Calif. Regulators Reject Utility Challenge To NEM 2.0
The California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) is promoting another solar policy victory, as the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has approved a resolution denying all legal challenges to the recently adopted net energy metering (NEM) rules for solar customers.
In January, the CPUC issued a decision to create the NEM “successor tariff,” known as NEM 2.0, which CALSEIA says did not include the new fees and lower compensation rates proposed by the state’s three investor-owned utilities. The decision made significant changes, with increased assessment of non-bypassable charges and mandatory time-of-use rates for residential customers, but it left in place the fundamental structure of NEM, CALSEIA adds.
The utilities responded by filing “applications for rehearing,” which alleged the decision contained legal error by ignoring many of the utilities’ arguments. Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) application challenged the decision as a whole, and the application from Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric challenged certain aspects. A ratepayer group, The Utility Reform Network, and a coalition of utility unions also challenged parts of the decision.
The CPUC resolution rejects those legal challenges, and although CALSEIA notes the CPUC made two minor tweaks to the language of the decision, it did not change any elements of the order.
“This was a frivolous legal maneuver by utilities, paid for by ratepayers, and the commission has put an end to it,” charged Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of CALSEIA.
The utilities have the option to appeal to state court, but CALSEIA believes it is unlikely they will do so because the chances for success are low. “Hopefully, the utility harassment of the CPUC is over,” added Del Chiaro. “They didn’t get everything they wanted, and it’s time to move on.”
In a statement to Solar Industry, a PG&E spokesperson said the utility “strongly supports the continued, sustainable growth of private solar.”
“With their final decision on NEM, the CPUC did not make the smart energy reforms that are needed to ensure a sustainable market for solar in California,” said the spokesperson. “While we are disappointed the CPUC decided to not move forward with a rehearing, PG&E is committed to working with all parties to find the right balance to support continued growth of solar.”
According to CALSEIA, attention is now focused on the precursor activity to creating the next version of NEM. The CPUC has again hired the E3 consulting firm to build the next version of a solar cost-benefit model, and the methodology will likely be debated for two years. CALSEIA says the main question at issue is the extent to which utilities can incorporate distributed generation into their forecasting and spend less money on the distribution grid. The CPUC will take up NEM again in 2019.
Controversial Clean Power Plan Gets Day In Court
On Sept. 27, a federal court heard long-awaited oral arguments for and against the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Obama administration’s landmark climate change initiative. As of press time, though, a final ruling is not expected for quite some time.
Created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the CPP created the first-ever regulations to cut carbon pollution from existing U.S. power plants, but implementation of the rules remains stalled until a lawsuit against the EPA is settled. Launched by over two dozen states and other groups, the legal challenge charges that the federal initiative is an illegal overreach of the agency’s power under the Clean Air Act and that the new standards will cripple the coal industry. Separately, other states and local governments, as well as myriad environmental and clean energy groups, joined the EPA as allies in defense of the CPP.
In the hours-long hearing in September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit listened to oral arguments from both sides. Signifying the importance of the case, 10 of the circuit court judges took part in the hearing, rather than the usual panel of three judges. Six of the participating judges were Democratic appointees, and the remaining four were Republican appointees. (The court’s 11th judge, Chief Judge Merrick Garland, had recused himself from the case beforehand, as he is President Barack Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.)
The Obama administration is openly confident in the legal merits of the CPP, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) publicly supports the initiative.
“When it comes to fighting climate change – a grave environmental and national security threat – it’s critically important for the United States to lead by example. The Clean Power Plan does exactly that and should be upheld on its merits,” said Tom Kimbis, interim president of SEIA, in a statement.
He later said, “We expect that the court will correctly determine that the EPA has acted well within its authority under the Clean Air Act and look forward to its decision ultimately upholding this critical rule.”
Meanwhile, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who helped lead the lawsuit, said in a press release, “We finally had our day in court, and it didn’t disappoint. The arguments lasted over seven hours and covered a wide variety of legal defects with the regulation. If the court agrees with any one of them, we will prevail. All along, I’ve been very clear. While I don’t know exactly when and where, I’ve always believed that we have the law on our side and will successfully defend coal miners and all the hard-working families in our state. We now await the court’s decision.”
