New York's 2015 Energy Plan

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The state of New York has released a sweeping plan for its energy future, featuring strengthened commitments to clean energy over the next four decades.  The 2015 New York State Energy Plan includes reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, increased generation of renewable energy, and improved energy efficiency.

Article 6 of New York's energy law requires the state's energy planning board to develop period state energy plans.  The state released its two-volume 2015 report on June 25, presenting "a comprehensive strategy to create economic opportunities" in New York based on Governor Andrew Cuomo's previously-announced "Reforming the Energy Vision" or REV program.

Among the 2015 plan's elements are a series of clean energy targets, including a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels; 50% of electricity generation coming from carbon-free renewables; and 600 trillion Btu in energy efficiency gains, which equates to a 23% reduction
from 2012 in energy consumption in buildings.

Whether and how New York will implement its 2015 State Energy Plan remains to be seen.  Notably, the plan was produced by the state's executive branch; it is unclear whether legislators will support or thwart it.  Will the Empire State follow its latest plan?  If so, will it lead to the anticipated economic opportunities?

Maine RGGI report 2015: price impact "relatively modest", programs helpful

Friday, June 12, 2015

For 8 years, states in the Northeastern U.S. have participated in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  RGGI, the first market-based greenhouse gas regulatory program in the United States, represents a cooperative effort by participating states to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electric power sector, coupled with a market for auctioning and trading emission allowances.  While some groups feared that the RGGI program would increase electricity prices, a recent report by the Maine Public Utilities Commission found that the impact of RGGI on electricity prices in Maine has been relatively modest -- while finding that RGGI-funded programs contribute to economic development and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

RGGI formed in 2007, when ten states -- Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont -- agreed to first cap, and then slowly reduce, the greenhouse gas emissions of their electrical energy sectors by 10% by 2018.  While New Jersey withdrew in 2012, the program has remained strong; in 2014, the remaining states subsequently tightened the RGGI cap for 2014 from 165 million short tons of carbon to 91 million short tons, then further declining 2.5% per year from 2015 to 2020.

While each participating state adopted its own laws implementing RGGI, in general the RGGI laws require certain generators of electricity to track their carbon emissions and acquire an “allowance” for every ton of carbon dioxide or its equivalent that they emit.  States conduct periodic auctions of allowances, and market participants are free to engage in secondary market trades.  Generators must purchase or trade for enough emissions allowances to match the number of tons of CO2-equivalent emitted.  The cost of acquiring these allowances gives generators an incentive to improve their efficiency or switch to fuels with a lower carbon intensity.

Each state also adopted its own laws governing the use of funds raised by state auctions of RGGI allowances.  In Maine, most funds go to the Efficiency Maine Trust for purposes including measures, investments and arrangements that reduce electricity consumption or reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower energy costs at commercial or industrial facilities, and for investment in measures that lower residential heating energy demand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

RGGI has conducted 27 quarterly allowance auctions since September 2008, through which Maine has received a cumulative total of $ 62.22 million in RGGI auction proceeds.  Maine’s auction proceeds in 2014 totaled $11.37 million. According to the Maine Public Utilities Commission's report:
the annual cost to Maine ratepayers of the RGGI program was approximately $0.0024 per kWh. For the average Maine residential customer using 530 kWh per month, the 2014 RGGI program cost was approximately $ 1.27 per month. For a commercial customer using 25,000 kWh per month the 2014 RGGI program cost was approximately $60.00 per month. A large commercial or industrial customer using 500,000 kWh per month would have had a 2014 RGGI program cost of approximately $1,200 per month.
On the benefits side of the ledger, the Commission's report cites a finding that "all RGGI proceeds since 2008 are expected to return more than $2 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3 million households and more than 12,000 businesses across the eight states taking part in RGGI."  The Commission also cited its July 2014 report to the Legislature quantifying the increases in employment, real personal income, and gross state product expected to occur in Maine as a result of the cap tightening and other changes implemented in 2014.  That report found:
economic impacts for the New England region include a cumulative increase in Gross Regional Product of over $2 billion, a cumulative increase in employment of 38,900 job-years, and a cumulative increase in real personal income of $1.5 billion including a cumulative increase in Maine Gross State Product of $200 million, a cumulative increase in employment of more than 5,000 job-years, and a cumulative increase in real personal income of $100 million.
Based on these observations, the Maine Public Utilities Commission's 2015 report on RGGI concludes that "the impact of RGGI on electricity prices has been relatively modest, while RGGI-funded programs contribute to the gross state product, job growth, and personal income, and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Transmission line for Canadian imports advances

