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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
When the Salt River Project utility in Arizona decided to impose new charges for its customers with rooftop solar installations in February, it opened another front in the solar war being waged across the country. Normally, these fights play out before state administrative agencies tasked with setting utilities’ rates and rules. Solar supporters argue that the fees discourage cost-beneficial investments into rooftop solar, while utilities argue that rooftop solar customers still rely on the grid and are not paying their fair share of the costs to support that grid.
Unlike most utilities, however, Salt River’s rates are not set by the state authority charged with setting electric rates, which in Arizona is the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC). Under Arizona law, Salt River is a political subdivision of the state that is allowed to set its own rates for retail electric service. As many rooftop solar supporters see it, Salt River has a natural monopoly over retail electric service, has no regulatory oversight, and is abusing its market power to crush its distributed solar competition.
Count Maine “in” as one of the 18 states filing a motion to intervene to defend the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA” or “Agency”) Clean Power Plan (“Rule”). A coalition including 24 states wasted little time filing suit against the much-anticipated final Rule after it was posted in the Federal Register on October 23. The coalition alleges that the Rule is an overreach of the authority delegated to the Agency by Congress and more specifically, Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act cannot be used to regulate greenhouse gases. The petitioners are asking the court to stay the Rule while the suit is pending and ultimately, invalidate it as ultra vires.
In Maine, the final Rule will require the State to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 10.8 percent by 2030 from 2012 levels, a reduction from the 14 percent target set forth in the initial draft. This reduction should not be difficult for the State to achieve given that its fleet of power plants infrequently burns coal, the State is already a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (“RGGI”), and it possesses access to an abundance of clean energy sources such as wind, solar, and tidal power.
Stay tuned to this suit which is undoubtedly destined for certiorari.
Coalition opposing the rule: West Virginia, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the Arizona Corporation Commission, the State of Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, the State of North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and Attorney General Bill Schuette on behalf of the People of Michigan.
Coalition supporting the rule: New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, the District of Columbia, the City of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boulder, South Miami and Broward County (FL).