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public service commission

Continued Progress for Community Solar in Maryland

Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program is moving along with dozens of solar facilities in the project queues for Baltimore Gas and Electric CompanyPepco MDDelmarva Power MD, and Potomac Edison Company. The first year of the program has seen strong interest from the Subscriber Organizations that develop and manage the solar facilities. Under the program, customers subscribe to a portion of the output of the community solar facilities, which are called Community Solar Energy Generating Systems.

Many of the solar projects entered the utilities’ production queues last summer, so they will be reaching the operational deadline under the program rules in the next few weeks, unless they request an additional six months. Several Subscriber Organizations have recently filed requests with the Maryland Public Service Commission for extensions, citing permitting delays, program delays, and other implementation challenges.

The program is a great opportunity for electricity customers – including low- and moderate income residents – to access solar energy, particularly those that rent or do not have the ability to install their own solar panels. Under the pilot program, if a community solar facility is located within your utility’s service territory, even if it is across town, you can enroll with a Subscriber Organization and purchase a portion of the energy produced by your community solar system. While subscribed to a solar facility, customers receive a bill credit each month for energy generated by the solar system. Offers from Subscriber Organizations include discounts off the utility’s standard electric rates from around 5%-10%.

Customers won’t actually get their household energy directly from solar panels, but their payments will help finance solar facilities that place electricity onto the grid. So far, the Commission has approved six projects across Maryland and we anticipate that more will be approved within the next few years. Statewide, the General Assembly authorized bout 200 MWs to be built under the pilot program which could power about 40,000 households.

As with any new program, some implementation challenges are to be expected as the program gets off the ground. However, we are optimistic that Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program will be a success, enabling more and more customers are able to access solar energy.

If you would like more information about the program’s background, we have been tracking the Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program since its inception and the development of the program regulations back in April of 2016 (check out our previous post here). We also did a video about Community Solar in the mid-Atlantic region last Spring.

If you have questions or would like more information about community solar projects or other regulatory issues, contact Eric Wallace or any of our mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

What’s the Latest on Supplier Consolidated Billing?

transmission towers for electricityWe have blogged previously about a petition filed at the Maryland Public Service Commission by five electric and natural gas retail suppliers seeking implementation of supplier consolidated billing (SCB). We did a video about it when the petition was filed, and our last blog on this topic was in February 2018, just after the legislative-style hearing concluded in Baltimore.

In the blog, you’ll see that we summarized the events at the hearing and even provided a picture of the four supplier witnesses testifying before the Commission, along with Brian Greene of our firm, so that everyone could get a feel for what it’s like to appear before the Commission (from the view of the Commissioners, no less!).

So what happened in the case since then, you ask?

In May 2018, the Commission issued this Notice of Briefing Schedule, requesting comments primarily on the legal issue of whether Maryland statutes allow a supplier utilizing SCB to initiate the disconnect process if the customer does not pay. Parties, including the petitioners, submitted comments on June 14 and June 28. We are now awaiting a Commission order or further guidance.

There’s also an SCB proceeding pending at the Pennsylvania Commission. On June 14, 2018, the Commission held a legislative-style hearing that will continue on July 12, 2018. You can get more info on the Pennsylvania proceeding here.  Delaware is also moving towards an SCB proceeding, with a recent Hearing Examiner’s report in Docket No. 15-1693 recommending approval of a Stipulated Order that calls for a new docket to be opened now to address whether SCB is permitted in and should be adopted in Delaware.

If you have questions about SCB or electric or natural gas retail service in general, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy and regulatory lawyers.

Simple Guide to Electric Regulation Now New and Improved

If you have been wondering about the effect of Virginia’s 2018 General Assembly session on electric regulation in Virginia, Will Reisinger has good news for you. The GreeneHurlocker Principles of Electric Utility Regulation in Virginia, the firm’s complete guide to the state’s electric regulation laws, has been revised to incorporate legislation enacted by the 2018 General Assembly and signed by Governor Northam.
“The statutes governing Virginia’s electric utilities, found in Title 56 of the Code of Virginia, are extremely complex, but we’ve done our best to explain these laws in plain English,” Will, one of the firms energy lawyers, explains. The guidebook and its glossary of key terms is intended to be a reference tool for those who want to gain a better understanding of utility regulation and energy policy in Virginia. In 2018, the General Assembly made substantial changes to the rate setting portions of the law and added new incentives for utilities to invest in clean energy and grid transformation projects. The updated guidebook summarizes the major amendments made by the legislature earlier this year.
If you would like a copy of the guidebook, contact Will Reisinger or any of our energy lawyers, or download the complete document here.

