Net metering going under the microscope in Ohio

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   May 18, 2015  /   Posted in American Electric Power (AEP), Net Metering  /   No Comments

PUCO net metering hearing 2015-05-05 Columbus OH

Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Net Metering Technical Conference on 5/5/15 held in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Laura Ann Arnold. 
 

Net metering going under the microscope in Ohio

(Photo via Department of Energy)

Ohio regulators are considering limitations to the state’s net metering rules that could, if adopted, resolve a challenge filed with the Ohio Supreme Court last summer.

Such changes could please American Electric Power (AEP) and FirstEnergy, who both want to limit amounts paid for electricity they don’t produce but can sell to other customers through the grid.

Net metering provides a way for utility customers to feed electricity they might produce with renewable or advanced energy technologies back into the grid. Under Ohio law, customers are supposed to pay only for their net electricity use and get credit for any excess “identical in rate structure” to whatever they would have paid if they did not produce any electricity on site.

Last summer the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) finalized changes to rules for net metering, and AEP filed an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court.

Among other things, the new rules would have required utilities to credit or pay customers the full retail price of electricity they provided to the grid, including the capacity portion.

As a result, net metering customers would get about 15 percent more than they now receive. Utilities currently keep that share of the money.

The AEP case is still pending, but the briefing schedule is in limbo now while regulators review the rules again. Toward that end, the PUCO held a workshop in Columbus on May 5.

“The purpose of the workshop is to allow stakeholders to provide input to PUCO staff through an informal process,” PUCO spokesperson Matt Schilling explained. That differs from a formal hearing where everything is filed in the case record, including both oral and written remarks.

The PUCO could still decide to keep the rules as they are. Nonetheless, the agency review process gives the utilities and others a chance to revisit issues that regulators had previously resolved.

Subsidies?

Among other things, the utilities want to characterize net metering credits or payments as subsidies.

“If Ohio energy policy supports providing monetary subsidies to [net metering] customers, there should be explicit funding mechanisms to cover the cost,” AEP spokesperson Terri Flora told Midwest Energy News.

FirstEnergy’s representative at last week’s workshop “essentially reiterated” points the company had previously filed in comments, spokesperson Doug Colafella noted.

Among other things, those comments noted that because current flows both into and out of customers’ homes or businesses, they are somehow avoiding the distribution costs for the current that flows out.

“The costs not paid by these customers will be borne by other customers of the Companies without any clear benefits to offset the additional cost burden,” the materials filed by FirstEnergy noted.

However, neither utility quantified what any additional costs would be when the utilities would remain free to resell the electricity for the amount paid for it.

Some advocates say that net metering customers who provide solar energy or other forms of distributed generation to the grid actually provide more value than any incidental costs that might come up.

“Solar producers are actually providing a subsidy for the [utilities]—not the other way around,” said Brian Kunkemoeller of the Sierra Club.

Along those lines, a 2014 report from the Regulatory Assistance Project argued that fair compensation should account for all system benefits from distributed generation.

Discrimination and windfalls

Those benefits would include not just the retail price of electricity, but also reduced losses in transmission of that energy for resale. That’s because the electricity could come from close by, instead of from a faraway power plant.

Net metering customers already pay the full distribution share of their electricity bills, as required by a previous Ohio Supreme Court decision.

At the same time, utilities can resell that electricity without the transmission distribution losses that would be involved with carrying current over longer distances, Tim Niklas said during the 2014 Green Energy Ohio tour.

In theory, then, the utilities and their distribution systems could get a windfall or subsidy from distributed generation.

Because of these and other factors, advocates say any additional charges or burdens on net metering would amount to discrimination, which is expressly forbidden under current Ohio law.

“Assessing discriminatory monthly charges against net metering users will unfairly burden those with the capacity to install net metering systems and greatly inhibit the growth of distributed generation in Ohio,” Trent Dougherty of the Ohio Environmental Council told the PUCO.

Other potential benefits from solar and other distributed generation would include things like reduced demand on other generating plants and a reduction in future capacity needs.

And while net metering customers might not have bid their capacity into the annual PJM auction, the utilities didn’t necessarily bid that capacity or have it clear in the auction either.

Nonetheless, the utilities want to keep any capacity charges associated with the net metered electricity they did not generate.

“The net generation credit should only apply to energy charges and not capacity charges, since the customer-generator only provides energy to the grid,” said AEP spokesperson Terri Flora. “This is now possible since generation charges have been unbundled and rendered competitive.”

