SACE Staffer Makes Powerful Statement on Energy Justice at NAACP’s 17th Annual Legislative Day on the Hill

Tennessee State Conference NAACP's Save the Date for the 17th Annual Legislative Day on the Hill

Jason Carney, SACE’s Clean Energy Program Manager, presented a statement on February 13, 2018 at the Tennessee State Conference NAACP’s 17th Annual Legislative Day on the Hill. This event provided an opportunity to meet with legislators regarding issues of concern and open discussion of NAACP’s policy and priorities.

This is Jason’s statement:

“Good Morning Board Members,

My name is Jason Carney.

I am the Clean Energy Program Manager for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, but, more importantly, I am a Christian, a husband, a father, a community advocate, an energy enthusiast and obviously a person of color. My faith is the reason I stand before you right now. I have read many books on the factors that contributed and continue to contribute to the plight of my community. In my attempt to live by faith, I am currently building a program in my community that introduces high school students to the green economy through solar energy. I believe that it is ridiculous to be enslaved by incessant energy bills when God provides this energy so freely every second of the day. Did you know that the energy we receive from the Sun in one hour is enough to power the entire planet for one year? So, the obvious question is, why are we struggling every day to pay these extremely high electric bills? I think the answer is clear if you look at the flyer in front of you.

In 1893 Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla introduced the technology of transmitting electricity. Forty years later, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used that new technology to start the Tennessee Valley Authority as a way to preserve the environment and employ thousands of poor rural residents of the Valley. Today, TVA is serving the interests of big business on the backs of poor people. They have shifted $1.4B out of the pockets of residents into the pockets of big business. By law, TVA is required to protect its residential customers from unnecessarily high rates. The TVA was intended to help alleviate poverty; not to help maintain it. The leadership appears more concerned with the 1% than the 99%.

The current leadership is taking TVA in the wrong direction and needs to give way to someone else with better ideas for how to address energy, economics and environment in the Tennessee Valley. Moreover, we need the NAACP to help in this battle. Nancy L. Grant in her book, TVA and Black Americans, says that TVA has a long history of marginalizing and disenfranchising communities of color. She says the progress that has been made came from the pressure applied by the NAACP. The NAACP has the power to push power back into the hands of the people. Let us demand transparency in our bills. Let us demand an end to unnecessary and regressive mandatory fixed fees that disproportionately hurt our communities and let us demand better policy toward clean, renewable energy like solar power!

As the only African American in the state of Tennessee, certified to design solar systems, I need your help to open up business for solar power in the Tennessee Valley. The students I teach need your help if they are to have a career in solar in Tennessee. The community I live in needs your help with excessively, high electric bills. We can do this if we work together; demanding TVA adopt Just Energy Policy and Practices from the NAACP.

I want to thank you again for allowing me to address you on this morning, Madame President and members at large.

Thank You.”

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Florida Proposal Aims to Ban Nearshore Oil Drilling

Oil and water just don’t mix – especially in Florida.

The Sunshine State has 1,200 miles of coastline that is home to pristine beaches, world-class fishing, and coastal communities that drive the state’s economy. Yet we are constantly reminded that our shores remain under threat, such as the recently proposed federal five year program for offshore oil drilling. While the state may have limited influence over federal policy, it can control its own destiny in state waters.

It would make sense for the state to forever protect its shores from the threat of nearshore oil drilling, right? Fortunately, there’s an opportunity to do just that.

Proposal 91, being considered by the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC), would ban oil drilling in state waters – forever. The CRC meets just once every 20 years to revise Florida’s constitution. It will place measures on the November 2018 ballot that, if approved by voters, will amend the Florida constitution. As an amendment to the state constitution – Proposal 91 would prohibit offshore drilling in state waters (3 miles on the east coast, 9 miles on the west coast) – effectively forever.

The language is straight-forward:

To protect the people of Florida and their environment, drilling for exploration or extraction of oil or natural gas is prohibited on lands beneath all state waters which have not been alienated and that lie between the mean high water line and the outermost boundaries of the state’s territorial seas. This prohibition does not apply to the transportation of oil and gas products produced outside of such waters. This subsection is self-executing.

