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regulation

Maryland PSC Requests Comments on New RFP for Retail Suppliers

The Maryland Public Service Commission issued a Notice of Opportunity to Comment seeking comments on a new “Retail Supplier Load Shaping RFP.” The Commission want to consider “programs designed to demonstrate the ability to shape residential load profiles using innovative business models.” Comments on the RFP, a copy of which is attached to the Notice, are due April 9, 2019.

The RFP states that:

“The primary goal of this RFP is to identify pilots that demonstrate an ability to shape customer load profiles through load shifting, peak shaving, and energy efficiency. Applicants can propose any mechanism for load shaping such as sending appropriate price signals (real time rates), using technology to control usage (controllable thermostats), payment of rebates or behavioral modification treatments. A secondary goal is to test whether load shaping can lower customer bills or reduce the customers’ overall effective rate for electricity by avoiding energy usage during high cost periods. Customer satisfaction will be surveyed at the pilot’s conclusion.”

There’s some background here. In early 2017, the Commission established Public Conference 44 with various working groups. Three working groups involved areas where the retail supply market could be improved or could expand to provide additional services to Maryland customers. One of those working groups involved rate design issues and sought to develop TOU pilot programs. The Commission approved TOU programs for the utilities, which are now being marketed to customers. The Commission also approved an RFP to establish retail supplier programs. However, and the Commission in November 2018 issued a letter order holding that the bids received were not compliant and directed the utilities to reject them.

The Commission has now proposed changes to the prior RFP and has issued the current Notice to elicit more involvement from retail suppliers in a rate design program. The Commission seems determined to engage the retail supplier community in this effort, stating that, “[a]s Maryland moves forward with grid modernization, the retail supply community can play an important role in supporting policy goals, including more active efforts to shape load profiles.”

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

Maryland Solar Groups Seek Community Solar Utility Consolidated Billing

On March 20th, the Climate Access Fund and Solar United Neighbors of Maryland filed a petition asking the Maryland Public Service Commission to require Maryland utilities to provide consolidated billing for subscriber organizations participating in Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program. The petitioners want utilities to include community solar subscription charges on customer bills. Today, subscriber organizations have to separately bill community solar subscribers. The stated objective of the petition is to make consolidated billing available for low and moderate income customers, helping to improve the economics of participating in the program. Two alternatives are proposed in the petition: (1) consolidated billing for all subscriber organizations or (2) consolidated billing for low and moderate income-focused community solar projects only.

We will be on the lookout for a response from the Commission and opportunities to comment on the community solar consolidated billing proposal. If you would like to review the filing, a copy of the petition is available on the Maryland Public Service Commission’s website: Mail Log # 224384.

For more information about Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program, check out our previous blog posts:

Maryland Proposes Community Solar Pilot Program Regulations
Community Solar Growing in Mid-Atlantic
Continued Progress for Community Solar in Maryland

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.

SCC Order OKs new, but limited, APCo customer renewable tariff

On January 7, the State Corporation Commission (“SCC” or “Commission”) approved a request by Appalachian Power Company (“APCo”) to offer a 100% renewable energy tariff to its customers. The APCo proposal, designated Rider WWS, would include energy generated at several wind and hydroelectric facilities that are currently part of the utility’s generation portfolio. For residential customers taking service under the tariff and using 1,000 kilowatt hours per month, the monthly bill increase would be $4.25. Customers would also pay a “balancing” charge that is intended to ensure that non-participating customers are not affected by the tariff.

Several renewable energy and environmental advocates opposed APCo’s proposal. APCo and the intervening parties disagreed about whether the price of the tariff was based on current market prices for renewable energy and whether it is appropriate for APCo to sell energy that is already in its utility’s generation portfolio at a premium rate. Appalachian Voices, represented in the case by the Southern Environmental Law Center, argued that APCo’s proposal would “charge customers more than they currently pay for the privilege of claiming the output of certain resources already in APCo’s fleet.” Several parties noted that the rate customers would pay is tied to renewable energy credit (“REC”) market prices, as opposed to the actual cost of the underlying renewable energy. The Commission’s staff also questioned whether Rider WWS would constitute a renewable energy tariff at all, since the tariff price would be based on the cost of RECs – not on the price of renewable energy itself.

Finally, several parties noted that approval of the application would eliminate the rights of many APCo customers to shop for renewable energy. The effect on retail choice is due to Virginia’s unique regulatory structure. Virginia is, for the most part, a traditionally regulated jurisdiction. This means that incumbent electric utilities such as APCo hold state-protected monopolies on the sale of electricity in their service territories. Virginia law, however, provides a few exceptions under which customers can purchase electric generation from non-utility companies licensed by the SCC to sell retail electricity.

