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.

NJ approves offshore wind funding mechanism, rejects demonstration project

Thursday, December 20, 2018

On December 18, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities took two actions affecting offshore wind: approving the state’s Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Certificate (OREC) funding mechanism, but rejecting a petition by Nautilus Offshore Wind, LLC to install a 25 MW offshore wind demonstration project in state waters off the coast of Atlantic City. Meanwhile, developers have formed a new joint venture to develop offshore wind in federal waters farther offshore New Jersey.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has set a goal of 3.5 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030, and in May 2018 he signed into law a renewable energy bill codifying that goal into statute. On September 17, 2018, the NJBPU opened the nation’s largest single-state solicitation to date, seeking 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind. Applications will be accepted through December 28, 2018. Winning projects will be compensated through the OREC mechanism approved this week, which requires electric companies to buy defined quantities of ORECs from offshore wind developers, much like a traditional renewable portfolio standard mechanism.

Also on December 18, the BPU rejected a 25 megawatt demonstration project proposed by Nautilus (under development by EDF Renewables and Fishermen’s Energy). The Nautilus project would feature three turbines in state waters about 2.8 miles offshore Atlantic City. But the BPU found the Nautilus project did not demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits required under the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act for the state to commit ratepayer funds. In particular, the BPU found that Nautilus didn’t provide sufficient information to substantiate claimed economic benefits, and further that Nautilus demanded a price that was too high given the unsubstantiated benefits.

But offshore wind development may soon occur farther offshore New Jersey. On December 19, 2018, EDF Renewables North America and Shell New Energies US LLC announced the formation of a 50/50 joint venture, Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, LLC to co-develop offshore wind generation in federal waters offshore New Jersey. The site is about 8 miles offshore Atlantic City. At issue is the 183,353-acrea OCS-0499 lease area, the rights to which were initially auctioned by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in 2015. That auction was won by Toto Holding Group subsidiary US Wind Inc., with a winning bid of $1,006,240.

More recent federal auctions for offshore wind site leasing rights have brought much higher winning bids -- for example, a December 2018 auction for sites offshore Massachusetts brought in about $135 million for each of three lease areas, totaling over $405 million in winning bids for about 390,000 acres.

Feds reap $405 million offshore wind bidding bonanza

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

In what the Trump administration has called a "bidding bonanza", the latest federal auction of rights to lease ocean space for offshore wind development has brought $405 million in winning bids.

On December 14, 2018, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management conducted its eighth competitive lease auction for renewable energy in federal waters. At stake were the rights to lease three areas totaling about 390,000 acres over the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Massachusetts.
The three lease areas in question are located 19.8 nautical miles from Martha’s Vineyard, 16.7 nautical miles from Nantucket, and 44.5 nautical miles from Block Island. These sites were previously offered for leasing through a federal auction in 2015, but went unsold at that time.

Eleven companies participated in the auction by submitting bids, out of a total of nineteen companies that had been deemed qualified to bid. The three provisional winners were Equinor Wind US, LLC  and Mayflower Wind Energy, LLC (each bidding $135 million) and Vineyard Wind, LLC (bidding $135.1 million). These amounts are significantly higher than any previous federal auction for offshore wind sites has yielded; the previous record winning bid was just over $42 million in December 2016 for a lease area offshore New York.

After the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission perform an anti-competitiveness review of the auction results, each winning bidder will be required to pay the winning bid amount to the Bureau and to post financial assurance. In exchange, each winning bidder will receive a lease with a preliminary term of one year, during which the lessee may submit a Site Assessment Plan (SAP) to BOEM for approval. Under the regulations governing the federal leasing process, the SAP describes the buoys or other facilities a lessee plans to deploy to assess the lease area's wind resources and ocean conditions. After BOEM approves a lessee's SAP, the lessee may submit a detailed Construction and Operations Plan (COP) to BOEM within four and a half years for approval. When presented with a COP, BOEM will conduct an environmental review. Finally, after BOEM approves any COP, the lessee will have a 33-year term to construct and operate the project.

FERC relicenses Poe hydro project

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued an order issuing a new hydropower license to utility Pacific Gas & Electric Company for its Poe Hydroelectric Project.

The 143-megawatt project is located on the North Fork Feather River in northern California, and includes land within the Plumas National Forest. Originally licensed in 1953, the project includes two dams impounding reservoirs, a 33,000-foot-long pressure tunnel bypassing about 7.6 miles of the river, and a powerhouse with two turbines.

The Commission issued a new 40-year license for the Poe project to PG&E on December 17, 2018. In relicensing proceedings, the Commission considers a number of public interest factors, including the economic benefits of project power. In general, the Commission evaluates the economics of a hydropower project by comparing the current costs of the project to likely alternative power, without considering forecasts concerning potential future inflation, escalation, or deflation beyond the license issuance date. The Commission says the basic purpose of its economic analysis is to provide a general estimate of the potential power benefits and the costs of a project, and of reasonable alternatives to project power.

In the Poe project's case, the Commission noted that after considering mandatory conditions and other measures suggested by Commission staff, PG&E's annual cost of operating the project would be about $9,590,000. Assuming that the project would generate an average of 498,113 megawatt-hours of energy annually, this works out to $19.3 per megawatt-hour. By comparison, the Commission found that the project's the corresponding alternative energy cost plus the value of its dependable capacity gave this power a value of $50,800,000, or $102 per megawatt-hour in the first year of operation, the project would cost $41,210,000 or $82.7 per megawatt-hour less than the likely alternative cost of power.

