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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 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.

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.

Legal Debrief On Virginia’s Energy Future After SB 966

Obstacles and Opportunities for Clean Energy Development
June 20, 2018 – 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Virginia Bar Association VBA on Main professional space at 1111 East Main Street, Suite 905, Richmond, 23219

wind turbines and solar arraysEric Hurlocker and Will Reisinger of GreeneHurlocker are assembling a panel of experts to discuss and debate the implementation of the 2018 Virginia General Assembly’s SB 966, including the opportunities for renewable energy development and the legal obstacles to implementation.

On Wednesday, June 20, all are invited to our free look into the changes in regulatory environment and legal issues brought on by the recent session of the General Assembly. Joining us will be Will Cleveland, Staff Attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center; Matt Gooch, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Virginia Attorney General; and Francis Hodsoll, co-founder, SolUnesco. Please RSVP for this free event here.

We’ll start at 10:00 a.m. with an introduction and background regarding Virginia’s laws regulating electric utilities and overview of 2018 Senate Bill 966. At 10:30 a.m. our panel will discuss whether SB 966 will advance or impede competition for renewable energy; whether it will be subject to challenge under the dormant commerce clause; and whether additional policy changes are necessary to advance renewable development in Virginia. The panel will be moderated by Will Reisinger.

Each participant will receive a copy of the recently revised Guide to Electric Utility Regulation in Virginia. 1.5 hours Virginia CLE pending.

If you have any questions about this debrief, please contact Eric, Will or any of the other Virginia regulatory lawyers at GreeneHurlocker.

Dominion Proposes Significant New Solar and Gas-Fired Generation

On May 1, Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) filed its 2018 Integrated Resource Plan (“IRP”) at the State Corporation Commission (“SCC”). In Virginia, an IRP is a utility’s proposal for meeting customer demand over the next 15 years. An IRP is a planning document and does not represent a commitment to pursue any particular course of action. Instead, it is the utility’s best assessment, at a particular point in time, regarding which resources it will deploy over the planning horizon.

The SCC must review Dominion’s IRP and decide whether the plan is “reasonable and in the public interest.” Generally, interested parties are able to present arguments and testimony regarding the reasonableness of the plan.

Dominion’s 2018 filing includes five alternative scenarios. The key variable in the alternative plans is carbon regulation. For example, the IRP includes different modeling based on whether a carbon tax is imposed at the federal or state level, or whether the Commonwealth joins the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

In each alternative plan, Dominion proposes to add at least 4,700 MW of new solar capacity in the next 15 years. Dominion also proposes to add between 3,700 and 5,200 MW of new gas-fired generation. Dominion suggests that these new gas facilities will be used as “peaking resources,” which run when necessary during periods of increased demand, such as on hot summer days when there is greater need for air conditioning. The also IRP assumes that Dominion’s peak demand will increase 1.4% each year.

The IRP indicates that the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (“ACP”) will be a supply source for the new gas facilities. Dominion states that it has already signed an agreement to “secure firm transportation services on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.” Dominion’s parent company, Dominion Energy, is one of the developers of the ACP.

Finally, the IRP assumes that Dominion’s four nuclear reactors will receive federal approval to remain operational throughout the planning period. However, Dominion says that it will “pause material development activities for North Anna 3,” a third nuclear reactor that the company was planning to construct at its nuclear facility in central Virginia.

The IRP notes that Senate Bill 966, which was enacted by General Assembly earlier this year, will become effective on July 1 of this year. This legislation is intended to encourage investments in renewable energy and “grid transformation” projects. The legislation requires Dominion to propose at least $870 million in energy efficiency programs over the next 10 years.

Dominion states that it “has begun the initial planning associated with a transformational grid modernization effort.” These “grid transformation” efforts will include investments in smart meter technology, distribution substation automation, “replacing aging infrastructure,” and an “enhanced customer information platform” to allow customers to manage their energy consumption. Although the IRP notes that Senate Bill 966 requires the company to propose $870 million in efficiency programs over the next 10 years, the IRP does not identify what type investments might be made.

We expect the SCC will enter an order for notice and hearing in the coming weeks. The SCC’s order will include deadlines for intervention, expert witness testimony submissions, and a date for the evidentiary hearing.

If you have any questions about Dominion’s IRP, or other electric energy matters, please contact one of GreenHurlockler’s renewable energy or 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.