Read more…

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TVA’s Extravagant Executive Toys at Your Expense

Just when you thought the excessive executive compensation was bad, it appears that the Tennessee Valley Authority’s CEO Bill Johnson, already the highest paid federal employee in the entire country taking home over $6.5 million dollars in total compensation in 2017, spent the last few years on a spending spree buying new corporate jets, airplanes, and a luxury helicopter. Over the past two and a half years it looks like the grand total of the spending spree comes in at about $40,000,000.

TVA 2015 Cessna Citation XLS

What We Uncovered

The aircraft list can be found at the FAA registry here by typing in Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in the NAME section. The spending spree has been funded by the people of the Tennessee Valley through their hard earned dollars that we send each month to our local power companies when we pay our electric bills. These monthly payments are enabling Johnson and other executives at TVA to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous as corporate jet setters while we pick up the tab!

Expensive Toys

The four purchases that really caught our attention have been secured since 2015.  They include two Cessna Citation Excel jets with the N-Numbers (also know as tail numbers visible at the rear of the plane) N561PG and N560GJ. These are sweet rides costing about $13 million each and have operational costs of about $1,800-$2,000 an hour. Why does TVA suddenly need two new corporate jets? Maybe to ensure that TVA CEO Bill Johnson and TVA CFO John Thomas (also a millionaire with a 2017 compensation of more than $2.5 million) arrive in style to their closed door meetings with local power companies?

TVA 2017 Cessna Citation XLS

TVA has flown a Beechcraft King Air for years, but it seems that Johnson wanted to upgrade that too in 2015 with the purchase of N365PT, a King Air B300, which is an estimated $8 million dollar purchase. The two corporate jets (2015 and 2017 models) and the 2015 turbo-prop King Air are all based in hanger building 9016 at McGhee Tyson airport in Knoxville, TN.

Mercedes Benz Style Helicopter 

The TVA millionaire jet setters didn’t just stop at fancy jets, they also decided there was a need for a luxury helicopter, and boy did Johnson score a nice one.  The Mercedes Benz style EC145 helicopter N-number N482AE will get you to the office in real style. To be clear, several of TVA’s helicopters appear to be necessary for transmission work, and these can be found on this FAA list, but the approximately $7 million dollar luxury helicopter – with the $1.5 million “Mercedes Benz style” interior which includes fine hard wood paneling and floors – is not likely to be seen inspecting transmission lines any time soon. A former TVA employee was “shocked” when he learned about the hardwood floors in a TVA helicopter. Here’s a description of the luxury helicopter from the manufacturer:

The helicopter’s interior design, which was created in the new Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Studio in Como, Italy, was inspired by the automaker’s luxury-class saloons and offers top-shelf materials, wood paneling and spacious multi-function boxes with various equipment options.”

TVA's luxury helicopter with "hardwood" floors

This same helicopter (remember, each tail number is unique) was spotted shuttling billionaire owner of the Dallas Cowboys Jerry Jones around in 2014. Not to be outdone, it appears Bill Johnson snatched it up in 2015. Do TVA executives need to be riding around in a Mercedes Benz style helicopter with hardwood floors when they negotiate a sweetheart deal with big industrial customers at the expense of ratepayers? Maybe I am missing something, but my read of the TVA Act clearly states that the purpose of TVA is to protect the residential customers, not to buy flashy toys for millionaire executives and make backroom deals with private industry. This is the very definition of corruption of the TVA mission and is “tone deaf” to the needs of our region when places like Memphis have the highest energy burdens of any city in the country. The $40 million spent on jets and a luxury helicopter could have gone a long way to helping people in need. Read more…

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Counterflow: The Devil Went Down to Georgia

This blog was originally posted here by Steve Huntoon at RTO Insider on January 22, 2018. An excerpt is below, published with permission. Steve Huntoon is a former president of the Energy Bar Association, with 30 years of experience advising and representing energy companies and institutions. He received a B.A. in economics and a J.D. from the University of Virginia. He is the principal attorney in Energy Counsel, LLP. 

The Charlie Daniels Band - click image to play

Counterflow: The Devil Went Down to Georgia

“Johnny, rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard,
’Cause hell’s broke loose in Georgia and the Devil deals the cards.”

There’s a process problem with the Georgia Public Service Commission’s Vogtle decision, and there’s a substance problem.

Process Problem

Georgia commissioners publicly and vehemently stated that Vogtle should be completed. [1] And then they had a hearing on whether Vogtle should be completed. See the problem?

