9th Circuit Clears SolarCity Lawsuit Against SRP
In a decision that could impact efforts by state utilities to increase costs to rooftop solar customers, a federal appellate court ruled Monday that SolarCity’s anti-trust challenge to Salt River Project’s pricing system should be allowed to proceed.
According to SolarCity, solar customers, who can’t completely connect from SRP’s grid, saw a 65% rate increase, compared with a 3.9% increase for residential customers who buy all their power from SRP. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it did not have authority to consider the finding of a trial judge in Phoenix who allowed the case to go forward.
More: Capitol Media Services
UA $10.1M Away from Finishing Cleanup of Nuclear Reactor Site
The University of Arkansas needs $10.1 million to cross the finish line for cleaning up radiological waste from a nuclear reactor it acquired in Washington County in 1975.
Earlier this month, 15,850 pounds of low-level radiologic waste was hauled to Utah from the Southwest Experimental Fast Oxide Reactor, which was built in 1968 with funding from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The university acquired the 20-MW reactor for research purposes but stopped using it in 1986. For decades, university and state officials cited lack of money as the reason for not cleaning up the site, but a $10.5 million Department of Energy grant awarded in September spurred recent cleanup.
Mike Johnson, the university’s associate vice chancellor for facilities, said a federal appropriations bill approved this year will provide another $5.5 million, allowing work to continue without interruption into early 2018. With more funding, the project could be finished by the end of 2018, he said.
An Indignant Brown Talks Clean Energy with China
The state has agreed to work with China’s science ministry on clean energy technologies, emissions trading and other “climate positive” trade and investment opportunities in the wake of President Trump’s decision last week to exit the Paris Agreement.
At a clean energy forum in Beijing on Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown told reporters that what he called a failure in leadership was “only temporary.”
Brown told Reuters last week that he would discuss linking China’s carbon trading platforms with the state’s, which is the biggest in the U.S.
ETP Proves it has Liability Insurance for Dakota Access
Energy Transfer Partners filed documents with state regulators Tuesday proving it has not had any lapse in coverage in its liability insurance to protect the public from possible oil spills and leaks from its Dakota Access Pipeline.
On Friday, the Utilities Board issued a directive reprimanding the company for failing to comply with a state order to demonstrate that it is carrying at least $25 million in liability insurance.
The company said it has a general commercial liability insurance policy and four excess liability policies that provide total coverage of $50.1 million. It said it acquired new policies on May 15 to replace its original policies, but it did not receive full copies to file with regulators until June 12.
More: The Des Moines Register
Houses Passes Solar Bill, but not Enough Votes to Survive Veto
A bill that would keep net metering rules in place pending a cost-benefit analysis by the Public Utilities Commission passed 90-54 in the House on Wednesday but failed to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a virtually guaranteed veto by Gov. Paul LePage.
The bill, L.D. 1504, would essentially place on hold a decision by the commission to gradually phase out net metering. LePage vetoed sweeping solar energy policy changes last year, which set the stage for the commission’s rules phasing out net metering.
The House and Senate adopted different versions of the bill this week without debate, and the bill faces additional votes in both chambers.
More: Portland Press Herald
EV Owners Will Pay Road-Maintenance Surcharge Starting in 2018
Electric vehicle owners in the state will be hit with an annual $75 road-maintenance surcharge approved by lawmakers, effective in January.
The charge, which is intended to make up for lost gas tax revenues, is expected to generate $40,000 in its first two years, with revenue estimates more than doubling in the two years after that.
Rep. Paul Torkelson, chairman of the House Transportation Finance Committee, said the fee is about EV owners doing their fair share to maintain the road system.
More: The Associated Press
Commerce Dept. Recommends Reducing Electric Rates
The state Department of Commerce is recommending that regulators not grant Minnesota Power’s request for a rate increase, but instead require the utility to decrease its electric rates.
Last November, Minnesota Power filed a request with the Public Utilities Commission for a $55.1 million annual rate increase, or about 9.1% overall, beginning Jan. 1, 2017. In March, it lowered the proposed increase to $38.8 million, or about 6.1%. The department is recommending that rates be reduced by $16.7 million, or about 2.6% overall.
More: Aitkin Independent Age
PSC Votes to Reduce Rates for Solar QFs
The Public Service Commission last week voted to cut guaranteed rates for solar qualifying facilities under the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act by 40%, making the state’s incentives the smallest in the region, according to renewable energy advocates.
