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Fortnightly Magazine - March 2012

Reconsidering Waste-to-Energy

Technology and regulation changes the outlook for garbage burners.

Christopher Dann, et al.

Notwithstanding some past difficulties, trash-fired power plants represent an increasingly attractive opportunity for future clean generation investment. Waste fuel offers a green source of baseload power that’s competitive with fossil fuels. The technology is proven and mature, and it enjoys public policy support. Additionally, waste fuel will help utilities meet diversity goals and environmental mandates.

Technology Wins

Economics, not politicians, will determine what tools are best.

Michael T. Burr, Editor-in-Chief

Today’s utility business model depends chiefly on big power plants and long transmission lines—and federal and state policies reinforce that model. But as photovoltaics technology advances and systems get ever cheaper, distributed generation eventually might become the more competitive option. At that point, upstart companies might be better positioned than utilities to capture a share of this growing market, because they won’t be constrained by Edison-era economics.

Race to the Bottom

Two Eastern governors make war against markets.

Glen R. Thomas

The governors of New Jersey and Maryland have embarked on a crusade that could topple competitive energy markets in their states—and perhaps beyond. Glen R. Thomas, former chairman of the Pennsylvania PUC, challenges policy makers in the two states to stand up for free markets and stop a destructive race to the bottom.

Transactions

(March 2012) American Electric Power agrees to acquire BlueStar Energy Holdings and its independent retail electric supplier; Carlyle provides construction financing for Enova Energy; six debt issues by Energy Transfer Partners, SCANA, TVA and others totaling $3.7 billion.

Solar Leasing Shines

With meters running backwards, utilities seek a niche.

William Atkinson

As states implement renewable energy mandates, and as solar photovoltaic (PV) technology becomes more economical, the market for distributed rooftop solar is growing. As a result, various players are taking different approaches to finance PV development—from net-metered residential systems financed by third-party leases, to grid-scale, utility-owned projects. Fortnightly Contributor William Atkinson talks to some major players in solar PV finance and examines the implications for investor-owned utilities.

Killing the Goose

Second thoughts on transmission’s golden egg.

Bruce W. Radford

The electric utility industry offers up a wealth of ideas on how the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission might reform its policy, adopted under FERC Order 679 in 2006, of granting financial incentives for investments in transmission line projects that ensure reliability or mitigate line congestion so as to reduce the cost of delivered power. Fortnightly’s Bruce W. Radford reports.

Big Data

The buzzword of the day is ‘analytics.’ But what does it mean?

Alyssa Danigelis

As utilities seek to extract value from their technology assets, smart grid and metering data is becoming a gold mine for insights about how to improve service and save money. Fortnightly’s Alyssa Danigelis speaks with experts in the growing field of data analytics, to learn how big data might reshape the utility landscape.

The Trouble with Freeriders

The debate about freeridership in energy efficiency isn’t wrong, but it is wrongheaded.

Hossein Haeri and M. Sami Khawaja

In any conservation or efficiency program, some market participants will reap benefits without paying their share of the costs—i.e., the “freerider” problem. Some freeriders are unavoidable and generally not a problem. But as Cadmus Group analysts Hossein Haeri and M. Sami Khawaja explain, avoiding excessive freeridership requires careful program structuring, as well as ongoing measurement to accurately evaluate outcomes.

Labor Costs and the Rate Case

Incentives, staffing, and benchmarking in a tight economy.

David W. Sosa, Ph.D., and Virginia Perry-Failor

In several recent utility rate cases, regulators have disallowed portions of utility compensation expenses, on the basis that difficult local economic conditions justify pay cuts. However, when utilities begin squeezing their uniquely qualified technical and management staffs, performance can suffer. Analysis Group authors David W. Sosa and Virginia Perry-Failor review experiences at several companies to show how an evidentiary approach will help utilities avoid disallowances of critical compensation for valued employees.

Vendor Neutral

(March 2012) DTE Energy awards contract to URS; Exelon and Constellation reach an agreement with Electricite de France; Dominion and Lockheed Martin enter a joint marketing and development alliance; plus deals involving Nissan North America, CenterPoint Energy Field Services, Honeywell, Silver Spring Networks, and others.

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