Regulators Propose Reopening Aliso Canyon, Limiting Gas Storage
Under a proposal by state regulators, the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, which closed following a major methane leak in 2015, could reopen, but the amount of methane Southern California Gas could store in the facility would be limited to 29 Bcf of its 83 Bcf capacity.
Thirty-four wells at the facility have passed the state’s six safety tests. Seventy-nine have been taken out of service and have one year to pass all tests or be permanently plugged.
Regulators from the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the Public Utilities Commission will hold public meetings on Feb. 1 and 2.
Legislators Introduce Bill to Extend Cap-and-Trade
A group of moderate Democrats in the State Assembly introduced a bill last week that would make the state’s cap-and-trade program permanent.
The program’s status after 2020 is in question, stemming from a lawsuit and different interpretations of the current law. The move by the so-called moderate caucus is significant, as it has in the past aligned itself with business interests and pushed back against some of the state’s climate regulations.
The bill follows a separate budget proposal to fund the program by Gov. Jerry Brown, which would require a two-thirds supermajority in both houses.
More: Los Angeles Times
Environmentalists Shut Down Meeting on Proposed Natural Gas Plant
Some 30 environmental activists, chanting “No more power plants, we say no,” shut down a public meeting held by the Energy Commission regarding a proposed natural gas plant in a predominantly Latin community.
The Puente Power Project, which is still in the permitting process, would join two power plants, three landfills and a superfund site in Oxnard, according to Kay Cuajunco, communications associate with the California Environmental Justice Alliance.
“For generations, the region has been powered by polluting power plants dumped on the working class and immigrant community again and again. It has become the region’s sacrifice zone, littered with dirty industry neighboring communities would never allow,” Cuajunco wrote in an email.
State Senator Proposes Solar Mandate for New Construction
Newly elected State Sen. Scott Wiener has introduced legislation that would mandate installation of solar power on 15% of the roof area of new residential and commercial buildings. It would make the state the first in the nation have such a requirement.
Current state law requires new residential and commercial buildings up to 10 stories tall to allocate 15% of their roof area as “solar ready,” meaning the area is unshaded and without obtrusions. Under the proposed legislation, solar, either photovoltaic or water installation, must be installed in this area.
The legislation resembles a city ordinance that Wiener authored and helped to pass last year as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
More: Solar Industry
State-Funded Program Breaks Solar Barrier for Low-Income Households
A state-funded program paid for by cap-and-trade revenues is bringing solar energy to households in poor neighborhoods.
Grid Alternatives, a nongovernmental organization, recruits volunteers to help implement the state’s $162 million Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes incentive program.
Stan Greshner, one of Grid Alternative’s vice presidents, said low-income families for years have been indirectly paying for solar programs through ratepayer fees or taxes but can’t afford to take advantage of the long-term savings solar offers. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said.
More: CBC News
Lawmakers Seek New Revenue Stream for Millstone
For a second time, state lawmakers are expected to introduce legislation that would allow the Millstone nuclear plant to compete for state power procurement contracts. Similar legislation was approved by the Senate law year, but failed to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives.
Declining natural gas prices in recent years have “put a lot of pressure” on the nuclear industry, Dominion spokesman Ken Holt said. He said the legislation would provide Dominion, owner of Millstone, a revenue stream the plant currently doesn’t have.
Although Dominion hasn’t threatened to close Millstone, a number of nuclear plants have closed, said Democratic Rep. Lonnie Reed, co-chairwoman of the House Energy and Technology Committee. She said helping the company is necessary because the state can’t afford to lose the baseload electric generation that Millstone provides.
More: New Haven Register
Healey to Oppose Eversource’s Proposed Rate Hike
Attorney General Maura Healey announced she will oppose Eversource Energy’s plan to raise its electricity delivery rates for customers in the former Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and NSTAR service territories.
In a request before the Public Utilities Commission, Eversource seeks 10.5% shareholder profits, along with a $36 million increase in WMECo customers’ rates and a $60 million increase in NSTAR customers’ rates, Healey said in a press release. The new rates would go into effect Jan. 1, 2018, if approved.
Eversource said the money will go to improving delivery, making outages less common and shorter in duration, and increasing its network of electrical vehicle charging locations.
More: The Republican
Lanesborough Officials Approve Eversource Solar Plant
The town of Lanesborough’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals approved the construction of a 5.2-MW solar farm near North Main Street.
The 15,000-panel, $10 million plant is part of Eversource Energy’s plan to build 70 MW of utility-scale solar across the state.