The changes, which apply to solar projects no larger than 3 MW, also include cutting contract lengths from 25 to five years, with an option to renegotiate for five more. who said solar developers would likely move on to other states as a result.
The PSC suspended guaranteed rates and contracts for small solar projects last year after NorthWestern Energy argued the incentives were too attractive and that it had seen a surge in solar hookup requests. In December, FERC ruled the regulators wrongfully suspended the program, and last week’s new incentives were an effort to retool.
More: Billings Gazette
Coal Production May Hit 10-Year Low
For the first four months in 2017, the state’s coal mines produced one-third less coal compared with two years ago, according to industry records. The decline puts the state on track for the worst production period in at least a decade.
Through April, the state produced 9.8 million tons of coal, which tracks with the same period in 2016, but falls short by 4 million tons from two years ago.
Bud Clinch, of the Montana Coal Council, cited frozen-over shipping lanes in the Great Lakes and a threat by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ban U.S. coal from British Columbia’s Westshore Terminal in response to a tariff imposed by President Trump on Canadian softwood lumber in April as factors that worked against production.
More: Billings Gazette
Sandoval Vetoes Bill Boosting Renewable Energy Target
The bill would have added about 1.7 GW of solar to the state by 2030, which is nearly double the current amount, said Dylan Sullivan, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Nevada Resort Association, a casino trade group, said the bill was premature because the state was starting to deregulate its electricity market through a November ballot initiative and that it would increase energy prices.
More: Bloomberg Politics
Governor Signs Bill Reinstating Net Metering
Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bill Thursday reinstating net metering, prompting the return of Tesla’s SolarCity unit and Sunrun to the state after an 18-month absence.
The state discontinued net metering at the end of 2015, which led to SolarCity and Sunrun pulling out.
Tesla Chief Technical Officer JB Straubel said the company would resume selling solar systems in the state immediately.
Court Dismisses Tree-Cutting Suit Against Six Flags
The Superior Court dismissed a lawsuit last week seeking to block a Six Flags theme park from cutting down nearly 15,000 trees to build its own 21.9-MW solar farm.
The court ruled that, in approving the project, the local governing boards could weigh its environmental advantages against other environmental impacts. Environmentalists argued the project wasn’t consistent with the township’s master plan and that it was a “black eye” for clean energy.
Project officials said they expect the farm to result in a net reduction in carbon emissions of about 216,000 tons over a 15-year period.
More: The Associated Press
Alicia Barton Named CEO of NYSERDA
Alicia Barton on Monday was appointed as CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. She succeeds John Rhodes, who served as president and CEO since 2013 and is now chair of the Public Service Commission.
Barton most recently served as co-chair of the Energy and Cleantech practice at the law firm of Foley Hoag. Prior to joining the firm, she served as chief of operations for the Global Utility group at SunEdison and as CEO for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. She also directed the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Office and served as deputy commissioner for policy and planning for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
Kate Fish, executive director of Adirondack North Country Association, and Sukanya Paciorek, executive vice president and head of asset management at Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp., also were appointed to NYSERDA’s board of directors for six-year terms.
Green Bank Achieves $2.7M Profits for FY16/17
The New York Green Bank generated $2.7 million in positive net income during fiscal year 2016-2017, stemming from $291.6 million in investments in clean energy transactions across the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week.
The positive net income surpassed the bank’s expectations and was achieved one year ahead of schedule. The bank’s overall portfolio is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4.3 million and 6.4 million metric tons.
More: Gov. Andrew Cuomo
State Seeks to Spark $1.5B in Clean Energy Projects
In an announcement pushing back at President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, state officials said Friday they are seeking to make a $1.5 billion investment in clean energy — and that the money won’t come from state coffers.
The New York Power Authority and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority will solicit proposals for projects involving green technology sources, hoping to spark 40 to 60 projects with a combined power generation of 2.5 million MWh/year.
The developers would fund the projects and recover the money over time from ratepayers. Officials predict the new projects will create 40,000 jobs by 2020.
More: The Times Herald-Record
Senate Expected to Consider Solar Reform Bill
A bill that would change state regulations governing how the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act is implemented cleared the House last week and is expected to be taken up by the Senate this week.
Under House Bill 589, Duke Energy will issue annual requests for bids to build more solar projects, with an independent third party administering the bidding. Duke must request 2,660 MW of new solar capacity over the 42 months following establishment of the bid procedure. The bill also requires Duke to offer rebates to customers who install rooftop solar.