EIA highlights Maine electric reliability woes

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

How long was your power out last year? How many times was your utility electricity service interrupted? Recently released federal statistics show that in 2017, the average Maine electricity customer experienced both the greatest number of interruptions and the longest total duration of power outages of any state in the country.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration tracks electric utility service outages. EIA tracks electric utility service interruptions using two reliability metrics developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE): System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) and System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI). In general, SAIDI tracks the number of hours an average customer went without electricity service in the year, while SAIFI tracks the number of power outages lasting longer than 5 minutes.

According to the EIA, in 2017 the average U.S. electricity customer experienced 1.4 power outages, losing power for an average of 7.8 hours or 470 minutes. EIA notes that 2017 brought more "major events" like hurricanes and winter storms compared to the previous year. Excluding these major events, EIA reports that the average customer experienced just one power outage in 2017, with an average duration of about 2 hours.

But customers in some states suffered more frequent and longer-lasting interruptions in electricity service, and Maine led the pack in these power outage metrics. According to EIA data, the average Maine customer experienced 3 power outages, with an average annual interruption time of 42 hours.

U.S. Energy Information Administration chart presenting data from Annual Electric Power Industry Report, EIA-861.
For example, one major power outage occurred on October 30, 2017. As a result of a wind storm, Maine's largest utility Central Maine Power Company eventually reported that over 470,000 customers -- more than 60 percent of its customer base -- were without power. Two days after the storm, CMP estimated that over 190,000 homes and businesses remained without service. Some customers remained in the dark for a week.

US EPA sets renewable fuel standard for 2019

Monday, December 10, 2018

U.S. environmental regulators have established renewable fuel standards for 2019, calling for a 3% increase in renewable fuel volumes over 2018, but have continued to waive statutory requirements targeting even larger volumes of renewable fuel.

Congress created the Renewable Fuel Standard or RFS program through the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and expanded the program through the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the RFS requires a certain volume of renewable fuel to be used in transportation (motor vehicles and jets) and heating. Refiners and importers of gasoline or diesel, along with other market participants like fuel producers and exporters, track and trade renewable fuel credits called Renewable Identification Numbers or RINs.

The RFS includes four categories of renewable fuel: cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel. By statute, Congress prescribed specific volumes of these four categories of renewable fuel for each year through 2022, and required the EPA to set RFS volume requirements annually based on these statutory targets. The statute also allows the EPA Administrator to waive these volumetric requirements, based on a determination that implementation of the program is causing severe economic or environmental harm, or based on inadequate domestic supply.

On November 30, 2018, the EPA issued its final rule for the 2019 RFS program. The 2019 final rule sets the total U.S. renewable fuel volume requirements for 2019 at 19.92 billion gallons, including 4.92 billion gallons of advanced biofuel, 2.1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel, and just 418 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel. The rule also sets a 2020 volume requirement for biomass-based diesel of 2.43 billion gallons.

The EPA noted that "the market has fallen well short of the statutory volumes for cellulosic biofuel, resulting in shortfalls in the advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel volumes." Based on this observation, EPA exercised its waiver authority to finalize the cellulosic biofuel volume requirement at the level EPA projects to be available for 2019. This is consistent with EPA's past practice, through which it has set the cellulosic biofuel requirement lower than the statutory volume for each year since 2010.

Feds predict US coal consumption falling to 1979 levels

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

U.S. coal consumption in 2018 will reach its lowest level since 1979, according to a prediction by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Reduced coal use for electricity generation is the largest contributor to the decline, driven by factors including economics and environmental regulations.

The EIA tracks total U.S. coal consumption. According to its latest forecast, EIA expects total U.S. coal consumption in 2018 to fall to 691 million short tons. This represents a 4% decline from 2017, and would bring coal use in line with 1979 levels.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

EIA cites reductions in the use of coal to generate electricity as the largest contributor to this decline. Between 2007 and 2018, 93% of total U.S. coal consumption was for electricity generation. But shifts in how the country generates power -- including retirements of over 66 gigawatts of coal-fired power plants since 2007, plus decreases in the utilization or capacity factor of most remaining coal-fired generators -- have reduced the nation's consumption of coal.

Part of the shift away from coal-fired power production can be explained by economics. Natural gas prices have generally remained relatively low compared to coal prices over the past decade, and fuel-free renewable power projects are on the rise.

Environmental regulations such as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (which took effect in 2015) have also contributed to the shift, both directly (for example, restricting carbon emissions) and indirectly (by affecting the economics of coal-fired power generation and prompting further plant retirements instead of investments in environmental controls).

EIA predicts that the trend away from coal will continue in the short term, projecting power sector coal consumption to fall by a further 8% in 2019.

FERC issues notices for America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 implementation

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Federal hydropower regulators have issued a pair of notices framing the implementation of recently enacted legislation designed to streamline the processes for licensing some hydroelectric projects.

