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Threat of shutdown hovers over negotiations between Millstone and utilities over power prices

The Malloy administration last year selected Millstone as a source of “low-cost zero carbon energy” and offshore wind that combined will bolster Connecticut’s contribution to reduced emissions. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection directed Eversource and UI to negotiate a price downward “to better reflect a reasonable rate of return for the plant’s owner, Dominion Energy,” then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in December.

A “normal utility rate of return on equity” is 9 percent, but the state would consider 12 percent to 15 percent reasonable for a plant with a long-term contract, Malloy said.

Emily Lewis, a senior policy analyst at the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group, said the attempt to negotiate a lower price with Millstone is a “big ask.”

“It comes back to ratepayers,” she said. “How much are ratepayers going to pay to subsidize Millstone?”

Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.

Op-ed: Merrimack Valley tragedy offers climate change opportunity

The significant investments required in the energy infrastructure of the impacted communities present an opportunity to re-think what energy options are available to best meet the needs of these communities, not only for this winter but for many years to come. Doing so can lead to practical, cost-effective actions that will provide a host of benefits for the residents and businesses in these communities: reduced energy costs for ratepayers; safer, more resilient homes and businesses; improved indoor air quality; and, meaningfully, less climate pollution.

Read the full article from CommonWealth Magazine here.

National Grid would boost revenues by $19.6M in settlement with R.I. regulators

“The settlement includes several changes to the utility business model, which should begin to change the incentives for National Grid — away from traditional capital investments and towards outcomes that benefit consumers and the environment,” Mark LeBel, staff attorney for the Boston-based Acadia Center, wrote in comments to the PUC.

Read the full article from the Providence Journal here.

 

Another skirmish in the pipeline wars

Mark LeBel, a staff attorney at Acadia, said no one wants to see emission levels go up. “But the bottom line is in terms of overall pollution you want to look at annual progress,” he said. On that score, he said, New England is headed in the right direction.

Read the full article from CommonWealth Magazine here.

Clearing the Air: Long-Term Trends and Context for New England’s Electricity Grid

Some entities and stakeholders have raised concerns about the environmental performance of New England’s electricity system during a particularly cold multi-week period in December 2017 and January 2018. Specifically, they have called attention to emissions due to the amount of oil and coal used for electricity generation during that time. Acadia Center takes these concerns very seriously and advocates strongly for reducing pollution that hurts public health and the climate in order to meet the region’s science-based requirements.

In addition, some of these stakeholders are advancing a specific proposal that they argue would solve the region’s emissions issues, a multi-billion-dollar electric ratepayer-funded investment in new natural gas pipeline capacity. Public investments in natural gas pipelines would have significant consequences for the region and the claimed benefits of such an investment should be scrutinized closely.

To provide perspective on the grid’s environmental performance this past winter and the impacts of a proposed major expansion of natural gas pipeline capacity, Acadia Center has developed a fact sheet which takes a comprehensive look at several different regional trends for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, electricity generation, and fuel consumption across all sectors. The results demonstrate that the selective statistics used by pipeline advocates are incomplete at best and significantly misleading at worst.

Policymakers in the region should not be misled by pipeline advocates and must consider a full set of options to ensure that New England continues to progress toward a clean, reliable, and affordable electricity system in the coming years. Eight charts on relevant issues are presented in the fact sheet, but the most important points are included here.

New England is making significant progress reducing GHG emissions from the electric sector over the long-term. New England GHG emissions from electricity generation from March 2017 through February 2018 were 53% lower than in 2001-02, 26% lower than in 2012-13, and 8% lower than in 2016-17. Progress reducing GHG emissions in the electric sector is undeniable, even accounting for emissions related to the cold snap in December 2017 and January 2018.

Figure 1 – Annual GHG Emissions (Mar. to Feb.) from Electricity
Generation in New England

The region has historically seen significant monthly variation in GHG emissions from electricity generation. While GHG emissions from electricity generation in New England were higher in December 2017 and January 2018 than some other months, seasonal and monthly variation in GHG emissions is normal. Monthly GHG emissions from electricity generation in New England are typically higher in hot summers and cold winters. January 2018 was the 10th highest month of GHG emissions dating back to the beginning of 2014, while February 2018 was the lowest in the 21st century.

Figure 2 – Monthly GHG Emissions from Electricity Generation
in New England

GHG emissions from electricity generation are falling in New England because of several drivers, including energy efficiency, increased renewables investment, and a major decrease in the amount of electricity generation from coal and oil. Annual electricity generated by coal and oil from March 2017 through February 2018 was 91% lower than the levels in 2001-02 and 49% lower than just five years ago in 2012-13.