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A proposed high-voltage direct current transmission line designed to import Canadian power into the New England grid has received a favorable environmental recommendation from the U.S. Department of Energy. 

The New England Clean Power Link is a high-voltage, direct-current transmission project proposed by TDI New England, a subsidiary of private transmission developer Transmission Developers Inc. and ultimately part of the Blackstone Group.

Designed to feed the New England market with up to 1,000 megawatts of electricity, the proposed $1.2 billion New England Clean Power Link project would feature two parallel cables approximately 5” in diameter, operating at a voltage of approximately 300 to 320 kV.  These HVDC lines would run about 154 miles.  Originating at a DC converter station in Quebec, the U.S. portion of the line would start at the international border in Alburgh, Vermont.  It would run beneath the bottom sediments of Lake Champlain for about 98 miles, then turn east and run over land (but underground, mostly under roadway rights-of-way and railway beds) to a terminal converter station in Ludlow, Vermont, where the power could flow onto the New England grid.

Federal law requires most infrastructure development for international trade in energy to apply for and receive a Presidential Permit before the project may be built.  TDI New England applied for the presidential permit in May 2014, and applied to the state of Vermont for permits in December 2014.

As part of the Presidential Permit process, the federal National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA requires the U.S. Department of Energy to evaluate the potential environmental impacts in the United Statesof the proposed action and the range of reasonable alternatives.  In this case, the proposed federal action is the issuance of a Presidential permit to the applicant, Champlain VT, LLC, doing business as TDI - New England, to construct, operate, maintain, and connect a new electric transmission line across the U.S.-Canada border in northern Vermont.

On June 3, the Department of Energy released its final draft Environmental Impact Statement or EIS for the New England Clean Power Link.  In that document, the Department found relatively minimal and short-term adverse environmental impacts from project construction, operation and maintenance. 

Once notice of the draft EIS is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to comment on its analysis.  The Department will also hold public informational meetings in Vermont regarding the project.  According to the EIS, TDI New England expects permitting will continue through mid-2016, with construction and in-service dates as early as 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Meanwhile, TDI is simultaneously pursuing other HVDC transmission lines from Canada into the Northeastern US, most notably the Champlain-Hudson Power Express -- another HVDC line beneath Lake Champlain but continuing on overland and under the Hudson River to a converter station in New York City.   The Champlain-Hudson Power Express won a Presidential Permit in 2014.

NYISO solar study announced

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Solar power is booming in the U.S. -- but how will growth in solar photovoltaic generating capacity affect the electricity grid?  The operator of the state of New York's electric grid has announced a study of the potential for growth in solar power resources to determine their impact on grid operations over the next 15 years.

Solar panels recently developed in a farm field in Massachusetts.
The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) operates New York State's high-voltage transmission network, runs the state's wholesale electricity markets.  NYISO also evaluates trends in utility infrastructure development and usage, and what changes in these patterns imply for future infrastructure needs.

One such trend is the recent rapid growth in installed solar electric generating capacity.  In New York, a state government initiative known as NY-Sun aims to reduce solar installation costs by stimulating demand and increasing the number of solar PV systems installed in the state.  The NY-Sun program envisions the installation of more than 3,000 megawatts of customer-sited solar capacity by 2023, supported by about $150 million in annual state funding for solar PV projects.  Already, in the first two years of NY-Sun, a total of 316 megawatts of solar electric has been installed or is under contract.