Although the oral arguments were highly anticipated, as of press time, the circuit court is not expected to issue its ruling for months. Further complicating matters, the court’s decision will almost certainly be appealed and sent to the U.S. Supreme Court, which still has a vacant seat following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year. If the Supreme Court issues a tied vote – a possibility unless a new Supreme Court justice is appointed – the circuit court’s ruling would hold.
Ontario Halts Large Renewables Procurement
The government of Ontario has suspended the second round of its Large Renewable Procurement process and the Energy-from-Waste Standard Offer Program, effectively halting the procurement of over 1 GW of wind, solar, hydroelectric, bioenergy and energy-from-waste projects.
According to the province, this decision is expected to save up to C$3.8 billion in electricity system costs relative to Ontario’s 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) forecast. Individually, this would save the typical residential electricity consumer an average of approximately C$2.45 per month on his or her electricity bill, relative to previous forecasts.
Consultations and engagements will begin this fall with consumers, businesses, energy stakeholders and indigenous partners regarding the development of a new LTEP, which is scheduled to be released in 2017.
In supporting clean energy development, Ontario says it has attracted billions of dollars in private-sector investment and generated over 42,000 jobs in the clean technology sector. The province has about 18 GW of wind, solar, bioenergy and hydroelectric energy contracted or online, and the electricity supply is now over 90% emissions-free. In fact, the province says Ontario is home to more than 99% of all installed solar PV capacity in Canada, and the province successfully eliminated coal-fired electricity generation in 2014.
“Over the course of the last decade, Ontario has rebuilt our electricity system and secured a strong supply of clean power,” said Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault. “Our decision to suspend these procurements is not one we take lightly. As we prepare for a renewed LTEP, we will continue to plan for our future and ensure Ontario benefits from clean, reliable and affordable power for decades to come.”
Nonetheless, the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) says it is disappointed and believes the decision will have significant ramifications for Ontario. In a statement, John Gorman, president and CEO of CanSIA, said the decision “represents a significant back-step from previously committed renewables procurement in the province that we believe will be required to deal with supply and GHG emission risks, such as delayed nuclear refurbishment schedules, unmet conservation targets, or increased demand as a result of electrification to meet the province’s climate change targets. Canceling or delaying the procurement of renewable electricity could leave Ontario unprepared to effectively deal with these risks cost-effectively and without increasing electricity sector GHG emissions.”
Gorman added, “CanSIA remains hopeful that the upcoming LTEP process will provide further opportunities for the industry.”
City Of Albuquerque Sets 25% By 2025 Solar Target
The Albuquerque, N.M., City Council has unanimously passed a resolution to create a new solar energy standard for city facilities.
The resolution says, “The City of Albuquerque recognizes the benefits provided through solar energy for improving environmental health, public health and growing the economy and desires to renew its commitment to this important clean energy solution by establishing the goal of generating 25 percent of energy for city facilities from solar power by 2025.”
In a local KOB4 report, Pat Davis, a city councilor and sponsor of the resolution, pointed out that although a few city buildings currently have solar, much more could be done to increase Albuquerque’s clean energy efforts.
“We have 300 days of sunshine,” Davis said. “Why haven’t we done this before?”
According to the resolution, the measure orders the Energy Conservation Council to submit an implementation plan for the new solar standard by the end of second-quarter 2017.
Meanwhile, nonprofit group Environment America, which says its New Mexico chapter helped advocate for Albuquerque’s new target, has launched a nationwide campaign to convince other cities and local governments to generate much more of their power from the sun. According to the group, the “Shining Cities” campaign will engage and mobilize thousands of Environment America members, volunteers and supporters to convince local governments to expand the use of solar power.
The Shining Cities campaign aims to get at least 20 localities to go big on solar by the end of 2017. This fall, Environment America and its state affiliates have set their sights on half a dozen cities and counties in Georgia, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington state.