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Fortnightly Magazine - March 2011

Chasing the $un

Solar projects are becoming hot investments.

Scott M. Gawlicki

With recent scale-up in both photovoltaic and concentrated thermal facilities, solar energy is nearing cost parity with wind and even some fossil generation sources. And with development models evolving to help companies manage technology risks, solar power has become an attractive investment opportunity—not just for tax-equity players, but also for utilities.

The Value of Resource Adequacy

Why reserve margins aren’t just about keeping the lights on.

Kevin Carden, Johannes Pfeifenberger, and Nick Wintermantel

While it’s theoretically possible to keep the lights on with a much smaller reserve than the U.S. utility industry historically has maintained, the costs of doing so might be higher than some analyses suggest. As demand response plays a growing role on the grid—and as system planners reconsider reserve margins and reliability standards—quantitative risk analysis will guide resource adequacy decisions.

Low-Income Reality Check

Evaluating the impact of dynamic pricing.

Trevor R. Roycroft

Are residential time-of-use prices only effective for middle class households, or do low-income customers benefit too—as authors Lisa Wood and Ahmad Faruqui asserted in their October 2010 article? Data from pilot programs show that low-income customers exhibit a reduced ability to benefit from dynamic pricing. Demand response programs should accommodate the realities of low-income customers’ consumption patterns.

Better Data, New Conclusions

The authors respond to Roycroft’s reality check.

Lisa Wood and Ahmad Faruqui

Experience with time-of-use pricing programs shows that a large majority of low-income customers will benefit from dynamic prices. In fact, not making such prices available to these customers might be harmful. In the most efficient system, all customers will face the same prices—and policy makers can provide direct relief to ease the burden for low-income customers.

Vendor Neutral

(March 2011) TVA and EPRI demonstrate solar-assisted EV charging station; Ford unveils the all-electric Focus; Central Maine Power awards substation contracts; ERCOT deploys ABB software in nodal market; FirstSolar starts up PV plant for Southern Company and Ted Turner; plus contracts and announcements involving Open Systems International, Verizon, Suntech Power, Alcatel-Lucent, Siemens, Cisco, Elster, Sensus, Silver Spring Networks and others.

Transactions

(March 2011) Progress Energy to merge with Duke; ArcLight sells Georgia plants; GE and Mitsubishi UFJ buy into Alta Wind I; plus mergers, acquisitions and securities issues involving CenterPoint, PSEG, Calpine, NRG, Commonwealth Edison and others.

Solar Hype and Hope

Utility-scale projects suffer growing pains.

Michael T. Burr, Editor-in-Chief

Anyone who’s been watching the solar power industry for more than a few years can’t help but be impressed by the recent explosion of large-scale projects. It seems akin to the rapid scale-up of wind in the late 1990s and early 2000s—when megawatt-scale turbines became standard-issue, and the definition of a “large” wind farm changed from a capacity of 20 MW to something more like 200 MW.

More FERC Investigation Risks

New transparency practice turns confidentiality on its head.

J. Michel Marcoux

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently authorized its Office of Enforcement to begin revealing publicly the names of subjects under investigation, as well as summaries of allegations against them, earlier than the commission ever had before. In fact, FERC now may disclose allegations before finding any wrongdoing. This new practice raises the specter of damaging reputations without following what normally would be considered due process.

People

(March 2011) First Energy subsidiaries get new executives; Constellation names new treasurer, finance v.p., and CIO; Puget Energy gets new general counsel; plus senior staff changes at Dominion, Georgia Power, Parsons, California Energy Commission, Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, and others.

Solar Emergence

Models are evolving for utility-scale solar development.

Kate Bechen

During the next few years, the biggest growth in the solar energy market will happen in the form of utility-scale projects, mostly driven by state renewable portfolio mandates. But financing such projects has become more difficult, with a smaller pool of equity capital and an evolving set of regulatory requirements.

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