PNGTS applies for Westbrook XPress Phase I pipeline project

Monday, January 21, 2019

An interstate natural gas pipeline system bringing gas from eastern Canada into Maine has asked U.S. regulators for approvals necessary for a project that would marginally increase the system's capacity to bring gas to Maine and the New England market.

At issue is Portland Natural Gas Transmission System (PNGTS), a pipeline that spans New England from the Canadian border to pipeline connections in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. Its facilities include 142 miles of wholly-owned mainline from an interconnection with Trans-Qu├ębec & Maritimes Pipeline Inc. at the U.S./Canada border to Westbrook, Maine plus two laterals, as well as 101 miles of mainline from Westbrook to Dracut, Massachusets, which PNGTS owns jointly with another interstate pipeline, Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, L.L.C. PNGTS operates pursuant to a number of federal approvals, including a certificate issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a Presidential Permit authorizing its facilities for importing gas from (or exporting gas to) Canada.

On December 21, PNGTS applied to the Commission for authorization for Phase I its "Westbrook Xpress Project," which would increase the certificated capacity on the northern portion of its system from Pittsburg, New Hampshire, to Westbrook, Maine, by 42.482 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d), effective November 1, 2019. The pipeline's application includes both public materials and materials that are protected against public disclosure as "controlled unclassified information", including privileged information and "critical energy infrastructure information."

In the public materials, PNGTS describes continued increased demand for natural gas: "Growing demand for natural gas for space heating, industrial processes and electric generation is driving a commensurate demand for incremental pipeline deliverability from abundant North American supply basins." PNGTS says its Westbrook XPress project "will provide access to, and allow for the transportation of, natural gas supplies from key North American supply basins such as Marcellus, Utica, and others" via Canadian pipelines. The company describes its Westbrook Xpress project is "a solution to meet this growing demand in areas of North America that have some of the highest residential gas prices in the winter." It envisions two distinct phases of the project: Phase I with an incremental 42.482 million cubic feet per day of certificated capacity, with an anticipated Phase II to bring an incremental 62.989 million cubic feet per day of capacity.

The Commission has docketed PNGTS's application for Phase I of the Westbrook XPress project as Docket No. CP19-32, and has issued public notice of the opportunity to intervene or comment through 5:00 pm Eastern Time on January 29, 2019.

Will Maine change its net metering law?

Friday, January 18, 2019

Several pieces of proposed Maine legislation could affect the state's version of net metering. Here's a quick look at Maine's net energy billing policy, how it could change, and what that might mean for consumers.

Maine's electricity rules allow consumers with certain distributed generation facilities (like solar panels) to elect "net energy billing." Like other forms of net metering, the basic concept is that consumers can use their on-site generation to offset their purchases of electricity from the grid, both in real time, and by banking credits for power exported to the grid during periods of time when on-site generation exceeds the consumer's load.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission first adopted a net energy billing rule in the 1980s, allowing customers to net imports and exports within any month or other billing period, in recognition that consumers should not be required to install an extra meter to measure exports from small renewable power facilities and other distributed generation. In 1998, the Commission revised its rule to allow annualized netting as a means of encouraging the use of small-scale renewable technologies designed primarily to serve the customer’s own needs.

In 2017, the Commission revised its rule to reduce the benefits of net metering for future projects, both by reducing the credit for nettable energy, and by shifting the state to a "gross metering" paradigm. Under gross metering, which has been called "one of the strangest and most regressive policies for valuing residential solar in the United States," utilities collect charges even for power generated and consumed on-site in real time. While the Commission later granted an exemption from its gross metering policy for most medium and large customers after finding that the cost of installing an extra meter (estimated at over $3,000 per installation) wasn't justified, the revised rule remains on the books for now.

But further possible changes to net energy billing figure among the numerous energy issues implicated by the list of legislation proposed for the Maine State Legislature's 2019 session. Several bills that have been printed so far suggest that the Legislature will consider various bills that would eliminate gross metering (like LD 91, An Act to Eliminate Gross Metering and LD 143, An Act To Protect Electric Ratepayers from Gross Output Metering Costs), or would replace net energy billing with a market-based mechanism (like LD 41, An Act To Replace Net Energy Billing with a Market-based Mechanism), among other measures. Other bill titles suggest possible changes to the state's policy on shared ownership net metering, which allows multiple customers to offset their load with generation from a community solar project or other off-site facility.

The Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology will schedule public hearings on these bills. The Committee has scheduled public hearings on LD 41 and LD 91 for 1:00 p.m. on January 29, 2019.

Considering a Green New Deal

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Will 2019 bring a "Green New Deal" for the U.S. or individual states?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt championed the original "New Deal" in the 1930s, as a series of federal reforms and measures designed to lift the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression. The First New Deal included banking and securities law reforms, funding for emergency relief operations by states and cities, and a Civil Works Administration. Later in the Roosevelt administration, a Second New Deal included labor law reforms, significantly increased federal employment through the Works Progress Administration jobs relief program, and the Social Security Act, among other measures.

More recently, the notion of a "Green New Deal" has emerged from a variety of sources. While the details of what constitutes a Green New Deal vary depending on the proponent, the basic concept most proposals have in common is a significant investment in clean energy to spur employment and revenue. For example:
The idea of a Green New Deal has again found some traction in 2019, although the details of what might be included remain unclear, as does the likelihood of its adoption. In 2018, as part of her successful campaign, now-Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed a federal "Green New Deal" to address climate change. While the concept does not appear to have been fully embraced by Congress, state legislation proposing state-level Green New Deals has started to arise. For example, Maine state Representative Chloe Maxmin has proposed a bill whose title has been published as LR 1034, "An Act To Establish a Green New Deal for Maine."

Whatever ultimate fate these proposals meet, the concept of stimulating the economy and improving environmental performance through investment in clean energy and other green infrastructure projects will likely remain on the table for the foreseeable future. Legislatures and policymakers will be faced with challenges and opportunities in crafting measures that will succeed, in terms of both enactment and actually making a difference. If nothing else, 2019 will bring continued discussion across all levels of government about how best to move the U.S. and individual states forward.

Energy issues in Maine's 2019 legislative requests

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

With the 129th Maine Legislature convened for its first regular session, the Office of the Revisor of Statutes has released a list of the titles of proposed legislation timely submitted by legislators. While the text of most of these legislative requests has not yet been publicly released, the preliminary list of working titles of over 2,000 precloture legislator bills suggests the scope of issues that will come before the Maine State Legislature in 2019. On energy matters, themes emerging from this list include reforms to Maine's renewable portfolio standard; efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; incentives for microgrids, renewable energy and electric vehicles; and changes to energy efficiency standards for most newly constructed buildings.

