How the feds opened the supply side.
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.
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.
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.
Recently electricity started flowing through a new power line between Monticello and St. Cloud, Minn. This 28-mile, 345-kV segment represents a major milestone for one reason: it’s the first wire to go live in the 700-mile CAPX2020 transmission venture.
Performance measurement and action steps for smart grid investments.
Regulators and customers are holding utilities’ feet to the fire, when it comes to investing in advanced metering and smart grid systems—and rightly so. Making the most of investments requires a systematic approach to establishing standards and monitoring performance. But it also requires policy frameworks and cost recovery regimes that provide the right incentives.
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.
Where tax rates are too high, grid investments suffer.
As the industry works to modernize the national T&D infrastructure, utilities are investing dollars that ultimately increase their cost of service—and therefore end-use prices. To cover their investments, many companies are taking a close look at their tax-management policies.
Solar projects are becoming hot investments.
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.
California defends its cogen feed-in tariff—complete with its own virtual carbon tax.
California’s new feed-in tariff (FIT) is creating a burgeoning market for green energy investments, but the policy has sparked a fierce battle over state authority to dictate wholesale power transactions. A federal case will determine whether the 1978 Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act pre-empts states from requiring purchases that exceed utilities’ avoided cost.