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renewable energy

Solar Focus Spreads the Good News

Join us and MDV-SEIA at the annual Solar Focus Conference in Baltimore, Maryland on November 20th – 21st, a major effort of our Maryland-District of Columbia-Virginia chapter of the Solar Energy Industry Association (MDV-SEIA). It will celebrate the latest solar policy achievements, and focus on how the solar industry can continue its recent policy successes and commercial growth.

Solar Focus brings together solar professionals and industry leaders from across the country to share ideas, build partnerships, and envision the future of solar power. In addition to panels, there will be a Women in Solar Breakfast, job fair, and many more networking opportunities. GreeneHurlocker continues to be a sponsor for this important and influential industry event, and we’ll be hooking you up to the free wifi!

Eric Hurlocker at his desk

I will be on site to join in the usual spirited discussions about how to promote and grow the role of solar energy in our lives and our businesses.I hope you can join me at the final panel of the conference where I will be speaking on Case Studies in the Utility-Scale Industry.

Look me up when you’re at the Hilton, I’ll be out in the halls and would love to talk with you about the things on your mind and what your company is looking forward to in the next year. If you want more information about MDV-SEIA or to talk about renewable energy development just give me a call, or talk to any of our solar energy and utility lawyers.

Calpine and Direct Energy Win Again, Continue to Provide Renewable Energy in Virginia

The Virginia State Corporation Commission (the “Commission”) denied Dominion Energy Virginia’s (“Dominion”) July 16, 2019 petitions for declaratory judgment in Case Numbers PUR-2019-00117 and PUR-2019-00118 by Final Order on September 18, 2019. Dominion’s petitions sought to have the Commission standardize “around the clock,” “control of renewable capacity” requirements for competitive service providers (“CSPs”) to serve customers under Virginia Code § 56-577 A 5 (“Section A 5”). That section provides a statutory right to customers of all classes to purchase “electric energy provided 100 percent from renewable energy” from a CSP unless the utility has its own 100% renewable energy tariff. Dominion’s application for a 100% renewable energy tariff is pending before the Commission, and Dominion had refused to process enrollments submitted by Calpine Energy Solutions, LLC (“Calpine”) and Direct Energy Business, LLC (“Direct Energy”) under Section A 5 in the interim and initiated these cases at the Commission.

The Commission previously granted Calpine’s and Direct Energy’s requests for injunctive relief, requiring Dominion to process enrollments while these cases are pending. We blogged about that here.

Dominion’s petitions took aim at Calpine and Direct Energy, seeking a determination that CSPs seeking to serve under Section A 5 must establish that they can supply customers with electric energy provided 100 percent from renewable energy on an “around the clock” basis and that the CSPs must have “control” over “renewable capacity.” The Commission flatly rejected Dominion’s positions and declared that both Calpine and Direct Energy provided information to reasonably establish that they have contracted for sufficient renewable energy to match renewable supply with a participating customer’s load on a monthly basis, which is consistent with Section A 5 and Commission precedent.

Regarding Commission precedent, the Commission refused to adopt Dominion’s interpretation of a prior order approving Appalachian Power Company’s Rider WWS (“Rider WWS Order”), which Dominion believes requires a CSP to have “control of sufficient renewable generation resources, including renewable capacity and associated renewable energy, to enable it to serve the full load requirements of the customers it intends to serve.” The Commission’s refused to provide the requested declaration, explaining that the Rider WWS Order did not require “’renewable capacity,’ nor did it define ‘full load requirements’ to mean (as argued by Dominion) ‘full load at all times’ or ‘full load requirements around the clock.’” Significantly, the Commission’s Final Order makes clear: “Nothing in [the Rider WWS Order], however, found that [Appalachian Power Company’s] proposal was the only way to comply with Section A 5.”

The crux of the Commission’s decision relied upon its close reading of Section A 5. “The plain language of Section A 5 also says ‘energy,’ not ‘capacity.’” In acknowledging this critical distinction, the Commission put a finer point on Dominion’s efforts to muddy the waters between “energy” and “capacity” requirements, despite the fact that Section A 5 requires customers to purchase renewable electric “energy” – not “capacity.” In the same way, the Commission examined closely Dominion’s request for more stringent matching standards, noting several times that in other proceedings, Dominion has taken positions inconsistent with those it takes in its petitions for declaratory judgment: “There is nothing in the plain language of Section A 5, however, that mandates Dominion’s “100% of the time” (i.e., “around the clock”) requirement.”

The Commission also scrutinized Dominion’s proposal from a consumer protection perspective, finding that Dominion’s “100% of the time” standard would adversely affect a customer’s right to purchase renewable energy – essentially, upending the entire aim of Section A 5. Dominion’s argument would read certain renewable generating sources (e.g., wind or solar) out of the statute because of their intermittency regardless of the amount of nameplate capacity or peak load served. Finally, the Commission evaluated Dominion’s proposed standard with special focus on the fact that Virginia’s existing monthly matching standard is already one of the most stringent in the country for states with renewable energy markets, as other states generally require customer load and renewable supply to be matched on a yearly basis.