Regulators are supposed to make reasoned decisions based on records. It’s hard to do that before you have a record.

“Sentence first! Verdict afterwards,” as the Queen said in “Alice in Wonderland.

Substance Problem

Last September, my column showed that the original “need” for Vogtle, in the form of a projected increase in customer demand, had basically disappeared. [2] And with simplifying assumptions favorable to Vogtle, and using Lazard cost estimates, completing Vogtle would impose excess costs of $23.6 billion on Georgia consumers over the next 40 years.

Here’s a quick quiz: After eight years of construction, what percent of Vogtle is constructed? Answer in footnote below.[3]

To find out the answer to the quiz and read Mr. Huntoon’s full column, please click here. (Please note, RTO Insider allows you to view two free articles per month.)

[1] “I do want to see this project completed,” said PSC Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald. “I do not like to see failure.” “As an unabashed supporter of nuclear power,” [PSC Chairman Stan] Wise wrote, “I intend to be present for that vote and will resign shortly thereafter so that you may appoint my successor prior to the (candidate) qualifying period for the 2018 elections.”–regional-govt–politics/psc-wise-quit-after-vogtle-vote-governor-can-appoint-successor/Dv6bJbPTpNupmLUUe83f8J/. Commissioner Tim Echols said: “The last thing I want to do to my ratepayers is to say, ‘Look, I spent $4.5 billion of your money, and you have nothing to show for it.’ That’s a formula for getting unelected, as far as I’m concerned.” Echols went on to write an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal and an article for Public Utilities Fortnightly in full-throated advocacy for completing Vogtle, all before the hearing on whether to complete Vogtle.

[2] The column also showed that the fuel diversity argument for Vogtle was vacuous.

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AEP: spinning up 5 gigawatts of wind & taking a shine to 3 GW of solar

Some of the comparably-sized utilities in the Southeast could aspire to the renewable energy ambition that AEP, American Electric Power, has expressed.

The vast majority of AEP operations are outside the Southeast where SACE focuses. That said, however, the plan AEP announced this week to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 60% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 did catch my attention and I want to acknowledge their leadership.

In this plan, AEP will be adding 8 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy. This will be comprised of some 3 GW of solar and more than 5 GW of wind power, including their $4.5 billion investment in the 2 GW Wind Catcher project in Oklahoma.

AEP is investing $4.5 billion in the Wind Catcher Energy Connection Project, a 2,000-megawatt wind farm in the western panhandle of Oklahoma and a dedicated power line to deliver energy produced by the turbines.

Comments from AEP chairman, president and chief executive officer, Nicholas K. Akins, suggest that he really gets it. “Our customers want us to partner with them to provide cleaner energy and new technologies, while continuing to provide reliable, affordable energy. Our investors want us to protect their investment in our company, deliver attractive returns and manage climate-related risk. This long-term strategy allows us to do both.“ [emphasis added]

There is no inherent conflict between clean energy and affordability. As summarized by my colleague, Simon Mahan, when Lazard Associates published their annual report on the Levelized Cost of Energy in November, Wind, solar are cheapest options, NOW.

Interestingly, AEP serves a very small portion of Tennessee in the Kingsport area. The rest of Tennessee is served by TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority).  Aside from them both using a three-letter acronym, they seem to have very little in common.  While AEP sees clean energy as the way to keep rates affordable, neighboring TVA seems stuck with outdated information (and an outdated vision) that clean energy would necessarily cost more. Read more…

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Overcoming Barriers to Driving Electric

In our Electrify the South monthly newsletters (sign up here if you haven’t already!) we often pose a survey question to learn more about the questions, thoughts or ideas our followers have about driving electric.  One of our recent questions was, “What is keeping you from purchasing an electric vehicle?” Here, we share the responses, address concerns and offer our thoughts and suggestions.

Expansion of charging infrastructure and signage is critical to EV adoption growth.

Lack of Awareness

One popular response to our survey was: “not informed enough yet.” This is a very common response. In fact, according to studies, consumer awareness is the top barrier to EV adoption. Fortunately, there are a number of great resources to help! One great way to learn more is by talking with current drivers.  There are a number of EV clubs and groups that are popping up throughout the Southeast and online to answer your questions. If you want to find an EV club in your area, let us know and we will help you find one.  One of the largest forums in our area is the EV Club of the South Facebook group. Check them out here. Also, we’ve been creating a more informative website, newsletter, and Facebook feed to keep our followers abreast of the latest cars and trends in electric transportation. Plug In America and Consumers Union are other great national resources.