Delaware Sets Hearing for Retail Market Enhancements

The Delaware Public Service Commission has established a March 8, 2018 hearing date to consider retail choice enhancements.

The Delaware General Assembly meets in the Leg...

The Delaware General Assembly meets in the Legislative Hall in Dover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The enhancements include a purchase of receivables program; “seamless moves” where customers may move within the utility service territory and maintain their supplier; “ instant connects” where customers may sign up with a supplier on their first day of service; an “enroll with your wallet” program where customers may enroll with a supplier without the use of their utility account number or other utility-assigned identifier; improvements to the Commission’s shopping website; and utility bill inserts to promote choice.

The proceeding has been pending since the end of 2015 when the Electricity Affordability Committee created by the Delaware General Assembly filed a petition with the Commission. Since that time, the parties have filed written comments and participated in working group meetings. Also, the case was stayed for a period of time while the parties and the Commission finalized amendments to the Delaware Electric Supplier Rules.

The case will be heard before a hearing examiner. The primary participants in the case are the Staff of the Commission, Delmarva Power, the Delaware Public Advocate, and the Retail Energy Supply Association (RESA). GreeneHurlocker is representing RESA in the proceeding.

For more information, please contact one of our regulatory attorneys.

Has Your Company Registered as a Foreign Entity?

Blair Powell, business and energy lawyer, explains what it means to be required to register in a jurisdiction as a foreign entity and what penalties may accrue if you fail to do so.

For more information, contact Blair or any of our business lawyers.

Moves Towards Supplier Consolidated Billing

In this Energy Update, Brian Greene explains how Maryland’s Public Service Commission is soliciting comments on the implementation of supplier consolidated billing. For more information about billing plans and regulation, contact Brian or any of our mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

Retail Suppliers Petition MD Commission for Supplier Consolidated Billing

Earlier this month, five competitive retail suppliers (NRG Energy, Inc., Interstate Gas Supply, Inc., Just Energy Group, Inc., Direct Energy Services, LLC, and ENGIE Resources LLC) filed a petition electricity controlswith the Maryland Public Service Commission to implement supplier consolidated billing. If approved, the petition would allow retail suppliers to directly bill customers for both retail generation supply charges and utility distribution charges. Utility consolidated billing (where the utility bills customers for both the utility’s charges and the supplier’s charges) has been in the norm since Maryland restructured its energy market to enable retail competition.

The Maryland petition seeks to flip that model on its head. According to the petitioners, the supplier consolidated billing (“SCB”) model is a significant step in the evolution of competitive retail energy markets. In Texas, where SCB has been the standard for many years, suppliers have more flexibility to inform customers about their energy usage, develop innovative products and service structures, and adapt their customers’ bills to accommodate changes in the market. With SCB in place in Maryland, suppliers will be able to introduce new products and services that are not possible under the current utility billing model. As examples, suppliers will be able to offer flat billing options – where customers pay a set amount each month no matter how much energy they use or when they use it – and prepay service options – where customers pay in advance for their energy usage and then the energy they use counts against their account balance, with regular updates on the funds in their account and no surprise bills at the end of the month. In addition to these billing options, suppliers will be able to better inform customers about their usage and offer other energy-related products and services to Maryland customers.

Here are some quick points addressed in the SCB petition:

  • Supplier Qualifications – Suppliers must meet specific experience, operations, and financial security requirements to offer SCB services.
  • Receivables – Suppliers must purchase the full value of the utility’s receivables (for utility distribution charges) and take on responsibility for billing those amounts through to the customer.
  • Disconnect for Non-Payment – Currently, when a customer does not pay their utility bill, they will eventually have their service disconnected. With SCB, the same result would occur – with all existing customer safeguards remaining – but the supplier would initiate disconnects by notifying the utility that no payment has been received. From there, the utility would utilize existing disconnect procedures, including notifications to the customer. According to the petition, it is imperative that suppliers offering SCB services have the same tools at their disposal as to the utilities to manage their bad debt and encourage timely collections.