On October 23, 2018, President Trump signed the America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018. The new law amends several portions of the Federal Power Act which govern how the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues preliminary permits, hydropower licenses, and approvals for qualifying conduit hydropower facilities. It also directs the Commission to:
  • Issue a rule within 180 days establishing an expedited process for issuing and amending licenses for qualifying facilities at existing nonpowered dams that will seek to ensure a final decision by the Commission on an application for a license no later than two years after receipt of a completed application;
  • Issue a rule within 180 days establishing an expedited process for issuing and amending licenses for closed-loop pumped storage projects that will seek to ensure a final decision by the Commission on an application for a license no later than two years after receipt of a completed application;
  • Along with the Secretaries of the Army, Interior, and Agriculture, jointly develop a list of existing nonpowered federal dams that the Commission and the Secretaries agree have the greatest potential for non-federal hydropower development, to be published within 12 months; and
  • Hold a workshop within 6 months to explore potential opportunities for development of closed-loop pumped storage projects at abandoned mine sites, and issue guidance within one year to assist applicants for licenses or preliminary permits for closed-loop pumped storage projects at abandoned mine sites.
On November 13, 2018, the Commission established three dockets in order to implement the requirements of the Act: RM19-6-000 (Licensing Regulations under America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018); AD19-7-000 (Nonpowered Dams List); and AD19-8-000 (Closed-loop Pumped Storage Projects at Abandoned Mines Guidance). The Commission's notice establishes a schedule with abbreviated deadlines for the development of these materials, with notices of proposed rulemaking for the expedited licensing processes expected in January or February 2019.

As part of the provisions calling for new expedited processes for issuing and amending licenses for qualifying facilities at existing nonpowered dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects, the new law also requires the Commission to convene an interagency task force, including appropriate federal and state agencies and Indian tribes, to coordinate the regulatory processes required to construct and operate these projects. Also on November 13, the Commission published a notice inviting these groups to request participation in the interagency task force. Federal and state agencies and Indian tribes who wish to participate on the interagency task force must file a statement of interest with the Commission by November 29, 2018.

ISO-NE files info on 2022-2023 capacity market auction

Friday, November 9, 2018

This week the operator of New England's wholesale electricity markets made a series of filings with its federal regulator providing information on its upcoming thirteenth forward capacity auction, through which electric generators may commit to providing electric capacity during the period from June 1, 2022 through May 31, 2023.

ISO New England Inc. is the independent system operator and wholesale market-maker for most of New England's electricity grid. It is a private, not-for-profit entity, which operates pursuant to a tariff on file with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As part of its planning for system operations, ISO-NE operates a forward capacity market through which it conducts annual auctions through which qualified generators and other resources may bid to obtain commitments to provide capacity in a future year, in exchange for which resources will be compensated. The next primary auction for capacity supply obligations will be Forward Capacity Auction 13 (or FCA 13), which will be held beginning on February 4, 2019, and will cover the 2022-2023 capacity commitment period.

In advance of each primary auction, ISO-NE calculates an "Installed Capacity Requirement," which it defines as a measure of the installed resources that are projected to be necessary to meet reliability standards in light of total forecasted load requirements for the New England Control Area and to maintain sufficient reserve capacity to meet reliability standards. In computing the Installed Capacity Requirement, the grid operator considers parameters and assumptions including load forecast, resource capacity ratings, and resource availability. It also considers what relief can be obtained during a capacity deficiency through measures including emergency assistance (tie benefits) from neighboring interconnected regions (New Brunswick, New York, and Quebec), load reduction by reducing system voltage by 5%, and running the system at a minimal level of operating reserve.
In its November 6 Installed Capacity Requirement filing, the grid operator told the Commission that it proposed a installed capacity requirement for FCA 13 of 33,750 megawatts, after taking into account 969 megawatts of credits over interconnection with Canadian utility Hydro-Quebec.

In a parallel Informational Filing for qualification in FCA 13, the grid operator noted that 31,432 megawatts of existing generating capacity resources qualified for the 2022-2023 capacity commitment period, as did 80 megawatts of existing import capacity resources, and 3,413 megawatts of existing demand capacity resources, totaling 34,925 megawatts of existing capacity. Some resources submitted bids to retire, and 3,223 megawatts of resources submitted bids to withdraw in part or in whole from the auction if it clears below a defined price. Additionally, ISO-NE qualified 238 new capacity resources, totaling 8,716 megawatts.

ISO-NE will conduct its thirteenth forward capacity auction starting on February 4, 2019.

Federal auction set for Massachusetts offshore wind leases

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The federal agency responsible for managing ocean energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf has scheduled an auction for about 390,000 acres offshore Massachusetts, to be held on December 13, 2018.

Under federal law, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is responsible for conducting auctions to lease parcels of federal waters for offshore wind energy development.

On October 17, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced that BOEM will hold its next offshore wind auction in December. According to the Final Sale Notice published in the Federal Register on October 19, the agency will hold its Atlantic Wind Lease Sale 4A, covering 388,569 acres offshore Massachusetts. The sale will cover three separate leases, located within an area previously offered but unsold in 2015.

BOEM map of the proposed lease areas available through the December 2018 auction.

Nineteen companies have qualified to participate as bidders in the lease sale:
  • Avangrid Renewables, LLC
  • Camellia Wind Energy LLC
  • CI III Blue Cloud Wind Energy II LLC
  • Cobra Industrial Services, Inc.
  • Deepwater Wind New England, LLC
  • East Wind LLC
  • EC&R Development, LLC
  • EDF Renewables Development, Inc.
  • EDPR Offshore North America LLC
  • Enbridge Holdings (Green Energy) L.L.C.
  • Innogy US Renewable Projects LLC
  • Mayflower Wind Energy LLC 
  • Northeast Wind Energy LLC 
  • Northland Power America Inc .
  • PNE WIND USA, Inc.
  • Equinor Wind US LLC
  • Vineyard Wind LLC
  • Wind Future LLC
  • wpd offshore Alpha LLC
According to BOEM, if fully developed, the areas available for leasing could support about 4.1 gigawatts of commercial wind generation.

