In the last few weeks, state-level stakeholders around the country have been busy reforming renewable portfolio standards, proposing changes to net metering policies, and studying the potential effects of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Also, in an unprecedented move, the Hawaii state legislature voted to make electricity generation 100 % renewable by 2045.
More on these developments in our state dispatch below.
As action unfolds in the states, there’s also been some meaningful activity on clean energy at the federal level in recent weeks. Sen. Angus King, an Independent from Maine, introduced a bold piece of legislation last week designed to promote personal energy independence through advanced technologies. The bill would ensure that distributed energy resources are able to be connected to the grid in a reasonable timeframe for a reasonable price, and with reasonable compensation for the benefits they offer utilities. Also last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced legislation that would boost funding for smart grid technology.
In other federal news, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 745 demand response case. Also in the courts, judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit appear likely to dismiss the first legal challenge to the Clean Power Plan.
And now to the states. (You can find last month’s state news roundup here.)
Lawmakers in Hawaii passed legislation last week (in a 74-2 vote) requiring the state to generate 100 % of its electricity from renewable energy resources by 2045. If HB 623 is signed into law by Governor David Ige, Hawaii will become the first U.S. state to attempt complete decarbonization of the power sector.
Today, Hawaii’s energy mix is more than 80 % fossil fuel, with oil providing the majority of electricity generation on the islands. However, renewables are growing fast. Hawaiian Electric Company, the state’s sole privately owned utility company, previously determined it would be feasible to reach 40 % renewables by 2030. Getting to 100 % by 2045 will be difficult, but not entirely far-fetched.
“As the first state to move toward 100 % renewable energy, Hawaii is raising the bar for the rest of the country,” said Chris Lee, the Chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee and introducer of HB 623, in a statement. “Local renewable projects are already cheaper than liquid natural gas and oil, and our progress toward meeting our renewable energy standards has already saved local residents hundreds of millions on their electric bills.”
Hawaiian regulators are now working to adapt electricity rates to accommodate an increasingly renewable-centric grid. At the same time, there are concerns bubbling up around NextEra’s proposed acquisition of HECO and what it would mean for renewables in the state.
In December, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) proposed applying an US$18-US$30 per month interconnection fee on distributed solar starting in January 2016. In recent weeks, the New Mexico state attorney general has come out against the proposal, backing the position of solar advocates like The Alliance for Solar Choice. The rate case is likely to continue through the year.
The solar sector in New Mexico also saw a loss last month when Governor Martinez vetoed Senate Bill 391, which would have extended the state’s solar tax credit through 2020. As it stands now, the tax credit will expire at the end of 2016.
With 325 megawatts of solar energy installed at the end of 2014, New Mexico currently ranks 11th in the country in installed solar capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
As PNM has been working to reform its solar tariffs, it has also been weighing what to do with the iconic San Juan coal power plant that was set to close in 2017. On May 1, PNM and mining company BHP Billiton announced they had reached an agreement with regulators to keep the coal plant open through 2022, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports.
As a largely coal-powered state with no renewable portfolio standard, Utah may be an unexpected place for a solar boom. But it’s happening nonetheless, as Breaking Energy reports.
SunEdison announced last month it has signed agreements to build three new utility-scale solar power plants in Utah, with a total capacity of 262 megawatts. SunEdison now has more than 720 megawatts DC of solar energy in development and 306 megawatts AC of wind power in operation in the state.
The Washington state legislature is currently in a special session with a long list of energy-related bills still on the agenda. A Senate bill (SB 5735) that would give utilities alternative ways to comply with the state’s 15 % renewable portfolio standard has been reintroduced. And a House bill (HB 2045) that would effectively eliminate net metering in the state is being held at the present status.
Washington is also considering the implementation of a carbon market with bills in both the House (HB 1314) and Senate (5283).
The Senate is considering an extension of its alternative fuel tax credit through 2025 (SB 5445) with similar legislation in the House (HB 1396). The nonprofit group Solar Washington regularly updates a list of legislation in the state that pertains to solar and other energy-related topics.
In Oregon, Idaho Power has proposed changing the terms under which the utility enters into PPAs with qualifying resources under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act. The proposal would set the standard contract eligibility cap for wind and solar projects to 100 kilowatts and change the contract term length from 20 to two years.
With increasing amounts of renewable energy coming on-line, Idaho Power says the changes are needed so that “customers are not exposed to unnecessary and unneeded risk.” Renewable energy advocates in the state believe the changes would add crippling costs to small projects. The Oregon Public Utility Commission is currently reviewing the proposal. The Idaho PUCapproved contract changes in February.
