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Solar and wind power are pushing down electricity prices in New England, but carbon fuels still dominate

The capacity market is separate from the larger energy market in which generators and others compete daily to provide power. To Deborah Donovan, senior policy advocate at the Acadia Center, a clean energy advocacy group, the prices in the most recent auction are a “leading indicator” of trends to come.

Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.

Rhode Island Legislature Punts on Climate: Smart Siting Legislation Languishes

Several state legislatures in the Northeast have gone big on climate in recent weeks.

New York passed a sweeping climate plan pledging to reach 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040 and net zero greenhouse gas emissions, across the whole economy, by 2050. Maine enacted legislation that doubles the amount of renewable electricity in its Renewable Portfolio Standard to 80% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. Connecticut authorized a massive boost to offshore wind—the construction of up to 2,000 megawatts.

Not Rhode Island. Legislators in Rhode Island ended their six-month session late last month without passing any climate legislation at all.

Several climate bills died in committee, including one that would have established an economy-wide price on carbon pollution and another that would make binding the greenhouse gas reduction targets of the Resilient Rhode Island Act. (Unlike in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Rhode Island’s emissions reduction goals are aspirational, not mandatory.)

The General Assembly also failed to act on a high-profile challenge whose resolution is important to ensuring that solar reaches its potential as a climate solution in Rhode Island. Here’s a look at how that issue played out.

Balancing solar and land stewardship

Both the House and Senate introduced legislation that would have addressed the urgent pressure many communities are facing over the siting of large-scale, ground-mounted solar projects. The bills were informed by the work of a group of stakeholders the state Office of Energy Resources and the Department of Environmental Management convened nearly two years ago to work through the complexities of the issue.

Acadia Center has added its clean energy expertise to the group, which includes renewable energy developers, municipal planners, clean energy advocates, conservation groups, and consumer advocates. The goal? To develop strategies that balanced the need to accelerate solar while also minimizing its environmental impact on forests and prime farmland.

Guided by 13 smart siting principles stakeholders developed through consensus, the committee put forth strategies that garnered widespread support from diverse quarters. The legislation, as introduced, would have:

 

The House’s siting bill never came to a vote in committee. The Senate passed a watered-down version that did not sufficiently address siting incentives. While the Senate’s amended bill mandated enactment of municipal siting ordinances, other critical strategies including reasonable size limits in areas of environmental concern and incentives for siting in preferred areas were scrapped.

Without any of the improvements proposed in the solar siting legislation, the status quo will largely continue: Rhode Island is likely to see the construction of more large projects on cleared forestland.

In some communities, the legislature’s inaction could have the opposite effect: leading to municipal moratoria that put at least a temporary pause on any solar construction. That outcome not only hinders Rhode Island’s ability to meet its climate goals but also dents growth of the clean energy sector, which has been a bright spot in the economy.

Rhode Island continues to be a leader in energy efficiency, and is moving ahead with a full-size offshore wind farm to join the nation’s first, Block Island. Rhode Island has committed to develop, along with nine states and Washington, D.C., a regional policy proposal to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the most polluting sector: transportation. The Governor just signed an Executive Order for focused inter-agency work on the state’s heating sector, which must move off natural gas. All of this is welcome progress.

Still, the legislature will have to think—and act—bigger on climate, or risk Rhode Island being left behind. The climate crisis is here; there is no time to waste.

Author: Erika Niedowski, Rhode Island Director & Policy Advocate

Conn. Zero-Carbon Awards Include Nukes, OSW, Solar

Connecticut officials in June announced they would purchase 200 MW of output from the Revolution Wind project, adding to Rhode Island’s 400-MW procurement. (See Conn. Awards 200-MW OSW, 50-MW Fuel Cell Deals.)

The additional 100-MW “procurement is another step forward for Connecticut in growing its commitment to offshore wind,” said Emily Lewis, senior policy analyst at Acadia Center. “Adding more offshore wind to the state’s clean energy portfolio will continue the momentum of this growing industry … To ensure continued growth of this industry in Connecticut, the state should set an offshore wind mandate similar to other east coast states.”

