IURC Hearing 9/26/16 on IPL’s $100M Pollution Controls for Petersburg Coal Plant

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   September 26, 2016  /   Posted in Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), Indianapolis Power and Light (IPL)  /   No Comments

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IPL Petersburg Generating Station operated at less than 60 percent of capacity last year—down from nearly 80 percent in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Google Earth)

State seeking input on IPL's $100M plan to upgrade Petersburg plant

September 26, 2016

John Russell

Customers of Indianapolis Power and Light Co. can tell state regulators their opinion Monday evening on the utility's proposal to raise rates to pay for equipment that would allow a Pike County plant to continue burning coal.

IPL wants to install about $100 million worth of pollution controls at its Petersburg generating station, a move it says will allow it to keep burning coal and meet strict environmental regulations for sulfur dioxide and coal ash.

The 1,700-megawatt plant is the largest generating station in IPL's fleet.

If state regulators agree, that could raise a typical residential customer’s monthly bill 20 cents next year. That amount would climb in subsequent years to $1.40 a month by 2021, according to IPL estimates.

A public hearing will take place at 6 p.m. at Crispus Attucks High School, 1140 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. Members of the public can state their opinions to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, which will decide whether to allow IPL to pass the costs onto customers.

IPL spokeswoman Brandi Davis-Handy said the company will not be presenting or speaking at Monday's hearing. State utility regulators will not respond to comments. The hearing was requested by State Rep. Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis.

The company’s request is raising the ire of some consumer and environmental groups, which say the Petersburg plant is old and inefficient, and will likely require millions of dollars in upgrades every few years to meet a series of stricter environmental regulations. The plant has four active units, which went online between 1967 and 1986.

The Sierra Club, Citizens Action Coalition and some other environmental groups say the utility should end coal-burning at the Petersburg plant, which is one of the dirtiest power plants in Indiana. The plant has repeatedly been cited for exceeding emissions standards for sulfur dioxide, which has been linked to breathing problems.

IPL stopped using coal earlier this year at two other plants—Harding Street in Indianapolis and Eagle Valley in Martinsville—in favor of natural gas.

The Petersburg plant has had trouble competing against other plants that use natural gas. Petersburg operated at less than 60 percent of capacity last year—down from nearly 80 percent in 2010, according to SNL Energy, an energy research firm.

IPL said it studied a wide number of options for Petersburg, including converting the four generating units to natural gas, and retiring them and replacing them with other resources. In the end, it concluded coal was the best option to keep rates affordable.

The utility said the alternative to upgrading the Petersburg facility would cost more, which would "further burden our customers." IPL has already invested $450 million in pollution controls in Petersburg in recent years.

Republicans to rally around renewable energy in D.C.

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   September 25, 2016  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments

Energy warriors new battle plan: Learn how to talk to Republican voters

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   September 23, 2016  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments

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City planner Jason Russell (left), Michael Hartley, executive director of the Ohio Conservative Energy Forum, Terry McClure, farmer and former president of the Ohio Farm Bureau and Lynn Scarlett, global director of public policy for the Nature Conservancy, talked about the debates in Ohio about renewable energy this week at the City Club of Cleveland. (City Club of Cleveland photo)

Energy warriors new battle plan: Learn how to talk to Republican voters

By John Funk, The Plain Dealer
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on September 22, 2016

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A long-time Ohio Republican political operative, a past president of the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Nature Conservancy's global director of public policy have a message for state lawmakers: Your voters are greener than you thought.

The trio appeared Wednesday before a City Club of Cleveland panel moderated by Jason Russell, a city planner.

"Environmentalists don't know how to talk to conservatives," said Michael Hartley, a former Kasich administration director and now the executive director of the Ohio Conservative Energy Forum.

The forum this week released a poll which surveyed only Republican and conservative voters. The poll found that these voters support renewable energy, energy efficiency programs and net metering for home solar systems.

Terry McClure, a conservative fifth-generation northwest-Ohio corn, soybean and wheat farmer and still part of the Ohio Farm Bureau, said electricity is critical to farming today. He said that locally-produced wind energy is now cheaper than what the utilities want to sell farmers. And he added that solar panels are a natural addition to the huge barns on most farms.

Lynn Scarlett said businesses globally are gearing up to provide renewable technologies because the demand for renewable energy is expected to double by 2030.

The bottom line? The trio think the adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are a kind of global energy tsunami that is coming. The only question is whether Ohio will participate.

Hartley tried to explain to the somewhat skeptical City Club audience that GOP lawmakers are likely to accept a green energy middle ground between the utilities and legislative ideologues on the one side and the environmental and consumer groups on the other.

Every time I can use a renewable source to produce my electricity, I save gas or coal, for next generation."

So far, that acceptance has not happened.

There were protracted battles at the state house in 2014 and 2015 over rules dating back to 2009 requiring Ohio power companies to provide annually increasing percentages of electricity generated by renewable technologies such as wind and solar.

