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  • Tell Your Governor: Fight the Extinction Crisis
    Monarch butterflies alone have declined 90-95 percent in the last two decades, due to habitat loss and pesticide use. We need our governors to make wildlife protection a priority.
    Read more »
  • A Bailout by Any Other Name: FirstEnergy Still Trying to Stick It to Ohio Customers

    By Dick Munson

    handshake_iStock_000000409076_L3You have to give some credit to FirstEnergy. It does hire creative lawyers.

    After the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) effectively killed the utility giant’s $4-billion bailout request to keep its uneconomic power plants online, those expensive attorneys figured they could redefine a few words and restore the subsidies. In an attempt to thwart FERC’s decision, the utility is asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to consider “modifications” to its bailout plan. However, these changes will still result in increased customer bills at the rate of $4 billion.

    For almost two years, FirstEnergy argued it needed to prop up its uneconomic generators with “power purchase agreements” (PPA) between the utility and its affiliate companies. After federal regulators declared such transactions were illegal because they distorted competitive markets, FirstEnergy lawyers are now saying, “Just kidding!” Instead of using the term “PPAs,” the utility now prefers “surcharges,” skirting FERC’s ruling and hoping it won’t notice there’s been no real change.

    The utility also hires creative accountants. FirstEnergy’s original proposal would have the PPAs reflect the actual costs of producing electricity from these old power plants. Now those accountants are saying, “Just kidding!” So instead of actual costs (which require FERC review), the “surcharges” would be based on estimated power production costs – guesses the utility made 18 months ago that have already proven to be way off base.


    A Bailout by Any Other Name: FirstEnergy Still Trying to Stick It to Ohio Customers
    Click To Tweet


    These number crunchers also no longer care about actual contracts, so long as they secure the higher rates. Without the official agreements in place, it now seems a handshake among the utility’s affiliates will do, meaning state regulators don’t have to regulate those “deals.”

    FirstEnergy wants more money and wants it now. The utility is asking the PUCO to embrace this totally new (but basically the same) approach within the next couple of weeks – so the power firm can start charging higher rates by the first of June. In its rush for profits, the utility wants to avoid hearings, filings, and investigations – those pesky things that regulators usually do.

    You have to give FirstEnergy credit for chutzpah. With a straight face, its lawyers and accountants still say the $4-billion bailout will “protect customers,” the very people who will be stuck with higher electricity bills. Of course, the real beneficiary of these legal and accounting sleights of hand is the utility, who’s hoping to recover from a stock downgrade after the FERC ruling.

    FERC stepped in to protect Ohioans in this case, but now FirstEnergy is trying to flex its political muscle in the state again.

    As we’ve noted before, FirstEnergy also hires powerful lobbyists, many of whom are the friends and former staffers of key politicians. The power company contributes generously to lawmakers and their favorite causes, which seems to usually ensure it gets what it wants in Ohio. FERC stepped in to protect Ohioans in this case, but now FirstEnergy is trying to flex its political muscle in the state again.

    If the lawyers and accountants were being honest with their wording, rather than creative, they’d describe the “new” FirstEnergy bailout for what it is and always has been – “corporate cronyism.” Here’s hoping Ohio regulators – all of whom are self-described conservatives who embrace markets over subsidies – will mock FirstEnergy’s new proposal. Call it creative, but still flawed – and still essentially a bailout.

    Photo credit: © Oleg Prikhodko / istockphoto.com

    Read more »
  • San Antonio Leadership Puts People over Politics by Supporting Clean Power Plan

    By John Hall

    By: John Hall, Texas state director, clean energy, and Colin Leyden, senior manager, state regulatory & legislative affairs – natural gas. This post originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.

    san antonio riverwalk pixabayWhen it comes to clean air and clean energy, Texas cities – and their encompassing counties – know what’s good for them.

    San Antonio’s Bexar County Commissioners, for example, recently approved a resolution supporting the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the Clean Power Plan.

    Bexar County includes the City of San Antonio and adjoining areas. By endorsing the plan, the broader San Antonio community joins Texas’ largest cities Houston and Dallas, whose mayors are also supporting the sensible, cost-effective clean air measure. (In fact, Houston and Dallas filed an amicus brief together with a large coalition of cities to support the Clean Power Plan in court).

