in season and stores have excess supply, and they need to increase demand by cutting prices. The lower prices are a sign, or “price signal,” of excess supply, and the grocers are following the economic law of supply and demand.

Electricity markets follow the law of supply and demand, too. Falling electricity prices are a price signal that we have more power plants than we need. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which oversees our nation’s electric grid, reports on wholesale electricity prices, and their latest State of the Markets report is an eye-opener.

The report shows that we’re retiring old coal plants at a fast clip, but we’re adding new natural gas plants at an even faster clip – causing power prices to plummet. In PJM, the largest regional electricity market in the country, 1.9 GW of coal plants closed in 2017 as 2.8 GW of new natural gas plants were added. Read More »

Also posted in Electricity Pricing, Illinois, Ohio / Comments are closed

New study answers the question, ‘What is grid resilience?’

By Rama Zakaria, Michael Panfil

Whether or not our electric grid is “resilient,” and what if anything should be done to make the grid more resilient, has been a topic of intense scrutiny in the past year.

The stakes in this debate reached new dimensions last fall with a highly controversial proposal by Sec. Rick Perry and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which claimed that the resilience of the electric grid is threatened by the premature retirement of uneconomic coal and nuclear plants. DOE’s flawed proposal – to bail out these plants through a profit-guarantee mechanism – was considered and unanimously rejected in January by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency charged with overseeing our nation’s electric grid. DOE’s proposal, in short, was an incredibly bad idea.

When FERC dismissed DOE’s proposal it opened a new proceeding, asking a series of questions around the topic of grid resilience.

A Customer-focused Framework for Electric System Resilience, a new report authored by Alison Silverstein and Grid Strategies, aims to answer these questions. The report, commissioned by Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council, recommends a customer-centric framework for evaluating electric system resilience and concludes that the most effective resilience solutions center upon the wires connecting the grid: distribution, and to a lesser extent transmission. By contrast, generation-related solutions – like keeping dirty coal and uneconomic nuclear plants online past their retirement dates – are the least effective for improving resilience. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Grid Modernization, Market resilience, Utility Business Models / Comments are closed

Trump may greenlight an $8 billion attack on competitive energy markets

President Trump may soon grossly distort competitive markets for electricity. Last week, he announced his consideration of a request for “202(c),” by which he means an $8 billion proposal to bail out all merchant coal and nuclear plants in a region that spans across 13 Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic states.

The request comes from FirstEnergy, the Ohio-based utility giant that has sought billions of bailout dollars over the last decade to cover its bad business decisions. Although repeatedly rebuked by federal and state regulators, the company recently asked the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to bail out coal and nuclear units in the PJM-grid operator region by invoking section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act. Using this power would require the Department to find that additional compensation to these plants is necessary due to an “emergency” on the grid. The audacious proposal would bail out not only FirstEnergy’s facilities, but more than 80 coal and nuclear units throughout PJM, the largest grid-operator region in the U.S.

The plea aims to increase electricity bills by a staggering $8 billion annually. It also would insulate old, dirty power plants from competition – protecting them from markets where more affordable resources like solar, wind and natural gas are helping to drive down electricity bills for Americans. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy / Comments are closed

FirstEnergy shamelessly begs DOE to prop up uneconomic coal and nukes

By Michael Panfil, Dick Munson

Yesterday, FirstEnergy submitted an outrageous request to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The Ohio-based utility giant wants DOE to bail out not only its uneconomic coal and nuclear plants, but all ailing plants across the PJM Interconnection region – which includes 13 states and Washington D.C. FirstEnergy’s request, if granted, would fundamentally undermine important energy policy and represent a major step backwards for the American electric grid.

Federal regulators and many, many experts agree there is no imminent threat to the electric grid’s resilience. Yet FirstEnergy is attempting to mislead the government and American public by arguing its outdated plants are needed to keep the lights on.

This is far from the first time the company has requested a bailout, but this latest effort is its most shameless yet. By arguing that the federal government got it wrong earlier this year – when it declined to provide profit guarantees for the company’s expensive coal and nuclear plants – FirstEnergy is attacking the agency that oversees the interstate electric grid, ignoring evidence, making an illegal recommendation, and asking the American public to foot the bill for a multibillion-dollar-a-year bailout. Read More »

Also posted in Washington, DC / Comments are closed

Will the Ohio Supreme Court shut down FirstEnergy’s bailout once and for all?

For years, FirstEnergy has been seeking a bailout for its uneconomic coal and nuclear plants. The Ohio-based utility finally got its wish in late 2016, when the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approved more than $600 million in customer-funded subsidies.

The money was intended to help improve the credit ratings of FirstEnergy and its parent company, FirstEnergy Corp. But the parent company’s supposed financial hardship is not the responsibility of the utility’s customers, nor is it under the PUCO’s purview.

In their brief to the Ohio Supreme Court, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Ohio Environmental Council (OEC), and Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) explain why the bailout is unreasonable and should be overturned – which would send a clear signal to other subsidy-seeking coal companies across the country. Read More »

Also posted in Ohio / Read 4 Responses

New federal tax law is a boon for electric utilities – another reason not to bail out Ohio’s coal and nuclear plants

BLOG UPDATE – FEBRUARY 16, 2018

Environmental Defense Fund and other environmental groups submitted comments [PDF] to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio on the federal tax reform, and why the Commission should reconsider utilities’ requests to increase rates to help prop up their old coal and nuclear plants. The groups suggest the utilities should pass the savings back to customers and, in addition, consider using some of the funds to modernize the electric grid and benefit customers.

For the past few years, Ohio’s electric utilities have asked state lawmakers and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to bail out their old coal and nuclear plants. The storyline is, the power plants are losing money in the competitive wholesale market, so the utilities want customers to subsidize the losses and allow the plants to stay open.

To keep old plants running is throwing good money after bad. And the new federal tax law will give utilities a huge bonanza anyway, so the requested subsidies are even more unnecessary.

Tax breaks and bailouts

The new federal tax law is a jackpot for electric utilities. Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in late December, reducing the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. For the regulated businesses, the tax cut should benefit customers via lower electricity bills. But for the utilities’ unregulated businesses, the tax cut will benefit the utilities’ shareholders. Read More »

Also posted in Ohio / Read 3 Responses