Read the full article from RTO Insider here (article may be behind paywall).

Power over solar: R.I. seeks to strike a development balance

Among the other efforts are new incentives released last month by the Office of Energy Resources that include increasing funding for solar projects on former industrial sites, raising the cap in a key state renewable energy program for rooftop solar, and creating a class in the same program for solar carports installed in parking lots.

Nearly everyone involved in the issue agrees that changes need to be made.

“There absolutely is an urgency, and I think that it would be great if we had all of the solutions immediately,” said Erika Niedowski, policy advocate for the Acadia Center, an environmental group. “But I think we have made progress and we are set up to make continued progress.”

Read the full article from the Providence Journal here.

Our Turn: Erika Niedowski and Meg Kerr: Addressing rural concerns about clean energy development

Renewable energy siting challenges are not unique to Rhode Island, but they are particularly pronounced given the state’s small size and high population density. Rhode Island has made ambitious commitments to clean energy deployment and carbon emissions reductions, including 45 percent reductions by 2035 and 80 percent by 2050.

As the state progresses towards its renewable energy goals, pressures are increasing to develop land with solar or wind resources, causing concern in some communities, especially rural ones. With smart local siting policies, both “green” goals of clean energy and land conservation can be achieved: Rhode Island communities can enjoy both the benefits of renewables and be good stewards of our landscapes and habitats.

The Renewable Energy Siting Stakeholder Committee is discussing ways to prioritize the siting of renewable energy in places that minimize environmental impacts, including rooftops and previously altered environments like landfills. Unlike Massachusetts, Rhode Island does not have policies that specifically encourage siting in such places.

Read the full article from the Providence Journal here.

Eversource Granted High Profit Margins, Automatic Annual Rate Increases, and Detrimental Charges for New Solar Customers

57 Consumer, Clean Energy, and Community Organizations Call on State Leaders to Address Counterproductive Decisions

BOSTON — Today, Acadia Center, Health Care Without Harm, MASSPIRG, Vote Solar, and 53 other organizations released a joint statement pointing to serious concerns over decisions by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) in Eversource’s recent electricity rate case. These decisions are inconsistent with the consumer-friendly clean energy future that Massachusetts is striving for. The 57 organizations bringing forward these concerns come from many different perspectives, including low-income and ratepayer advocates, environmental, health and clean energy public interest organizations, solar advocates, and clean energy businesses.

“Massachusetts is embracing many innovations on clean energy, including energy efficiency and offshore wind, that will boost the Commonwealth’s economy, benefit consumers, improve public health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” noted Daniel Sosland, President of Acadia Center. “Unfortunately, in four important ways, the DPU’s decisions in Eversource’s rate case represent a significant step away from embracing a clean energy future. Instead, these DPU decisions provide incentives for the company to invest in outdated and expensive energy infrastructure, reduce customer control, and impose significant unnecessary costs on consumers.”

Two of these decisions, unnecessarily high profit margins (known as the return on equity) and automatic annual revenue increases going forward, could collectively cost ratepayers an extra $460 million over five years. The other two decisions, unprecedented new demand charges on new residential solar customers and the elimination of optional residential on-peak/off-peak rates, would move away from electricity rates that are efficient and consumer-friendly.

“Hospitals typically have very small margins, so every unnecessary penny per kWh for Eversource means a lot less money for healing patients,” said Paul Lipke, Senior Advisor for Energy and Buildings at Health Care Without Harm. “Unless addressed, Eversource’s rate changes also increase pollution and shift costs from energy to health care. This conflicts directly with efforts to constrain the Commonwealth’s health costs, and at a time when households already spend six times on health care what they spend on energy. We can and must do better.”

“The Commission has decided to effectively raise costs, remove value and reduce customers’ understanding of and control over bills by approving Eversource’s new solar demand charge,” said Nathan Phelps, Regulatory Director for Vote Solar. “This decision is out of step with Massachusetts laws to encourage the state’s transition to a clean and reliable electricity system, and out of step with the DPU’s own prior leadership ensuring that solar customers are treated fairly for the local power they generate. We urge the Legislature and the Governor to reject this decision and reinstate Eversource customers’ right to lower their own utility bills with rooftop solar, protect the thousands of solar jobs serving our state, and deliver on the Commonwealth’s commitment to building a clean energy economy.”

