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DISCLAIMER: This blog is published for general information only - it is not intended to constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon by any person as legal advice. While we welcome you to contact our authors, the submission of a comment or question does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and you.

Wednesday
Jan272016

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.

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Wednesday
Jan272016

“The Rate Is What It Is”: Supreme Court Upholds FERC’s Demand Response Rule 

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.

 

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Friday
Jan082016

MPUC Approves Northern Utilities’ Targeted Area Build-Out Program

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.

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Wednesday
Dec302015

Beyond Net Metering: Solar Stakeholders Seek Common Ground

Since September, solar stakeholders have been participating in regular work sessions at the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to develop an alternative to Maine’s current net metering rules. Net metering or “net energy billing” allows utility customers who also generate some of their own power (with solar panels, for example) to pay only for the difference between the energy they generate and the energy they consume. This straightforward concept exists in some form in more than 40 states. But as rooftop solar continues to expand, utilities are beginning to seek alternatives to net metering rules around the country.

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Friday
Dec112015

Large-Scale Solar Having Its Moment in the Sun

Last week the Portland Press Herald reported that the Maine Public Utilities Commission will direct Maine’s transmission and distribution utilities to enter into a long-term contract with Dirigo Solar for the construction of up to 75 MW of new solar installations across the state.

The Commission was especially pleased with the price offered by Dirigo. According to a term sheet filed with the Commission last month, the price will be $35/MWh for all of the energy and capacity benefits generated by the solar projects. The price will increase by 2.5% annually over a total term of 20 years. These terms compare very favorably with other long-term renewable contracts approved by the Commission.

Earlier this year, for example, the Commission approved a 25-year contract for the Highland Wind project at a price of $43.80/MWh with the same annual 2.5% increase. Although the Highland Wind contract included other provisions that make an apples-to-apples comparison difficult, $35/MWh is nevertheless an impressive price for solar.

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Thursday
Dec102015

Divide in an Effort to Conquer: Petitioners ask Court to Bifurcate Challenge to Clean Power Plan 

Some lawyers say there is no harm in piling on when adding causes of action to a law suit. Assuming the claims are defensible, this may be true. Opponents of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA” or “Agency”) Clean Power Plan (“Rule”), however, seem to believe that their suit chock-full of legal challenges may be hindering their efforts to receive an expeditious ruling.

Yesterday, the group of 27 states, utilities, trade groups and unions, filed a motion with the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit requesting that the Court “bifurcate the briefing between the fundamental legal issues and individual record-based challenges.”

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Monday
Nov302015

Washington Post on Electric Vehicles: Coal Generates Electricity

Last week the Washington Post exposed electric cars’ dirty secret: they use electricity! The piece makes the astute point an electric vehicle (EV) is only as clean as the electricity that is used to power it. It is true that in many parts of the world that still heavily rely on coal, such as China, the climate benefit from an EV charging from the grid may be slim or even slightly negative. While it is important to remember that EVs do have a climate impact, EVs offer other advantages over gasoline-powered cars that need to be part of the discussion when evaluating the technology:

1)    EVs shift pollution from many mobile sources to a manageable number of point sources. It is much easier to regulate a handful of coal power plants than it is to regulate a million cars. You don’t have to worry about implementing vehicle emissions tests or removing older, heavier-polluting vehicles from the road. Instead, you can require these specific point sources to employ the best pollution control technology available and easily confirm that the plants are in fact using that technology. In the U.S., for example, stricter pollution regulations and competition from other sources of electricity has encouraged the rapid demise of coal-fired power plants.

2)    EVs shift pollution from population centers to less-populated areas. In addition to carbon dioxide, cars emit other pollutants that are harmful to human health. When most people walk outside their front door, they do not see a coal-fired power plant. Almost everyone sees cars. Moving pollution outside of city centers can improve air quality and bring corresponding health benefits to city residents. The Chinese government apparently recognized the benefits of reducing pollution from cars in 2008 when it banned diesel trucks from driving in Beijing and required city residents to alternate their driving days during the Olympics.

3)    EVs can be integrated into the smart grid to store electricity when it is cheap and sell it back to the grid when it is expensive. As Tesla understands, EVs are really made up of two new useful technologies: (1) an electric motor and (2) a battery. The EV battery can be charged at times when electricity is typically cheaper to produce (i.e., at night). During the hottest days of the year, when electricity demand is at its highest, EV owners could sell some of the electricity stored in the EV battery back to the grid. This could help reduce the need to build additional power plants to meet those high demand periods and reduce the cost of electricity for all customers.

4)    Electric grids are getting cleaner in most parts of the world. The electric vehicle industry is still a fledgling industry. EVs are not likely to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in the next ten years. However, as electric grids across the world are transformed into cleaner, smarter systems, EVs could play a key role in reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and conventional pollution around the world.

As the Post piece suggests, it may be the case that in some parts of the world, EVs do not currently make sense as a climate solution.  It is difficult to accept, however, that widespread EV adoption would make climate change a more difficult problem.