The Commission issued a Notice on September 15th requesting comments on the petition by November 15, 2017. If you are interested in learning more about the Maryland SCB petition or other issues affecting competitive retail energy markets in Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic jurisdictions, please contact GreeneHurlocker’s energy lawyers and regulatory attorneys.

Maryland Public Service Commission Rejects Utilities’ Proposals

Proposals Would Drive Up Costs for Competitive Retail Energy Suppliers and their Customerstransmission towers for electricity

Good news for Maryland’s competitive energy suppliers and their customers. In the past few weeks, the Maryland Public Service Commission issued two Letter Orders rejecting requests by BGEPepco, and Delmarva Power to include in the Purchase of Receivables programs costs incurred to comply with the recent RM54 proceeding. In other words, they wanted to recover those costs from competitive retail suppliers. Under the utilities’ proposals, costs to implement certain market enhancements – including 3-business-day accelerated switching – would have been recovered through the discount rate applied when the utility purchases supplier receivables.

There were slight differences to the utilities’ arguments. BGE argued that its current tariff allowed for recover through the POR rates of RM54-related costs. The Commission agreed with the Retail Energy Supply Association that BGE’s tariff does not allow BGE to recover these costs through POR discount rates. Pepco and Delmarva had sought to modify their respective tariffs to include language allowing for recovery. The Commission said no.  Also, in each case, the Commission stated that it “does not believe that it would be appropriate to force suppliers and their retail customers to bear the costs associated with the implementation of a program that benefits all ratepayers, as well as the competitive market as a whole.” Instead, the utilities can seek cost recovery through a base rate case.

RESA scored another win on a second issue in the case when the Commission rejected BGE’s proposed exclusion of revenues from late payment charges (“LPCs”) in the POR discount rate, effectively reducing the amount BGE pays suppliers for receivables purchased through the POR program. In a powerful rebuke to BGE’s proposal, the Commission explained that for “the past six years the Commission has consistently approved the inclusion of the LPCs in the discount rate calculation.  Similarly, the Commission has consistently denied any request for exclusion of these charges. The Commission reaffirms the reasons previously given for requiring the inclusion of LPCs in the calculation, declines to make the significant policy change being requested by BGE, and denies the Company’s request that LPCs be omitted from its POR discount rate.” This is a great result for RESA, the competitive retail energy supply markets in Maryland, and Maryland energy consumers.

Brian Greene, managing member of GreeneHurlocker, PLC represented RESA in this matter as referenced in the Commission’s Letter Order. The lawyers of GreeneHurlocker are pleased to be able to report this good news from Maryland and look forward to continuing to serve our clients in Maryland and the other jurisdictions where they operate. If you have questions about the details of this Commission Letter Order or any other matters involving regulated industries, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s regulatory attorneys.

New regulation and legal environment developing for the energy industry

In this Energy Update, Will Reisinger, energy lawyer, discuss changes in the energy industry’s regulatory, supplier, development and legal environments. . For more information about regulation,  supplier, development and legal issues, contact Will or any of our mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

Maryland Commission Approves 380 MW of Offshore Wind

offshore wind projectOn May 11th, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved two offshore wind projects, totaling 380 megawatts of wind capacity. Development of these offshore wind facilities is expected to create almost 9,700 new jobs. In the introduction to the order approving the projects, the Commission explains the significant environmental and economic benefits of offshore wind, positioning Maryland “to become a national leader in the burgeoning offshore wind industry.” The Commission’s order even quotes Governor Larry Hogan’s proclamation from his 2017 State of the Union Address: “Maryland is truly Open for Business.” The two developers approved to move forward with offshore wind development are U.S. Wind, Inc., and Skipjack Offshore Energy, LLC.

The Commission’s order establishes the Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credit (OREC) price – a levelized price of $131.93 (in 2012 dollars), subject to a 1.0% price escalator. Starting in 2021, Maryland will include ORECs in its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). This means that a portion of every unit of electricity purchased in Maryland will be backed by offshore wind. The Commission’s order (at Table 2) specifies that the offshore wind component of the Maryland RPS will begin at 1.37% in 2021, decreasing to 0.60% in 2042.

This is an exciting development for the renewable energy industry in our region and we look forward to continued and expanding opportunities for companies competing in the energy industry and the customers they serve.

If you would like more information about offshore wind in Maryland or other related opportunities, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy and regulated industries lawyers.