State legislators wrestle with changing industry

Source: Emily Holden, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2016

CHICAGO — State lawmakers at their annual summit here are tackling how to support evolving energy business models and prioritize different types of power based on affordability, reliability and environmental benefits.

Legislators yesterday said they are particularly interested in how to strike a balance between power companies and consumers as rooftop solar grows.

“As utilities and their customers who are installing these either energy efficiency technologies or energy generating technologies, they both seek to monetize their advantages, and we need to try to spend some time thinking about that,” said Kansas state Rep. Tom Sloan (R) at a meeting of the Energy Supply Task Force at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

An NCSL standing committee later this week will consider a resolution urging the federal government to spend money incentivizing states to “establish progressively increasing solar renewable energy standards, supported by mutually-beneficial net-metering policies made available under value-of-solar rate tariffs.”

Net-metering policies require utilities to pay rooftop solar owners at the retail rate for any extra power they send back to the grid. Value-of-solar rate tariffs, which are uncommon, require customers to purchase all of their power at the retail rate and sell their own solar generation back at a separate rate.

State electric regulators, similarly, are considering the thorny issue of how to compensate rooftop solar and other distributed energy resources, but they are far from consensus (EnergyWire, July 27).

Washington state Rep. Jeff Morris (D), co-chairman of the Energy Supply Task Force, yesterday said lawmakers must study “the changing values consumers are bringing to the system, whether it’s Microsoft or my grandma.”

Morris said utility plans are shifting with those changing values. Officials at San Antonio’s municipal utility, he said, recently told him that in 10 years, they expect to be energy consultants to customers, rather than mainly energy providers.

“Otherwise, they feel that someone else is going to come in and do that, whether it’s Google or SolarCity,” Morris said.

He cautioned that “a lot of our laws aren’t set up to actually let utilities — whether they’re co-ops, municipals or regular utilities — themselves sell products except the volumetric kilowatt-hour sales.”

While the Clean Power Plan is suspended by the courts, lawmakers yesterday heard about how utilities and states must nonetheless moving ahead with energy planning decisions (ClimateWire, Aug. 8).

At a separate panel on Thursday, they will hear from energy analysts, including representatives from M.J. Bradley & Associates, a firm that has found that the United States is largely on track to meet the goals of the Clean Power Plan. Other speakers are from the Midcontinent Independent System Operator and the Electric Power Research Institute. The three panelists will discuss “a number of scenarios and how they may affect electricity generation, state economies, jobs and citizens,” according to the agenda.

Lawmakers this week are also considering whether to incentivize zero-carbon nuclear generation, after New York regulators last week decided to subsidize three at-risk nuclear power plants (ClimateWire, Aug. 2).

Yesterday, they heard from the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Rod McCullum, who said the industry is at a crossroads because of competition from low-cost natural gas.

“The role that you all play is definitely going to affect the outcome of this,” McCullum said.

On Tuesday, legislators will hear more on nuclear power’s woes from Exelon, NEI and the PJM Interconnection.

Reporters Emily Holden and Jeffrey Tomich are in Chicago covering the conference.

In case you missed it:

  • On the one-year anniversary of EPA’s release of the Clean Power Plan, markets have shifted in favor of the rule, but politics have not (ClimateWire, Aug. 4).
  • EPA’s main program to limit the Clean Power Plan’s impact on the poor is a hard sell (ClimateWire, Aug. 5).
  • The Clean Power Plan didn’t come up much at the party conventions (ClimateWire, Aug. 1).
  • California became the first state to adopt a Clean Power Plan compliance proposal (ClimateWire, Aug. 5). But the state is having trouble extending its own carbon targets (ClimateWire, Aug. 5).
  • Companies and investors want tougher goals for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (ClimateWire, Aug. 2).
  • Massachusetts adopted the nation’s most ambitious offshore wind energy law (ClimateWire, Aug. 2).
  • New York regulators backed a plan to get half of the state’s power from renewables by 2030 and to subsidize three nuclear plants (EnergyWire, Aug. 2).