Canada's Supreme Court rules for Quebec utility over energy contract

Monday, November 5, 2018

Canada's highest court has ruled that Quebec's provincial utility Hydro-Quebec cannot be required to renegotiate a long-term contract to buy power from a Labrador hydroelectric plant at below-market rates, even though the deal has yielded about 14 times more profit for Hydro-Quebec than for the Labrador generator.

At issue is the Churchill Falls hydroelectric plant on the upper Churchill River in Labrador, and a 1969 agreement between Hydro-Quebec and Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation Limited -- a company jointly owned by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and Hydro-Quebec. The Churchill Falls plant can generate 5,428 megawatts of power, and is one of the world's largest hydroelectric power stations.

According to former Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador Brian Tobin, during pre-construction negotiations, Hydro-Quebec told Churchill Falls that it would not allow the Labrador generator to "wheel" project power through the Hydro-Quebec grid, nor to build its own power line through Quebec to reach U.S. markets. As a result, under the terms of the 1969 agreement, Hydro-Quebec agreed to buy most of the project's power at the fixed price of $2.50 per megawatt-hour, to guarantee construction cost overruns, and to build transmission lines connecting the generators to markets, enabling the Labrador generator to sell power and to use debt financing to construct the plant. The original contract was set to expire in 2016, but included a renewal clause allowing Hydro-Quebec to extend the contract for an additional 25 years at a fixed price of $2 per megawatt-hour through 2041.

After the contract was signed, changes in the electricity market -- including oil price shocks in the 1970s, a decline in public confidence in nuclear power after a 1979 accident, and the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's 1996 decision to require open access to transmission systems -- meant the contract's purchase price is now well below market prices. Because Hydro-Quebec sells electricity from the plant to third parties at market prices, Hydro-Quebec reaps substantial profits from the deal. For example, Hydro-Quebec reports that the average retail price for residential customers in St. John's, Newfoundland in 2018 is $120.30 per megawatt-hour. Canada's National Energy Board says the 2017 average wholesale prices for electricity imports were over $24 per megawatt-hour, with exports priced even higher at $38.58 per megawatt-hour -- over 19 times higher than the price Hydro-Quebec now pays Churchill Falls during the extended contract term. According to CBC, the contract has yielded about $28 billion in profits to Quebec, but just $2 billion for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Citing legal theories including a general duty of good faith, Nalcor Energy subsidiary Churchill Falls asked Canadian courts to order that the contract be renegotiated and the benefits be reallocated. After lower courts sided with Hydro-Quebec, the generator appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

On November 2, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its judgment in the matter of Churchill Falls (Labrador) v. Hydro-Quebec. The high court found, by a 7 to 1 decision, for Hydro-Quebec, noting that the parties "bound themselves knowing full well what they were doing" and that Hydro-Quebec could insist on adhering to the contract despite the "unforeseen" increase in the power's market value.

The one dissenting judge characterized the contract as "relational" in nature, and thus said that both parties are subject to a duty of cooperation which Hydro-Quebec breached by failing to renegotiate and to more fully share the benefits of higher-than-expected market prices. He said that because "a profit imbalance of this nature and magnitude is beyond what the parties intended when they concluded the agreement", the parties had an implied obligation to cooperate in establishing a mechanism for the allocation of "extraordinary profits."

New law eases some hydro licensing processes

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A recently-enacted federal law will make it easier for hydroelectric project developers to secure a license for new hydroelectric facilities at existing non-powered dams.

U.S. rivers are home to thousands of dams, most of which impound water but don't generate electricity. A 2013 report suggested only 3% of the nation's 80,000 dams were used to produce hydroelectric power. In an effort to facilitate the development of hydroelectric facilities at some of these non-powered dams, Congress recently enacted the America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.

Title III of the Act relates to energy matters. One section of the Act extends the default term of preliminary permits for hydropower development from three to four years. The Act authorizes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to extend the period of a preliminary permit for up to four additional years, and to issue an additional permit under "extraordinary circumstances."

Another section of the Act speeds up the process through which the Commission evaluates proposals to develop "qualifying conduit hydropower facilities" and increases such a project's maximum installed capacity from 5 megawatts to 40 megawatts.

A third section of the Act requires the Commission to, within 180 days, issue a rule establishing an expedited process for issuing and amending licenses for hydroelectric facilities meeting defined criteria. These criteria require the "qualifying facilities" to be associated with an existing dam or other barrier operated for the control, release, or distribution of water for agricultural, municipal, navigational, industrial, commercial, environmental, recreational, aesthetic, drinking water, or flood control purposes, which as of the date of the Act's enactment was not generating electricity with Commission-licensed or exempted hydropower generating works. The Act also requires that the operation of these facilities must not result in any material change to the storage, release, or flow operations of the associated qualifying nonpowered dam.

The Act also includes provisions creating an establishing an expedited process for issuing and amending licenses for closed-loop pumped storage projects, and prescribing the considerations for setting the terms of new licenses for existing projects through the relicensing process.

The Act, which was introduced in the Senate as S.3021, was signed by President Trump on October 23, 2018, and became law the same day. The Commission has until April 2019 to issue the rules required by the Act.