    All of this comes in the face of staunch opposition from Texas state leaders, who have used taxpayers’ money to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over these safeguards. Meanwhile, Bexar County Judge Nelson W. Wolff and commissioners passed the resolution unanimously, meaning members from both sides of the aisle put politics aside and voted for healthier air for our communities and families.

    In addition to serving as a testament to bipartisan leadership on reducing climate-altering carbon emissions, Bexar County’s support for the Clean Power Plan is a reflection of San Antonio’s clean energy leadership and could help the city meet our nation’s health-based ground-level ozone (more commonly known as smog) standard.

    San Antonio climbing clean energy ranks

    Since the Clean Power Plan will encourage investment in cleaner energy sources, it should come as no surprise that San Antonio’s Bexar County backs the effort – the city is already a leader in that area. San Antonio was recently ranked 7th in terms of solar energy capacity in the Shining Cities Report – the only Texas city to make the top 10. And that ranking didn’t even include the solar power that CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipal utility that serves Bexar County, draws from outside city limits.

    CPS has also taken a progressive approach to advancing the low-carbon energy future through its New Energy Economy initiative. Launched nearly five years ago, the program aims to increase the use of clean energy resources while investing in the economy of San Antonio. In order to focus on lower-carbon sources, the shift resulted in the decision to shut down a large coal-fired power plant by 2018, about 15 years earlier than expected. Additionally, the New Energy Economy plan encouraged clean energy and innovative technology companies to relocate to the city. As a result, partners like OCI Solar Power, Silver Spring Networks, and Landis+Gyr have landed in the Alamo City, creating more than 840 jobs and $947 million in annual economic impact.

    Clean Power Plan will have clean air rewards for the children of Bexar County

    San Antonio’s air quality has been at a tipping point for many years, with smog levels just narrowly hovering beneath national health-based standards. The standards, anchored in extensive medical studies, establish the acceptable smog concentrations to ensure healthy air quality, but recent air monitoring data show San Antonio is poised to be designated in “nonattainment” by October 2017. In other words, on many days the air pollution levels are unhealthy and the city and surrounding areas will most likely not meet the standards.

    Fortunately, CPS Energy’s New Energy Economy efforts, in addition to reducing harmful carbon pollution, will contribute to San Antonio’s efforts to meet the health-based smog standard. That’s because coal-fired power plants generate substantial amounts of pollutants that lead to the creation of smog. Therefore, replacing power generated by coal plants with power from cleaner sources will lower carbon emissions and smog contributors. And that is very good news for Bexar County’s children, the elderly, and individuals with lung and heart diseases – populations facing serious health threats from unhealthy air.

    With both the County Judge and city utility supporting the Clean Power Plan, San Antonio should be on a path to cleaner air. However, many ozone-causing pollutants are drifting from surrounding areas in the state. In fact, recent air quality modeling shows that on some bad air quality days, more than 60 percent of the smog can be attributed to outside sources – including emissions from nearby oil and gas development in the Eagle Ford shale. To address the region’s air quality challenges, perhaps the county commissioners’ bipartisan leadership on clean energy can be an effective voice in urging state leaders to put in place polices that would incentivize surrounding areas to reduce their contribution. It will take many different strategies to reduce smog levels in Bexar County and a truly regional approach will be needed.

    It makes sense for Texas to embrace the Clean Power Plan: The plan will maximize our state’s plentiful clean energy resources, leading to public health benefits and water savings. City Council member Ray Lopez put it best when he said, “We know here in San Antonio that clean power means clean air, a healthy planet, and a strong economy.” While our state decision-makers use our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to obstruct clean air safeguards, our cities are leading the way in protecting our communities and families from unhealthy air pollution and forging a strong clean energy economy.

    Read more »
  • Sacramento is Thinking Big on Methane and Natural Gas

    By Amanda Johnson

    Bill schoolhouse rockYear two of the California legislative cycle usually yields some bold policy ideas – and this year it looks like rethinking California’s relationship with methane and natural gas is on track to do just that.

