Electricity ratepayers in states with renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) have seen their power bills increase slightly as utilities and other power providers work to incorporate more wind, solar and biomass energy into their fuel mixes. But the overall incremental increase in rates has been modest, averaging roughly 1 percent of what would have occurred had the RPS programs not existed, according to new findings from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
But as the sound bites flew all around them, state regulators who are tasked with implementing the EPA rule kept their heads down and crunched numbers, trying to comprehend what proposed near- and long-term emission targets meant to their states. Theirs was not an easy lift. EPA’s formula at the heart of the proposal is complicated.
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. plans to merge $26 billion in Western power plants, transmission lines and wind farms into a single market that would better manage supply and demand fluctuations and save utilities millions. With California’s grid monitor, the new, united system could transmit electricity across seven states. Pending approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, beginning Oct. 1, the market would match hourly generator bids to supply, demand and transmission changes every five minutes.
The move would be a game-changer for the renewables that Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co. has accumulated over the past decade, including two of the world’s largest solar farms, and for other clean-power producers, according to those who trade in the region’s markets. Berkshire’s plants stand to run for longer periods of time, and its NV Energy Inc. and PacifiCorp utilities will save as much as $63.9 million annually by 2017, Energy and Environmental Economics Inc. reports show. “It would be huge if all 38 balancing authorities joined,” Sean Breiner, a market design analyst for San Ramon, California-based energy trader Viasyn, said by telephone June 2. “Instead of having these balkanized regions, you’d have resources from Idaho to Wyoming all flowing into one kind of large spot market.”
President Obama’s pick to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission shot back at critics — and tried to soothe Republican skeptics — in documents submitted this week to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee defending his handling of mergers and enforcement cases. But while Norman Bay appears to have found allies on the panel of 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans, at least one top GOP member said his answers raise more questions.
France has started a six-month experiment with paying people to cycle to work, joining other European governments in trying to boost bicycle use to boost people’s health, reduce air pollution and cut fossil fuel consumption. Several countries including the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and Britain have bike-to-work schemes, with different kinds of incentives such as tax breaks, payments per kilometer and financial support for buying bicycles.
Western utility commissioners pressed a top U.S. EPA official today for more detailed information about a proposed rule for curbing carbon emissions from existing power plants, but they got little for their efforts. At the Western Conference of Public Service Commissioners here, Idaho and Montana regulators asked Joe Goffman, EPA’s senior counsel for the Office of Air and Radiation, how the rule would address interstate coal contracts and reliability issues involved in switching to gas-fired power. EPA’s proposal envisions reducing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. Idaho regulators expressed concern about how the rule would address a shutdown of a coal-fired power plant in a neighboring state that supplies an in-state utility.
“Is there some kind of offset?” Idaho Public Utilities Commissioner Marsha Smith asked. “I’m just a state regulator trying to see that my customers don’t get the shaft.”
The new carbon pollution rules the Obama administration announced on Monday will help spur the natural gas industry and renewable energy like wind and solar power, but executives and analysts said they did not see the nation’s reliance on coal disappearing anytime soon. The intent of the Environmental Protection Agency proposal — to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 — is to reduce the dependence on coal, which generates roughly 40 percent of the country’s electricity.
For new wind farms installed last year in the Plains, prices reached $21 per megawatt hour (MWh). That’s effectively two cents per kilowatt hour ($0.021/kWh). Furthermore, the price for wind energy is stable and predictable for 20 years, unlike some electricity sources which require continual fuel inputs and are subject to price fluctuations.
“The politics and the energy economics will move in somewhat different directions,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “And I think the smartest thing to do is to keep an eye on the energy economics rather than on the political histrionics.” Texas is the nation’s largest carbon emitter from sources covered by the EPA proposal, according to federal data. But it’s also the nation’s top wind power producer, and solar power in the state is on an upswing. Last month, a report showed renewable energy production in Texas that is tracked through a credit program climbed about 12 percent in 2013 from a year earlier.