At the same time, AEP wants any net metering requirement to apply only to non-shopping customers, “and not to shopping customers who received generation service from competitive providers,” said Flora.

That approach would deprive net metering customers of any ability to shop for more competitive rates.

“Retail choice and net metering do not have to be exclusive customer options, and there is no compelling reason that they should be,” Amy Heart of the Alliance for Solar Choice told the PUCO.

‘It remains to be seen…’

Even if the PUCO decides not to limit net metering, it’s possible that the legislature could step in and act.

“It remains to be seen whether the net-metered price is adequate to cover the utilities’ transmission distribution costs, because they are, after all, maintaining the wires that handle all the traffic—both what’s brought in and brought out,” state Sen. William Seitz (R-Cincinnati) said at an Energy Ohio Network event the day after the PUCO workshop.

“And I’m open-minded about that,” Seitz continued. “If there’s proof one way or the other. I’ll be glad to receive it and to look at it.”

Seitz also referred to comments by DirectEnergy, which is not a utility but a company whose businesses include competitive retail sales of electricity, as well as investment in and ownership of solar energy generation.

At the PUCO workshop, Teresa Ringenbach of DirectEnergy said the company wants flexibility to negotiate rates “based on the value we receive in the market.” Those rates could reflect the time of day when electricity was produced and various other factors, but would not give customers the capacity portion—at least for the time being.

Seitz suggested that utilities should be able to do something along those lines too, in order to “incentivize utilities to help customers.”

For example, utility billing might be used to help customers finance the investment for solar panels or other distributed generation.

Nonetheless, Seitz also recognized the potential for overreaching.

“Obviously, we don’t want unscrupulous utilities to take advantage of and pay out less to customers than they are otherwise entitled to,” Seitz said.

The Ohio Environmental Council and Sierra Club are members of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.

Duke Energy’s $1.9B Transmission & Distribution Plan and mandatory Smart Meter installation DENIED by the IURC!

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   May 08, 2015  /   Posted in Duke Energy, Indiana Michigan Power Company (I&M), Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC), Uncategorized  /   No Comments

CAC logo

For Immediate Release:  May 8, 2015 

Contact:

Kerwin Olson (317) 702-0461

David Agnew (502) 526-2604

Jennifer Washburn (317) 796-3335

 

Duke Energy’s $1.9B Transmission & Distribution Plan and

mandatory Smart Meter installation DENIED by the IURC!

 INDIANAPOLIS – Today (05/08/15) the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) denied Duke Energy Indiana’s request for nearly $1.9B from captive ratepayers.  In their final order, the IURC cited a lack of evidence as well as insufficient cost estimates to justify the expenditures.  The IURC also noted the ineligibility of many projects under the controversial Transmission Distribution and Storage Improvement Charge (TDSIC) statute, such as a $1.5 million customer contact software system, a $3 million “energy learning center,” and $48.5 million in vegetation management, more commonly referred to as tree-trimming.  Similarly, the IURC also denied Indiana Michigan (I&M) Power Company’s $787 million TDSIC plan today.

The TDSIC statute was the result of Senate Enrolled Act 560 which passed the Indiana General Assembly in 2013.  The legislation was written and supported by the Indiana Energy Association, the monopoly utilities’ trade association.  CAC has advocated for the repeal of SEA 560, which shifts the risk from utility investors to the ratepayers and puts onerous timelines on the IURC to act within 300 days or else the utilities are allowed to “self-implement” rate increases.

Duke’s proposal included a $177 million request to install expensive, invasive, and unnecessary smart meters in every home and business in their Indiana service territory.  They also requested to continue to earn a return on the investment for the old meters they were going to remove while simultaneously recovering the costs (plus a rate of return) of the new smart meters.

Kerwin Olson, Executive Director at CAC, stated “I’ve seen more detail in most elementary students’ math homework.  Duke thought they could cram through this expensive, unnecessary plan after they paid for the passage of this dangerous legislation.  The denial of both the Duke and the I&M filings under the law clearly displays that SEA 560 is a horrific piece of public policy that should be repealed by the Indiana General Assembly as soon as possible.”

“The IURC showed true leadership today. CAC praises the IURC for its courageous action and we highly commend the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor and our industry allies for their leadership and collaboration in this case.”