    Given the fresh memories of the major methane pollution event at Aliso Canyon, the 20-plus bills introduced on the topic this legislative session – vastly more than in past years – aren’t surprising in the least. Moreover, 2016 could have a monumental effect on the methane and natural gas picture in the state for years to come.

    What is responsible for this sudden increase in efforts to change California’s relationship with methane and natural gas.

    The science is clear

    First, the science is clear, as methane, the primary component of natural gas, is responsible for about 25% of the manmade climate change we’re experiencing today. With temperature records being broken nearly daily (2015 was the hottest year on record, and February 2016 was the hottest month ever globally), the cat is out of the bag – it’s past time to focus on methane.

    The legislative pump is primed

    California started down the path of finding solutions to address methane emissions years ago with a series of bills and policy actions, and in many ways the 2016 bill package doubles down on that progress.

    More recent legislative efforts to understand and tackle the environmental impacts of methane include SB 1371 (Leno, 2014) requiring utilities to minimize emissions from the natural gas transmission and distribution system, and SB 605 (Lara, 2014) requiring a strategy to reduce all short-lived climate pollutants and others.

    The Aliso Canyon incident broke the dam

    If California wasn’t already going to act in 2016, the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility leak, one of the largest natural gas leaks ever recorded, was certainly the water that broke the dam of legislative action.

    Occurring just on the outskirts of California’s largest city, and awakening people to the 400 facilities across the nation that store natural gas, Aliso Canyon directly impacted thousands of California families – Democrats and Republicans alike. The event has shed light on the state’s overreliance on natural gas as a fuel source and the continuing trend of approving more natural gas power plants without the infrastructure capable of reliably delivering it all, leading to potential blackouts in Southern California this summer.

    2016 may by the biggest year yet for methane and natural gas in California

    Perhaps the best way to think holistically about the 20-plus bills related to methane and natural gas that the California legislature is considering is through a two-part approach of parallel action: stopping the environmental pollution from the system California has now, while at the same time working to transition to a cleaner and more diversified system.

    Cleaning up the current system

    As shown by the science, vast amount of methane pollution is coming from current oil and gas infrastructure, and it’s clear that action is needed. In this vein, at least seven bills in Sacramento have risen to the top.

    To chart new long term goals, SB 1383 (Lara, Los Angeles) proposes to codify the state’s methane pollution goals, including cutting oil and gas sector methane pollution by 40% below 2013 levels by the year 2030, while also making major efforts to reduce agricultural methane, black carbon, and refrigerant pollution.

    For continued progress in leak reduction, SB 1441 (Leno, San Francisco) proposes to prevent California utilities from collecting money from ratepayers for natural gas they leak, either accidentally or intentionally. The bill also addresses leakage associated with the 90 percent of gas California imports, directing the state to examine where imported natural gas comes from and to develop solutions that reduce methane leakage associated with the gas California uses, but which leaks before it arrives.

    In the area of energy production, AB 2729 and AB 2756 (Williams, Santa Barbara and Thurmond, Richmond) would fundamentally change the way California manages the tens of thousands of old, idled, and abandoned oil and gas wells that checker the state’s landscape. As a recent study found, leaks from idled, orphan and abandoned wells can be a significant source of potent methane emissions –in addition to posing problems for groundwater and public safety.

    As a response to Aliso Canyon, a host of bills have emerged. SB 380 and SB 887 (Pavley, Agoura Hills) would prevent the Aliso Canyon storage facility from reopening until it’s been proven to be safe, and require new rules be developed for all the state’s gas storage fields. Additionally, AB 1905 (Wilk, Porter Ranch) proposes independent scientific assessments of injection and storage practices in California.

    Envisioning the future of energy in California

    In addition to measures to stop current pollution, the state legislature is also reconsidering the role that natural gas plays in California with a slew of bills seeking to alter California’s energy system, decarbonize natural gas, reduce the pollution burden in impacted neighborhoods, and help ensure the state reaches its clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals.