FERC solicits panel members to resolve hydropower licensing study disputes

Monday, October 29, 2018

U.S. hydropower regulators have asked for volunteers interested in serving as panel members to assist in resolving disputes related to the scope of studies required for hydropower licensing.

Under federal law, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is tasked with processing applications for licenses for most hydropower projects located in the U.S. To process any given application, the Commission typically uses one of three different licensing processes. Since 2005, the Commission's "Integrated Licensing Process" or ILP has been the default choice.

Under the ILP, the applicant seeking a license files a proposed study plan describing the studies it intends to conduct to inform the Commission's review of its application. Studies might cover the project's impact on a variety of types of resources and issues, such as aquatic, terrestrial, cultural, recreational, geological, land management, engineering and socioeconomic topics. After a 90-day period of consultation with stakeholders and Commission staff, the applicant may file a revised study plan for Commission approval. Ultimately, the director of the Commission's Office of Energy Projects will issue a study determination approving the study plan with any modifications based on the record. Whatever studies are required by the Commission-approved study plan must be conducted by the applicant or its consultants.

The nature and extent of the studies required can be controversial. Stakeholders have opportunities to comment on the applicant's original study plan, to participate in consultation, and to comment to the Commission on the revised study plan.

Under the ILP, certain federal or state agencies or tribes also have the ability to request that a study dispute be referred to a dispute resolution panel. The three-member panel would consist of FERC staff, the agency or tribal representative referring the dispute, and an independent third person selected by the other two panelists from a list of subject-matter experts. The panel members make a finding with respect to each disputed study request, on the extent to which each study criteria set forth in the regulations is or is not met, and why. The panel then makes a recommendation to the Director of the Office of Energy Projects based on its findings.

On October 22, 2018, the Commission issued a notice requesting applications from those interested in being listed as potential panel members. The Commission previously compiled lists in 2004, 2010, and 2015. For the latest round, the Commission has requested applications by January 31, 2019.

Tide Mill Institute 2018 symposium

Friday, September 28, 2018

Tide Mill Institute holds its 14th annual conference on November 10, 2018, in Beverly, Massachusetts. The symposium -- "Creating Tide Mills -- Then and Now", features educators, historians, environmentalists, archeologists and others interested in tidal power and its history.

Tide Mill Institute exists to advance the appreciation of tide mill history and technology by encouraging research, by promoting appropriate re-uses of former tide mill sites, and by fostering communication among tide mill enthusiasts. Since 2005, the Institute has held an annual symposium on the past, present, and future uses of tidal energy.

This year's conference topics focus on how humans historically extracted power from the tides, as well as on efforts to use this power again in the current era. Speakers and discussions will address topics including:
  • Medieval vertical and horizontal millwheels and their diffusion from mainland Europe.
  • Fresh-water tidal rice mills in South Carolina.
  • An in-stream tidal device in New York’s East River supplying power to the grid.
  • Proposed perpetual tidal power system for Salem Massachusetts.
  • A tide mill at the heart of the 1775 Battle of Brooklyn.
  • Winter storm surges damage historic tide mills in Massachusetts and New York.
  • Recreating gearing features of two early North Shore tide mills.
  • A new tidal energy canal for Boston?
  • The structure of tide mill dams.
Tide Mill Institute's 2018 symposium will be held on Saturday, November 10, 2018, from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm, at the Cummings Center in Beverly, Massachusetts. Registration materials are available on Tide Mill Institute's website. Lunch is included; attendees are encouraged to register by November 1.

NECA Fuels Conference 2018

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Northeast Energy and Commerce Association holds its 2018 Fuels Conference on September 27, 2018, in Marlborough, Massachusetts.

NECA is New England's oldest and most broadly-based, non-profit trade association serving the competitive electric power industry.

The program for NECA's 2018 Fuels Conference features diverse perspectives on fuels including natural gas (pipeline and LNG), biogas, oil, and other fuels, and in their uses such as electric power generation, heating, and transportation. Speakers will share their outlook for U.S. and New England natural gas markets, address the trend towards electrification of sectors like heating and transportation, explain the portfolio of fuels used to heat and power the region, and discuss what consumers can expect from lawmakers, regulators, and energy providers.

Registration is available through NECA's website.


FERC rules on Saguaro QF

Monday, August 27, 2018

U.S. energy regulators have denied a petition by a Nevada electric utility that would have rejected a regulatory filing by a local power plant. The ruling preserves the power plant's ability to sell electricity to its host utility.

The case centers on Saguaro Power Company, owner and operator of a 105 megawatt topping-cycle cogeneration facility in Henderson, Nevada. The plant sells electricity to Nevada Power Company under a power purchase agreement. Under that PPA, the energy and capacity rates paid by Nevada Power to Saguaro would be reduced by 20 percent if Saguaro loses its status as a "qualifying facility" or QF under federal law.

Since 1978, qualifying facilities have been entitled to receive certain benefits under the federal law called PURPA, but the process and requirements for becoming a QF have changed over time. Prior to August 8, 2005, in order to be a QF, a cogeneration facility was required to “produce electric energy and forms of useful thermal output (such as heat or steam), used for industrial, commercial, heating, or cooling purposes, through the sequential use of energy” and meet the applicable operating and efficiency standards. Since then, EPAct 2005 and Order No. 671 have provided that any “new” cogeneration facilities, i.e., a cogeneration facility that was either not certified as a QF on or before August 8, 2005 or had not filed a notice of self-certification or Commission application for certification prior to February 2, 2006, must also demonstrate that the “thermal energy output... is used in a productive and beneficial manner.”