***

More information on the case can be found here: http://www.citact.org/utility-rates-and-regulation/campaign/say-no-duke-energy-smart-meters-and-more-rate-hikes

And here: http://www.in.gov/oucc/2802.htm

OUCC News Release: http://www.in.gov/oucc/files/Duke_-_IM_TDSIC_5-8-15.pdf 

The Commission order is available here: https://myweb.in.gov/IURC/eds/Modules/Ecms/Cases/Docketed_Cases/ViewDocument.aspx?DocID=0900b631801c690d

Duke Energy Order

 http://www.in.gov/iurc/files/201505081002_44526_ORDER_582015.pdf 

Indiana Michigan Power Orders

http://www.in.gov/iurc/files/201505081006_44542_ORDER_582015.pdf

http://www.in.gov/iurc/files/201505081007_44543_ORDER_582015.pdf

Media Bias for Biomass Energy? Does Biomass Get a “Bad Wrap”? Is it warranted?

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   May 08, 2015  /   Posted in Biofuels, biomass, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Media Bias for Biomass Energy?

The majority of biomass energy reporting ignores the health and environmental impacts of this alternative fuel source

The media is finally starting to pay attention to the growing trend of cutting down forests for biomass energy. Unfortunately, according to a recent survey conducted by The Biomass Monitor, this attention seems to be biased.

In fact, 76 percent of U.S. daily newspaper articles covering forest biomass energy over a six-month period from October 15, 2014 through April 15, 2015 entirely ignore the health and environmental impacts of this controversial energy source, including air emissions, climate impacts, and ecosystem degradation.

photo of biomass power facilityPhoto by Josh SchlossbergThe McNeil Generating Station, a 50-megawatt biomass power facility in Burlington, Vermont, and the subject of a PBS NewsHour segment that left out the air emissions and forest impacts of biomass energy.

Seven of the articles mention negative economic impacts of forest biomass, and four cover nuisances, specifically concerns with truck traffic and noise from chipping trees. These figures are specific to forest biomass reporting, and do not include coverage of corn-based ethanol or other types of biofuels.

In the US, bioenergy — the burning of trees, plants, manure, and other living “biomass” for electricity, heating, and transportation — provides more energy than any other alternative energy source. Despite the prominence and rapid expansion of bioenergy, largely due to federal and state grants, loans, and tax incentives, a 2014 Harris poll shows that 61 percent of Americans are unaware of its pros and cons. How much of this lack of understanding is a result of the media’s typically one-sided reporting on the issue?

Turning a Blind Eye

While only 19 of the 80 articles — 24 percent — mentioned the dark side of forest biomass energy, the negative health and environmental impacts of this alternative energy source are widely documented by recent science.

US Environmental Protection Agency emissions inventories and peer-reviewed scientific studies demonstrate that biomass energy facilities emit high levels of carbon dioxide and nearly all of the same air pollutants as a coal-fired plant, such as asthma-inducing particulate matter and carcinogenic Volatile Organic Compounds. Biomass energy also consumes a constant supply of trees, the logging of which can degrade and compact forest soils and also cause erosion, silting fisheries and drinking watersheds.

While most of the daily news articles turn a blind eye to these negative environmental impacts, others make dubious assertions about the “green” credentials of biomass energy contradicted by large bodies of peer-reviewed science.

An article in the Bend Bulletin from Oregon and another in the Wichita Eagle from Kansas refer to biomass as “environmentally friendly,” without any scientific basis for this assessment. Despite EPA emissions data and numerous studies demonstrating the climate impacts of biomass energy, an article in Michigan’s MLive claims that burning biomass is “carbon neutral,” while the Times Argusfrom Vermont reports on a biomass facility’s supposed absence of carbon emissions. The News Tribune writes that Washington State officials are seeking to “improve” forests through logging for biomass energy, while Arizona’s Payson Roundup calls forests “dangerously overgrown,” concepts challenged by numerous studies on forest ecology.

“There’s a media blackout on the negatives of biomass energy and environmental subjects in general,” said freelance journalist and author J.L. Morin, who writes on energy and environment.

Fact-Checking?

The media imbalance on forest biomass energy isn’t limited to daily newspapers. In January 2015, PBS NewsHour ran a segment by William Brangham titled “Running on Renewable Energy, Burlington, Vermont Powers Green Movement Forward.” The title alone makes the assumption that biomass energy — which provided one-third of Burlington’s electricity — is somehow championed by the “green movement,” overlooking the fact that many environmental organizations and conservationists across the US are wary of and/or opposed to most forms of bioenergy.

The segment includes only one skeptical viewpoint, and even that individual neglects to discuss the air emissions and forest impacts of the 50-megawatt McNeil Generating Station biomass facility — the biggest polluter in Vermont — preferring to criticize hydroelectric dams.