Unlike standalone utility-scale solar development, the solar buildout directly triggered by the NY-Sun program will occur “behind the meter” — that is, on the customer's side of the utility meter, as opposed to a typical power plant sited remotely from customer load.  Nevertheless, increased consumption of power produced by distributed generation might affect NYISO's load forecasts or grid operations.  So too might the collective impacts of many generators with variable but correlated output.

To prepare for this future, NYISO has announced a "solar study" to evaluate the growing impact of sun-powered generation.  The study will focus on the following objectives:
  • Developing solar forecasting tools and preparing 15-year forecasts of solar PV capacity for each of the 11 load zones in New York State
  • Researching how other independent system operators and regional transmission organizations have integrated solar resources into their grids
  • Evaluating solar generation variability and its impact on customer load served by the NYS electric systems.
  • Reviewing operational impacts of various levels of solar and wind resources.

The results of NYISO's solar study are expected to be released in a report later this year.

FERC approves Iberdrola-UIL merger

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Federal utility regulators have issued an order authorizing transactions the merger of utilities affiliated with Iberdrola, S.A. and UIL Holding Corporation.

Iberdrola is a Spanish-owned utility holding company, owning electricity and natural gas systems and electric generation across four continents.  Its direct wholly owned subsidiary Iberdrola USA holds all of Iberdrola’s energy-related operations in the United States through two intermediate holding companies. Iberdrola USA Networks, Inc., holds transmission owning public utility affiliates, including New York State Electric & Gas Corporation (NYSEG), Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation, Central Maine Power Company, Maine Natural Gas Company, and interests in Maine Electric Power Company. Iberdrola Renewables Holdings, Inc. owns and operates its generation segment in the United States through a number of indirect subsidiaries.

UIL is in the business of ownership of operating regulated utilities in Connecticut and Massachusetts. It owns and controls the United Illuminating Company, a business engaged in purchasing, transmitting, and distributing electric power to customers in southwestern Connecticut. United Illuminating owns a 50 percent equity interest in GCE Holding LLC which in turn owns two companies owning 187.6 MW dual-fuel generating plants in Milford and Middletown, Connecticut. UIL also owns natural gas local distribution companies in central and southern Connecticut and western Massachusetts, as well as Total Peaking Services, LLC which provides liquefied natural gas storage services.

On February 26, 2015, Iberdrola S.A. announced the boards of directors of Iberdrola S.A. and Iberdrola USA had approved a combination of Iberdrola USA with UIL Holdings in a friendly transaction, reportedly for about $3 billion.  On March 25, 2015, Iberdrola and UIL applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for authorization under section 203(a)(1) and (a)(2) of the Federal Power Act (FPA) for a series of transactions in which UIL will become an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Iberdrola USA and, in turn, a wholly owned subsidiary of Iberdrola.

In a Section 203 case, the Commission examines a merger’s effect on competition, rates and regulation, and the potential for cross-subsidization.  Applicants must demonstrate that a proposed disposition or acquisition of jurisdictional facilities meets the standards of Section 203.   In the Iberdrola-UIL case, the applicants stated that their subsidiaries' portfolios of generation, transmission, natural gas assets, and other jurisdictional facilities had only de minimis overlap, that the transaction would not adversely affect rates or regulation, or result in cross-subsidization of a nonutility associate company or pledge or encumbrance of utility assets for the benefit of an associate company.

On June 2, 2015, the Commission issued an order finding that the proposed transaction is consistent with the public interest and is authorized, subject to routine conditions.  While other regulatory approvals may be required before the merger can proceed, securing prior authorization under Section 203 is an important milestone for the proposed deal.

According to Iberdrola, the combined company will have a 2014 pro forma EBITDA of approximately $2 billion, net income of $570 million, 3.1 million of points of supply, around 6.7 GW of installed capacity.  Iberdrola anticipates that the company will become the US's second largest wind operator and one of the nation's largest utilities.