Based on the working titles and legislative committee assignments, a number of bills will propose changes to Maine's renewable portfolio standard or other laws regarding renewable energy. Among others, these bills could include:
  • LR 26, An Act To Update Maine's Renewable Energy Policy (Spkr. Gideon of Freeport)
  • LR 82, An Act To Update the State's Renewable Energy Goals (Rep. Berry of Bowdoinham)
  • LR 119, Resolve, To Establish a Working Group To Develop a Stand-alone Renewable Energy Certificate Program for the Biomass Industry (Sen. Carpenter of Aroostook)
  • LR 403, An Act To Diversify Maine's Energy Portfolio with Renewable Energy (Rep. Hubbell of Bar Harbor)
  • LR 845, An Act To Encourage the Use of Renewable Energy (Sen. Lawrence of York)
  • LR 872, An Act To Extend to December 31, 2020 the Deadline for Community-based Renewable Energy Projects To Become Operational (Rep. Higgins of Dover-Foxcroft)
  • LR 1034, An Act To Establish a Green New Deal for Maine (Rep. Maxmin of Nobleboro)
  • LR 1123, An Act To Repeal the 100 Megawatt Limit on Power Generation (Rep. Hanley of Pittston)
  • LR 1405, An Act To Clarify the Definition of "Renewable Capacity Resource" (Rep. Babine of Scarborough)
  • LR 1431, An Act To Study Transmission Solutions To Enable Renewable Energy Investment in the State (Rep. Berry of Bowdoinham)
  • LR 1470, An Act To Modernize Maine's Renewable Portfolio Standard (Sen. Lawrence of York)
  • LR 1558, An Act To Increase Maine-based Energy Sources (Pres. Jackson of Aroostook)
  • LR 1616, An Act To Reform Maine's Renewable Portfolio Standard (Sen. Vitelli of Sagadahoc)
  • LR 1803, An Act To Benefit Maine Consumers, Businesses and Communities through Expanded Renewable Energy (Sen. Dow of Lincoln)
Other bill titles suggest possible proposed changes to other aspects of Maine's renewable policy, such as Maine's version of net metering or rules governing community solar projects:
  • LR 15, An Act To Eliminate Gross Metering (Rep. Berry of Bowdoinham)
  • LR 299, An Act To Replace Net Energy Billing with a Market-based Mechanism (Rep. O'Connor of Berwick)
  • LR 404, An Act To Protect Ratepayers from Gross-metering Costs (Rep. Hubbell of Bar Harbor)
  • LR 535, An Act To Eliminate the Cap on Solar Energy Generation Farms (Sen. Miramant of Knox)
  • LR 536, An Act To Require Transmission and Distribution Utilities To Purchase Electricity from Renewable Resources at Certain Prices (Sen. Miramant of Knox) 
  • LR 1259, An Act To Eliminate Restrictions on Community Solar Projects (Rep. Higgins of Dover-Foxcroft)
  • LR 1621, An Act To Expand Community-based Solar Energy in Maine (Sen. Sanborn of Cumberland)
Several more bill titles appear designed to expand opportunities for microgrids or other local private sales of electricity:
  • LR 18, An Act To Allow Microgrids That Are in the Public Interest (Rep. Devin of Newcastle)
  • LR 213, An Act To Authorize Businesses Located Adjacent to Electric Power Generators To Obtain Power Directly (Rep. Campbell of Orrington)
  • LR 1464, An Act To Allow the Direct Sale of Electricity (Sen. Woodsome of York)
Beyond a direct focus on renewable energy, several bill titles address Maine's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or efforts to reduce fossil fuel use:
  • LR 254, An Act To Develop a State Energy Plan To Provide a Pathway to a Fossil-free Energy Portfolio (Rep. Devin of Newcastle)
  • LR 1493, An Act To Ensure the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Trust Fund Continues To Promote Energy Efficiency and Benefit Maine Ratepayers (Rep. Wadsworth of Hiram)
At least three bill titles call for increased incentives for electric vehicles:
  • LR 862, An Act To Provide Purchase Rebates for Battery Electric Vehicles and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (Rep. Ingwersen of Arundel)
  • LR 1380, An Act To Encourage Municipalities, State Agencies, Colleges and Universities To Adopt Electric Vehicles (Rep. Ingwersen of Arundel)
  • LR 1687, An Act To Create an Electric Vehicle Tax Credit (Sen. Chenette of York) 
At least five bill titles address the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code:
  • LR 561, An Act To Amend the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (Rep. Kessler of South Portland)
  • LR 537, An Act To Strengthen the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (Rep. Caiazzo of Scarborough)
  • LR 619, An Act Regarding the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (Rep. Ingwersen of Arundel)
  • LR 866, An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (Rep. Rykerson of Kittery)
  • LR 1743, An Act Regarding the Application and Administration of the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (Rep. Fecteau of Biddeford) 
Experience suggests that most of these legislative requests will result in printed bills, and will be given public hearings before legislative committees before votes by the House and Senate.

Maine microgrid legislation proposed

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Could Maine unlock the potential of local energy grids through legislative action? As the 129th Maine Legislature begins its first regular session, legislators will consider at least one bill designed to encourage "microgrids." As an alternative or complement to traditional central electric utility development, microgrids are considered to be one key component of the "smart grid," capable of improving power reliability and quality, increasing system energy efficiency, and providing the possibility of grid-independence to individual end-user sites.

While the U.S. electric industry of the 20th century was characterized by consolidation of utility service into large utility service territories, microgrids represent an alternative or complementary model for connecting customers to energy resources. The U.S. Department of Energy defines a "microgrid" as "a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island-mode.’’ The Energy Department notes that microgrids can provide consumers benefits such as backup for the grid in case of emergencies, cost reduction, energy independence, reduced environmental impacts, and integration of local resources like small-scale generation or electric storage. Other states, including New York and Massachusetts are taking action to facilitate the development of microgrids, as is the federal government.