SCC Decision Expands Access to Competitive Electric Supply

transmission towers for electricityWhile many political observers were focused on Senate Bill 966, the omnibus utility legislation that was just passed by the General Assembly, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (“Commission” or “SCC”) recently issued an important decision affecting customers’ rights to purchase energy from competitive suppliers.

On February 21, 2018, in Case No. PUR-2017-00109, the Commission approved the first ever “customer aggregation” petition under § 56-577 A 4 of the Code of Virginia. As explained in detail below, this section of the Code allows customers to aggregate their demand for the purposes of satisfying the 5 MW demand threshold required to purchase generation from non-utility companies.

In most circumstances, Virginia’s incumbent electric utilities, including Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”), have a monopoly on the sale of electricity in their service territories. Customers must purchase energy from their utility. Virginia law, however, provides two exceptions to the utilities’ monopoly rights. (Under these two exceptions, customers may purchase generation from non-utility suppliers. But shopping customers must still pay for the utility’s distribution services.)

First, under Va. Code § 56-577 A 5, customers may purchase “100 percent renewable energy” from competitive suppliers if  the customer’s monopoly electric utility does not offer an SCC-approved 100% renewable energy tariff. No utility currently offers an SCC-approved 100% renewable tariff.

Second, Va. Code § 56-577 A 3 law allows large customers with annual demands over 5 MW to purchase generation from competitive suppliers. Importantly, the law also allows a group of customers to “aggregate” their demands in order to reach the 5 MW threshold. The statute treats large customers with multiple meter locations as different customers but allows them to aggregate to meet the 5 MW threshold. Once aggregated, the group will be treated as a “single, individual customer” under the law. Before allowing an aggregation, however, the Commission must find that the requested aggregation would be “consistent with the public interest.”

SCC Case No. PUR-2017-00109 was the first test of this statutory provision – that is, the first time a group of customers sought to combine their demands in order to reach the 5 MW threshold. In this case, Reynolds Group Holdings, Inc. (“Reynolds”), a metals and packaging manufacturer, petitioned the SCC for approval to aggregate six of its retail accounts in Dominion’s service territory.

Dominion and Appalachian Power Company (“APCo”) intervened in the case and opposed the petition. Dominion argued that allowing customers to aggregate their demand “would unreasonably expand the scope of retail access [and would] have the potential effect of eroding a significant portion of the utility’s jurisdictional customer base.” Dominion also suggested that the General Assembly – despite authorizing customer shopping and aggregation – intended to allow retail choice “only in limited circumstances.”

But the SCC, relying on the plain language of Va. Code § 56-577 A 4, rejected Dominion’s and APCo’s arguments and approved the petition. Dominion and APCo have until March 23, 2018, to appeal the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court.

The SCC is also currently considering additional aggregation requests filed by over 160 Walmart customer accounts in Case Nos. PUR-2017-00173 and PUR-2017-00174. (In both of these cases, GreeneHurlocker is representing competitive suppliers who are supporting approval of Walmart’s aggregation requests.)

Should you have any questions about customer aggregation or competitive supply options in Virginia, please contact one our regulatory attorneys.

Additionally, GreeneHurlocker recently published Principles of Electric Utility Regulation in Virginia, which provides a plain-English explanation of Virginia’s electric utility laws, including the statutes affecting retail choice.

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.

Virginia Energy Laws and Regulations Demystified

The GreeneHurlocker law firm has 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, explained co-managing member Eric Hurlocker, one of the firm’s energy law attorneys.

“The statutes governing Virginia’s electric utilities, found in Title 56 of the Code of Virginia, are extremely complex, but we’ve made our best effort at helping citizens who must do business with and purchase energy from Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power Company understand the rules in plain English,” said Hurlocker.

Co-Authored by regulatory lawyer Will Reisinger at the firm, 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.

“We hope this document will be useful for legislators and their staff, lobbyists, the media, as well as all citizens,” stated Reisinger.

Hurlocker has focused for more than two decades on advising clients in the areas of energy law as well as commercial transactions and general corporate work for energy and technology companies, manufacturers and services providers. After working in large law firms and for utility firms, Hurlocker joined with Brian Greene five years ago to form the GreeneHurlocker firm, which concentrates on work in energy law and for businesses in the energy space.

Reisinger, before joining GreeneHurlocker in 2016, served in the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia representing ratepayers in energy and utility matters before the Virginia State Corporation Commission, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Supreme Court of Virginia. Earlier, he was a staff attorney for a non-profit environmental organization, where he worked to enforce state and federal environmental standards.

Persons interested in a copy of the guidebook can contact Hurlocker, Reisinger or download the complete guidebook here.