Figure 3 – Annual Electricity Generation from Coal and Oil (Mar. to Feb.)
in New England

New England is rapidly approaching the limit of the GHG reduction strategy of replacing electricity generation from coal and oil with natural gas. As might be expected, coal and oil generation has been reduced in part through increases in natural gas generation. However, as a long-term strategy, shifting from one fossil fuel to another will not allow for the GHG emissions reductions the region needs to meet its science-based commitments.

GHG emissions from natural gas combustion across all sectors, including those from gas delivered through two recent regional pipeline expansions, will be an increasingly significant percentage of overall regional GHG emission limits over time. Looking at combustion emissions in isolation also understates the overall impact of emissions from natural gas because it ignores the significant GHG emissions during extraction and delivery. Adding a major new regional pipeline would only exacerbate this issue, potentially increasing combustion emissions from natural gas to 49% of the overall regional GHG emissions target in 2030, and that would rise to 72% in 2040, and 135% in 2050.

Figure 4 – Natural Gas Combustion Emissions in New England from All Sectors Versus Overall Regional GHG Emissions Requirements

Of course, emissions are not the only important policy consideration for the successful operation of New England’s grid. Other serious considerations are reliability and consumer costs. Some stakeholders have argued that there is a medium-term reliability risk, which could lead to rolling blackouts or other harms. However, a recent report from Synapse Energy Economics demonstrates that, with reasonable expectations for growth in demand for electricity and natural gas and accounting for planned investments in renewables and transmission for clean energy, the risk of major reliability issues is close to zero. Keeping on this path will take some effort but should be achievable.

On the consumer costs side, using hard-earned ratepayer dollars for major new natural gas pipelines would not have any impact on electricity prices until construction is finished, which could be in 2022 or even later. Furthermore, there are good reasons to think that purported consumer benefits would not outweigh the guaranteed costs that ratepayers would have to pay. Major investments are currently being planned for offshore wind and new transmission lines for clean energy that would come online in the same timeframe as a pipeline, and these investments undercut many of the alleged benefits of a pipeline. Additional pipeline capacity would also increase the chances of exporting natural gas out of New England, which would drive up natural gas prices.

In the shorter term, many other available policy options can help improve the reliability of New England’s grid and reduce costs, while simultaneously lowering emissions. This year, ISO-NE is implementing “pay-for-performance” market reforms, which provide additional incentives to generators to respond during times of high demand and high prices. Additional investments in energy efficiency for natural gas and electricity, fixing leaks in the natural gas distribution system, advanced energy storage, local renewables, and grid modernization will start to help right away with energy prices and reliability, while simultaneously advancing the region’s long-term emissions requirements.

The usefulness of using natural gas as a “bridge” over the last two decades is at an end and the region needs to avoid further long-term public investments in fossil fuels. New England’s economic and environmental future depends upon building a clean, reliable, and affordable modern energy system. Acadia Center’s EnergyVision 2030 shows a path to meet economy-wide GHG emissions reductions of 45% from 1990 levels by 2030 using market-ready technologies, with no additional natural gas pipeline capacity needed.  It’s time to move forward with a smart portfolio of investments to benefit consumers, create well-paying local jobs, improve public health, and lower the risks of climate change.

D. Maurice Kreis: Rolling blackouts in New Hampshire? Not a chance

Energy policy driven by fear and unrealistic projections drives up the bills paid by utility customers. So, we share the concern of our coalition partners that the ISO New England fuel security study does not get the story right.

The bottom line: a more realistic business-as-usual scenario “shows few operational issues and no reliability threats” in the hypothetical extreme winter of 2024-25 that is the focus of the fuel security analysis. Translation: No rolling blackouts, no electricity rationing.

Read the full article from Concord Monitor here.

Energy Efficiency Is Working in New England

Over the past few years, electric consumption has been declining in New England even as the population and economy have grown. This is due in large part to energy efficiency (EE) gains, which have dramatically reduced the amount of electricity consumed in the region and are projected to do so even more in the future.

Declines in peak demand

The hour of highest electricity demand in New England determines the region’s infrastructure needs. The system is built to ensure it can reliably supply electricity during that hour, which usually occurs on a hot summer weekday.