The state, which ranks second in the nation for solar capacity on its electric grid, currently boasts slightly more than 3,000 MW of solar. At least 1,300 MW are connected to the grid under PURPA, and Duke maintains the solar development sparked by PURPA is straining reliability of service.
Budget Bill Amendments Focus on Credit Ratings, Wind Setbacks
The state’s budget bill reported out of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday with two amendments authorizing extra charges on ratepayers to allow utilities to maintain their credit ratings and relaxing property line setbacks for wind turbines.
The credit rating amendment, SC-5466, would allow the Public Utilities Commission to impose charges to help utilities maintain at least an investment grade credit rating.
The wind turbine amendment, SC-4927-1, would undo changes made in 2014 when a last-minute budget bill amendment tripled the property line setbacks for wind turbines on commercial wind farms. Under the present amendment, the property line setback would be 120% of the wind turbine height, and the required setback to the nearest habitable, residential structure would be 1,225 feet, instead of 1,125 feet.
More: Midwest Energy News
Revision Proposed for Bill that Would Subsidize 2 Coal-Fired Plants
Responding to concerned opponents, the House Public Utilities Committee on Tuesday introduced a revision to a bill that would subsidize two coal-fired power plants.
Under the House Bill 239, Ohio Valley Electric Corp. would receive an income guarantee for times when the market price of electricity is less than the cost to operate its Kyger Creek and Clifty Creek plants. The money would come from a charge to ratepayers.
The revision, introduced by Rep. Rick Carfagna (R), provides that households would pay no more than $2.50/month and that the subsidy would expire in 2030.
More: The Columbus Dispatch
Wind Advocates Push to Loosen Restrictions on Turbine Siting
Wind energy advocates are pushing legislators to revise a 2014 state law restricting the siting of wind turbines.
Sen. Cliff Hite, whose district includes several large wind farms, has proposed a budget amendment that would require a 600-foot setback between a turbine and the nearest property line. In 2014, Senate leaders inserted an amendment into an unrelated bill that changed the setback to about 1,300 feet from the previous requirement of 550 feet.
Wind business leaders said the law is hindering development of new wind farms by preventing a sufficient number of turbines in a project. Opponents of the proposal say it would interfere with the property rights of people who live near wind farms.
More: The Columbus Dispatch
Wastewater Injection Causing Up to 2 Quakes per Day
Increased underground injection of wastewater produced during extraction of oil and natural gas has caused the state to experience one to two low-magnitude earthquakes per day since 2014, with a few instances of higher-magnitude quakes between 5 and 6, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Before 2009, the state might have saw one to two low-magnitude earthquakes per year.
In the central part of the state, the rock underlying the formations where disposal water is being injected contains faults that are susceptible to the changing stresses caused by fluid injection.
Report: Burning Portland’s Trash for Electricity OK
A recent report commissioned by the Portland metropolitan area’s regional government raises no significant concerns about the health or environmental risks of burning the city’s garbage to produce electricity.
Metro asked consultants to compare the impacts of garbage burning at a waste-to-energy incinerator in Brooks with maintaining the status quo of sending garbage to a landfill in Arlington, whose contract comes up for renewal in 2019. The report found burning the garbage would generate 13 MW of electricity — 10 times the amount of electricity available from processing waste at the landfill — but using the landfill would result in fewer carbon emissions.
More: Portland Tribune
Philadelphia Becomes 100th City to Sign onto Clean Energy Initiative
Philadelphia announced last week that it will transition to 100% clean energy — a move that makes it the 100th city, and second largest, to sign onto the Mayors for 100% Clean Energy effort spearheaded by the Sierra Club.
Presently, energy used by buildings and industry in the city accounts for 79% of its carbon pollution.
Sierra Club has set 2035 as an aspirational target year for cities to transition to 100% renewable energy.
Researchers Find Possible Link Between Three Mile Island, Cancer
Penn State College of Medicine researchers have found a possible correlation between the Three Mile Island partial meltdown accident and thyroid cancers in counties in the vicinity of the nuclear plant.
Researchers observed that tumor samples from people who lived near Three Mile Island at the time of the 1979 accident, remained in the area and subsequently developed thyroid cancer showed cancer mutations consistent with radiation exposure, as opposed to genetic mutations consistent with random causes.
The study was limited to tumor samples from patients treated for thyroid cancer at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. The next step in the research is to determine if the correlation continues in a larger sample of patients who were treated at other regional hospitals.