One of these exceptions is for 100% renewable energy purchases. The Code allows any Virginia customer – including residential customers – to purchase electricity “provided 100% from renewable energy” from non-utility suppliers. Pursuant to the statute, however, this option is only available if the customer’s incumbent electric utility does not offer an SCC-approved tariff for 100% renewable energy. Prior to the SCC’s decision in this case, no Virginia utility had an SCC-approved 100% renewable tariff in place. The Commission’s final order did not reference the tariff’s implications on retail choice.

The Commission’s final order also rejected the recommendation of the hearing examiner who conducted the evidentiary hearing. The hearing examiner recommended that the Commission deny the application because the proposal would result in “unjust and unreasonable” rates. The hearing examiner found that the evidence presented by APCo to support the application was “unsubstantiated” and based on outdated market prices for renewable energy.

Should you have any questions about this case, please contact one of our energy regulatory attorneys. The Code sections authorizing retail choice are discussed in our firm’s Virginia electric regulation guide.

SCC: Dominion Must Refile Its 2018 IRP

On Friday, December 7, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (“SCC” or “Commission”) entered an order directing Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) to revise and refile its 2018 Integrated Resource Plan (“IRP”). This order is significant in that the SCC has never rejected an IRP, or required a utility to refile its plan. We discuss several takeaways from this order below.

What is an IRP?

An IRP is a utility’s plan to meet customer demand and service obligations over a 15-year planning horizon. The IRP statute, Va. Code Section 56-599, directs utilities to evaluate various options to meet forecasted demand, including building new generation; entering into power purchase agreements with third parties; purchasing energy from the PJM market; and investing in energy efficiency resources. The statute directs the Commission to review the utility’s plan and to “make a determination … as to whether [the IRP] is reasonable and is in the public interest.” It is important to note that an IRP is not binding on the Commission or the utility in any way. The Commission states that approval of an IRP does not create any presumption that any particular resources are prudent.

Before determining whether Dominion’s 2018 plan is “reasonable,” however, the Commission wants more information. In particular, the SCC wants Dominion to update several aspects of the modeling used to generate the plan. Dominion was directed to provide these new modeling results within 90 days of the order.

“True Least Cost Plan”

First, the SCC wants Dominion to provide what it calls a “true least cost plan” that will “serve as a benchmark against which to measure the costs of all other alternative plans.” The Commission wants to know what Dominion’s modeling software would select if it were permitted to choose the least-cost resources to meet the company’s forecasted demand. The Commission’s order asserts that Dominion – instead of letting the model choose the lowest-cost resources mix – actually “forced” certain resources into the IRP. The Commission referenced Dominion’s offshore wind demonstration project as a resource that was “forced” into Dominion’s alternative plans.

“SB 966 Plan”

Second, the Commission wants Dominion to file a plan that incorporates all of what the SCC calls the Senate Bill 966 (“SB 966”) “mandates.” This legislation declared that it is “in the public interest” for Virginia utilities to construct or acquire up to 5,500 MW of new renewable energy resources. The legislation also referenced certain distribution and transmission undergrounding priorities. (Note that the Commission, in this and other orders, characterizes the priorities outlined by the General Assembly as “mandates.” The use of this term, however, is misleading when applied to renewable energy. SB 966, while declaring such renewable energy projects to be “in the public interest,” does not require utilities to make these investments, nor does it require the Commission to approve them.)

By requiring both a “Least Cost Plan” and a “SB 966 Plan,” the Commission wants to estimate the incremental costs of the SB 966 investments. The SCC may want to include this estimate in its final order on Dominion’s IRP. Moreover, the Commission may choose to include this analysis in one of the written reports provided Governor and the General Assembly regarding the implementation of Virginia’s electric regulation statutes.

Anticipated load growth

Next, the SCC directed Dominion to utilize the PJM load forecast for the Dominion Zone, which has a 15-year growth rate of 0.8%, versus Dominion’s 1.4%. At the evidentiary hearing, the Commission Staff and environmental advocates argued that Dominion’s internal load growth was too high, thus overstating the for need for new generation.

Solar capacity factors

The Commission also directed Dominion to update its modeling to use a 23% capacity factor for its solar facilities. A generation plant’s capacity factor represents the amount of time it is available and generating electricity. Dominion’s IRP assumes that new solar resources will achieve capacity factors of 26%, in part due to the use of single-axis tracking facilities which follow the sun, resulting in greater production. But the Commission noted that Dominion’s “existing [solar] resources have experienced actual capacity factors of approximately 20% on average over the last five years.” Therefore, the SCC split the difference between the actual, observed capacity factors and those forecasted by Dominion. The solar industry supported Dominion’s capacity factor projections, finding them to be achievable.