Related rules also  required utilities to provide energy efficiency programs for customers to help them reduce how much electricity they use.

The GOP-dominated legislature, led by the most ideologically conservative members, "froze" the rules for two years in the spring of 2015.

They changed state law after months of hearings and lobbying that pitched large industries and the utilities against consumer and environmental groups, smaller businesses, clean energy companies and their trade groups.

FirstEnergy, which had been openly critical of the efficiency programs as bad for business, immediately shut down its consumer appliance and lighting rebate programs.

The freeze disappears at the end of this year and the lobbying has already begun with the objective of extending the freeze during a quick "lame duck" session in late November or December. Kasich has threatened to veto such a measure.

The Ohio Conservative Energy Forum has staked out a middle ground that Hartley believes can be approved and signed by the governor -- either this year or next year.

"I spent 20 years on campaigns to elect Republicans," said Hartley. "Many of the folks in the legislature I have known since they were councilmen and commissioners, since college.

"Economic growth, national security, faith and the political angle of winning elections -- that's how you talk to them."

Hartley's group wants state rules to require utilities to up the percentage of renewable energy by 5 percent over the next five years.  It's now at roughly 2.5 percent.

"What we have put forward, it's guaranteed that environmental groups are not going to accept, it doesn't go far enough for them," he predicted. "On the other side, there are those who want a permanent freeze. That goes way too far."

The poll results seem to backup Hartley's assertions that GOP voters not only support green energy, efficiency programs and consumer choice but also that they will not reject conservative lawmakers who vote to require utilities to provide it.

Hartley, McClure and Scarlett urged their audience to reach out to their lawmakers.

McClure summed up conservative thinking about power this way:

"Every time I can use a renewable source to produce my electricity, and save gas  or coal, for next generation, that is a good thing."

He said the statehouse fights over the issue is an example of the "polarization we have on so many issues right now."

"We think there has to be middle ground on many issues This is a prime example of one with a very important middle ground, and we are finding in the polling that there are a lot of people at that point. And we know there are a lot of businesses at this point. They agree with us."

The City Club recorded the discussion and archived video and audio versions.

Maine PUC to Phase Out Net Metering

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   September 19, 2016  /   Posted in Net Metering, solar, Uncategorized  /   No Comments

rooftop solar, net metering

Maine PUC to Phase Out Net Metering

September 18, 2016;  By William Opalka

Maine regulators last week proposed a 15-year phase-out of net metering for current rooftop solar systems and a 10-year limit for new systems.

The proposal came as a part of a rulemaking process that the Maine Public Utilities Commission hopes to complete by the end of the year and implement in 2017.

“In light of changes in the technology and costs of small renewable generation, particularly solar PV, we felt that opening a rulemaking process to consider changes to the rule was the prudent course of action to ensure that all ratepayers are treated fairly,” Chairman Mark Vannoy said in a statement.

The rulemaking also proposes gradually reducing compensation for new solar customers, increasing the size of an eligible customer facility by more than 50%, from 660 kW to 1 MW, and additional consumer protections.

House of Representatives Assistant Majority Leader Sara Gideon, a solar proponent who helped craft a compromise solar power bill that was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage in April, blasted the PUC proposal.

“Maine needs a comprehensive solar policy. Unfortunately, the PUC’s narrow focus on a single part of the broader solar policy doesn’t help our state’s ability to open new markets that create jobs and lower costs for homeowners, businesses and communities,” Gideon said. “This past session’s solar bill did not simply look at net metering in isolation but was crafted to help our constituents who are clamoring for access to community, commercial and municipal solar. That responsiveness and broad view is why policymaking should be left to lawmakers.”

The net metering review was automatically triggered by a PUC rule after solar exceeded 1% of Central Maine Power’s installed capacity. The utility reported solar at 1.04% at the end of 2015.

Michigan senate tackling complex energy bill that could affect everyone

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   September 19, 2016  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments

B.C. Cobb Plant

The B.C. Cobb Plant in Muskegon is one of several coal plants to either close this year or to be scheduled to close in the near future. Photo: Joel Bissell, AP

Michigan senate tackling complex energy bill that could affect everyone

LANSING — Millions of dollars have been spent on TV ads and campaign donations to state lawmakers.

Lobbyists are raking in hundreds of thousands more.

And although public testimony has been heard at a series of lengthy legislative committee meetings, if recent history is any guide, whatever the Legislature votes into law will come in the form of last-minute substitute bills — likely during the lame-duck session.

All of that can only mean that Lansing is tackling an important and complex policy issue that will affect every Michigan resident.

This time, it's a two-bill package of electricity and energy legislation that is purportedly about as high stakes as lawmakers' work at the Capitol can get — keeping the lights on in Michigan. Though some dispute the reliable supply of electricity is truly at stake, how much residents, schools and businesses will pay for power, how clean and efficient the state's electrical generation will be, and whether any effective competition will be allowed in Michigan's highly regulated electricity market, will all be affected by Senate Bills 437 and 438, which were reported out of a Senate committee in May.

Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, chairman of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee and the main sponsor of SB 437, said Friday he hopes to move newly revised legislation in the Senate this week, though he doubts the House will take up his bill and its companion bill until after the Nov. 8 election.

"What they decide is going to effect the entire state and it seems like the major special interest groups are having the largest influence on what is going on," said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, who added that at least 145 registered lobbyists made their views known at committee hearings on the energy package — along with only about a dozen average citizens — who mostly told him they didn't feel like they were being heard.

"The idea that a regular citizen, or a group of regular citizens, have the same ability to influence these bills that the two incumbent utilities have, is just laughable," Mauger said.

Michigan's main utilities — DTE Energy and Consumers Energy — are closing aging coal plants and say changes are needed to state energy law to assure they can build enough generation to meet all future needs.

Citizens for Michigan's Energy Future, a nonprofit corporation supported by DTE and Consumers, spent $7.4 million in 2015 to make their case — much of that on TV ads warning of a looming energy shortage, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network reported in August. Spending reports for this year are not yet available.

At issue is the "electric choice" market — alternative energy suppliers who, under current law, can serve up to 10% of the market with surplus electricity they purchase and sell to schools and other commercial customers at reduced costs.

The big utilities say a longtime overcapacity in Michigan is drying up, and while they will make sure Michigan has enough capacity to serve their 90% of the market, they are not going to build to cover the other 10%, which they see as "free riders," without legislative changes.

"The lights aren't out yet, but we need to move," DTE Chairman and CEO Gerry Anderson told the Free Press editorial board on Aug. 29.

"The people who understand this, including me, are worried," Anderson said.

Whatever happens, "we're going to take care of our customers," but "10% of the market are not our customers."

The proposed legislation, which DTE and Consumers support, would still allow a 10% market for electric choice, but would require those alternative suppliers to have the electricity they sell lined up three years in advance.

The alternative energy suppliers, along with free-market lawmakers such as Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, want to expand the choice market to serve thousands of potential customers now on a waiting list. They say talk of potential shortages is being overly hyped in order to kill electric choice, and requiring long-term commitments for cut-rate electricity would essentially do that.

"This entire arena ... is rife with people cherry-picking pieces of information and then reframing them to advance their narrative," Shirkey said. "We don't have a pending, looming reliability gap."

Nofs rejected the idea that DTE and Consumers have had undue influence on the legislation. If they did, "we would have had this done last year," he said.

"Obviously, they are just one or two players in the same pot as the others, who are opposing, who also have spent thousands of dollars on ads, lobbying and writing op-eds to your paper," Nofs said.

"I think it's an equal playing ground and no one has any more influence than the next organization."

Nofs said Friday the federal government and MISO (the Midcontinent Independent System Operator), a nonprofit that administers and plans wholesale electricity markets, are now calling for "resource adequacy" assurances similar to what his bill was seeking. The amended legislation he expects to introduce this week will reflect that change, he said.

Nofs noted alternative energy suppliers have said that MISO is in a better position than the state to determine if supplies are adequate, but MISO has come to a similar conclusion about the need for long-term commitments for alternative energy suppliers.

Maureen McNulty Saxton, a spokeswoman for Energy Choice Now, a coalition pushing for greater energy choice, said MISO is drafting proposals to assure resource adequacy, but "MISO has not offered anything publicly yet and the federal government hasn’t approved anything yet." It's hard to understand how Nofs can redraft his legislation based on something MISO hasn't done, she said.

"Last-minute changes, whatever they are, are just a last-ditch effort to save a discredited plan and jam through bad legislation, and lawmakers and their constituents see right through it," Saxton said Friday.

The cost of electricity is another issue, as Michigan's rates are already high relative to other Midwest states.

Nofs acknowledged Friday that rates will increase an unknown amount under his legislation, both for current "choice" customers — which includes many Michigan school districts — and for customers generally. But he said rates would increase in any case, because new plants have to be built and will need to be paid for. The legislation will require competitive bidding on those projects and require utilities to absorb any cost over-runs, he said.

James Clift, policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council, said protection for ratepayers is one of the key pieces missing from the legislation.

Most of the time, there's plenty of electricity to serve all customers in Michigan, Clift said. The issue is peaks that are reached, typically on hot, summer days, he said. Improving the efficiency of the electric grid through measures such as reducing line loss, and shifting loads through measures such as time-of-day pricing, could reduce those peaks and reduce the need for costly new plants, he said.

Another major issue in the current legislation is the proposed replacement of Michigan's 10% renewable energy mandate with proposed renewable energy and efficiency goals of 35%.

Some critics have said setting goals, rather than mandates, is meaningless, because goals have no teeth.

Nofs said Friday that changes being considered to the legislation, partly in the hopes of attracting more Democratic support, would scrap the proposed goals and return to a mandate for renewable energy, perhaps one of 10% to 15%.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.

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