In fact, the only mentions of air emissions or forests were factual inaccuracies that cast the McNeil facility in a better light than hard evidence reveals. Instead of making reference to the particulate matter, Volatile Organic Compounds, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and dozens of other toxicair pollutants the McNeil biomass facility is permitted to emit on an annual basis — along with over500,000 tons of carbon dioxide — PBS said that only “water vapor” is emitted from the smokestack. While whole trees are cut and burned in the facility, Brangham reported that the sole fuel source was “scrap” wood.

After readers of The Biomass Monitor contacted PBS about the error, PBS offered a correction and deleted the errors from the video and transcript. Brangham wrote in an editor’s note on February 11 that, “after our initial broadcast, many viewers correctly pointed out that it’s not only ‘scrap’ wood that’s burned (some trees are also specifically logged), and it’s not just the very visible water vapor that’s being emitted (several additional pollutants are also released from this and other biomass facilities over the course of a year).”

In his editor’s note, Brangham agreed with critics who claimed that PBS gave an “overstated impression of the environmental attributes of the plant,” but the incorrect information had already been distributed to NewsHour’s million plus viewers. Further, the story had been picked up by countless media outlets and blogs and disseminated as memes over social media by a multitude of environmental organizations, few of whom followed up with a correction. The overall impression of the PBS piece on the general public is that biomass energy has no health or environmental impacts whatsoever.

While this was most likely an honest mistake on the part of PBS NewsHour, the question remains: why didn’t the prestigious and well-funded news agency do any fact-checking regarding the impacts of biomass facilities, and why were no biomass opponents contacted for the piece?

Straw Man Opposition

Just because a media source strives for balance in its reporting, doesn’t mean it achieves it. An April Al Jazeera America article by Tom Zeller, Jr. also focuses on Burlington, Vermont’s 50-megawatt McNeil Generating Station biomass facility. This article quotes employees of the biomass energy industry, along with a few apparent critics. Yet a closer read reveals that these ostensibly opposing viewpoints aren’t from local biomass opponents, but from out-of-state entities that don’t necessarily oppose biomass energy and instead advocate for a more “sustainable” form of the technology.

Framing these entities as the opposition, the article extrapolates that environmental groups don’t oppose biomass energy at all, and simply want “stricter guidelines put in place … to ensure that biomass power producers, forest managers, loggers, landowners and everyone in the woody biomass supply chain, adhere to strict rules.”

Missing from the article were representatives of the over fifty grassroots organizations composing the national Anti-Biomass Incineration Campaign, whose members “oppose all industrial, commercial and institutional burning of biomass and biofuels for energy.”

Instead of offering a true counterbalance to the biomass industry, why did the reporter only quote out-of-state sources who are simply supporters of “biomass done right?”

Local Coverage Most Favorable

Several studies have analyzed US media coverage of biofuels, including corn-based ethanol, but very few have specifically examined biomass power and heating, which typically sources fuel from forests. And while media often has a negative slant when reporting on food-based ethanol, coverage of other kinds of biofuels like forest biomass – the focus of the research for this article – is generally weighted towards the positive.

One study scrutinized Alabama newspapers’ reporting on liquid biofuels from 2007-2009, evaluating whether the tone of articles was critical or supportive, and which sources were quoted. The study focused on liquid biofuels like corn- and sugarcane-based ethanol, but also included media coverage of cellulosic-based biofuel (which include forest biomass), and the findings are likely applicable to liquid biofuels and forest biomass alike.

Study authors Dyer, Singh, and Bailey found that biofuels coverage at the local and state levels was typically positive and that “potentially important stakeholders were not given a voice.” For instance, the majority of the people interviewed for the articles were business owners or agency representatives, not spokespeople for “civic organizations,” the very individuals most likely to bring up problems with biofuels.

Significantly, when Alabama newspapers covered a biofuels project that had the  “potential for positive economic impact within their service area,” the reporting was typically more positive than stories of similar projects elsewhere.

Reporting from national publications, such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and New York Times, was more neutral and likely to be critical of biofuels.

Media as Growth Machine

Sixty percent of Americans have “little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly,” according to a 2012 Gallup poll. If the public perception of an unbalanced media is accurate, what’s driving this biased coverage?

