Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Federal Briefs

Report: Competitive Electric Markets Have Better Prices Than Monopolies

Consumers with retail electricity choice fare better financially than those served by monopoly utilities, according to a white paper recently released by the Retail Energy Supply Association.

Restructuring Recharged: The Superior Performance of Competitive Electricity Markets 2008-2016” found that all sector-weighted average price trends in 35 monopoly states rose by as much as 15.19% from 2008 through 2016, while declining by as much as 10.16% in 14 competitive markets during the same period.

The paper uses data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

More: Retail Energy Supply Association

EPA to Allocate $12M for Workforce Buyouts, Early Retirements

trump climate change

Pruitt | ScottPruitt.com

EPA plans to allocate $12 million of funds that were carried over from the previous fiscal year to “reshape” its workforce with buyouts and early retirements, according to a memo by its acting chief financial officer.

Another $800,000 of the carried over funds will be used for travel expenses for Administrator Scott Pruitt’s security detail; $1.4 million for cloud-computing services and other data storage; and $2 million for consolidating the agency’s physical footprint.

An advance copy of EPA’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal, which the Trump administration is set to release next week, indicates that the agency’s budget will be cut by 31% compared with its current level of funding.

More: The Washington Post

BPA Scraps I-5 Corridor Reinforcement Project

Saying that it could meet demands on the grid without it, the Bonneville Power Administration announced last week that it will not build its proposed I-5 Corridor Reinforcement Project.

The project — an 80-mile, 500-kV transmission line that would have stretched from Castle Rock, Wash., to Troutdale, Ore. — had morphed from a $346 million proposal in 2009 to a projected cost of $1.2 billion last year.

BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer said that to manage congestion, BPA will now be looking at battery storage, reducing demand from big customers and managing generation more effectively during peak demand periods. It will also be taking measures to free up space on existing lines.

More: Bonneville Power Administration; The Oregonian

Conn. Sues EPA over Pa. Plant Emissions

Connecticut sued EPA last week claiming nitrogen oxide emissions coming from the Brunner Island power plant — located 175 miles away in York County, Pa. — are hindering the state’s ability to meet federal clean air act standards.

In 2015, Connecticut’s ozone levels exceeded eight-hour maximums 22 times, and in 2016 the number rose to 31, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. There have been no exceedances so far this year. However, the worst ozone days tend to happen in summer.

Brunner Island, which is operated by Talen Energy, has no controls for nitrogen oxide emissions, said Thomas Schuster, a spokesman for the Sierra Club. Delaware filed a similar complaint with EPA last year.

More: PennLive

Senate Hearing for FERC, DOE Nominees Scheduled

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee announced it will consider President Trump’s nominations for FERC on May 25. The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. in Room 366 at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in D.C.

McConnell

Trump has nominated Neil Chatterjee, energy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner Robert Powelson to the commission. The committee will also consider Dan Brouillette, Trump’s nominee for deputy energy secretary. Brouillette, currently head of public policy for USAA, has previously served as chief of staff for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and congressional liaison for the Energy Department during the George W. Bush administration.

More: Senate ENR Committee

2 GOP Governors Urge Trump to Remain in Paris

Two Republican governors have written to Energy Secretary Rick Perry urging him to ensure the U.S. doesn’t drop out of the Paris Agreement.

In a letter Wednesday, Vermont Gov. Philip Scott and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said remaining in Paris would demonstrate the “leadership” needed to help states reduce their carbon emissions and would allow the U.S. to maintain its “global economic leadership.”

More than a dozen governors and just as many state attorneys general have urged President Trump not to abandon the agreement.

More: Reuters

Report: Trump May Drive Away Renewable Energy Investors

The Trump administration may drive renewable energy investors away from the U.S., according to a report by accounting firm Ernst and Young.

The “Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index,” released this week, examines a country’s need for renewable energy, government incentives, natural resources and government policy to determine its potential for renewable energy growth.

Last year, the U.S. headed the list following its extension of the wind production tax credit. This year, the U.S. ranks behind China and India because of investor concerns that the new administration will abolish federal clean energy incentives and tax credits, according to the report.

More: FuelFix

Grassley Attacks Credibility of Rick Perry’s Electric Grid Study

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Wednesday attacked the credibility of a study of the electric grid’s reliability commissioned by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

In a letter sent to Perry, Grassley said the 60-day study appears to be “geared to undermine” the wind energy industry and “hastily developed.” He wanted to know which grid reliability organizations and experts were involved in the study, the cost to taxpayers and whether the report would be open for public comment.

According to Grassley, wind makes up 36% of Iowa’s electricity, and the state’s largest utility, MidAmerican Energy, is on track to generate 90% of its electricity from wind in a few years. Grassley said MidAmerican has the ninth lowest electricity rates in the country.

More: Reuters

Report: New Residential Solar Capacity down in Q1

Residential solar capacity additions in the U.S. fell 11% from the fourth quarter of 2016 to the first quarter of 2017, according to a forthcoming report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The “Q2 2017 U.S. Solar Market Insight” report found a 22% drop in new residential solar capacity in California. Because California makes up about 45% of the U.S. residential solar market, the state’s decline affected the industry’s performance nationwide.

Year-over-year, the U.S. saw a 17% drop in new residential solar capacity. California saw a 31% drop from 284 MW to 196 MW.