    To reduce air pollution from new natural gas power plants, particularly in sensitive communities, AB 1937 (Gomez, Los Angeles) proposes that before authorizing new gas facilities, the California Energy Commission must assess the capacity of alternative sources to meet demand. If alternatives can do the job, the California Energy Commission will have the authority to refuse the certification of a new gas plant and favor cleaner solutions like energy efficiency and demand response. The bill will also make sure that environmental burdens already present in communities are taken into account, and broaden the existing renewable portfolio standard to direct renewable resources to those communities.

    SB 1453 (Pro Tem De Leon, Los Angeles) also aims to clean up power generation by changing the ability of electrical corporations to recover capital expenditures for baseload natural gas plants – essentially moving away from natural gas generation that doesn’t meet greenhouse gas performance standards.

    And in the area of making new sources of lower carbon gas, four bills seek to improve incentives and remove barriers to renewable natural gas. AB 2206 and AB 2313 (Williams, Santa Barbara) would require the study of bio-methane issues and increase incentives for renewable natural gas projects, SB 1153 (Cannella, Merced) would require an update to state climate plans to encourage development of in-state bio-methane, and SB 1043 (Allen, Los Angeles) would require new policies to significantly increase the sustainable production of renewable natural gas.

    Reducing reliance on natural gas

    These bills and other legislative efforts highlight the complexities presented by the state’s natural gas system.

    In the wake of Aliso Canyon and increasing impacts of methane leaks on climate change, we know the status quo methane leak and gas overreliance story is not sustainable – but must be considered against the backdrop of the massive system in place. Through all this, one thing is clear, California must continue its history of leadership, and push forward to create a safer, more reliable, and cleaner energy system.

    Image source: Shelly, Sketchpost

    Read more »
  • San Antonio Leadership Puts People over Politics by Supporting Clean Power Plan

    By EDF Blogs

    By: John Hall, Texas state director, clean energy, and Colin Leyden, senior manager, state regulatory & legislative affairs – natural gas

    san antonio riverwalk pixabayWhen it comes to clean air and clean energy, Texas cities – and their encompassing counties – know what’s good for them.

    San Antonio’s Bexar County Commissioners, for example, recently approved a resolution supporting the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the Clean Power Plan.

    Bexar County includes the City of San Antonio and adjoining areas. By endorsing the plan, the broader San Antonio community joins Texas’ largest cities Houston and Dallas, whose mayors are also supporting the sensible, cost-effective clean air measure. (In fact, Houston and Dallas filed an amicus brief together with a large coalition of cities to support the Clean Power Plan in court).

    All of this comes in the face of staunch opposition from Texas state leaders, who have used taxpayers’ money to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over these safeguards. Meanwhile, Bexar County Judge Nelson W. Wolff and commissioners passed the resolution unanimously, meaning members from both sides of the aisle put politics aside and voted for healthier air for our communities and families.

    In addition to serving as a testament to bipartisan leadership on reducing climate-altering carbon emissions, Bexar County’s support for the Clean Power Plan is a reflection of San Antonio’s clean energy leadership and could help the city meet our nation’s health-based ground-level ozone (more commonly known as smog) standard.


    San Antonio Leadership Puts People over Politics by Supporting Clean Power Plan
    Click To Tweet


    San Antonio climbing clean energy ranks

    Since the Clean Power Plan will encourage investment in cleaner energy sources, it should come as no surprise that San Antonio’s Bexar County backs the effort – the city is already a leader in that area. San Antonio was recently ranked 7th in terms of solar energy capacity in the Shining Cities Report – the only Texas city to make the top 10. And that ranking didn’t even include the solar power that CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipal utility that serves Bexar County, draws from outside city limits.

    CPS has also taken a progressive approach to advancing the low-carbon energy future through its New Energy Economy initiative. Launched nearly five years ago, the program aims to increase the use of clean energy resources while investing in the economy of San Antonio. In order to focus on lower-carbon sources, the shift resulted in the decision to shut down a large coal-fired power plant by 2018, about 15 years earlier than expected. Additionally, the New Energy Economy plan encouraged clean energy and innovative technology companies to relocate to the city. As a result, partners like OCI Solar Power, Silver Spring Networks, and Landis+Gyr have landed in the Alamo City, creating more than 840 jobs and $947 million in annual economic impact.