In December 2017, Saguaro filed a Form No. 556 recertifying its facility as an existing cogeneration QF. That filing identified new thermal hosts who will receive thermal energy in the form of distilled water from the facility’s low pressure steam output, replacing thermal hosts previously identified in a prior self-recertification filing.

But Nevada Power Company filed a petition for declaratory order with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, asserting that Saguaro's self-recertification filing was deficient. Specifically, the utility argued that Saguaro failed to demonstrate its compliance with the operating and efficiency standards -- and also that the facility should be treated as "new" and thus be subject to additional standards under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Commission's Order No. 671, such as whether the facility is being used in a productive and beneficial manner.

The Commission has rejected Nevada Power's petition. In its order denying Nevada Power's petition, the Commission noted that its Order No. 671 establishes a rebuttable presumption that an existing QF does not become a "new cogeneration facility" merely because it files for recertification, and that Saguaro represented having made no changes to its facility. The Commission concluded that filing for recertification to identify new replacement thermal hosts did not make the Saguaro facility "new."

US EPA proposes Affordable Clean Energy rule

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a new rule addressing greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired electric utility generating units and power plants. EPA's proposed "Affordable Clean Energy Rule" is designed to replace the Clean Power Plan regulations adopted in 2015.

On August 21, 2018, EPA announced the Affordable Clean Energy or ACE Rule. As described by the agency, the rule encompasses four main actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:
  • Defining the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER) for existing power plants as on-site, heat-rate efficiency improvements;
  • Providing states a list of “candidate technologies” that can be used to establish standards of performance and be incorporated into their state plans;
  • Updating the New Source Review (NSR) permitting program to further encourage efficiency improvements at existing power plants; and
  • Aligning regulations under Clean Air Act section 111(d) to give states adequate time and flexibility to develop their state plans. 
According to EPA's regulatory impact analysis, replacing the Clean Power Plan with the ACE Rule would reduce CO2 emissions from their current level, and "could provide $400 million in annual net benefits," largely in the form of reduced compliance burden on covered power plants. While EPA adopted the Clean Power Plan in 2015, in 2016 the Supreme Court granted opponents stay of the regulations, and they never took full effect.

EPA will take comment on the ACE Rule proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register and will hold a public hearing.

Laos dam construction and collapse

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A dam under construction in Laos as part of a hydropower scheme has collapsed, causing flooding and damage.

At issue is the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy project, a 410-megawatt hydroelectric power project under development for Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company (PNPC). PNPC is a joint venture among the government of Laos and construction and power companies from South Korea and Thailand. The project, whose construction costs are estimated at about $1 billion, involves the construction of three primary dams to form reservoirs. Construction of the system was reportedly 90% complete, with commercial operation projected for 2019, and an agreement in place agreement to export 90% of project power to Thailand. The project has been touted for the degree of international investment involved, although some have criticized the project for insufficient local benefits.

From an engineering perspective, the project's primary dams impound water in a large reservoir. The project also includes three auxiliary "saddle dams" near several heads of the reservoir, essentially to prevent the reservoir from spilling down the impoundment's back side as it fills.
A map of the project, found at http://www.pnpclaos.com/index.php/en/project/maps
Project maps posted online by PNPC show saddle dams on three of the main reservoir's western branches.
Another project map found at http://www.pnpclaos.com/index.php/en/project/maps

One of these smaller saddle dams reportedly failed on July 23, 2018, allegedly due to severe rains. Saddle Dam D -- a facility 8 meters wide, 770 meters long and 16 meters high -- was built to support water diversion around the project's reservoir. But the structure reportedly fractured, causing water to spill downstream to the Xe Pian river outside of the project's intended path of water flow. According to the prime minister of Laos, at least 26 people have died and 131 are missing from the resulting flooding, and several villages .

Response and recovery actions are ongoing. The dam collapse highlights the importance of safety in dam construction and reservoir operations, as did the February 2017 failure of the Oroville Dam's spillway in California.

FERC Order 848, cyber security and reliability

Thursday, July 19, 2018

U.S. energy regulators have issued an order directing the nation's electric reliability organization to strengthen its standards for the mandatory reporting of cyber security incidents.

Federal law authorizes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to regulate significant aspects of the bulk electric system's reliability. The Commission's jurisdiction over reliability covers the nation's electric reliability organization, North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which is charged with developing and submitting mandatory reliability standards for the Commission for approval.

Following increased concern over cybersecurity and hacking affecting utilities, in 2017 the Commission issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to direct that NERC develop enhanced Cyber Security Incident reporting requirements. At that time, then-current reliability standards generally required responsible entities to report Cyber Security Incidents only if they have “compromised or disrupted one or more reliability tasks. But the Commission expressed a concern that this reporting threshold "may understate the true scope of cyber-related threats facing the Bulk-Power System, particularly given the lack of any reportable incidents in 2015 and 2016." As a result, the Commission proposed requiring NERC to develop and submit modifications to its reliability standards, to require the reporting of cyber security incidents that compromise, or attempt to compromise, certain security infrastructure.