More: Greentech Media

Clean Power Plan Supporters Want to Send Rule Back to EPA

Supporters of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan want to end a stay the Supreme Court placed on the rule last year and send it back to EPA to consider changes.

Kicking the regulation back to the agency would “properly place the responsibility on EPA to follow statutory rulemaking procedures if it wishes to delay implementation or make other changes to the rule,” a coalition of environmental and health groups told the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday.

EPA told the court the case challenging the rule, which the Obama administration had previously been defending, should be halted indefinitely so the new administration could focus on completing its current review of the plan.

More: The Hill

Oil-Fired Plants Provide 3% of US Generating Capacity

Utility-scale generators that reported petroleum as their primary fuel made up only 3% of total U.S. electric generating capacity at the end of 2016, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.

The generators produced less than 1% of total electricity generation last year. More than 68% of the 36.4 GW of U.S. petroleum-fired generating capacity is located in 10 states: Florida, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Missouri and Iowa.

More: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Utility Group Petitions EPA to Dispose of Coal Ash Regulations

The Utility Solid Waste Activities Group on Friday filed a petition with EPA asking it to do away with regulations governing the disposal of coal ash.

The group is asking EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to reconsider broad sections of the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule, saying the regulations are ill-conceived and burdensome. The agency spent years developing the rules following a series of highly publicized spills.

“Cutting back protections at this point would be reckless and would put people’s health at risk,” said Lisa Evans, a lawyer with Earthjustice.

More: The Associated Press

Lawmakers Reintroduce Wind Incentive Legislation

Markey

Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) along with Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) have reintroduced the Offshore Wind Incentives for New Development Act, which would extend the 30% Investment Tax Credit for offshore wind through 2025.

The 2015 omnibus bill extended the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit for wind projects until 2019. But because of the time required to plan and permit offshore wind projects, the Department of Energy has found no additional projects are likely to be able to qualify for these tax credits before they expire.

More: North American Wind Power

Property Owners Sue to Stop Nexus Pipeline

More than 60 property owners in northeast Ohio filed a federal lawsuit Friday to prevent FERC from issuing a certificate of approval to begin construction of the proposed $2 billion Nexus natural gas pipeline.

The suit, filed against FERC and Nexus Gas Transmission, asks the court to order the commission to overturn the final environmental impact statement submitted by Nexus last November for the pipeline’s route through northern Ohio and Michigan, as it goes to Canada. The litigants also ask the court to prevent FERC from allowing construction of the pipeline to begin, and order Nexus to stay off their property and stop attempting to negotiate with them.

Nexus had planned to begin construction on the pipeline earlier this year and finish it by year-end. However, when FERC Commissioner Norman Bay resigned, the agency didn’t have the quorum necessary to approve the pipeline.

More: The Plain Dealer

Longview Asks FERC to Intercede in $195M Pleasants Deal

Longview Power is asking FERC to intercede in Mon Power’s proposed $195 million acquisition of its 40-year-old Pleasants power station in West Virginia from Allegheny Energy Supply, with CEO Jeff Keefer describing the transaction as a bailout.

FirstEnergy, which owns both Mon Power and Allegheny, maintains the deal would preserve coal-related jobs and provide other economic benefits to the state, and that it needs the additional capacity to fill a 1,300-MW shortfall it anticipates over the next 10 years.

Keefer said the sale would allow FirstEnergy to shift the underperforming plant out of the deregulated market in Ohio and into West Virginia’s regulated market, and that it “grossly exaggerated” the need for additional capacity. In its 37-page protest, Longview suggests that Mon Power’s requests for proposals in December was rigged so that only Pleasants could achieve 100% compliance.

More: The State Journal

Tillerson Signs Declaration Affirming Need for Climate Action

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed a document Thursday affirming the need for international action against climate change at a meeting of the Artic Council in Alaska.

The Fairbanks Declaration, which Tillerson signed with foreign ministers from the other seven nations of the council, noted the Paris Agreement’s “entry into force” and implementation and called for global action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

Tillerson told the council, which meets every two years to work on climate change and other issues facing the North, that the Trump administration was not going to rush to decide whether to leave or weaken U.S. commitments to Paris.

More: Reuters; Los Angeles Times

Natural Gas Takes Lead over Coal in Northeast’s Generation Mix

Over the past 10 years, natural gas has almost doubled its share of the U.S. Northeast’s generation mix, coming in at 41% in 2016, compared with 23% in 2006, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.

In contrast, coal-fired generation fell from 31% to 11% of the region’s mix over the same period. Low-cost natural gas from the Marcellus Shale and other regional shale plays and environmental policies at the federal and regional levels are cited for coal’s decline.

Nuclear generation remained relatively constant at about 34%. Non-hydro renewable generation made up 5% in 2016 but had the largest percentage growth rate over the past decade.

More: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Nuclear Generation Expected to Drop as Plants Retire

About 25% of the nuclear capacity now operating in the U.S. that doesn’t have announced retirement plans will be removed from service by 2050, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.

Nuclear energy presently accounts for about 20% of the nation’s electricity generation and is expected to decline to 11% in 2050.

Almost all nuclear plants presently in use need a license renewal before 2050 to operate beyond the 60-year period covered by their original 40-year operating license and the 20-year license extension that nearly 90% of them have either already received or have applied for. The capital investment required to extend the life of these plants beyond 60 years is presently unknown and could vary significantly among facilities.

More: U.S. Energy Information Administration

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