In their analysis of media coverage of biofuels — which included, but was not limited to, media coverage of forest biomass — Dyer, Singh, and Bailey conclude that disproportionately positive reporting on biofuels at the local and state level may be linked to newspapers’ roles in “local growth machine coalitions,” tasked with attracting business to the area. Media support for economic expansion is logical, the study argues, in that “growth equates with job creation leading to population growth and possibilities of increased subscriptions (and consequent increases in advertising rates).”

Robert McClure, co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit news organization Investigate West, and board member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, doesn’t think the imbalance on biomass energy coverage in daily newspapers is intentional. Instead, he chalks it up to the fact that most papers nowadays are “resource starved,” both financially and with respect to time. For example, a journalist may receive a press release from a biomass energy company, said McClure, and “know they’ve got to make that other phone call, but they don’t have the time.”

Other journalists think there’s more to it than that. “It’s not at all odd or strange that the corporate-funded news media would detail the positives far more than the negatives of biomass energy, or really any other business-centric topic,” said Steve Horn, an independent investigative journalist who covers energy, climate, and environmental topics in his work. “You don’t say mean things about those whose bread you eat.”

Chris Matera, founder of Massachusetts Forest Watch, whose work has called attention to the impacts of biomass energy, takes it a step further, saying that most media outlets are not operating in the public good and have become “distributors of misinformation,” angling stories to benefit corporate owners and advertisers. “If the public were told they are going to be forced to subsidize a massive increase of cutting and burning of forests to ‘help’ the environment, they would likely object,” Matera said.

None of the representatives of the biomass energy industry contacted for this article agreed to be interviewed.

In this age of worsening climate change, now, more than ever, the public needs to be informed about its many alternative energy options, all of which have their pluses and minuses, and which must be weighed accordingly. Whatever the reason for the media’s biomass bias, one thing is clear: The public is receiving an imbalanced and unscientific representation of it, one that largely omits the serious impacts on human health and the natural world — the very drivers behind the search for new energy sources in the first place.

Josh Schlossberg
Josh Schlossberg is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and editor for The Biomass Monitor (TheBiomassMonitor.org), the leading publication in the U.S. covering the health and environmental impacts of biomass energy. He lives in Boulder, Colorado and encourages you to contact him at thebiomassmonitor [at] gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @BiomassMonitor.

Hoosier Energy Unveils 10 MW Solar PV Program

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   May 07, 2015  /   Posted in solar, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

 Hoosier Energy logo

Hoosier Energy Unveils Solar Program -

Newsroom – Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick

May 6, 2015

News Release

Bloomington, Ind. — When the sun shines, Hoosier Energy and its member systems beam. Hoosier Energy, in partnership with its 18 electric cooperative members, recently announced a 10-megawatt solar program that will bring the benefits of solar power to member consumers throughout southern Indiana and southeastern Illinois.

The project consists of 10 one-megawatt solar arrays to be installed across member service territories over the next two years. Construction of the first installation is expected to begin in New Castle, IN later this month. Collectively, the solar “farms” will provide approximately 20,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy annually for the 300,000 member consumers served by Hoosier Energy members. The average home in Indiana uses about 1,000 kWh per month.

“Hoosier Energy is focused on providing cost-effective renewable energy for member systems,” said Steve Smith, Hoosier Energy President and Chief Executive Officer. “Our board’s foresight in embracing a voluntary renewables portfolio, and members’ efforts to utilize resources in their own backyard, reflect cooperatives’ long history of bringing affordable energy to members.”

The solar program is part of Hoosier Energy’s “all-of-the-above” strategy to diversify its generation portfolio and provide the best balance for an affordable power supply.

“Some of the best areas for solar are in southern Indiana and Illinois,” said Heath Norrick, Hoosier Energy Renewable Energy Manager. “On a hot, sunny day in July, solar is there when consumers need it. ”

Hoosier Energy’s Board of Directors approved the 10 MW program last July. Member system consumers support the move to renewable energy. “This project will help us and member systems learn what it takes to plan, finance and implement a solar project. It’s a great opportunity to educate the public on how solar works,” Norrick added.

Hoosier Energy is a generation and transmission cooperative (G&T) with headquarters in Bloomington, Ind. The G&T provides electric power and services to 18 electric distribution cooperatives in southern Indiana and southeastern Illinois. Hoosier Energy operates the Merom Generating Station and three other power plants, three renewable energy plants and a 1,700-mile transmission network. For more information, visit www.hepn.com

Source: Hoosier Energy

 

Massachusetts Legislative Net Metering and Solar Task Force Releases Report

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   May 07, 2015  /   Posted in Net Metering  /   No Comments

Massachusetts utilities fight against increase in net metering caps

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