“The selectmen are supportive of this project,” said Paul Sieloff, Lanesborough town manager. “We like this kind of development. It will generate clean energy, it will be good for the environment, and it’s set back from the road where it can’t be seen.”
More: The Berkshire Eagle
Baker Signs Bill Promoting Electric Vehicle Usage
Gov. Charlie Baker last week signed a bill that seeks to increase the use of electric vehicles in the state.
Among the provisions of the new law, owners of public charging stations will be prohibited from charging a subscription fee, and payment options must be easily accessible. The law also updates building codes to require new buildings to allow the addition of charging stations.
“Today’s zero-emission vehicle legislation makes major strides towards providing consumers with confidence that charging stations will be available to them,” Baker said.
More: The Republican
Eversource Solar Plant on Hold Pending Plan for Access Road
Eversource Energy’s plans to develop a 3.3-MW solar plant in Lee are on hold until at least Feb. 27 while the company comes up with a design for a single access road from Route 20 at the request of the Lee Planning Board.
The $10 million project involves installing ground-mounted solar panels on half of a nearly 26-acre tract of land. If approved, construction would begin this spring and be completed by fall, company officials said.
The Lee plant would help double the utility’s current solar generating power in Western Massachusetts to 16 MW. Lanesborough recently approved a 5.2-MW plant, and the utility also is seeking to build a second 2.2-MW facility in Pittsfield, while exploring whether to build one in Hancock. It also operates two facilities in Springfield.
More: The Berkshire Eagle
Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station Remains Closed
The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station remains shut down after leaks in three of eight valves that prevent radioactivity from escaping during a nuclear accident were found during scheduled internal testing.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors spent Nov. 28 to Dec. 9 evaluating systems and worker performance at the plant, owned by Entergy, and will return for a final week Jan. 9. A lead inspector described the plant staff as “overwhelmed” in an email that was mistakenly sent to an anti-nuclear group. Other findings reportedly included workers not following industry protocols, staff failing to understand roles and responsibilities, lack of expertise, equipment in disrepair and employees appearing to struggle with plant operations.
The plant, which is scheduled to close in June 2019, experienced a similar issue in August.
More: The Republican
Lawmakers Call for Federal Study of Enbridge’s Line 5
Reps. Dave Trott (R) and Debbie Dingell (D) have co-sponsored legislation in Congress calling for a shutdown of Enbridge’s Line 5, a pair of 63-year-old underwater pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, if a federal study determines the Great Lakes are at risk.
The proposed legislation gives the federal government 12 months to determine the economic and environmental risks that possible failures of Line 5 pose to the Great Lakes.
“If ruptured, the Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac poses a threat to the entire Great Lakes region, our environment and our economy,” Dingell said in a statement.
More: Michigan Radio
PSC Orders 5-Year Resource Plans
The Public Service Commission ordered utilities to report by April 21 on how they will meet electricity demands through 2021.
Chair Sally Talberg said the need for the five-year plans is especially urgent due to “unprecedented” power plant retirements in the region and the time needed to replace them.
The Jan. 12 order set a May 12 deadline for public comments on the utility plans and requested comments from PJM, MISO and transmission operators American Transmission Co., Michigan Electric Transmission Co. and ITC Holdings. The PSC will file a report reviewing the data by June 30.
Regulators Seek Answers from Consumers Energy on Plan to Close Palisades Plant
State regulators have given Consumers Energy 30 days to file an updated five-year energy forecast following its December announcement of a business deal to close the Palisades nuclear plant in South Haven.
Consumers sold the plant to Entergy in 2007 and was supposed to keep buying power from it through at least 2022. Entergy has a license to operate Palisades through 2031. However, the two companies struck a business deal that includes closing the plant in October 2018.
In December, the Public Service Commission sent a letter to Consumers seeking information on the expected closure, including its effect on grid reliability, air pollution and emissions; how Consumers plans to replace the roughly 800 MW of power it generates; and other alternatives that were considered. No timeline has been set for Consumers to respond.
More: Michigan Radio
Coal Shipments near 30-Year Low
Coal transportation through the Port of Duluth-Superior may fall to the lowest levels in almost 30 years. After peaking at 22.1 million tons in 2008, coal shipping dropped to about 10 million tons for 2016.
Nearly all of the coal shipped through the port is sent to two power plants in Michigan, one of which — the St. Clair power plant north of Detroit — is set to retire in 2023, before its 70th birthday. The nearby Belle River plant, which has been running since 1984, will continue operations.
More: Duluth News Tribune
Sen. Katie Sieben Appointed to PUC
Gov. Mark Dayton has appointed state Sen. Katie Sieben to a six-year term on the Public Utilities Commission beginning Jan. 23. Her senate term ends when the new Legislature is sworn in on Jan. 3.
