In a long-awaited decision, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) yesterday approved a $600-million electricity rate plan for FirstEnergy.
One read of the decision is, regulators killed the Ohio-based utility giant’s massive bailout and ordered the utility to modernize its grid. If accurate, this would be an incredible victory: Dirty power plants would not be subsidized, FirstEnergy would not be rewarded for its poor business decisions, and the company would invest in measures that increase efficiency and welcome clean-energy resources.
Ah, if the PUCO order were only so clear. On the one hand, it does seem the regulators are giving FirstEnergy $600 million upfront and requiring it to spend those funds on grid-modernization programs the PUCO will approve in the future. Yet, the more realistic read is, Ohio regulators are simply handing FirstEnergy $600 million in hopes the subsidy will allow the utility to improve its balance sheet. Then, FirstEnergy will (hopefully) propose grid-modernization efforts that the PUCO will consider and fund down the line. In other words, the PUCO is providing FirstEnergy a no-strings-attached subsidy.
The decision is unusual and a bit difficult to interpret – even the PUCO chairman admits the approach is “undoubtedly unconventional.” The only certainty is that this issue will not die. Environmental Defense Fund and its allies will continue to press the PUCO and the Ohio Supreme Court to ensure the $600 million goes toward building a cleaner, more modern electric grid. Read More
Also posted in FirstEnergy
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
By: John Finnigan and Dick Munson
To compete, or not to compete – that is the question facing today’s electricity industry.
On one side of the debate are utilities with uneconomic power plants, which are unable to prosper in regional, competitive electricity markets. Faced with low natural gas prices and dramatically declining renewable energy costs, these utilities want bailouts for their aging coal fleets, or they want to relive their glory days as monopolies with guaranteed profits and no pesky corporate rivals. Ohio-based FirstEnergy – which has long waged war on clean energy and campaigned for a bailout – serves as the poster child of this camp.
On the other side are those that recognize the myriad benefits of competition. This includes power companies that didn’t double down on coal and do operate their plants efficiently. There are also nontraditional players – like cleantech entrepreneurs and renewable energy producers – who desire access to the market and a level playing field.
Fortunately, the pro-competition side just got a big endorsement from the nation’s largest grid operator, PJM Interconnection. PJM issued a newly-revised report that confirms bailouts and re-monopolization are not the solution, and competitive markets are the best path for lower-cost, cleaner energy. 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.
New technology is evolving electricity transmission from a centralized, one-way system to a more distributed, interactive one. This system necessitates new electricity rates, and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) unveiled this week at its annual summer meeting a draft manual that will help states across the U.S. design them.
The Distributed Energy Management Compensation Manual is basically a compendium of rate design options that regulators can consider, and it outlines each option’s pros and cons. NARUC President Travis Kavulla charged his staff with writing the manual – a monumental undertaking – and we commend the organization for this effort.
I was pleased to speak during the Town Hall event at which NARUC rolled out the draft manual, and my remarks focused on one critical need: good rate design process. Choosing the right electricity rate for a state is important, but so too is the process by which regulators arrive at that decision. Early in the document it recognizes, “A jurisdiction will need to identify its current status regarding DER [distributed energy resources], what role it expects DER to have in the future, understand the nature of DER adoption rates, and identify necessary policy developments to accommodate that future.” Now is the time to encourage NARUC to include in the manual a dedicated section that shows states how to build a process for ratemaking that will be sustainable, benefit consumers, and advance in tandem with electricity distribution technology. Read More
As a utility executive, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. It is the age of innovation, it is the age of stagnant tradition. With a nod to Charles Dickens, it is the epoch of environmental improvement, it is the epoch of continued pollution.
Perhaps no state better represents those extremes than Illinois, where Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) in the north is considering new business models and embracing greenhouse-gas reductions, while Ameren in the south is rejecting change and virtually anything related to clean energy.