The 129th Maine Legislature will consider a bill known as LD 13, An Act To Allow Microgrids That Are in the Public Interest. Sponsored by Representative Michael Devin of Newcastle, the bill defines a “new microgrid” as “a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the electric grid and can connect and disconnect from the electric grid to enable the new microgrid to operate in both electric grid-connected mode and nongrid-connected mode, also referred to as island mode, and that is constructed after October 1, 2019.”

LD 13 would create a process through which the Maine Public Utilities Commission would approve the construction and operation of a new microgrid, if the Commission found that the operation of the new microgrid to be in the public interest and that other defined criteria were satisfied. These additional criteria include that the new microgrid will serve a total load of no more than 10 megawatts, that the small-scale electrical generation sources located close to where the generated electricity is used must meet Maine’s renewable portfolio standard, that there is a relationship between the proposed new microgrid operator and consumers within the area to be served by the proposed new microgrid, and that the reliability and security of the electric system will not be negatively affected. The criteria also require that the person proposing the new microgrid must have financial capacity and technical capability to operate the microgrid, and that the proponent can’t be an investor-owned transmission and distribution utility or its affiliate or affiliated interest.

LD 13 would also amend an existing law which currently gives transmission and distribution utilities the right to construct or maintain electric lines in, upon, along, over, across or under a road, street or other public way, but which generally makes it harder for entities other than transmission and distribution utilities to construct or maintain electric lines in roads. The amendment would extend the transmission and distribution utilities’ rights to a new category of people: those who construct, maintain or operate a new microgrid approved by the Commission.

The Legislature has referred LD 13 to its Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology. As of January 3, the Committee had not yet scheduled a public hearing on the bill.

2018 marks record for corporate renewable energy buys

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

According to Rocky Mountain Institute’s Business Renewables Center, corporate renewable energy procurement set a new single-year record for new capacity of announced wind and solar deals in 2018.

The Center reports that as of mid-December 2018, publicly announced corporate procurements of renewable energy reached 6.43 gigawatts. Procurement approaches counted toward this total include power purchase agreements, green power purchases, green tariffs, and outright project ownership in the United States.

Facebook, AT&T, Walmart, ExxonMobil and Microsoft had the five highest total volumes of newly announced deals; Facebook alone added 1,849.5 megawatts of new renewable procurement.

The Center notes that the U.S. renewables market has nearly doubled its annual total of corporate clean energy off-site deal volume since its prior highpoint in 2015. Also noteworthy is a near-doubling of the number of new entrants into the procurement market, including AT&T which completed deals for 820 megawatts of renewable power in 2018.

According to the Center's Deal Tracker, the total cumulative corporate procurement of renewable energy in the U.S. since 2013 now exceeds 15 gigawatts.

$11.5 trillion investors' group calls for European utilities to end coal use by 2030

Friday, December 21, 2018

A group of 95 investors organized as the “Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change” has issued an open letter to European power companies on December 19, 2018, asking firms to demonstrate they are implementing business strategies aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The investors participating in the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change collectively have $11.5 trillion in assets under management or advise; 20 of the 95 signatories each have over $200 billion in assets under management, including Aberdeen Standard Investments, BNP Paribas Asset Management, DWS, Legal and General Investment Management, Nordea Group and M&G. Other signatories include the California Public Employees' Retirement System, California State Teachers' Retirement System, New York City Comptroller’s Office, and New York State Common Retirement Fund.

Citing the United Nations IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C issued on October 8, 2018, the investors cite the risks to global markets and investments from 2 °C or higher temperature rises as “potentially catastrophic.” The IPCC report found that a number of climate change impacts could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5 °C compared to 2 °C or more. But the report also noted that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. In particular, the IPCC report concluded that to limit warming to 1.5 °C would require net global human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching "net zero" around 2050. 

The group demands that power generators, grid operators and distributors “plan for their future in a net-zero carbon economy.” Specifically, they request companies to publish transition plans consistent with the goal of the Paris Agreement; develop explicit timelines and commitments for the rapid elimination of coal use by utilities in EU and OECD countries by no later than 2030; and support the development of “ambitious climate policy aligned with the Paris Agreement” directly and through their trade associations.