    Clean Power Plan will have clean air rewards for the children of Bexar County

    San Antonio’s air quality has been at a tipping point for many years, with smog levels just narrowly hovering beneath national health-based standards. The standards, anchored in extensive medical studies, establish the acceptable smog concentrations to ensure healthy air quality, but recent air monitoring data show San Antonio is poised to be designated in “nonattainment” by October 2017. In other words, on many days the air pollution levels are unhealthy and the city and surrounding areas will most likely not meet the standards.

    Fortunately, CPS Energy’s New Energy Economy efforts, in addition to reducing harmful carbon pollution, will contribute to San Antonio’s efforts to meet the health-based smog standard. That’s because coal-fired power plants generate substantial amounts of pollutants that lead to the creation of smog. Therefore, replacing power generated by coal plants with power from cleaner sources will lower carbon emissions and smog contributors. And that is very good news for Bexar County’s children, the elderly, and individuals with lung and heart diseases – populations facing serious health threats from unhealthy air.

    “We know here in San Antonio that clean power means clean air, a healthy planet, and a strong economy.”

    With both the County Judge and city utility supporting the Clean Power Plan, San Antonio should be on a path to cleaner air. However, many ozone-causing pollutants are drifting from surrounding areas in the state. In fact, recent air quality modeling shows that on some bad air quality days, more than 60 percent of the smog can be attributed to outside sources – including emissions from nearby oil and gas development in the Eagle Ford shale. To address the region’s air quality challenges, perhaps the county commissioners’ bipartisan leadership on clean energy can be an effective voice in urging state leaders to put in place polices that would incentivize surrounding areas to reduce their contribution. It will take many different strategies to reduce smog levels in Bexar County and a truly regional approach will be needed.

    It makes sense for Texas to embrace the Clean Power Plan: The plan will maximize our state’s plentiful clean energy resources, leading to public health benefits and water savings. City Council member Ray Lopez put it best when he said, “We know here in San Antonio that clean power means clean air, a healthy planet, and a strong economy.” While our state decision-makers use our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to obstruct clean air safeguards, our cities are leading the way in protecting our communities and families from unhealthy air pollution and forging a strong clean energy economy.

    Read more »
  • San Antonio Leadership Puts People over Politics by Supporting Clean Power Plan

    By: John Hall, Texas state director, clean energy, and Colin Leyden, senior manager, state regulatory & legislative affairs – natural gas

    san antonio riverwalk pixabayWhen it comes to clean air and clean energy, Texas cities – and their encompassing counties – know what’s good for them.

    San Antonio’s Bexar County Commissioners, for example, recently approved a resolution supporting the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the Clean Power Plan.

    Bexar County includes the City of San Antonio and adjoining areas. By endorsing the plan, the broader San Antonio community joins Texas’ largest cities Houston and Dallas, whose mayors are also supporting the sensible, cost-effective clean air measure. (In fact, Houston and Dallas filed an amicus brief together with a large coalition of cities to support the Clean Power Plan in court).

    All of this comes in the face of staunch opposition from Texas state leaders, who have used taxpayers’ money to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over these safeguards. Meanwhile, Bexar County Judge Nelson W. Wolff and commissioners passed the resolution unanimously, meaning members from both sides of the aisle put politics aside and voted for healthier air for our communities and families.

    In addition to serving as a testament to bipartisan leadership on reducing climate-altering carbon emissions, Bexar County’s support for the Clean Power Plan is a reflection of San Antonio’s clean energy leadership and could help the city meet our nation’s health-based ground-level ozone (more commonly known as smog) standard.

    San Antonio climbing clean energy ranks

    Since the Clean Power Plan will encourage investment in cleaner energy sources, it should come as no surprise that San Antonio’s Bexar County backs the effort – the city is already a leader in that area. San Antonio was recently ranked 7th in terms of solar energy capacity in the Shining Cities Report – the only Texas city to make the top 10. And that ranking didn’t even include the solar power that CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipal utility that serves Bexar County, draws from outside city limits.