“For many of us, our electricity bills are a significant monthly expense, and we rely on regulators to make sure utility companies like Eversource don’t overcharge ratepayers or adopt pricing practices that are deceptive or unfair,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s Consumer Program Director. “In this case, the DPU has approved Eversource’s new pricing schemes that will result in hundreds of millions in excessive charges; while at the same time, Eversource has made it harder for consumers to monitor their electricity use and reduce their bills.”

“Residential on-peak/off-peak rates should be used as a key tool to manage peak demand. Historically, these have been underutilized because the utilities do not publicize them and make them difficult to sign up for,” said Mark LeBel, Staff Attorney for Acadia Center. “Instead of optimizing these rates and making them easier to access, the DPU let Eversource eliminate them.”

The decision on the return on equity is currently being appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by Attorney General Maura Healey, and the decision on demand charges for new residential solar customers is being appealed by Vote Solar and other parties. The decision on demand charges is the subject of a bill recommended favorably by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy at the Massachusetts legislature, and a requirement for optional on-peak/off-peak rates is included in several different bills. The DPU recently denied the Attorney General’s motion for reconsideration on the automatic annual revenue increases.


Media Contacts:

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

Janice Gan, Public Engagement and Communications Associate
jgan@acadiacenter.org, 617-742-0054 x106

New Energy Plan Clears Legislative Committee, But More Changes Expected

“It’s definitely got a long way to go,” Reed said of the legislation. She said one of her prime goals for revising the bill is to make sure it “continues the current net metering we now have” for rooftop solar power.

That issue is one of the most controversial parts of the existing bill. The legislation would revise the way residential customers with solar power in their homes are now compensated for the power they produce. Critics claim the change would result in higher costs for homeowners and stall Connecticut’s solar power installation industry.

“Ending net metering would end a customer’s right to consume their own solar power, and would hamper the development of a clean, modern, efficient electric grid,” Emily Lewis, a policy analyst for the activist group Acadia Center, said.

Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.

Energy bill heads for committee showdown, uncertain future

The CES and original legislation did away with net metering, replacing it with a “buy-all/credit-all” concept. Essentially a solar owner would have to sell all his or her power to the grid at a rate to be set by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) and buy back what he or she needed at the retail rate.

Such a system would mean higher fees for solar owners and would probably make it impossible to install battery storage or home-based smart energy systems that would help reduce energy demands and integrate with more modern grid concepts.

“Forcing people to go that direction is going be counter-productive in the long run and would undermine grid modernization,” said Mark LeBel, staff attorney for the advocacy group Acadia Center.

Read the full article from The CT Mirror here.

Solar is again the flashpoint in CT’s new energy strategy

“This is radically anti-consumer and, ironically, at odds with the grid modernization recommendations of the CES that want to explore integrating smart meters, efficiency and demand response, storage, solar, and other customer-sited resources for numerous grid benefits, including peak-demand management,” said Bill Dornbos, advocacy director and senior attorney for the regional environmental group Acadia Center, which in December spearheaded a statement of principles by energy and environmental activists.

Read the full article from the CT Mirror here.

Solar industry growing, but tariff sparks fears

The Acadia Center and 20 other organizations and advocates wrote to DEEP on Dec. 22 to argue the proposed changes would lead to higher metering and billing costs and imperiled “the future of smart homes with storage and energy management.”

“Everything you’re generating on-site should be credited at the retail rate,” Emily Lewis O’Brien, a policy analyst with Acadia Center, said last week.

[…]

Would also seem that the Acadia analyst quoted has a valid point relative to residential solar production in that the home owner should be credited/reimbursed at the retail rate for the power they produce. The fact that the power companies back the new reimbursement proposal should tell us something. What is a the effect on state electricity tax revenue from the new proposed formula? Would not be surprised that it would be higher?

Read the full article from The Day here.