Riverside County Looks to Create Power Supplier
Riverside County officials are advancing a plan to create an alternative retail electricity supplier that would supplant Southern California Edison in unincorporated areas of the county. The officials say that the community choice aggregator, which would purchase power directly from producers, would allow county residents to lower their costs and increase reliance on renewables.
The county plans to engage a third-party consultant to develop and run the program, which would require approval from the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Residents and businesses will be automatically enrolled in the program but could opt out and continue using SCE if they choose. Incorporated communities would have the option to join up after the program is implemented.
Community choice aggregators are authorized under a 2002 state law. Though only four have been formed, renewable advocates are promoting them as a mechanism to allow communities to have more control over the source of their electrical power.
More: The Desert Sun
Regulators Approve 2% Hike to Help Duke Plant
Regulators have approved a 2% rate hike for Duke Energy customers to help the company pay for its beleaguered Edwardsport coal-gasification plant.
Under a settlement, Duke will pay $87.5 million of deferred operating costs dating from when the plant went into service in 2013. The plant’s price tag has climbed to $3.5 billion from its original estimate of $1.9 billion.
The settlement was supported by the state Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, along with industrial customers, environmentalists and consumer advocates. It would result in an additional $1.83/month for the typical residential customer. The company has absorbed about $900 million in construction overruns on the plant.
More: The Associated Press
IUB Denies Permanent Stay to Dakota Access Construction
The Utilities Board unanimously denied landowners’ request for a permanent stay of construction of the Dakota Access pipeline pending a court ruling on whether eminent domain can be used to access their properties.
The board heard about 45 minutes of testimony before deliberating in closed session. When it returned to open session, Chair Geri Huser said the board found that the potential harm of a permanent stay outweighed the potential benefits, as it found little chance of success in the petitioners’ complaint before the Polk County District Court.
The landowners had requested an emergency session of the board to hear their request. But Huser said “any apparent emergency that may exist was created by the petitioners’ own actions and their own decisions.” The board did extend a temporary stay currently in place until 9 a.m. Monday to give the landowners time to file an appeal in court. Commissioner Nick Wagner voted against the extension.
More: Radio Iowa
PSC Holding Hearings on PEPCO Rate Hike
The Public Service Commission has scheduled two public hearings to discuss PEPCO’s request to increase its electric distribution rate by $104 million for 560,000 customers in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. A typical residential customer would pay $13 more a month under the proposed rate. (Case No. 9418)
Hearings will be Sept. 6 at the Montgomery County Executive Building in Rockville, Md., and Sept. 8 at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Md.
NRG Settles Wastewater Pollution Suit with State
NRG Energy will pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit alleging two coal-fired plants illegally released high levels of nitrogen in wastewater.
The state filed suit in 2013 alleging NRG’s Chalk Point and Dickerson stations discharged illegal amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Potomac and Patuxent rivers. The chemicals have been blamed for feeding algae that suck oxygen out of the Chesapeake Bay, creating dead zones for fish, crabs and vegetation.
In some years, the state said, the Chalk Point plant released 20 times as much nitrogen as its permit allowed. NRG will also pay $1 million to fund environmental restoration projects and invest $10 million to upgrade the wastewater systems at the two plants.
More: The Washington Post
State Energy Committee Hears Reliability Concerns
Public Service Commission Chair Sally Talberg told the Senate Energy Committee last week that the state would go “dark” in 10 years if policymakers did not address an impending electricity shortage.
The committee discussed the PSC’s recent five-year outlook, which predicts reliability challenges during peak demand in the Lower Peninsula, although it forecasts the state will meet minimum reliability standards through imports for the foreseeable future.
State Sen. Mike Shirkey (R) downplayed the report, telling reporters it could be “ripe with people cherry picking pieces of information and then reframing them to advance their narrative.”
More: The Detroit News
Residents Asked to Conserve Water to Help Colstrip Plant
Colstrip residents were asked to limit their water use so the nearby power plant can continue to safely operate. The notice came at the request of Talen Energy, which operates the 2,100-MW plant.
Colstrip Mayor John Williams asked the city’s 2,300 residents to minimize their use of water for sprinkling and irrigation through the end of August. Williams said low water levels and high temperatures have caused problems with Talen’s water intake system on the Yellowstone River.
More: Billings Gazette
Lincoln Electric Plans to Show Off New Solar Farm in September
Lincoln Electric System will dedicate the state’s first commercial solar energy park next month and commemorate the event with tours for customers who helped finance the project.
The utility’s SunShares program allows about 1,200 enrolled customers to pay extra on their monthly bills to support solar energy.
The 5-MW, $8.9 million community solar project is owned by developer Enerparc. LES has a 20-year contract to buy power from the company. Construction began in March, and it went online in late June, producing enough electricity to power about 900 homes.
More: Lincoln Journal Star
Rate Counsel Against JCP&L Tx Spin-off Plan
The Division of Rate Counsel said it will argue against FirstEnergy’s plan to spin off Jersey Central Power & Light’s transmission facilities into a new company to be called Mid-Atlantic Interstate Transmission. The assets include about 2,500 miles of transmission lines and towers.
“We believe that ratepayers are getting the short end of the stick because MAIT is getting these at a very, very favorable price,” said Stefanie Brand, the division’s director.
