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DISCLAIMER: This blog is published for general information only - it is not intended to constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon by any person as legal advice. While we welcome you to contact our authors, the submission of a comment or question does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and you.

Entries in Utilities (19)

Tuesday
Nov072017

Microgrids: The Next “Big” Thing?

There has been a lot of conversation lately about “microgrids.”  And, given the significant power outages experienced in Maine and the Northeast this past week due to extreme weather events, these conversations are bound to increase.

But, what exactly are microgrids, and how can they help?  Not everyone agrees.

In simple terms, a microgrid is a small portion of a larger electric system that is able to be “walled off” from the rest of the grid for purposes of reliability, and it would include a combination of generation and storage resources so that, when there is a system outage, the microgrid can remain running.  Typically, microgrids are appropriate for critical infrastructure like hospitals or military bases.

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Wednesday
Dec302015

Beyond Net Metering: Solar Stakeholders Seek Common Ground

Since September, solar stakeholders have been participating in regular work sessions at the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to develop an alternative to Maine’s current net metering rules. Net metering or “net energy billing” allows utility customers who also generate some of their own power (with solar panels, for example) to pay only for the difference between the energy they generate and the energy they consume. This straightforward concept exists in some form in more than 40 states. But as rooftop solar continues to expand, utilities are beginning to seek alternatives to net metering rules around the country.

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Monday
Nov302015

Washington Post on Electric Vehicles: Coal Generates Electricity

Last week the Washington Post exposed electric cars’ dirty secret: they use electricity! The piece makes the astute point an electric vehicle (EV) is only as clean as the electricity that is used to power it. It is true that in many parts of the world that still heavily rely on coal, such as China, the climate benefit from an EV charging from the grid may be slim or even slightly negative. While it is important to remember that EVs do have a climate impact, EVs offer other advantages over gasoline-powered cars that need to be part of the discussion when evaluating the technology:

1)    EVs shift pollution from many mobile sources to a manageable number of point sources. It is much easier to regulate a handful of coal power plants than it is to regulate a million cars. You don’t have to worry about implementing vehicle emissions tests or removing older, heavier-polluting vehicles from the road. Instead, you can require these specific point sources to employ the best pollution control technology available and easily confirm that the plants are in fact using that technology. In the U.S., for example, stricter pollution regulations and competition from other sources of electricity has encouraged the rapid demise of coal-fired power plants.

2)    EVs shift pollution from population centers to less-populated areas. In addition to carbon dioxide, cars emit other pollutants that are harmful to human health. When most people walk outside their front door, they do not see a coal-fired power plant. Almost everyone sees cars. Moving pollution outside of city centers can improve air quality and bring corresponding health benefits to city residents. The Chinese government apparently recognized the benefits of reducing pollution from cars in 2008 when it banned diesel trucks from driving in Beijing and required city residents to alternate their driving days during the Olympics.

3)    EVs can be integrated into the smart grid to store electricity when it is cheap and sell it back to the grid when it is expensive. As Tesla understands, EVs are really made up of two new useful technologies: (1) an electric motor and (2) a battery. The EV battery can be charged at times when electricity is typically cheaper to produce (i.e., at night). During the hottest days of the year, when electricity demand is at its highest, EV owners could sell some of the electricity stored in the EV battery back to the grid. This could help reduce the need to build additional power plants to meet those high demand periods and reduce the cost of electricity for all customers.

4)    Electric grids are getting cleaner in most parts of the world. The electric vehicle industry is still a fledgling industry. EVs are not likely to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in the next ten years. However, as electric grids across the world are transformed into cleaner, smarter systems, EVs could play a key role in reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and conventional pollution around the world.

As the Post piece suggests, it may be the case that in some parts of the world, EVs do not currently make sense as a climate solution.  It is difficult to accept, however, that widespread EV adoption would make climate change a more difficult problem.   

Wednesday
Nov112015

SolarCity’s Antitrust Case Survives Motion to Dismiss

When the Salt River Project utility in Arizona decided to impose new charges for its customers with rooftop solar installations in February, it opened another front in the solar war being waged across the country. Normally, these fights play out before state administrative agencies tasked with setting utilities’ rates and rules. Solar supporters argue that the fees discourage cost-beneficial investments into rooftop solar, while utilities argue that rooftop solar customers still rely on the grid and are not paying their fair share of the costs to support that grid.

Unlike most utilities, however, Salt River’s rates are not set by the state authority charged with setting electric rates, which in Arizona is the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC). Under Arizona law, Salt River is a political subdivision of the state that is allowed to set its own rates for retail electric service. As many rooftop solar supporters see it, Salt River has a natural monopoly over retail electric service, has no regulatory oversight, and is abusing its market power to crush its distributed solar competition.

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Friday
Oct042013

Energy News Roundup: September 28-October 4

This week in regional energy news …

Monday
Sep232013

Natural Gas Conference, Featuring Maine Gov. Paul LePage, to Be Held in Portland on October 10

On October 10, Verrill Dana, LLP and Pierce Atwood, LLP will co-host “Natural Gas: The Best Path Forward for Maine?” at the Doubletree by Hilton in Portland, Me.  The conference will feature Gov. Paul R. LePage as luncheon speaker and Maine PUC Chairman Thomas Welch as opening keynote speaker.  Panels will feature regional industry leaders from the regulatory, supply, LDC, generator, and commercial and industrial customer worlds discussing perspectives on topics ranging from natural gas service RFPs to LNG/CNG to natural gas supply issues in New England.  A cocktail reception will follow.

For more information, or to register, visit halfmoonseminars.com.

Friday
Mar292013

Energy News Roundup: March 23-March 29

This week in regional energy news …