Fortnightly Magazine - March 2012
Technology and regulation changes the outlook for garbage burners.
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.
Economics, not politicians, will determine what tools are best.
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.
Two Eastern governors make war against markets.
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.
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.
With meters running backwards, utilities seek a niche.
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.
Second thoughts on transmission’s golden egg.
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.
The buzzword of the day is ‘analytics.’ But what does it mean?
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 debate about freeridership in energy efficiency isn’t wrong, but it is wrongheaded.
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.
Incentives, staffing, and benchmarking in a tight economy.
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.