Read more…

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Why has TVA encouraged its local power companies to raise mandatory fees for its customers?

TVA's local power companies increased mandatory fees for residential customers by an average of 50% from 2011 to 2018. Click the map to find the mandatory fee increase for each local power company:

Over the past seven years, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has approved an average 50% increase in mandatory fees charged by its local power companies. But if you’re a residential customer on TVA’s system, this information may not appear on your bill, and you may not even be notified when your utility is considering an increase in the fee.

In 2011, as TVA began to cut electricity prices for industrial customers, TVA quietly accepted (or even endorsed) another large change in rates. One by one, about three-quarters of TVA’s local power companies have approved increases in mandatory fees of at least 20%, and in 2018 this will result in a $300 million increase in mandatory fee revenue.

Now TVA is preparing to accelerate the push for mandatory fees in a “reverse robin hood” maneuver. TVA wants to reduce energy charges (rewarding the largest users of electricity) by adding a new “grid service charge” (see slide 67 of this TVA presentation). TVA CEO Bill Johnson is reported to have said that the grid service charge would be 12% of TVA revenue, so it could result in doubling mandatory fees paid by TVA’s residential customers.

While TVA has begun to publicly acknowledge that it has been working on the “grid service charge” concept, TVA has not yet acknowledged that it has already been facilitating a 50% increase in mandatory fees charged by local power companies. As the NAACP has stated, increasing mandatory fees has a disproportionate impact on “low-income, elderly and minority ratepayers.”

TVA Policy Drove KUB to Triple its Fees

While KUB initially cut its rates to make up for the hike in the mandatory fee, this Knoxville News Sentinel graphic shows how revenue increases since 2011 have been driven by fee increases controlled by the utility.

Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) is one of at least 16 local power companies that doubled, or even tripled, mandatory fees over the past 7 or 8 years. In 2010, KUB charged a “Basic Service” fee of  just $6.09 per month. Today, that fee is $17.50. KUB has scheduled additional increases so that it will reach $20.50 by the beginning of 2020, which means that over a single decade, the amount customers pay before flipping the switch will have tripled.

KUB initiated this trend in 2011 in response to TVA’s new rate structures. As described in the Synapse Report we released in January, in 2011 TVA began changing the prices it charged its industrial customers, cutting electricity prices paid by industry by 20% while increasing electricity prices for residential customers by 5%. KUB’s manager of rates, Sherri Johnson, explained the new policy (as reported in the Knoxville News Sentinel):

TVA’s new rate structure will include seasonal rates that will change to reflect higher costs of power generation during the summer. KUB is revising its retail rate structure to accommodate these changes, Johnson said. This includes a proposed increase in basic service charges for residential and small commercial customers to be offset by reductions to these customers’ energy rates.

TVA did not disclose that the 2011 rate structure changes would encourage its local power companies to increase mandatory fees for residential customers. Using its arcane regulatory process and lack of transparency, TVA published an Environmental Assessment on its rate structure reform. TVA stated that the purpose of its changes was to “improve opportunities for customers to save money by shifting their power usage from on-peak to off-peak periods (i.e., load shifting).” TVA also claimed that “there likely would be no substantive, disproportionate negative impacts to minority or low-income populations.”

TVA’s rate changes did pretty much the opposite. Instead of improving opportunities for customers to save money, KUB and many of TVA’s other local power companies reacted by raising mandatory fees, which are paid by the customer regardless of how much power they use, or when they are used. Read more…

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Is the Florida Public Service Commission reconsidering energy efficiency?

Yesterday, Tampa Electric received a well-deserved vote of approval for its program to convert 100% of its street and outdoor lighting to efficient LED fixtures. We give credit to the Florida Public Service Commission: By approving the new program, the commission took its first positive step forward on energy efficiency since 2009.

Yet a closer review of the written record shows a pattern of skeptical questioning from Florida Public Service Commission staff. We certainly appreciate diligent staff review.