For the first time ever, ISO New England (the region’s electric grid operator) is predicting a decline in peak demand over the next ten years, mostly due to projected gains in EE and on-site solar generation. Known as the 90/10 peak summer demand forecast, this projection models electric needs during a once-in-ten-years hot weather event and serves as the basis for regional system reliability planning.

The green line represents the ISO peak demand forecast, which factors in solar and energy efficiency.

The 2018 forecast also includes improvements that help it more accurately reflect recent history. Predicted winter peaks (the highest hour of use in the winter) have shifted downward, and projected needs in 2024 are nearly 700 megawatts lower than in last year’s forecast. This is equivalent to the power produced by the retiring Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts.

Acadia Center looks forward to seeing these revised winter figures incorporated into the updated modeling of ISO’s fuel security study. The initial fuel security study asserted shortages could occur under severely stressed system conditions and sparked calls for new pipelines to carry additional natural gas into the region to fuel power plants. The new forecast should result in significant changes to those predictions.

Beneficial to ratepayers

Since the electric grid is designed and built to meet needs on the peak hour, increases in energy efficiency reduce the need for expensive new construction, which would be paid for by utility customers if built.

Crucial for the future

ISO projects that by 2020, energy efficiency will reduce demand on peak days by more than all of the region’s nuclear power plants combined can supply. By 2027, energy efficiency is projected to reduce the amount of electricity we need to generate by more than 22%.

These figures not only highlight the benefits of the region’s past and planned efficiency, but also give insight into what could be accomplished with more efficiency. Lagging states can continue to expand their efforts, and efficiency improvements could be better targeted at summer and winter peaks if avoided infrastructure costs are more accurately calculated.

Eversource Customers To See Rates Rise Under PURA Decision

PURA’s decision also lowers the fixed fee Eversource customers are charged, regardless of how much electricity they use, from $19.25 to under $9.50 a month.

Katz said that reduction will primarily benefit lower-income Eversource customers and consumers that significantly reduce their electricity use. She said most residential consumers will see their overall Eversource bills rise by that $5.40 per month.

“By enacting this significant reduction, Connecticut brings the state’s residential customer charges down to levels that are comparable with national best practices and recognizes that high fixed charges run counter to consumer interests and a clean energy future,” said Mark LeBel, staff attorney for the activist group Acadia Center.

The 50 percent cut in fixed charges was mandated under legislation passed by the 2015 General Assembly to limit residential customer charges.

Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.

Victory for Consumers and Clean Energy in Connecticut Electric Rate Case

Approved Settlement Significantly Reduces Eversource Residential Customer Charges

HARTFORD, CT – On April 18, 2018, the Connecticut Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) announced its decision to lower the customer charge for Eversource residential customers from $19.25 to below $9.50. This 50% reduction follows the requirements of a 2015 law enacted by the Connecticut General Assembly to limit residential customer charges, the fixed fee that customers pay regardless of the amount of energy used. Acadia Center first raised this issue in Connecticut in Eversource’s previous 2014 rate case, and, since 2015, has participated in two rate cases and a generic proceeding to ensure the proper implementation of the law.

“Connecticut has taken an important step today towards a clean and consumer-friendly energy system,” said Daniel Sosland, President of Acadia Center. “The Office of Consumer Counsel, Attorney General’s Office, and the Connecticut General Assembly have made major progress in bringing relief to Connecticut’s electric customers, and Acadia Center looks forward to working with these partners as the state moves forward with further reforms to the energy system.”

Customer charges for residential electric customers typically range from $5 to $10 a month, but in some states are significantly higher. High customer charges disproportionately burden seniors and low-income customers, who typically use less electricity than average. They also reduce the incentive for customers to lower their electricity bills through conservation, investment in energy efficiency, or renewable energy technologies like solar power. Before the implementation of the new law, Connecticut’s residential customer charges for its two major utilities were $19 per month and $19.25 per month respectively.

Bill Dornbos, Acadia Center’s Advocacy Director, said, “Consumers everywhere prefer choice and control, and this lower monthly fixed charge will give customers substantially more control over their electric bills. The new rate design will also help promote energy efficiency and renewable energy, more closely aligning Connecticut’s electricity rates with its energy policy goals.”

“By enacting this significant reduction, Connecticut brings the state’s residential customer charges down to levels that are comparable with national best practices and recognizes that high fixed charges run counter to consumer interests and a clean energy future,” said Mark LeBel, staff attorney for Acadia Center. “This is a significant step at a time when states around the country, including neighboring New York, are debating how to move forward on this important issue.”