On July 19, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its Order No. 848. Through that order, the Commission adopted its own proposal to "improve awareness of existing and future cyber security threats and potential vulnerabilities." As described by the Commission, Order No. 848's directive consists of four elements:
  1. responsible entities must report Cyber Security Incidents that compromise, or attempt to compromise, a responsible entity’s Electronic Security Perimeter (ESP) or associated Electronic Access Control or Monitoring Systems (EACMS);
  2. required information in Cyber Security Incident reports should include certain minimum information to improve the quality of reporting and allow for ease of comparison by ensuring that each report includes specified fields of information;
  3. filing deadlines for Cyber Security Incident reports should be established once a compromise or disruption to reliable BES operation, or an attempted compromise or disruption, is identified by a responsible entity; and
  4. Cyber Security Incident reports should continue to be sent to the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center (E-ISAC), rather than the Commission, but the reports should also be sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT). Further, NERC must file an annual, public, and anonymized summary of the reports with the Commission.
The Commission directed NERC to submit these modifications to its reliability standards within six months of Order No. 848's effective date.

NC dismisses PURPA complaint

Focusing on form over substance, North Carolina utility regulators have dismissed a hydroelectric generator's claims that it is entitled to sell the Yadkin River projects' hydroelectricity to local utilities at specified prices.

Cube Yadkin Generation, LLC owns hydroelectric facilities located on the Yadkin River in North Carolina. The company acquired the former Alcoa Corp. dams in 2016. Prior to that purchase, Cube had some discussions with local utilities Duke Energy Progress, LLC and Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC, regarding the sale of power from the hydro projects to the utilities under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA).

PURPA allows certain small or renewable independent power producers meeting defined criteria to self-certify as "qualifying facilities" entitled to special rate and regulatory treatment. These benefits can include the right to sell energy and capacity to the generator's local host utility, usually at either at the utility's avoided cost or at a negotiated rate. Federal regulations generally give QFs the option to sell energy "as-available," or under a long-term contract or other legally enforceable obligation for delivery of energy or capacity over a specified term.

After Cube Yadkin acquired the dams, the utility ultimately refused to buy hydropower from three of the dams on Cube's terms. In March 2018, the generator complained to the North Carolina Utilities Commission. In its complaint, the company asked for a declaratory ruling that the utilities are obligated to purchase the projects' output at rates established under PURPA, as well as other relief including a requirement that the utilities enter into power purchase agreements with Cube for a term of not less than 10 years.

In a July 16, 2018 order, the North Carolina Utilities Commission dismissed the company's complaint. In that order, a majority of the Commission found that the generator had not submitted a "Notice of Commitment" form to the utility, which the majority said was required under North Carolina's implementation of PURPA if a generator wished to establish a legally enforceable obligation that the utility purchase its power. Noting that Cube hadn't submitted the Notice of Commitment form, and therefore that Cube hadn't established a legally enforceable obligation, the Commission denied Cube's request for declaratory ruling.

The Commission next considered whether Cube should be granted a waiver of the requirement to use the Notice of Commitment form. After recapping its view of the purpose of establishing a legally enforceable obligation, and how the Commission had developed its requirements for establishing a legally enforceable obligation, the Commission rejected Cube's request for waiver of the required use of the Notice of Commitment form. As a result of these conclusions, the Commission granted the utilities' motion to dismiss.

Two Commissioners dissented from the majority decision, noting that the majority opinion dismissed the case without allowing the full development of the record or a hearing on the merits.

Vermont PUC opens electric vehicle investigation

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Vermont utility regulators have opened an investigation to identify and eliminate barriers to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in that state, following a legislative call in the state's general transportation bill for an examination of electric vehicle charging issues.

This spring, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed into law Act 158 (H.917) of the 2017-2018 Vermont legislative session. Section 25 of Act 158 requires the Vermont Public Utilities Commission to investigate and to prepare a written report concerning the charging of plug-in electric vehicles (EV).

On July 9, 2018, the Commission issued an order opening an investigation into promoting the ownership and use of electric vehicles in Vermont. In a press release accompanying the order, the Commission noted the harmful contributions of Vermont's transportation sector to greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change, and the prospect that electrifying transportation could help the state comply with its climate and greenhouse gas goals. The order notes that commonly cited barriers to widespread EV deployment may include vehicle range limits, limited availability of charging opportunities, cost, and vehicle performance -- and even barriers more unique to Vermont, such as cold winters and a rural, mountainous landscape.

The Commission says its investigation will include multiple cycles of written filings and workshops, addressing topics including barriers to EV adoption, as well as ways EV drivers can contribute financially to road and highway maintenance. The investigation will culminate in a report to be filed with the Vermont Legislature by July 1, 2019, presenting the Commission's analysis of barriers to electric vehicle adoption and recommendations on how to reduce or eliminate those barriers.

The Commission has docketed the case as No. 18-2660-INV, and has invited interested persons and entities to file a proposed scope, structure, and schedule for the case no later than July 30, 2018.

US Atlantic offshore wind leasing plan up for comment

Thursday, May 24, 2018

U.S. ocean energy regulators have extended a deadline for public comment on a proposed path forward for offshore renewable energy leasing on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's "Proposed Path Forward for Future Offshore Renewable Energy Leasing on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf" lists factors the agency proposes to consider in identifying areas for possible future offshore wind leasing.

BOEM is an agency of the Department of the Interior, charged with advancing the responsible development of offshore energy and marine mineral resources covering over 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf. As of May 2018, BOEM has held seven competitive lease sales, yielding over $68 million in high bids for almost 1.4 million acres in federal waters. BOEM now has 13 offshore wind energy leases, capable of supporting 17 gigawatts of generating capacity, covering every state from Massachusetts to North Carolina (Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras).