The Commission declined to accept Dominion’s proposed language that would adopt a new standard for Section A 5, presented for the first time at the hearing on August 20, 2019. The Commission reasoned that to do so would contravene the Commission’s past rejection of “capacity,” “peak demand,” or “100% of the time” requirements – including the Commission’s rejection of Dominion’s past requests (notably in the Rider WWS proceeding) for “around the clock” supply of renewable energy pursuant to Section A 5. Similarly, the Commission held that Dominion’s proposal at the hearing regarding what Dominion believes the current law should reflect “improperly goes beyond the specific relief requested in the Petitions for Declaratory Judgment… [and] does not reflect current Commission precedent and is otherwise procedurally improper.”

The Conclusion in the Commission’s Final Order makes clear that:

  • Commission precedent permits a CSP to match customer load with renewable supply on a monthly basis and does not requires CSPs to provide “renewable capacity”;
  • Direct Energy and Calpine have satisfactorily demonstrated that they can supply their customers with electric energy provided 100 percent from renewable energy on a monthly matching basis;
  • Direct Energy and Calpine are required to continue providing information as directed in the Final Order – regarding each CSP’s customer load and wholesale generation contracts, in accordance with Section A 5, the Commission’s Rules Governing Retail Access to Competitive Energy Services, as well as Dominion’s Competitive Service Provider Coordination Tariff; and
  • Even if Dominion’s new proposal were procedurally appropriate, which it is not, the Commission further finds that: (1) the plain language of Section A 5 does not mandate – as a matter of law – adoption of Dominion’s proffered standard; and (2) matching customer load with renewable supply on a monthly basis represents a reasonable standard under Section A 5, and Dominion’s proposed standard is not necessary in order to implement Section A 5 in a reasonable manner,

GreeneHurlocker represents Calpine in these proceedings.
If you have questions about this case or electric service in general, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy and regulatory lawyers.

VA SCC Grants Injunction, Orders Dominion to Move Customers

wind turbines and solar arraysThe Virginia Commission has entered an Order on Enrollments granting motions for injunctive relief filed by Calpine Energy Solutions, LLC and Direct Energy Business, LLC. In the Order, the Commission directed Dominion Energy Virginia to “immediately resume processing enrollment requests under Section A 5 for customers who wish to purchase from Direct Energy or Calpine.”

Under Va. Code Section 56-577 A 5 (“Section A 5”), a customer shall be permitted to purchase “electric energy provided 100 percent from renewable energy” from a competitive service provider (“CSP”) if the utility has not filed an approved 100% renewable tariff. To date, Dominion does not have an approved 100% renewable tariff, and several nonresidential customers, with multiple accounts, have signed contracts with Calpine and Direct, two CSPs, to take retail service under Section A 5.

In July, Dominion filed petitions for declaratory judgment asking the Commission to determine that Calpine and Direct had not demonstrated that they were providing “electric energy provided 100 percent from renewable energy” to their customers as required by Section A 5. Calpine and Direct are disputing Dominion’s allegations as well as Dominion’s proposed standard for providing service under Section A 5. In the interim, however, Dominion had refused to process pending and future enrollments until the case was decided.

On July 22, 2019, Calpine and Direct filed for injunctive relief, asking the Commission to require Dominion to process their respective customers’ enrollments – thereby allowing the customers to switch to Calpine and Direct – while the cases are pending.

The Commission held a hearing on the injunction on August 7 and held an expedited hearing on the merits of the cases on August 20, 2019.

In a footnote to the order, the Commission held that Calpine and Direct had satisfied the elements needed for the issuance of an injunction, including: (a) absent the instant order, Calpine and Direct Energy will suffer irreparable harm; (b) Calpine and Direct have no adequate remedy at law; and (c) the Commission is satisfied of Calpine’s and Direct Energy’s equity. The Commission also noted that “A temporary injunction allows a court to preserve the status quo between the parties while litigation is ongoing.”

Our firm is representing Calpine in the proceedings.

If you have questions about this case or electric service in general, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy and regulatory lawyers.

GreeneHurlocker at The Advanced Energy Conference

Advanced Energy signageWe are pretty excited to attend and be a sponsor of the Advanced Energy Now – East conference today in Richmond. Along with hearing about recent developments in the energy space, we’re catching up with our clients and colleagues in the renewable and advanced energy industry at the Richmond Convention Center downtown.

GreeneHurlocker energy lawyers work hard at staying informed and educated on the best practices and current opportunities in the energy field, with a special interest in renewable resources development and deployment. If you’re in Richmond at the conference today, please look for us. We’d love to say “hi.”