Media Contacts:

Mark LeBel, Staff Attorney
mlebel@acadiacenter.org, 617-742-0054 x104

Krysia Wazny, Communications Director
kwazny@acadiacenter.org, 617-742-0054 x107

Central Hudson Agrees to Reduce Its Residential Customer Charge, Benefiting Consumers and Clean Energy

NEW YORK — On April 18, Central Hudson Gas and Electric proposed a settlement in its ongoing rate proceeding, in which it agrees to reduce its current electric and gas residential customer charge from $24 to $19.50 over three years. Central Hudson’s customer charge reduction makes it the first New York utility to reduce its customer charge in more than a decade.

Jen Metzger, Director of Citizens for Local Power, said: “Central Hudson’s historically high fixed charges have been a burden on many seniors and low- and moderate-income households, which tend use less energy. We welcome this important step in the right direction to alleviate this burden and make rates fairer by tying them more closely to how much energy customers actually use.”

Cullen Howe, Acadia Center’s New York Director, said: “Central Hudson’s agreement to reduce these regressive fees will benefit the majority of its residential customers. As the state looks to ramp up its efforts on energy efficiency and clean energy, Acadia Center believes it is crucial that New York utilities and regulators provide the right incentives to invest in these resources. Though Central Hudson’s fixed charge is still high and must continue to be lowered, other utilities should follow its example and begin reducing their customer charges as well.”

Also referred to as basic service or fixed charges, customer charges are flat fees that every customer pays, regardless of the amount of electricity or gas used. Across the country, fixed charges for residential electric customers typically range from $5 to $10 a month, but in some states — notably New York — these charges are significantly higher. Central Hudson’s current customer charges are the highest in New York and among the highest in the nation.

High electric customer charges disproportionately burden low-income customers, who typically use less electricity than average and generally benefit from lower customer charges. They also conflict with New York’s goals for a clean, modern, consumer-friendly electric system by removing any incentive for customers to lower their electricity bills through conservation, investment in energy efficiency, or renewable energy technologies like solar power.

While these reductions are an important step, other New York utilities have continued to maintain, or seek increases to, these charges. On March 15, for example, the Public Service Commission approved a decision allowing National Grid to maintain its existing monthly customer charge at $17, and Orange & Rockland County Utilities recently filed a rate proceeding seeking to increase its current $20 customer charge to $22. The New York Customer Charge coalition has set up a web site at www.lowerfixedcharges.org to continue advocating for lowering these charges and providing rate relief to low-income and low-usage New York energy consumers.

Jessica Azulay, Program Director at Alliance for a Green Economy, said: “We hope the Central Hudson agreement is the first step in a process to reduce fixed charges for all utilities across New York State. New York has set ambitious energy affordability and climate goals. Reduction in fixed charges is a major tool that utility regulators can and should use to accomplish both of those goals. We urge the Public Service Commission to use this tool aggressively to ease energy burdens for residential customers and incentivize conservation, energy efficiency, and investments in distributed renewable energy.”

Richard Berkley, Executive Director of the Public Utility Law Project of New York, said: “We are grateful to Central Hudson for taking the lead in beginning what will hopefully be a statewide reduction of New York’s extremely high customer charges. In a state where approximately half of residential energy consumers have trouble paying their utility and other vital bills such as food, medicine, mortgages or rent, taking concrete steps toward greater affordability by reducing these regressive charges is something we can all support, and we are equally grateful to our coalition partners and to the Department of Public Service for its assistance in bringing about the first reductions of these charges.”

“Fixed customer charges in New York are too high and are bad policy. This settlement marks an important step toward reducing the harmful effects that these charges have on customers, and in aligning rates with the New York vision for electricity markets,” said Karl R. Rábago, executive director for the Pace Energy and Climate Center and a former utility regulatory commissioner. “We are pleased that our years of work in rate cases in New York against these unfair utility charges is bearing fruit.”

Jonathan Bix, Executive Director of Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, said, “This nearly 20% reduction in Central Hudson’s fixed charge will increase affordability and decrease shutoffs for low-income customers. Although this reduction is a critical victory, Central Hudson and other utilities must continue to lower their regressive fixed charges, including Orange & Rockland Utilities through their current rate proceeding.”


Media Contacts:

Cullen Howe, Senior Attorney & NY Director
chowe@acadiacenter.org, 212-256-1535 x501

Krysia Wazny, Communications Director
kwazny@acadiacenter.org, 617-742-0054 x107