Last Friday, the Maine House came within two votes of overriding Governor LePage’s veto of LD 1649, a bill that would have substantially increased installed solar capacity in Maine. The Senate had previously voted unanimously to override the veto. The bill would have sought to increase solar capacity nearly tenfold in Maine, from 20 MW to 196 MW in 2021. The bill would have phased out net metering in favor of a system of long-term contracts for rooftop solar and provided similar long-term contracts for community and large-scale solar installations.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued its decision (8-0) in Hughes v. Talen Energy striking down a Maryland program that encouraged additional in-state generation. Hughes is the second decision of the term, following FERC v. Electric Power Supply Association, in which the Court has struggled to clarify the increasingly blurry boundary between state and federal jurisdiction over energy policy. In this case, the Court focused on the precise mechanism of the Maryland program which required load serving entities (LSEs) in Maryland to enter into a 20-year pricing contract with a new gas-fired generator owned by CPV Maryland, LLC (CPV). To understand the Court’s holding, it is necessary to understand a bit about FERC’s capacity auctions.
Maine Commission Reviews Non-Transmission Alternative Pilot Project; Opens New Docket to Appoint NTA Coordinator
Eight years ago, Central Maine Power (CMP), Maine’s largest T&D utility, proposed the Maine Power Reliability Program (MPRP)—a comprehensive plan to upgrade transmission resources ensure reliable service to its customers throughout its service territory. As part of an agreement reached in that docket, a Non-Transmission Alternative (NTA) pilot project in Boothbay Harbor was implemented. Grid Solar was selected as the coordinator for the pilot project, which went live in 2013.
On March 10, the Maine Legislature’s Energy, Utilities & Technology Committee reported out a bill that is the culmination of the solar stakeholder process at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The bill sets a target of developing 248 MW of new solar capacity over a five-year period beginning in 2017. The bill defines four categories of solar power development in Maine: grid-scale, large-scale community, commercial and industrial, and residential and small business.
As previously explained here, the most controversial aspect of the new legislation is that it would end net metering (AKA “net energy billing”) for rooftop solar. During the solar stakeholder process at the PUC, a compromise consensus emerged among the utilities, the solar industry, environmental groups, and the Office of the Public Advocate, which represents ratepayers in Maine.
Maine Supreme Judicial Court Affirms MPUC’s Finding that Smart Meters Pose No Credible Health or Safety Threat
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s decision that Central Maine Power Company’s advanced metering infrastructure (“AMI”) system (aka “smart meters”) pose no credible threat to the health and safety of Central Maine Power Company (“CMP”) customers. Friedman v. PUC, 2016 ME 19, — A.3d —. In a lengthy legal battle spanning more than five years, Ed Friedman and other CMP customers, challenged the use of smart meters on health and safety grounds.
At oral argument in FERC v. Electric Power Supply Association, the Government argued that the retail rate or price of electricity “is what it is”—exactly the amount charged to the customer, without considering any foregone benefits. On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed with that characterization and upheld FERC’s Demand Response rule, rejecting arguments that the rule exceeded FERC’s authority by regulating retail electric rates that are exclusively the domain of state regulators. But before we get to the merits, some background is in order.
What is Demand Response?
Demand Response (DR) refers to the practice of incenting electricity consumers to reduce their demand for power during times of peak power usage. During these peak times, electricity becomes very expensive to generate as older and more inefficient generators are required to run to meet the high demand.
Grid operators throughout the country are tasked with precisely balancing electricity demand and supply at all times. Historically, these grid operators focused on the supply side of the equation—overseeing markets to ensure there is an adequate supply of generation to meet forecasted demand. Over the last 10-15 years, however, FERC and regional grid operators have learned that by lowering demand, they can reduce wholesale power costs and improve grid reliability.
Northern Utilities (d/b/a Unitil) recently received Maine Public Utilities Commission approval for a pilot Targeted Area Build-Out (TAB) program in Saco, Maine. The purpose of Unitil’s TAB program is to remove the barrier of large contribution in aid of construction (CIAC) payments that new gas customers face when converting to natural gas and allow Unitil to build out its gas distribution network incrementally in targeted areas to serve new customers that are located off the main gas line.