On April 6, 2018, BOEM published a Request for Feedback in the Federal Register, presenting the agency's "Proposed Path Forward for Future Offshore Renewable Energy Leasing on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf." In that notice, the agency said it is conducting a high-level assessment of all waters offshore the United States Atlantic Coast for potential future offshore wind lease locations, and proposes to rely on specific factors to help it assess which geographic areas along the Atlantic are the most likely to have highest potential for successful offshore wind development in the next three to five years.

BOEM said its intent in publishing the Notice was "to start a conversation surrounding its approach to future renewable energy leasing on the Atlantic OCS." Its proposed factors for identifying offshore wind forecast areas include exclusionary factors (which create "no-go" areas for offshore wind) and positive factors (increasing the likelihood that location would fall within a forecast area). Under BOEM's proposal, exclusionary factors would include areas prohibited by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act for leasing, Department of Defense conflict areas, and charted marine vessel traffic routes. Positive factors for an areas include that it has not previously been removed, is greater than 10 nautical miles from shore, is shallower than 60 meters in depth, is adjacent to states with offshore wind economic incentives or with an interest in identifying additional lease areas, or where industry has expressed interest.

Comments on BOEM's proposed path forward for offshore renewable energy leasing on the Atlantic were slated to be due on May 21, but on May 18, 2018, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced that it would accept comments through July 5, 2018.

BOEM says this "Atlantic assessment is intended to inform future area identification processes, not replace them" -- so after reviewing comments it receives, BOEM will coordinate with its intergovernmental renewable energy task forces and conduct additional stakeholder outreach.

Kilauea lava approaches geothermal power plant

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Lava erupting from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii has caused a nearby geothermal power plant to shut down.

Puna Geothermal Venture is a geothermal energy conversion plant on the island of Hawaii. It brings steam and hot liquid from underground wells to the surface, where the steam is directed to a turbine generator to produce electricity. A second turbine uses the first turbine's exhaust steam to generate additional electricity. Under a contract, up to 38 megawatts of power produced by the project is sold to Hawaii Electric Light Company and distributed to customers, reportedly representing about a quarter of the big island's electricity supply.

But as Kilauea erupts, lava flows are reportedly threatening the Puna plant. The majority upstream owner of project operator Puna Geothermal Venture GP, Ormat Technologies Inc., issued a press release on May 15 describing steps taken to secure the Puna facilities in accordance with its emergency response plan, including taking electricity generation offline, shutting down and protecting the geothermal wells, removing flammable materials, and cooperating with state emergency agencies. The Honolulu Civil Beat reported on May 21 that most of the plant's wells have been capped, and that lava flows have reached the plant property but so far have been held back by a natural berm.

According to Ormat's May 15 press release, its property and business interruption insurance policies include insurance coverage in the event of volcanic eruptions and earthquake in an amount of up to $100 million (combined). But the company noted that any significant physical damage to, or extended shut-down of, the Puna facilities could have an adverse impact on the power plant's electricity generation and availability, which in turn could have a material adverse impact on the company's business and results of operations.

NECPUC 2018 energy symposium

Monday, May 21, 2018

New England utility regulators have gathered in Maine for the 71st annual symposium of the New England Conference of Public Utilities Commissioners.

NECPUC is a non-profit corporation which provides regional regulatory assistance on matters of common concern to public utilities commissions of the six New England states. Its board of directors is composed of public utilities commissioners from the six New England states. NECPUC meets regularly throughout the year and sponsors an annual symposium on regulatory issues.

NECPUC holds its 71st annual symposium in Cape Neddick, Maine, from May 20-23, 2018. The agenda for the 2018 NECPUC event includes programs focused on topics affecting the New England utility landscape. For the energy sector, these include a plenary session on wholesale markets and how consumers are impacted by "reliability-centric market challenges," as well as a panel on advancing electric vehicle infrastructure in New England. Another set of panels focuses on how to analyze, regulate, and manage risks of high-impact, low-frequency events like cybersecurity attacks or extreme weather. Other panels cover water, telecommunications, and natural gas topics.

Speakers scheduled to appear include Maine Governor Paul LePage and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Commissioner Robert Powelson, as well as commissioners from numerous state public utilities commissions.

ISO-NE 2018 CELT projects future energy usage declines

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The operator of New England's bulk electric grid projects that both energy usage and peak demand from the utility grid will decline slightly in the region over the 10-year period between 2018 and 2027, primarily due to the deployment of energy efficiency measures and behind-the-meter solar arrays.

ISO New England Inc. is the regional transmission organization responsible for the electric grid and electricity markets across most of New England. On April 30, 2018, ISO-NE published its 2018-2027 Forecast Report of Capacity, Energy, Loads, and Transmission, or CELT Report. The grid operator prepares annual CELT reports which describe the assumptions used in ISO system planning and reliability studies. These assumptions include the total generating capability of in-region resources, as well as a long-term forecast for growth in energy consumption and peak demand.

According to ISO-NE's 2018 CELT Report, overall regional electricity use will grow 0.9% annually over the 10-year period. But when energy efficiency and behind-the-meter generation are taken into account, ISO-NE's forecasts for both regional energy usage and peak demand project slight declines over the 10-year period. The grid operator projects an annual decrease in net energy usage by -0.9% annually, with seasonal peak demands projected to decline by -0.2% to 0.7% annually. ISO cites "continuing robust installation of energy-efficiency measures and behind-the-meter solar arrays throughout the region" as the primary factors driving this decline.