    CPS has also taken a progressive approach to advancing the low-carbon energy future through its New Energy Economy initiative. Launched nearly five years ago, the program aims to increase the use of clean energy resources while investing in the economy of San Antonio. In order to focus on lower-carbon sources, the shift resulted in the decision to shut down a large coal-fired power plant by 2018, about 15 years earlier than expected. Additionally, the New Energy Economy plan encouraged clean energy and innovative technology companies to relocate to the city. As a result, partners like OCI Solar Power, Silver Spring Networks, and Landis+Gyr have landed in the Alamo City, creating more than 840 jobs and $947 million in annual economic impact.

    Clean Power Plan will have clean air rewards for the children of Bexar County

    San Antonio’s air quality has been at a tipping point for many years, with smog levels just narrowly hovering beneath national health-based standards. The standards, anchored in extensive medical studies, establish the acceptable smog concentrations to ensure healthy air quality, but recent air monitoring data show San Antonio is poised to be designated in “nonattainment” by October 2017. In other words, on many days the air pollution levels are unhealthy and the city and surrounding areas will most likely not meet the standards.

    Fortunately, CPS Energy’s New Energy Economy efforts, in addition to reducing harmful carbon pollution, will contribute to San Antonio’s efforts to meet the health-based smog standard. That’s because coal-fired power plants generate substantial amounts of pollutants that lead to the creation of smog. Therefore, replacing power generated by coal plants with power from cleaner sources will lower carbon emissions and smog contributors. And that is very good news for Bexar County’s children, the elderly, and individuals with lung and heart diseases – populations facing serious health threats from unhealthy air.

    With both the County Judge and city utility supporting the Clean Power Plan, San Antonio should be on a path to cleaner air. However, many ozone-causing pollutants are drifting from surrounding areas in the state. In fact, recent air quality modeling shows that on some bad air quality days, more than 60 percent of the smog can be attributed to outside sources – including emissions from nearby oil and gas development in the Eagle Ford shale. To address the region’s air quality challenges, perhaps the county commissioners’ bipartisan leadership on clean energy can be an effective voice in urging state leaders to put in place polices that would incentivize surrounding areas to reduce their contribution. It will take many different strategies to reduce smog levels in Bexar County and a truly regional approach will be needed.

    It makes sense for Texas to embrace the Clean Power Plan: The plan will maximize our state’s plentiful clean energy resources, leading to public health benefits and water savings. City Council member Ray Lopez put it best when he said, “We know here in San Antonio that clean power means clean air, a healthy planet, and a strong economy.” While our state decision-makers use our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to obstruct clean air safeguards, our cities are leading the way in protecting our communities and families from unhealthy air pollution and forging a strong clean energy economy.

    Read more »
  • Benefits of Clean, Distributed Energy: Why Time, Location, and Compensation Matter

    By Kristina Mohlin

    solar-panels-new-yorkNew York is preparing for a future in which clean, distributed energy resources – such as energy efficiency, electric vehicles, rooftop solar panels, and other types of local, on-site power generation – form an integral part of a more decentralized electric grid. This is the future the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) wants to see realized through its signature initiative, Reforming the Energy Vision (REV).

    This vision means the role of the customer is changing: from recipient to both user and provider of electricity and other grid services. By investing in clean, distributed energy resources, customers can make the electric system more efficient and contribute to a cleaner environment, while gaining greater control over their energy bills.

    As part of REV, the Commission is now considering how to compensate distributed energy resources for all the benefits they provide to the electric system and society at large. These benefits vary by time and location, which should be taken into account when deciding how to compensate customers who contribute to the grid. Doing so will help reduce system costs and pollution.

    Broadly, these time- and location-specific benefits can be classified into three main categories: avoided energy, infrastructure, and emissions costs. Let’s use a rooftop solar system to examine how these benefits might play out.

    Avoided energy costs

    By generating electricity on-site, rooftop solar makes it possible for the customer to buy less electricity from a utility. Furthermore, because this electricity is generated locally and does not have to be transmitted hundreds of miles from the power plant to the customer, energy losses that happen along the way can be avoided. This means less electricity needs to be generated by large-scale power plants, and the costs of generating that electricity can be avoided.