Pipeline and fuel costs

Finally, the Commission’s order does not address the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (“ACP”), which would be constructed by affiliates of Dominion and may serve some of the company’s gas generation facilities. The SCC previously declined to review the ACP fuel supply contracts under the Virginia Affiliates Act, a statute which directs the Commission to approve any contracts entered into between public utilities and their affiliates.

The Commission did direct Dominion, in a footnote, to “include a reasonable estimate of fuel transportation costs … associated with natural gas generation facilities.” This could be an indication that the Commission does not believe Dominion’s forecasted gas costs are reasonable. Elsewhere in its order, however, the Commission seemed to express concern that “[Dominion’s] modeling was not permitted to select highly-efficient natural gas-fired combined-cycle facilities” and as a result Dominion’s modeling “forces in higher-cost resources [while] excluding other lower-cost resources [which] results in a more expensive plan.”

The SCC’s Order and other documents for this case are available online in Docket No. PUR-2018-00065. GreeneHurlocker represented the Solar Energy Industries Association in the evidentiary hearing at the SCC.

Should you have any questions about this case, please contact one of our energy regulatory attorneys.

SCC Approves New Large Customer Renewable Energy Tariff

wind turbines and solar arraysThe Virginia State Corporation Commission (“SCC” or “Commission”) just approved a new tariff that will give customers of Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) an additional option to purchase renewable energy. On November 6, 2018, the SCC entered a Final Order approving Dominion’s application to offer a voluntary tariff designated “Rate Schedule RG.” The tariff is available to large, non-residential customers who agree to purchase the output, including all environmental attributes, from particular renewable energy facilities.

Participating customers may request to purchase the output from specific types of generation resources, such as solar and wind energy facilities. Dominion would either construct a new renewable facility or enter into a contract with a third-party generator to obtain the renewable energy necessary to serve the customer. Schedule RG, therefore, presents an opportunity for customers to choose the type of renewable energy they want to purchase. For example, a customer could request that Dominion enter into a contract with a particular generator. Or the customer could request the utility to build a new renewable facility on the customer’s premises or in a particular geographic location. The minimum facility size is 1 MW in nameplate capacity.

Participation in Schedule RG is capped at 50 customers. The tariff is also designed to ensure that non-participating customers do not subsidize any of the costs associated with Schedule RG. For example, Dominion may not place any of the Schedule RG facility costs in its rate base or the cost of service charged to non-participating customers.

The financial transactions supporting Schedule RG are complex. Participating customers would stay on their existing tariff and continue to pay all existing utility riders. At the same time, however, customers would pay a fixed price to purchase the renewable energy and would receive a “Schedule RG Credit” that is based on the wholesale price of energy and the capacity of the facility. In this way, the Schedule RG arrangement is like a financial “swap.” That is, participating customers would agree to pay a pre-determined renewable energy contract price, but would also receive the market price for the energy, which would be sold by Dominion in the PJM wholesale market. Thus, Schedule RG is designed to approximate the actual market cost of renewable energy from particular generating facilities.

Several parties intervened in the case, including Walmart and two renewable and advanced energy trade associations. While several parties offered comments on the proposal, no party to the case opposed Schedule RG.

The SCC approved the application subject to several reporting requirements. The SCC also held that Schedule RG will expire after three years if no customers participate.

Finally, it is important to note that Schedule RG was not approved under Va. Code § 56-577 A 5 and would not constitute a 100% renewable energy tariff under this statutory provision. As we explained in our Regulatory Guide, this Code section authorizes any Virginia customer to purchase electricity “provided 100% from renewable energy” from non-utility suppliers, so long as the customer’s incumbent electric utility does not offer an SCC-approved tariff for 100% renewable energy. Therefore, if Dominion received approval to offer a 100% renewable energy tariff pursuant to Va. Code § 56-577 A 5, Dominion customers would lose their existing rights to shop for such energy.

Currently, no Virginia utility offers an SCC-approved 100% renewable energy tariff. Dominion and Appalachian Power have both applied for approval to offer such tariffs, which thus far have been rejected. In the last three years, the SCC has rejected two 100% renewable tariffs proposed by Appalachian Power and one proposed by Dominion. Dominion currently has one application pending, which would be available to residential and small commercial customers.

The SCC’s Final Order in Schedule RG, Case No. PUR-2017-00163, is available here. If you have any questions about Schedule RG or other renewable energy options offered by Virginia utilities, please contact one of our energy regulatory attorneys.

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, we have 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,” 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 any of our energy lawyers, or download the complete document here.

