By Jeff Dennis and Caitlin Marquis
In response to FERC’s directive to address the impacts of state policies on capacity prices, PJM has proposed a sweeping approach that could put at risk a broad set of transactions for renewable energy that have nothing to do with any state policy or mandate. On behalf of the Advanced Energy Buyers Group, a collection of large companies ranging from technology to retail to manufacturing, we urge FERC to avoid disrupting the voluntary market for renewable energy by rejecting PJM’s approach.
Companies involved in the Advanced Energy Buyers Group are committed to increasing their use of advanced energy, with many entering into contracts to develop renewable energy projects to meet their own business needs, completely independent of state mandates or incentives. We are concerned that PJM’s proposal, if adopted by FERC, would unfairly apply to some of these voluntary transactions the same measures intended to “correct” a market distortion supposedly caused by so-called “material subsidies” provided by states. This could threaten the continued growth of the quickly expanding voluntary market for renewable energy in the PJM footprint, and the jobs and other economic benefits that growth brings to states and communities in the region even as it gives companies the clean energy they seek.
According to FERC, generating resources that receive revenue as a result of state renewable portfolio standards or zero-emissions credit (ZEC) programs are able to submit offers in PJM’s capacity auctions at a lower price than they would otherwise. FERC claims that these offers result in “artificially” lower prices, harming other suppliers that do not receive such revenue. To address this alleged price suppression, FERC ordered PJM to expand its minimum offer price rule (MOPR) — which requires capacity suppliers to make offers at or above a predetermined minimum value — to apply to any capacity resource receiving revenues from state policy programs.
To its credit, PJM correctly acknowledged that voluntary renewable energy purchases should be exempted from the expanded MOPR because any revenue received from such purchases aren’t the result of any state mandate or policy. PJM goes on, however, to state that any renewable energy certificates (RECs) purchased through brokers or intermediaries will be assumed to be serving state policy needs rather than meeting voluntary market demand. This means that only those RECs that are purchased by voluntary buyers through direct, bilateral transactions would be exempt from MOPR requirements. Other renewable energy transactions that use different structures would face the possibility that they could be subject to the MOPR. That matters because application of the MOPR could force certain renewable energy projects out of the capacity market, depriving them of legitimate revenue.
Applying the MOPR in such a broad fashion would fail to satisfy FERC’s legal obligation to narrowly tailor such mitigation to the market harm it identified, i.e., the supposed price-suppressive impacts of state-directed revenues. Equally important, it would fail to account for how the voluntary market actually works, especially the variety of transaction structures and market actors, including REC brokers and intermediaries, that support voluntary renewable energy purchases.
Direct REC purchases from renewable energy projects are an important segment of the voluntary market, to be sure. But so too are “unbundled” RECs purchased through brokers or intermediaries. Renewable energy buyers range from residential consumers to small businesses to large international corporations. Many of these buyers rely on unbundled RECs to some degree, and in 2017 unbundled REC sales accounted for nearly half (46%) of all voluntary market sales of renewable energy. The voluntary purchase of these unbundled RECs by buyers who (unlike utilities and other electricity suppliers) have no state-imposed obligation to purchase renewable energy does not contribute to the state’s RPS or other policy mandate. These RECs are effectively retired, rather than used for compliance with state requirements — which is why they can be counted toward corporate sustainability goals.
Even for large companies that pursue direct contracts with renewable energy projects, unbundled RECs purchased from brokers or other intermediaries can play an important part in an overall renewable energy strategy. Unbundled RECs allow companies to purchase renewable energy without a long-term, large-scale commitment to a single project, as part of a diversified renewable energy portfolio. Unbundled RECs also allow companies to meet renewable energy goals while they pursue direct renewable energy contracts, which takes time.
Many companies and other renewable energy buyers rely heavily on RECs purchased through brokers or intermediaries — to the tune of 51 million MWh across the country last year. These RECs have contributed to a rapid expansion of voluntary corporate renewable energy deals in the PJM region in just the past few years. One voluntary REC getting swept up in mitigation that is, by the terms of FERC’s directive, supposed to be narrowly focused on material subsidies provided by states is one too many, and PJM’s approach could sweep up nearly half the market.
Accordingly, we urge the commission to ensure that any changes to PJM’s capacity market do not, even inadvertently, unfairly cripple the voluntary market for renewable energy.
Caitlin Marquis is manager of federal and state policy for the Advanced Energy Buyers Group, a business-led coalition of large energy users engaging on policies to expand opportunities to procure advanced energy to meet their operational needs.
Jeff Dennis is general counsel, regulatory affairs, for Advanced Energy Economy, a national association of businesses making the energy we use secure, clean, and affordable. AEE facilitates and supports the work of the Advanced Energy Buyers Group.