    The amount of avoided energy costs, however, depends on when the solar system generates its electricity and where on the grid it is located because these factors determine what kind of generation – coal, natural gas, renewables, etc. – would otherwise serve that customer. For example, if the solar system generates electricity at a place and time when a natural gas generator would have otherwise supplied that electricity, the cost savings are greater than if the solar power would substitute for another renewable energy source, such as a wind farm.

    Avoided infrastructure costs

    By reducing demand for utility-provided electricity, the rooftop solar system cuts down on the amount of costly infrastructure necessary for the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. At any point in time, power plants need sufficient capacity to meet the electricity demand from all customers. This also requires transmission and distribution infrastructure to deliver that electricity to the customers’ homes and businesses. If customers require less electricity from central power plants because they install a rooftop solar system, less investment in generation, transmission, and distribution capacity is needed, and related costs can be reduced.

    Time- and location-specific benefits can be classified into three main categories: avoided energy, infrastructure, and emissions costs.

    Just as with avoided energy costs, the amount of avoided infrastructure costs depends on when and where the solar panel is generating electricity, which is most valuable at times and locations where the grid is close to reaching capacity.

    Avoided emissions

    By reducing demand for power plant-generated electricity, the rooftop solar panel also helps avoid emissions coming from those plants. As with avoided energy and infrastructure costs, the time and location at which the solar panel generates its electricity determines the amount of avoided emissions. During times and in locations where electricity demand is high and fossil fuel-fired power plants are in operation, clean electricity from rooftop solar can serve as a substitute, avoiding harmful emissions like carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur oxide.

    Fairly valuing benefits

    All of these avoided costs have value in the form of environmental and electric system benefits. Specifically, one study (see figure below) suggests that we can value a unit of electricity (kilowatt-hour) generated by a rooftop solar system at, on average, 15 cents per kilowatt-hour in New York. But, because the avoided infrastructure costs vary across different locations, this value is much higher for solar systems installed in places on the grid where transmission and distribution infrastructure is constrained.

    For example, in New York City, parts of Brooklyn and Queens are seeing unprecedented growth in electricity demand, and Con Edison is struggling to serve them because the utility’s distribution infrastructure is reaching capacity. A new rooftop solar system installed in those neighborhoods might have more value to the overall electric system versus a similar solar array installed in Manhattan. This would mean the rooftop solar owner in Brooklyn or Queens should get compensated more per kilowatt-hour of solar she produces. However, the way New York’s electricity rates are currently structured, these locational factors are not taken into consideration. This is a huge missed opportunity for the environment, as well as for electric rate payers who end up paying for utility infrastructure upgrades.

    Fig 1. Total average benefits of a kilowatt-hour (kWh) generated by a solar system in New York State (Source: The Benefits and Costs of Net Metering in New York. Prepared by E3 for New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and New York State Department of Public Service, p. 43)

    chart

    In Environmental Defense Fund’s comments to the REV proceedings, we continue to advocate for compensation that fully captures the value of all energy, infrastructure, and environmental benefits provided by clean, distributed energy resources, and in a manner that reflects how these benefits vary by time and location. This way, customers who want to invest in these clean energy solutions will be fairly compensated for doing so and be able to save money, while at the same time, reducing system-wide costs and helping the environment.

    Read more »
  • Benefits of Clean, Distributed Energy: Why Time, Location, and Compensation Matter

    By Kristina Mohlin

    solar-panels-new-yorkNew York is preparing for a future in which clean, distributed energy resources – such as energy efficiency, electric vehicles, rooftop solar panels, and other types of local, on-site power generation – form an integral part of a more decentralized electric grid. This is the future the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) wants to see realized through its signature initiative, Reforming the Energy Vision (REV).

    This vision means the role of the customer is changing: from recipient to both user and provider of electricity and other grid services. By investing in clean, distributed energy resources, customers can make the electric system more efficient and contribute to a cleaner environment, while gaining greater control over their energy bills.