More: Asbury Park Press
Regulators Reopen PNM Rate Case, Face Criticism
The Public Regulation Commission is being criticized for its decision last week to reopen hearings for Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM)’s proposed rate increase. Commissioners said that the case could be extended through December if the utility decides to submit more evidence showing that its energy investments are prudent.
Reopening the proceedings, which began in April, would undermine a determination earlier this month by hearing officer Carolyn Glick, who recommended a 6% increase rather than the 15.8% increase PNM is seeking to cover some $123.5 million in costs. The company has threatened to go to court if the lower increase is approved.
Intervenors said Aug. 25 that the PRC’s decision gives the company too much leeway. If the case is reopened, it would be PNM’s third opportunity this year to provide proof that its investments are fair for ratepayers.
More: The Santa Fe New Mexican
Entergy Would Get Termination Fee if FitzPatrick Sale Fizzles
The New York Power Authority will pay Entergy a $35 million termination fee if the sale of the FitzPatrick nuclear plant to Exelon falls through.
According to spokesman Steven Gosset, NYPA established a $35 million letter of credit that will pay Entergy if the PSC does not approve the sale to Exelon by Nov. 18. Entergy also would get the money if the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority fails to sign a contract by Nov. 18 that guarantees nuclear subsidies for FitzPatrick.
Both of those scenarios, and others that would trigger the fee, are unlikely, said Gosset, who declined to provide a copy of the letter. Entergy also declined to comment on the agreement.
University, Energy Companies Partner in Carbon-Capture Efforts
A diverse group of energy businesses are partnering with the University of North Dakota to develop carbon capture and sequestration technology.
ALLETE Clean Energy, Minnkota Power Cooperative and BNI Energy signed a memorandum of understanding with the university’s Energy and Environmental Research Center to submit a bid to the U.S. Department of Energy for a proposal they call Project Tundra, which aims to devise a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired plants.
U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R) said he had worked to secure $30 million to assist in the development of commercially viable and retrofittable CCS technology. The bill has passed in the Senate and now awaits House approval, Hoeven said.
More: Forum News Service
AEP Asks PUCO for Distribution Hike to Counter Residential Solar
American Electric Power has asked the Public Utilities Commission for permission to increase the fixed monthly distribution charges for all of its customers to make up for the number of residential customers who are installing rooftop solar and energy efficient technology.
AEP Ohio says it has seen the number of solar net metering customers rise from 286 in 2011 to 983. AEP is asking to increase the average customer charge from $8.40 to $18.40.
“This increase in net metering customers is currently resulting in a shift of the recovery of fixed costs from net metering customers to non-net metering customers,” company spokeswoman Terri Flora said. The hike wouldn’t result in any more revenue for the company, Flora said, but opponents say the increase would discourage installing solar distributed resources.
More: Midwest Energy News
Regulators Hear Arguments On PSO’s $130M Rate Case
The Corporation Commission last week heard arguments in the long delayed matter over Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO)’s requested $130 million electric rate increase. Consumer advocates argue that existing rates should be cut by up to $7 million, and an administrative law judge recommended a nominal rate increase of $676,000.
PSO filed the rate case in July 2015, and the company implemented an interim $75 million rate increase in January after it did not receive a final decision within the required six-month time period. The interim rate increase is subject to refund if the commission finds the utility wasn’t entitled to the extra revenue.
The company said the rate increase was needed to recover $453 million in system investments from February 2014 to July 2015. The utility also spent another $215 million this year on plant upgrades to meet federal environmental regulations.
More: The Oklahoman
PUC Gathering Input on Proposed 201-MW Wind Farm
About 300 people attended a public meeting held by the Public Utilities Commission to gather comments on a proposed wind farm north of Avon.
The 201-MW wind farm, proposed by developer Prevailing Winds, would have 100 turbines generating up to 860 GWh annually. Company representatives gave a presentation about the project and argued for the need for more wind power.
The project has generated opposition from some neighboring landowners. Some see the turbines as “eyesores,” while the others said they were concerned about potential health effects.
Lawmakers Urged to End Coal Company Self-Bonding
Environmental advocates at a Sunset Advisory Commission hearing on the Railroad Commission urged state lawmakers to require coal companies to set aside resources to cover the cost of cleaning up mines. Coal companies are currently allowed to self-bond, a process that could leave residents on the hook for more than $250 million in environmental cleanup costs if the companies renege on their obligations.
The state currently allows four coal mining companies to self-insure the cost of cleaning up seven strip mine operations. With the coal industry’s financial challenges, experts say taxpayers are at risk.
The Sunset Commission, which assesses the continued need for state agencies, held the hearing to get feedback on a scathing report published in April by its staff advisory committee on the inefficiencies and inadequacies of the Railroad Commission, which, despite its name, regulates energy extraction industries in the state.
More: The Texas Observer
FirstEnergy Asking for $6.9 Million Surcharge
FirstEnergy asked state regulators to approve a $6.9 million rate surcharge for MonPower and Potomac Edison customers to pay for upgrades at two coal-fired plants.
The requests were made possible by a coal-industry supported bill approved five months ago, which allowed utilities to pass through costs for upgrading their coal-fired plants without having to go through a formal rate proceeding. At the time the bill was introduced, FirstEnergy said it didn’t have any plans to use the provision.
The total cost of the upgrades at the Harrison and Fort Martin plants will be more than $76 million, according to company filings. The surcharges, if approved, will increase a typical residential customer’s rates about $6.60 per year.
More: Charleston Gazette-Mail