Dominion, Appalachian Power Dispute SCC Decision

SCC CASE UPDATE:

Last week we told you about an important State Corporation Commission (“SCC” or “Commission”) decision that could expand access to competitive electric supply in Virginia. The SCC approved a request filed by a group of manufacturing customers to combine their demands for purposes of shopping for competitive electric supply. The SCC found that their request was “in the public interest.” The SCC approved the customers’ application over the objections of both Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) and Appalachian Power Company (“APCo”). Dominion argued that allowing the companies to shop for competitive electric supply would “erode a significant portion of the utility’s jurisdictional customer base.”

Both utilities are now appealing the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court. Dominion filed a notice of appeal with the SCC on March 21, while APCo filed its notice on March 15. The utilities have not yet filed their assignments of error (i.e., their grounds for appealing the decision).

Appeals from the SCC are “of right,” meaning the Supreme Court is required to hear any case that’s properly appealed.  While the Court can overturn any of the Commission’s findings, the Court usually gives deference to the SCC. The Court has frequently said that SCC decisions are “entitled to the respect due judgments of a tribunal informed by experience” and that Commission orders won’t be disturbed if “based upon the application of the correct principles of law.”

We’ll keep you updated on the status of this important case. If you want to talk about this case, the SCC’s role, or energy law and regulation, just call any of our energy lawyers.

Update on Supplier Consolidated Billing in Maryland

Maryland State House (side)

Maryland State House (side) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last fall, Brian Greene discussed the Maryland Public Service Commission’s retail energy supplier consolidated billing proceeding. The Commission is considering supplier consolidated billing as an additional billing option for Maryland customers, alongside the existing utility consolidated billing and dual billing options. With supplier consolidated billing, customers would receive a single bill from their competitive retail supplier that includes both the electricity and natural gas supply charges (from the competitive supplier) and the utility’s transportation and distribution charges.

Under the existing billing paradigm in Maryland, the vast majority of customers receive a consolidated bill from their utility that includes both the energy supply charges and the utility’s transportation and distribution charges. Supplier consolidated billing would flip that model, enabling the competitive supplier to bill the customer, with the flexibility to expand product and service offerings. More information on the details of the proposal are available in the Petition and Reply Comments filed by the petitioning retail energy suppliers (NRG Energy, Inc., Interstate Gas Supply, Inc., Just Energy Group, Inc., Direct Energy Services, LLC, and ENGIE Resources, LLC).

In November 2017, stakeholders submitted extensive comments discussing the benefits and potential risks associated with the supplier consolidated billing proposal. Copies of the comments are publicly available in the Commission’s docket for Case No. 9461.

Following submission of the written comments, the Commission held a legislative-style hearing on February 20th and 21st. Here is a short summary of the two-day hearing:

  • The hearing began with a presentation from the Petitioners in support of supplier consolidated billing. The panel presented and answered questions from the Commissioner for about 2.5 hours.
  • Maryland’s distribution utility stakeholders followed the Petitioners, presenting their views on SCB and responding to the Petitioners’ presentation.
  • Following the utilities, a competitive retail energy supplier panel offered support for SCB, with some offering tweaks to the proposed program.
  • The next panel included public sector stakeholders from the Maryland Energy Administration and Montgomery County offering support for the proposed supplier consolidated billing program and suggestions regarding some of the program details. The Maryland Office of People’s Counsel also presented, discussing what it perceives as potential risks of the program.
  • Commission Staff rounded out the presentations, discussing the merits of the SCB proposal, offering support for the concept and at least one recommendation to alter the proposal.
  • The hearing concluded with the Petitioners offering a few final comments responding to some of the points raised by other stakeholders during the hearing.

After concluding the hearing, the next step is for the Commission to take further action on the proposal. If you are interested in the pending SCB petition in Maryland or any related competitive retail energy market issues, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

Appearing at the MPSC Hearing: From L to R – Brian Greene, Mike Starck (NRG Energy), Duncan Stiles (Just Energy), Tami Wilson (IGS Energy), and Alex Donaho (Direct Energy).

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.

Electric Utility Regulation Plain and Simple

As the 2018 General Assembly heats up, we expect energy issues to be front and center once again. That’s one of the reasons we just published Principles of Electric Utility Regulation in Virginia, a guidebook designed to provide a plain-English explanation of some of the state laws regulating Virginia’s two largest monopoly electric utilities.

Do you have questions about the role of the State Corporation Commission in setting rates? Wonder why you’re not getting a refund from your electric utility this year? Curious about whether energy companies are incentivized to invest in clean energy? This booklet answers these questions and provides a starting place for exploring Virginia’s complex regulatory system.

We hope this document will be a useful tool for legislators and their staff, the media, and all citizens who want to gain a better understanding of energy policy in Virginia. The link at the top will get you the electronic version immediately. If you would prefer your copy be a printed one, just contact any of our Virginia energy lawyers.