    As part of REV, the Commission is now considering how to compensate distributed energy resources for all the benefits they provide to the electric system and society at large. These benefits vary by time and location, which should be taken into account when deciding how to compensate customers who contribute to the grid. Doing so will help reduce system costs and pollution.

    Broadly, these time- and location-specific benefits can be classified into three main categories: avoided energy, infrastructure, and emissions costs. Let’s use a rooftop solar system to examine how these benefits might play out.


    Benefits of Clean, Distributed Energy: Why Time, Location, and Compensation Matter
    Click To Tweet


    Avoided energy costs

    By generating electricity on-site, rooftop solar makes it possible for the customer to buy less electricity from a utility. Furthermore, because this electricity is generated locally and does not have to be transmitted hundreds of miles from the power plant to the customer, energy losses that happen along the way can be avoided. This means less electricity needs to be generated by large-scale power plants, and the costs of generating that electricity can be avoided.

    The amount of avoided energy costs, however, depends on when the solar system generates its electricity and where on the grid it is located because these factors determine what kind of generation – coal, natural gas, renewables, etc. – would otherwise serve that customer. For example, if the solar system generates electricity at a place and time when a natural gas generator would have otherwise supplied that electricity, the cost savings are greater than if the solar power would substitute for another renewable energy source, such as a wind farm.

    Avoided infrastructure costs

    By reducing demand for utility-provided electricity, the rooftop solar system cuts down on the amount of costly infrastructure necessary for the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. At any point in time, power plants need sufficient capacity to meet the electricity demand from all customers. This also requires transmission and distribution infrastructure to deliver that electricity to the customers’ homes and businesses. If customers require less electricity from central power plants because they install a rooftop solar system, less investment in generation, transmission, and distribution capacity is needed, and related costs can be reduced.

    Time- and location-specific benefits can be classified into three main categories: avoided energy, infrastructure, and emissions costs.

    Just as with avoided energy costs, the amount of avoided infrastructure costs depends on when and where the solar panel is generating electricity, which is most valuable at times and locations where the grid is close to reaching capacity.

    Avoided emissions

    By reducing demand for power plant-generated electricity, the rooftop solar panel also helps avoid emissions coming from those plants. As with avoided energy and infrastructure costs, the time and location at which the solar panel generates its electricity determines the amount of avoided emissions. During times and in locations where electricity demand is high and fossil fuel-fired power plants are in operation, clean electricity from rooftop solar can serve as a substitute, avoiding harmful emissions like carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur oxide.

    Fairly valuing benefits

    All of these avoided costs have value in the form of environmental and electric system benefits. Specifically, one study (see figure below) suggests that we can value a unit of electricity (kilowatt-hour) generated by a rooftop solar system at, on average, 15 cents per kilowatt-hour in New York. But, because the avoided infrastructure costs vary across different locations, this value is much higher for solar systems installed in places on the grid where transmission and distribution infrastructure is constrained.

    For example, in New York City, parts of Brooklyn and Queens are seeing unprecedented growth in electricity demand, and Con Edison is struggling to serve them because the utility’s distribution infrastructure is reaching capacity. A new rooftop solar system installed in those neighborhoods might have more value to the overall electric system versus a similar solar array installed in Manhattan. This would mean the rooftop solar owner in Brooklyn or Queens should get compensated more per kilowatt-hour of solar she produces. However, the way New York’s electricity rates are currently structured, these locational factors are not taken into consideration. This is a huge missed opportunity for the environment, as well as for electric rate payers who end up paying for utility infrastructure upgrades.

    Fig 1. Total average benefits of a kilowatt-hour (kWh) generated by a solar system in New York State (Source: The Benefits and Costs of Net Metering in New York. Prepared by E3 for New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and New York State Department of Public Service, p. 43)

    chart

    In Environmental Defense Fund’s comments to the REV proceedings, we continue to advocate for compensation that fully captures the value of all energy, infrastructure, and environmental benefits provided by clean, distributed energy resources, and in a manner that reflects how these benefits vary by time and location. This way, customers who want to invest in these clean energy solutions will be fairly compensated for doing so and be able to save money, while at the same time, reducing system-wide costs and helping the environment.

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