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Maryland to Implement Supplier Consolidated Billing

Finding that supplier consolidated billing (SCB) represents the next logical step for Maryland to fully implement customer choice, the Maryland Public Service Commission on May 7, 2019 issued an order authorizing SCB for retail electric and natural gas service in Maryland. In this historic order, the Commission found that SCB could support the growth of retail competition in Maryland and is consistent with the Commission’s policies to promote competition. SCB, by augmenting the existing billing arrangements, should assist suppliers in establishing brand identity and clarifying the products available to customers. At the same time, SCB should facilitate the development of new and innovative products and services and increase the number of Maryland households that shop for electricity and natural gas. Based on these and other conclusions, the Commission found that “it is now appropriate to proceed with the development of SCB.”

The case was initiated by five retail suppliers – NRG Energy, IGS Energy, Just Energy Group, Direct Energy and ENGIE Resources – and the Commission held a hearing in February 2018. We’ve blogged about this case here and here and also posted a video blog here.

In the order, the Commission established the SCB Workgroup and immediately tasked it with developing an implementation timeline within the next 60 days. The timeline, filed in early July 2019, calls for full-on SCB implementation by September 1, 2022.

To guide the SCB Workgroup, the Commission addressed numerous substantive elements of the SCB program, the highlights of which include:

Supplier Qualifications to Provide SCB:

The Commission held: “any proposed regulations should comprehensively address the capabilities necessary to ensure that these functions are performed on par with existing utility offerings. Further, the regulations should be tailored to demonstrate that a supplier can meet the rigorous demands of increased customer service and dispute resolution functions, complex billing requirements, and the quality assurance and record keeping necessary to handle utility charges that may contribute to potential utility disconnections.”

Authority of SCB Providers to Disconnect Customers for Nonpayment:

The Commission rejected the petitioners’ request to allow SCB suppliers to initiate disconnects for non-payment. This had been a central element of the petitioners’ case because it is necessary to manage bad debt, similar to the utilities. In response to those concerns, the Commission will require that utilities purchase the outstanding distribution charges of a delinquent customer account upon the customer’s return to standard offer service (SOS), as further discussed below. For other charges, the SCB provider must resort to the traditional remedies of other non-regulated businesses, including reporting to credit agencies, seeking monetary judgments in court, and pursuing collection activities.

Purchase of Receivables (POR) and Supplier Bad Debt:

The Commission held that SCB suppliers must provide POR to the utili8ty on substantially the same terms as provide in utility consolidated billing (UCB). The Commission directed the workgroups, including the SCB Workgroup, to identify and propose an equitable payment posting priority system and other protections that may be necessary to ensure that any charges contributing to a disconnection are properly handled. Additionally, the Commission agreed with the petitioners that suppliers need some ability to protect themselves from the risk of non-payment. The Commission held that, after reasonable efforts to collect, the supplier should not be required to hold any debt attributable to the customer’s distribution charges paid under POR. Where a supplier can demonstrate the amount of unpaid distribution charges, the utility should repurchase those charges at a zero discount rate unless the SCB Workgroup can provide alternative calculations which are supported by a compelling analysis.

Customer Protection and Customer Education:

The Commission held that a supplier that offers SCB is required to provide all the same consumer protections, disclosures (including the utility’s price to compare), notices,
and billing information required of a regulated utility. This includes providing all surcharge line items and compliance with all current COMARs related to consumer protections. The Commission directed the SCB Workgroup to identify and justify any deviations from or additions to existing consumer protection standards. The SCB Workgroup should consider new disclosure and notice requirements for how utilities and SCB suppliers communicate the varying relationships to the customer, the content of past due notices by SCB suppliers, and the utility notices for customers selecting SCB.

Cost Recovery:

The Commission made no findings regarding cost recovery. The Commission directed the SCB Workgroup to identify and estimate, with as much detail as possible, these and any other costs and benefits related to SCB. The Commission directed the SCB Workgroup to consider varying cost recovery mechanisms and present either a consensus approach or options for Commission consideration. The Commission recognized that the SCB Workgroup might not reach a consensus on cost recovery but said, “this should not delay progress towards proposing regulations in other areas.”

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.

Delmarva Power Files Proposed DE Purchase of Receivables

transmission towers for electricityAfter years of proceedings at the Delaware Public Service Commission, the end – or the beginning – is in sight. In late March, Delmarva Power filed its proposed Purchase of Receivables (POR) program, including the going-in discount rates, with the Delaware Commission. With a POR program, the utility purchases the receivables of the retail electric supplier operating on the system, which helps to level the playing field between suppliers and the utility which has the right to disconnect service for non-payment.

Delmarva recommends that the program take effect for service rendered on June 1, 2019, as the Commission has previously directed. The discount rates are important because those are the “discounts” that retail suppliers must accept in allowing the utility to purchase the receivable. Delmarva proposes the following discount rates for the first year of the program:

Class Discount Rate
Residential 0.6167%
Small C&I 0.3409%
Large C&I 0.1182%
Hourly Priced Service 0.0%

 

It is expected that the Commission will consider the POR proposal at one of its May administrative meetings, in time for the program to being June 1, 2019. For more information, please contact one 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.

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 of GreeneHurlocker is 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.

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, 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, 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.