Current commission Chair Beverly Jones Heydinger will be vacating a commission seat. Commissioner Nancy Lange has been appointed chair, and Sieben will take Lange’s seat.
Since 2007, Sieben has represented south Washington County communities and Hastings in the Senate. From 2003 to 2007, she served in the House.
More: Hastings Star Gazette
Co-op Gets Bond Rating Boost After Exiting Kemper
Fitch Ratings last week upgraded Cooperative Energy’s bond rating from A- to A after the co-op bailed out on its 15% ownership in the long overdue Kemper coal-gasification project.
The rating increase means members of the co-op, previously known as the South Mississippi Electric Power Association, will pay less on its $35.4 million bond.
“This rating upgrade reflects the success of our strategy to move from purchased power to owned generation resources, and from coal to natural gas and renewable energy,” Cooperative Energy CEO Jim Compton said.
Rate Counsel Argues $75M Transmission Line Project Unnecessary
The state’s Division of Rate Counsel filed testimony last week saying a $75 million project to build a 10-mile transmission line along a New Jersey Transit railroad route is no longer needed.
The testimony by a consultant, filed with the Board of Public Utilities, argues the 230-kV line is unnecessary because of changing conditions in the electric sector. The consultant further argues that alternatives, including distributed generation and smart grid technologies, should be explored.
In 2011, PJM identified the project as necessary for reliability of the electric grid. The RTO’s latest load forecasts lower the peak load projected in 2031 and 2032, the consultant noted.
More: NJ Spotlight
Cuomo Calls for Lowering RGGI Emissions Cap
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is calling upon the nine member states of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions an additional 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. Under the RGGI’s present policy, emissions would remain flat after 2020.
Cuomo said his state is committed to the new reduction. It has already achieved a 46% reduction in carbon emissions from affected power plants and a 90% reduction in coal-fired power generation under the current policy.
Under the proposal, the nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states would reduce the cap from 78.2 million tons in 2020 to 75.1 million tons in 2021, with a further reduction to 54.6 million tons in 2030.
More: Gov. Cuomo
Gov. Cuomo Proposes 569 New EV Charging Stations
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has unveiled a proposal that would add 569 electric vehicle charging stations in the state, which he said would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030.
The proposal calls for construction of 500 workplace charging stations and 69 charging stations along the 570-mile New York State Thruway.
Four charging stations presently exist within the Thruway system, and the proposal would help ensure that the Thruway is designated as an “EV Corridor” by the U.S. Department of Transportation Alternative Fuel Corridors program, according to the governor’s office.
More: Gov. Cuomo
ESCOs Barred from Selling to Low-Income Customers
The state has banned energy service companies from selling natural gas and electricity to low-income customers after finding they have been overcharging by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Low-income customers constitute 30% of the state’s utility market and are eligible for government subsidies.
“The state has a duty to protect low-income customers from unscrupulous business practices,” Public Service Commission Chair Audrey Zibelman said.
More: Times Union
Duke Offers ‘Goodwill’ Payments for Water Bills
Duke Energy is offering residents living near its coal ash one-time $5,000 “goodwill” payments, in addition to financial support to protect the property values of their homes.
The company has promised to make up the difference to homeowners who sell their properties below fair market value before Oct. 15, 2019. It said it will also pay residents for 25 years’ worth of water.
The plan was approved by the Department of Environmental Quality on Monday. Duke maintains that its coal ash basins do not affect well water quality.
Legislators Ask DHS Pick Kelly to Shut Down Wind Farm
Ten Republican members of the General Assembly sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Gen. John Kelly, asking him to shut down a wind farm operating near a military radar system in Pasquotank.
The group includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, Speaker of the House Tim Moore and House Majority Leader John Bell. They argue the wind farm could interfere with the radar.
Ibderdrola Renewables operates the plant, which provides power exclusively for Amazon.
Currituck County Temporarily Bans Solar Farms
The Currituck County Board of Commissioners has suspended building new solar farms in the county for two months, pending a decision by the Superior Court over the denial of a project in Grandy.
The county is considered prime real estate by solar developers because of the large swaths of farmland. Crop prices are down, making solar development enticing to farmers. Residents, however, have expressed fears about chemicals and potential damage to surrounding areas in the event of a natural disaster.
The board had already approved the 120-MW Wildwood Solar project in Moyock, which stretches across nearly 2 miles of countryside, and another in Shawboro.
More: The Virginian-Pilot
Explosion at Coal-Fired Power Plant Injures 6 People
An explosion Tuesday at the coal-fired J.M. Stuart Generating Station power plant, operated by Dayton Power & Light, injured six people. None of the injuries is considered life-threatening.