Good for the Earth

Back in 1970, few who celebrated the first Earth Day could have imagined the many ways that our world would have changed in the nearly five decades since. One good change is the increasing use of renewable energy, something we have a firm interest in since many of our clients are developing, financing and servicing the industry. And the fact that it has become an industry and grows stronger every year is definitely good for the earth. So, Happy Earth Day!

If you have a question about renewable energy in Virginia or the mid-Atlantic, simply contact any of our energy lawyers.

We’re Back at TomTom to Support Renewable Energy

On Wednesday, April 10, the TomTom Festival and Summit will hold its Renewable Energy Day in Charlottesville, Virginia, during the six day-long series of panels, speakers, podcasts, performances, parties and other notable goings about art, community, food, music, creative and entrepreneurial ecosystems, and innovation. We’re proud to be a sponsor again, and we are focused on the 9 AM panel “The Economic Development Opportunity of Renewable Energy.”

Many of our lawyers will be attending, and our partners Eric Hurlocker, Brian Greene and Jared Burden will be in Charlottesville to welcome you personally and to talk to you about the work we’re doing in renewable energy development and regulation. In addition, we would be glad to have the opportunity to introduce you to our OPENgc services for companies that currently operate without inside general counsel. If you don’t see us at the panel or breaks, come on to the exhibit area where we will try to answer your questions and send you home with a few small gifts.

If you are interested in knowing more about our TomTom sponsorship, the renewable energy industry or have a legal issue that you need to discuss, please feel free to contact Eric Hurlocker, Brian Greene, Jared Burden or any of our Virginia energy lawyers and business lawyers.

Solar Powers Augusta Schools

We were really excited last week when our good client, Secure Futures, was out in Augusta County Public Schools (ACPS) to talk about the installation of a total of 1.8 megawatts of solar power across seven campuses. ACPS, with more than 5,000 solar panels deployed, is the largest solar energy system of any public school division in Virginia. Some excellent coverage of this initiative is here. Augusta County students created some great posters about how much they love solar and those are featured on the Secure Futures homepage.

Secure Futures’ partnership with ACPS meant the school division had no capital investment for this solar project. Additionally, and most importantly, they receive monthly savings on their utility bill by using the electricity generated by the solar panels. ACPS has a special webpage where you can look at their solar energy production in real time. Pretty cool!

If you want to know more about solar energy issues in Virginia or have legal matters that involve solar or other renewable energy resources, contact any of our Virginia 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.

Renewable Energy Down South

Later today, we will be heading to Atlanta for the Southeast Renewable Energy conference being held at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter Hotel. We’re going to this networking event where the entire southeast renewable energy community gathers to get the latest insights into the market and to meet key players as well as clients and colleagues.

In the sessions on Thursday and Friday, we hope to learn about the key trends impacting renewable energy project development, finance and investment; meet with utility procurement managers; and engage in networking with the decision-makers who are driving the industry forward. If you are planning to attend, please look for me and let’s talk about renewable energy in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic.

If you have questions about or issues in renewable energy, just contact any of our renewable energy lawyers.

SCC Approves First Renewable Energy Projects

offshore wind projectOn Friday, November 2, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (“SCC” or “Commission”) approved the first major renewable energy investments by Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) following the passage of Senate Bill 966 (“SB 966”), the sweeping utility overhaul legislation enacted in March. SB 966 provides that it is “in the public interest” for Dominion and Appalachian Power Company to purchase or construct up to 5,000 MW of new wind and solar energy resources. The legislation specifically states that a wind demonstration project located off Virginia’s coast would be “in the public interest.”

The SCC approved a 12 MW, $300 million offshore wind demonstration project proposed by Dominion, which will be constructed 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. While finding the project to be prudent, the SCC’s Final Order strongly suggests that the application would have been rejected absent legislation deeming such projects to be “in the public interest” as a matter of law.

The Commission’s Final Order stated that the wind proposal “would not be deemed prudent [under this Commission’s] long history of utility regulation or under any common application of the term.” The SCC noted that the offshore wind project, which will be constructed by a Danish energy developer, was not subject to competitive bidding and that the energy costs will be “26 times greater than purchasing energy from the market” and “13.8 times greater than the cost of new solar facilities.” Finally, the Commission found that the project is not needed for Dominion to ensure reliability or meet any forecasted demand. Nonetheless, the Commission concluded that, “as a matter of law,” the Commission’s “factual analysis” of the reasonableness of the project is “subordinate [to] the legislative intent and public policy clearly set forth [by the 2018 amendments.”

The Commission also approved Dominion’s request to purchase 80 MW of solar energy via a power purchase agreement (“PPA”) with a non-utility company, Cypress Creek Renewables. The Commission noted that, unlike the offshore wind project, Dominion customers would be protected from financial and performance risks of the project since the utility is purchasing the energy from private developers.

The Final Order in the offshore wind matter (Case No. PUR-2018-00121) is available here and the Final Order in the solar PPA matter (Case No. PUR-2018-00135) is available here. Please contact one of our energy regulatory attorneys if you have questions about either of these cases.