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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Also posted in Natural Gas / 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, FirstEnergy, Grid Modernization, Market resilience / Comments are closed

Markets offer solutions to New England energy challenges

A recent report published by ISO-New England, the Operational Fuel Security Analysis, has certainly grabbed the region’s attention.

“The ISO has been able to maintain power system reliability during severe winter conditions without using all its emergency procedures,” the report says. “However, the evolving generation mix is increasingly susceptible to variable and uncertain factors.”

The study looks ahead at the 2024/2025 time frame, examining 23 scenarios for coal, oil, gas, nuclear and renewable sources. While it says the system is maintaining a delicate balance for now, “study results suggest that in the future, New England could be headed for significant levels of emergency actions, particularly during major fuel or resource outages.”

Although EDF doesn’t necessarily agree with all the assumptions in the study, ISO New England is asking the right questions at the right time. So what are the best policies and actions we can take to ensure the New England utility grid is clean, reliable, and resilient?

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Also posted in General, Natural Gas / Comments are closed

Lessons learned from New York REV: A roadmap to reduce emissions through utility reform

The aftermath of extreme weather events calls for action. Recently, devastating hurricanes, wildfires in California, and the “bomb cyclone” in the northeast have reminded us of our vulnerability to climate change and the strength it takes to rebuild our communities. Months after the effects of Hurricane Maria, much of Puerto Rico remains without power – a painful reminder of the extent to which we rely on electricity, and the work required to maintain the electric grid.

Ensuring reliability of the electric system is integral to protecting our cities and states in the future. After restoring power to millions of New Yorkers in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Governor Cuomo planted the seeds of overhauling the state’s electric system, which lead to the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative, an effort to build a cleaner, more reliable, and affordable grid. REV looks to create effective market mechanisms that lead to long-lasting solutions for utilities, customers, and a carbon-free environment.

Part of achieving this vision is decarbonization, or eliminating the use of dirty fossil fuels, which emit more than two-thirds of the United States’ carbon pollution. Environmental Defense Fund’s new whitepaper, “Driving Environmental Outcomes through Utility Reform: Lessons from New York’s REV,” looks at how electric utility reform, specifically New York’s REV, can accelerate decarbonization. The paper outlines fundamental criteria for electric utilities’ modernization efforts to bring about environmental benefits, mainly: building smart platforms to deploy clean energy resources cost-effectively, aligning utility earnings with environmental outcomes, and engaging customers as market participants. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, New York, New York REV / Read 2 Responses

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 »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Grid Modernization / Comments are closed

New Jersey’s considering a nuclear bailout. Here’s why we don’t need it.

BLOG UPDATE – DECEMBER 20, 2017

PSEG’s bill aimed at subsidizing its two aging nuclear power plants was passed out of New Jersey’s Senate Environment and Energy Committee and Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee today, December 20. If enacted, this customer-funded bailout would require all New Jersey electric customers to pay $300 million for an unlimited number of years to keep the plants in operation, adding an extra $40 a year to each customer’s electric bill.

The availability of low-carbon energy and local jobs are both legitimate reasons to be concerned about the premature retirement of New Jersey’s nuclear plants, but a customer-funded bailout is not the answer. A time-bounded zero-emissions credit, tailored to worker protections, community considerations, and a commitment to accelerate the adoption of clean energy should have been considered. Though PSEG admits these plants are profitable, the utility giant still hasn’t provided any documentation or analysis to show these facilities are in need of financial assistance.

December 12, 2017  The New Jersey State legislature is entertaining a lame duck proposal by the Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), the parent company of New Jersey's largest utility, Public Service Gas & Electric (PSE&G) to subsidize two PSEG nuclear plants and to have it paid for by New Jersey electricity customers – in other words, a customer-funded bailout.

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Also posted in Clean Energy, New Jersey / Read 2 Responses