The cause of the explosion is unknown.
More: The Associated Press
Woonsocket Rejects Invenergy’s Water Plan; Johnston Approves
While the Woonsocket City Council was rejecting a plan to sell water to Invenergy’s fossil fuel-burning plant proposed in Burrillville, the Johnston Town Council unanimously approved a nearly identical plan to truck water to the planned site of a 1,000-MW power plant in Pascoag.
Under the Johnston vote, Invenergy will pay prevailing water rates along with $500,000 per year with an annual 3% increase, $200,000 per year in lieu of property taxes for a water transport facility and another $200,000 per year for discretionary use by the town.
The vote allowed Invenergy to squeak in ahead of a Jan. 11 deadline set by the state Energy Facility Siting Board for it to secure a source of water to be used primarily for two steam turbines planned for the $700 million combined cycle plant.
More: Providence Journal
Paxton Plans Lawsuit to Block Federal Stream Protection Rule
Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that he and 13 other mostly Republican-led states plan to sue the federal government to block the Stream Protection Rule, which regulates coal mining near waterways.
The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement finalized the rule in December. In a statement announcing the rule’s finalization, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider said the rule “updates 33-year-old regulations and establishes clear requirements for responsible surface coal mining that will protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests over the next two decades, preserving community health and economic opportunities while meeting the nation’s energy needs.”
Paxton characterized the rule as “federal overreach” that “seeks to destroy and entire industry.”
More: The Texas Tribune
Bill Filed to Resume Rate Reviews After CPP Dies
Sen. J. Chapman Peterson (D) introduced a bill last week that would resume the State Corporation Commission’s biennial review of utilities’ rates in the likely event the Clean Power Plan is canceled by the incoming Trump administration.
The bill would reverse legislation enacted two years ago that froze rates and halted the SCC’s rate reviews, ostensibly to protect Dominion Virginia Power ratepayers from the expected increased costs of EPA’s rules. “We’re going to have a new EPA. We’re going to have a new secretary of energy. It’s going to be a new day. So, the whole political context for it has really been kicked into a bucket,” Petersen said.
The SCC has reported that Dominion earned a 11% return on equity for 2015, exceeding the last approved ROE by 1.4%. The commission also concluded the current freeze was “highly unlikely to protect Virginia ratepayers from the bulk of CPP compliance costs.”
More: Richmond Times-Dispatch
Philip Jones Plans to Leave Post as UTC Commissioner
Philip Jones, who has served as an appointed member of the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission since 2005, has announced he will not seek a third term. His term ended on Jan. 1, but Gov. Jay Inslee has extended it until Feb. 28 in order to find a replacement commissioner.
Jones’ work on the commission included reviewing terms and conditions of large utility mergers and examining cyber and physical security for energy systems.
Avista Files for Reconsideration of Proposed Rate Increases
Avista has filed a petition with state regulators for reconsideration or rehearing of its 2016 general rate cases calling for a $38.6 million electric revenue increase and $4.4 million gas revenue increase.
In a prior order denying the increases, the Utilities and Transportation Commission ruled Avista did not demonstrate insufficient revenue to cover costs and earn a reasonable return during the 2017 rate period. The commission also ruled Avista did not demonstrate its capital expenditures and increased operating costs are both necessary and immediate.
Avista’s petition notes that the commission staff supported revenue increases of more than $20 million.
State Sees Manure Cleanup as a Source of Natural Gas
Gov. Scott Walker’s administration is looking to spend $20 million in subsidies paid for by utility customers on systems to clean up cow manure and use the methane as a source of natural gas.
The subsidies, which would be used in addition to private investments, would come from funds paid into a state program that encourages energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy. Public documents suggest that the scale of one or more of the systems could be unprecedented, and the cost could approach $100 million in private investment.
The initiative primarily targets the northeastern part of the state and the Lake Michigan basin. Officials envision systems that would move liquid manure through a vast network of pipelines to central sites, where the methane would be captured.
Lawmakers Urge Feds to Share Wind, Solar Fees
Six state lawmakers have sponsored a joint resolution urging Congress to pass legislation granting states 50% of any federal rent or right-of-way fees on wind and solar projects.
Sen. Ogden Driskill (R), who is one of the sponsors, noted that states receive fees for fossil fuel and geothermal development on public land, but not wind.
“I would think it’s just common sense if you’re from Wyoming,” Driskill said. “Wyoming gets its fair share. It’s kind of a slam dunk.”
More: Casper Star-Tribune