Calendar of Events

Nov 24, 2014 | Washington, DC
Dec 08, 2014 to Dec 09, 2014 | Washington, DC
Jan 14, 2015 to Jan 16, 2015 | San Diego, CA

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Public Utilities Reports

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FERC

Techno-Regulation

The smart grid and the slippery business of setting industry standards.

Bruce W. Radford

Four years ago, Congress made its wishes known: it tabbed the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a set of standards for the smart grid, and then instructed FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “adopt” those standards, but only after finding a ”sufficient consensus,” and only “as may be necessary” to assure “functionality and interoperability.” Yet what is known is not necessarily clear. Who decides if consensus prevails? What does “interoperability” mean? Should FERC’s “necessary” finding extend to retail smart grid applications, arguably outside its purview? And the biggest dispute — must standards be mandatory? — finds PJM at odds with much of the utility industry.

Retirement is Coming

Preparing for New England’s capacity transition.

Paul J. Hibbard

A wave of coal-fired plant retirements presages a possible crisis in the New England market. As load-serving utilities in ISO New England become increasingly dependent on natural gas-fired capacity and large-scale renewable generators, the region might be forced to rely on expensive cost-of-service reliability contracts to keep the lights on. Stakeholders are considering alternative approaches to encouraging power plant development, including special rate incentives previously reserved for transmission projects. Paul J. Hibbard, former Massachusetts DPU chairman and now vice president with the Analysis Group, analyzes how resource constraints are blurring the lines between competitive markets and integrated resource planning in New England.

Michigan Morass

Steven Andersen

Competitive energy suppliers are infuriated by Michigan’s regulatory framework. The state partially unbundled its utilities, but left generation tied to retail operations. Then it opened the retail market to alternative suppliers, but capped their participation at 10 percent — severely limiting true competition. Former FERC Commissioner Bill Massey says Michigan’s schizophrenic approach is stifling innovation and saddling customers with unnecessary risks and costs.

Killing the Electric Car ... Again!

Perverse policy signals are pitting utilities against the EV revolution. Will regulators give utilities the incentives they need to pave the way for electric transportation?

The recent rise in oil prices once again stokes the interest in electric vehicles (EV) – and for good reason. They run cheaper, cleaner and on domestic fuel. Some EVs already have a lower total cost of ownership than a gasoline-powered vehicle, and others will follow as production scales up and unit pricing drops. Unfortunately, in the current regulatory environment, EV adoption in the U.S.

Green Transition

Integrating distributed resources into the smart grid.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

The remedy for America’s gravest economic woes may lie in a smart grid that can deliver vast amounts of clean, renewable energy while enhancing our energy security and democratizing our energy system. Although regulatory questions and technical challenges might dominate the industry’s short-term focus, the smart grid’s driving forces parallel America’s long-term national interests — a fact that should guide ongoing technology strategies and investment decisions.

Treading Water

With no guidance yet from FERC, Atlantic Wind is forced to wait.

Bruce W. Radford

Touted as the nation’s first-ever “offshore transmission highway,” the proposed Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) high-voltage power line in theory could foster dozens of wind farms in shallow offshore costal waters up and down the mid-Atlantic seaboard — but only if federal regulators can get buy-in for new transmission planning rules that give precedence to large, macro projects aimed at boosting renewable energy. Otherwise, the grid project might never pass muster with the engineers charged with OK’ing new power lines, since the AWC is probably not needed to maintain reliability, and likely would not make electricity rates any cheaper for East Coast ratepayers. Should wind energy developers start with massive grid projects to attract clusters of wind turbines, or should the wind farms come first?

Balance of Power

Large grids can integrate more wind—without major burdens.

Richard Lauckhart

Despite the variable nature of the resource, wind can be managed so that it will not impair the reliability of a utility system. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proposed a rule that would require changes to the way transmission service is scheduled, which would enhance the ability of balancing authorities to integrate wind.

A Buyer's Market

Getting the most from demand response—despite a flawed FERC rule.

Constantine Gonatas

FERC’s new rule on compensation for demand resources tips the market balance toward negawatts. Arguably the commission’s economic analysis is flawed, and the rule represents a covert policy decision that stretches federal authority. Nevertheless, economic benefits will result if DR programs are well implemented to avoid gaming the system and distorting the market.

A Beautiful Mess

Only the fittest solutions survive in America’s policy wilderness.

Michael T. Burr, Editor-in-Chief

All things being equal, momentous events like the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the Arab spring would bring fundamental changes in U.S. energy policy. But things aren’t equal, and they never will be under America’s democratic and capitalistic process. Frustrating? Maybe, but it’s the only way to ensure our decisions are based on sound economic and environmental principles.

States' Rights, Gamed Markets

FERC OK's PJM's capacity price floor, but questions remain about 'legitimate interests.'

FERC seems to say that states remain free to interfere with RTO markets.

Citing what it called “mounting evidence of risk” that PJM’s RPM capacity market could indeed “be gamed,” the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last week OK’d most of the tariff amendments PJM had proposed to correct flaws in its Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR), which allows the grid operator to mitigate or predatory, below-cost bids by suppliers who would sell generating capacity into the region.

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