More: Penn State
PUC Reviewing EV Charging Policies
The Public Utility Commission launched an in-house review last week to determine whether its policies relating to third-party electric vehicle charging stations are inhibiting development of the infrastructure.
The commission will explore the rates the state’s electric utilities apply to the stations and restrictions on the stations for reselling the power to motorists.
The state has 723 charging stations and 3,600 registered EVs as of 2016.
Farmers, Energy Groups Join Forces to Overturn Wind Ordinance
Farm and energy groups joined together Tuesday in an effort geared at overturning an ordinance passed last month in Lincoln County requiring wind turbines to be spaced at least a half mile from homes unless the neighboring landowner provides a waiver. The matter is scheduled for a public referendum on July 18.
The coalition, which supports a wind farm planned by Dakota Power Community Wind, says the ordinance will curb renewable energy development in the county and that commercial wind could provide payments to owners of farm land as well as tax revenue. “It allows us to harvest something other than crops off our land,” said Sara Bovill, president of the Lincoln County Farm Bureau.
Backers of the ordinance say it protects property owners from the impact large-scale projects might have on property values and public health.
More: Argus Leader
Public Service Board Changing its Name
The Public Service Board announced it will change its name to the Public Utility Commission effective July 1.
The board said the new name will more clearly reflect its current statutory responsibilities and reduce confusion about the difference between the board and the Public Service Department, which is a separate state agency.
More: Daily Energy Insider
Proposed Legislation Promotes Pumped Storage
U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R) has introduced legislation that would complement state-level efforts to advance closed-loop pumped storage hydropower in the state’s coalfield counties.
The bill would allow FERC to impose licensing conditions when necessary to protect public safety and, when reasonable, economically feasible and essential to protect fish and wildlife resources. Earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed into law legislation seeking to spur development of the technology.
According to Griffith, the state’s abandoned mine lands already have much of the necessary infrastructure in place, and sites in the Southwest part of the state are especially attractive because they use clean, non-acidic water.
Dominion’s James River Crossing Wins Tentative Army Corps Nod
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is issuing a conditional permit for Dominion Energy’s controversial high-voltage transmission line across the James River but won’t issue a final permit until the company obtains approvals from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and water quality regulators at the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The Corps is not requiring any changes to the route of the $180 million overhead line or to the mitigation plan proposed to address its impact on nearby historic sites.
Dominion says the line is needed to ensure reliability on the Virginia Peninsula and that the area faces the risk of rolling blackouts without it. Opponents complain the line will desecrate historic sites and views on the James River and say the utility is exaggerating the reliability risk.
More: Daily Press
Regulators Miscommunicated Plans for Pipeline Permitting
The Department of Environmental Quality, contrary to prior communications, won’t be issuing individual permits for every waterway crossed by two natural gas pipeline projects, department officials said last week.
Stating the agency had miscommunicated its plans, officials said they would rely on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision as to compliance with water quality rules at wetland and stream crossings and that they would evaluate areas outside the corps’ purview.
The reversal comes after Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam told voters for weeks that he had secured assurances from state regulators that they would assess environmental impacts at specific sites rather than relying on “blanket” approval from federal officials.
More: The Washington Post
Seattle City Council Calls Upon Puget Sound Energy to End Coal Use
The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday calling upon Puget Sound Energy to end it use of coal by 2025.
PSE, which provides electricity to most households in the Puget Sound region outside Seattle, just began negotiating a contract with the coal-burning Colstrip power plant in Montana that would be effective through 2029. The contract includes provisions for ending the relationship.
The council’s resolution also calls for the city to abide by the Paris Agreement.
Environmental Groups Sue over Frac Sand Permits
Two environmental groups are challenging a decision by the Department of Natural Resources last month to grant permits to a Georgia timber company to fill more than 16 acres of Monroe County wetlands to build a $65 million frac sand facility.
In petitions filed with the agency and in the Dane County Court, Clean Wisconsin argues the permits, granted to Meteor Timber, would open the door to the destruction of more rare wetlands. Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a separate petition in Monroe County Circuit Court on behalf of the Ho-Chunk Nation, saying the destruction of the landscape “threatens the Nation’s people, land and cultural heritage.” Both groups maintain the agency did not have all the information required to legally review the application when it granted the permits.
Meteor Timber still needs still permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before it can proceed.
More: La Crosse Tribune