In the near term, SEIA expects to see significant solar market growth in Oregon and Washington. The two Northwest states combined are expected to install more than 200 megawatts of solar electric capacity by the end of the year, which is enough to power roughly 25,000 homes.
In other renewable energy news, Oregon is considering a bill (HB 2187) that would explore extending net metering to ocean renewable energy. The state’s net metering law currently allows utility customers that have installed a PV or wind system to be compensated for the electricity they send to the grid.
Montana lawmakers are delaying action on a net metering policy until amandated study has determined the cost effectiveness of the program. The state’s dominant utility, NorthWestern Energy, supports the delay.
Nevada is bumping up against a net metering cap. According to solar advocates, the cap threatens to bring Nevada’s solar industry to a grinding halt, putting 5,900 solar jobs at risk.
NV Energy, owned by the utility conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Energy, argues that net metering should be allowed to lapse, not only because it unfairly favors solar customers, but also because solar is not able to compete without the subsidy, which is valued at 7 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Governor Brian Sandoval is now quietly weighing his course of action after meeting with stakeholders on both sides of the issue. Nevada only holds legislative sessions every two years, so any reforms to the cap will need to pass before the end of May this year.
The California Public Utilities Commission proposed major reforms to the state’s residential electricity rates last month, including flattened tiers, time-of-use rates and minimum bills. The proposed changes are a mixed bag for solar. The CPUC is also engaged in an ongoing effort to reform the state’s rules on demand response.
The push for regulatory reform comes as California is seeing accelerated adoption of renewable energy and distributed energy resources. California’s three major investor-owned utilities recently topped the list of utilities that added the most new solar capacity in 2014. According to the Energy information Administration, California is the first state to generate more than 5 % of its annual electricity generation from utility-scale solar power.
Last month, Arizona utility APS proposed increasing grid access fees on residential solar customers “from 70 cents per kilowatt — or approximately US$5 per month — to US$3 per kilowatt, or roughly US$21 per month for future residential solar customers.”
The Arizona Corporation Commission, the regulatory body overseeing APS, determined that a US$21 fee would be reasonable back in 2013, but ultimately settled on the lower number amid pushback from solar supporters. According to APS, the US$5 fee has done nothing to curb rooftop solar deployment. Last year, the first year the fee was put in place, was a record year for rooftop solar in APS territory — up 10 % from 2013.
APS believes US$67 per month is a truly fair interconnection fee to charge residential solar customers and will slowly work toward that goal, Barbara Lockwood, general manager of regulatory policy and compliance at APS, recently told Greentech Media. “We know that solar can adapt as we move forward into the future,” she said.
Last week, APS reported improved first-quarter earnings due to a rate increase to cover the costs of a new coal generation, according to AZ Central. APS is also considering joining California’s western energy imbalance market, which the utility says could save it US$7-US$18 million per year.
Tucson Electric Power proposed last month to reduce net metering credits for residential solar in its territory, bringing the purchase price the utility pays for excess rooftop solar down to what it pays for electricity from large local solar arrays. Meanwhile, SolarCity has pulled 85 workers out of Arizona in response to new demand charges Salt River Project imposed on solar customers. SolarCity filed a lawsuit against the Arizona utility earlier this year.
House representatives in Maine voted overwhelmingly last week (138-1) to fix a typo that would restore US$38 million in energy efficiency spending, the Bangor Daily News reports.
In March, the Maine Public Utilities Commission voted to cut funding for the Efficiency Maine Trust, an independent organization that implements efficiency upgrades across the state, from US$60 million down to US$22 million. The issue stems from a missing “and” in a 2013 law. Legislation passed in Maine’s Democratic-controlled House restores efficiency funding by fixing the typo. LD 1215 now goes to Maine’s Republican-controlled Senate.
New York’s ambitious Reforming the Energy Vision proceeding has been delayed, Capital New York reports. Two deadlines were delayed by at least a month, according to documents filed with the PSC.
“Considering the critical importance of this initiative, extending the self-imposed deadlines for submittal of certain filings makes perfect sense,” PSC spokesperson James Denn said.
Last month, New York announced US$160 million for large-scale clean energy projects to help meet the state’s renewable portfolio standard.
Hawaii isn’t the only state moving toward zero-carbon electricity. Legislation currently being considered in the New Jersey Senate (S 2444) would require the state to get 80 % of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. The state’s current policy is 22.5 % renewable energy by 2022.
But while the bipartisan bill has been voted out of committee, it’s a long shot at best. Even if the bill passed the legislature, Gov. Christie would likely veto it, NJ.com reports. – Greentechmedia.com