Fortnightly Magazine - May 2012
Election politics almost killed a great idea.
Beacon Power filed bankruptcy last fall, amid a political firestorm sparked by Solyndra’s demise. But should the company have received a bailout, so it could continue operating until FERC’s new pay-for-performance rules take effect?
Lewis “Lew” Hay III intends to retire from NextEra Energy at the end of 2013 as part of a planned leadership succession process. Hay will serve as executive chairman from July 1, 2012, until his retirement, and James L. Robo, currently president and CEO of NextEra Energy, will succeed Hay as CEO, effective July 1.
The coming cash flow and dividend stress at America’s electric utilities.
Government policies and the industry’s response has increased the risk factors affecting the quality of earnings at U.S. electric utilities. Deferred taxes and ballooning pension obligations portend leaner operating cash flow in the years ahead. Regulators and utilities will be forced to unwind these financial knots in future rate cases.
Making room on the local grid for small-scale PV.
For the first time, perhaps, the electric utility industry may need to keep track not only of peak load, but also of minimum load, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reviews a proposal by the Solar Energy Industries Association to employ a new definition of minimum load under a new, relaxed threshold test that would govern eligibility for fast-tracking of applications by generation developers to interconnect new, small-scale solar energy projects to the local utility distribution grid.
Portfolio strategies for the new power-fuel market.
Shale gas discoveries and ballooning inventories have pushed natural gas prices down to a 10-year low. At the same time, increasingly stringent emissions regulations are squeezing out some coal-fired power assets. Are we witnessing a power-fuel revolution? And if so, what’s the best survival strategy?
There’s no magic in dollar cost averaging.
Dollar-cost averaging has gained favor as a technique for hedging fuel-price risks. But hidden costs might outweigh the savings, leaving utilities exposed to volatile markets.
Dealing with unfunded mandates in performance-based ratemaking.
Many states have implemented decoupled rate regimes to avoid penalizing utilities for conservation efforts. But ensuring appropriate recovery of costs involved with conservation and green energy requires a careful approach. Cost sharing mechanisms balance the interests of utilities and customers — and provide incentives to invest.
The New Tax Equity
With a shifting policy climate, equity financing for renewable energy projects is becoming more scarce. Real estate investment trusts (REIT) offer an alternative vehicle for bringing in capital from investors who aren’t seeking tax incentives. But restrictions and requirements make REITs a tricky way to finance power projects.
Barriers and breakthroughs to a smarter grid.
Technology is quickly making energy storage more economical and effective than ever before. But companies that wish to invest in storage capacity face a journey through a frustrating regulatory no-man’s land. Opening the gateway for storage to deliver smart grid benefits will require a more streamlined and coherent approach to regulating storage as utility infrastructure.