These are exciting times. New York’s ‘Reforming the Energy Vision’ (REV) has paved the way for change of unprecedented proportions. New York regulators are preparing the state for a future in which rooftop solar installations are ubiquitous and the rumbling staccato of gasoline-fueled automobiles is replaced by the relative silence of electric vehicles.
While more rooftop solar energy and electric vehicles are certainly part of our energy future, some of the biggest changes are likely to come from less visible – and less obvious – sources, particularly for customers in densely populated metropolitan areas and low-income customers, who make up a significant portion of New York state’s customer base.
Urban dwellers, for whom mass transit is a central part of daily life and owning your own rooftop is less common, may view electric cars, rooftop solar, wind, battery storage, and on-site energy generation as appealing, but also abstractions more suitable for upstate homeowners than those living in crowded apartment buildings.
For these customers, the opportunity to contribute to a clean energy future will be guided largely by the domain of Adam Smith’s invisible hand: economic forces that enable greater control over how much energy is used and at what price. Read More
Despite its enormous relevance to the struggle to build a cleaner, greener electric system, New York’s ‘Reforming the Energy Vision’ (REV) proceeding is not fundamentally an environmental one. It is concerned with building a new electric marketplace for a broad range of energy resources, some zero-carbon and some not, which are expected to reduce total costs paid by tomorrow’s customers over the long term compared to what would be expected under a ’business as usual’ scenario.
My last blog post described the new electric industry market structure envisioned by New York regulators in the recent Track 1 order of the REV proceeding. As promised, this week I’m providing a closer look at the environmental implications of the new order.
While reducing carbon emissions is one of the six stated goals of the proceeding, it is not the sole thrust. Interestingly, the order begins a deep dive on what decarbonization means for the electric system and discusses various environmental issues at length, potentially raising their profile in the proceeding. Highlighting the importance of environmental issues is a welcome change, but, to accomplish the goal of emissions reductions, the devil is in the details. Read More
Nearly a year ago, the New York Public Service Commission (Commission) initiated a groundbreaking effort, called ‘Reforming the Energy Vision’ (REV), to overhaul the longstanding electric utility business model. In the months since starting the REV proceeding, the Commission has sought advice from Department of Public Service staff, industry stakeholders, and environmental non-profits, among others, quietly refining its vision while largely refraining from big pronouncements about the progress of the proceeding.
That changed late last month when the Commission issued its ‘Track 1’ order establishing the ‘vision’ component of the REV proceeding. We are now starting to get a better sense of what sort of future electric marketplace the Commission anticipates and what role utility companies would play in this new marketplace. We can also begin to assess the extent to which this new marketplace will lead to the improved environmental outcomes stated as a goal of this proceeding. Read More
With time-variant pricing, people can choose to run their dishwashers at times of day when electricity is less expensive.
Today, most residential electricity customers are charged the same price regardless of when the electricity is actually being used. Charging customers a uniform price for electric service looks a bit like buying groceries by the cart instead of by the items purchased (e.g., apples versus filet mignon) – simple, to be sure, but so riddled with inefficiencies that no one would actually propose operating a supermarket that way. A cartful of filet mignon may weigh the same as a cartful of apples, but the value of these items and the cost of bringing them to market is drastically different. Similarly, electricity costs differ depending on the time of day power is produced and delivered.
Time-variant electric pricing addresses this issue by charging customers different prices depending on when electricity is used, reflecting the true costs of producing and delivering electricity. This gives customers greater control over their electricity bills by allowing them to reduce their energy use at higher-cost times. A recent blog post by my colleague, economist Beia Spiller, explained how time-variant electricity pricing can benefit customers, utilities, and the environment, and described several different types of time-variant pricing.
Given its compelling economics, one would think time-variant pricing would be widespread. Part of the reason it’s not is sheer inertia, but there’s more to it than that. Read More
This week I submitted testimony in support of a petition by the Citizens Utility Board and, my shop, EDF, to urge the Illinois Commerce Commission to require Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and Ameren, two of Illinois’ biggest utilities, to provide families and individuals with new ways to reduce their energy bills: electricity pricing based on the hour of the day. This “Time-of-Use” (TOU) option provides times of the day when electricity will be much cheaper than the all-day, “flat” electricity pricing currently used today. Such electricity rates would reward energy-efficient customers and those who shift electricity use away from “peak” hours—when demand is high, prices skyrocket, and power plants produce the most pollution.
Our petition to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which is in charge of regulating electric utilities in the state, asks for ComEd and Ameren to offer optional rate plans beginning 2016. With voluntary TOU electricity pricing, families with digital meters can enjoy lower electric bills by running certain appliances, like the dishwasher, when electricity is cheapest, such as early in the morning or late in the evenings. However, the benefits go far beyond households that participate. Cutting energy use at high-demand times, like the afternoon, lowers electricity prices for everyone, reduces stress on the power grid, and offsets the need for expensive, polluting power plants. Read More
Over the past several months, we’ve been providing updates on the ongoing litigation surrounding Order 745 – a vital, federal rule on demand response. As a low-cost, environmentally beneficial resource, demand response relies on people and technology, not power plants, to manage stress on the electric grid during periods of peak energy demand. Simply put, demand response pays people to conserve energy when it matters most – a win-win for people and the environment.
But this critical energy management tool has also been subject to an amazing amount of scrutiny (which we’ve covered here, here, and yes, here, as well). In short, the thorny issue boils down to this: a recent court decision found that the federal agency responsible for regulating demand response didn’t have the authority to do so.
When the decision came down, many were shocked. The general assumption had been that this agency (known as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or “FERC”) certainly was within its rights to issue Order 745, a set of rules for how demand response would function in our nation’s energy markets.
And last week, the United States Solicitor General sided with the “general consensus” on Order 745. Read More