The staff probably did not anticipate that the exchange would expose some less-than-diligent review of Florida Power & Light’s voluntary LED conversion pilot program. (FPL’s program was approved in March 2017.) In the staff recommendation to approve FPL’s pilot program, the staff endorsed what appears to be an “evergreen” (never-ending) charge for old light fixtures, and failed to discuss whether the FPL program would be cost-effective for participating customers.

These issues weren’t even noticed until Tampa Electric responded to the commission staff’s questions. Essentially, the commission staff asked, “Why don’t you just do what we let FPL do?”

When Tampa Electric didn’t follow the more politically powerful utility’s lead, staff’s interest in diligent review was aroused. While the commission’s staff agreed that the proposal met the criteria of an appropriate energy efficiency program, the staff repeatedly commented that the program is not “typical.”

Staff didn’t think the program was “typical” because it wasn’t voluntary, some customers may not see bill reductions or receive monetary incentives, and lighting fixtures are usually recovered in base rates. The staff’s concerns are misplaced due to its narrow definition of savings, and a narrow definition of customer.

Read more…

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Tampa Electric lights the way to energy efficiency

Today, Tampa Electric took the spotlight – an efficient, LED spotlight. Over the next five years, Tampa Electric will covert all 209,821 of its inefficient street lights to efficient LED fixtures.

Tampa Electric’s LED conversion program will reduce peak demand by about 30 megawatts, annual energy use by about 128 gigawatt-hours, and reduce CO2 emissions by about 63,000 tons per year. Nearly every street lighting customer will see lower rates with the new fixtures, and Tampa Electric also projects that all of its customers will benefit from long-term rate reductions. Take a bow, Tampa Electric!

Tampa Electric appears to be the second investor-owned utility in the country to proceed with a plan to convert 100% of its street lights to efficient LED fixtures. In April 2016, Xcel Energy’s operating company in Minnesota broke new ground when it received approval for a 5-year, 100% LED street lighting conversion program. And, of course, many municipal governments and utilities have also moved forward with their own programs. SACE is encouraging utilities across the Southeast to review these two programs and adopt 100% LED street light programs of their own.

This before and after comparison from Los Angeles shows how LED street lighting can improve lighting while reducing "sky glow." Many street lighting customers are eager to adopt LED technology because it uses 60% less electricity and lasts five times longer than current non-LED street lighting technologies. Increased manufacturing scale has provided manufacturers the ability to achieve competitive pricing for LED lighting by reducing their costs and coupled with the energy efficiency gains, has fueled a rapid adoption of this technology by the commercial and industrial sectors due to its overall competitive cost of ownership. LEDs also utilize fewer operational parts and therefore have fewer components that can fail and cause an outage which makes the technology more reliable than non-LED technologies.

We also want to recognize the Florida Public Service Commission for its support. This is also the first time in well over a decade that one of Florida’s electric utilities has voluntarily proposed a new energy efficiency program outside of the state-mandated proceeding that occurs every five years. By approving this new program, the Florida Public Service Commission has taken its first step forward on energy efficiency since 2009.

If LED street lights are cheaper to buy, install and maintain than older technology lights – and use less electricity – Why are Tampa Electric and Xcel Energy are likely the only two investor-owned utilities with 100% LED conversion programs?

Read more…

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A First for Georgia: Electric Vehicle Day

Last week, we celebrated the first-ever Capitol Electric Vehicle Day at the Georgia Legislature.  

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers, including Representatives Allen Peake, Don Parsons, Scott Holcomb, Ron Stephens, and Todd Jones, introduced the resolution during morning orders citing the benefits of electric vehicles (EV) to Georgia’s economy and environment.

Excited EV drivers and supporters spent the day meeting with their state legislators, sharing their experiences with EVs, and expressing their support for electric vehicle incentives and a reduction of the punitive EV user fee that all EV drivers are required to pay. EV Day culminated with a press conference on the many benefits of EVs and  highlighted HB 98, the proposed new “EV Tax Credit” bill. Speakers at the event included Representative Allen Peake, Green4U Technologies CEO and co-founder Don Panoz, Director of Energy Programs, Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, Alan Shedd and the City of Atlanta’s Office of Resilience Director and Co-Director, Stephanie Stuckey and Ruthie Norton.

So, what’s in the new EV tax credit bill? Read more…

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