Statement to KUB: We Deserve a Clean Bill, Reduce These Fixed Fees

Today, I had the opportunity to speak before the KUB Commission (link to Facebook Live at KUB headquarters), sharing my thoughts on a very important issue we are facing – fixed, mandatory charges on our monthly residential electricity bills. I made my statement and received zero feedback from the commission. This lack of commitment so far means that we will be continuing to spread awareness about this crucial energy issue.

Mandatory fees are dis-incentives for energy efficiency measures and solar energy, in addition to creating negative financial consequences for low and fixed income customers. SACE is actively fighting these unfair fees and demanding clean bills, clear of unnecessary charges. It is critical that we fight back against this unfair billing practice - Join the fight HERE. You can read more about why mandatory fees are such a big problem in this extensive report by Synapse Energy Economics Inc.

Below is the full text of my comments before the KUB Commission: 

Dear KUB Commissioners,

I’m writing today to express my concern over the dramatic increase in KUB’s Basic Service fee on your customers’ residential electric bill. Since 2010, this fee has increased nearly 300% from $6.09 to $17.50 at present. It is my understanding that this fee is scheduled to increase even more with an additional $3.00 over the next 24 months, meaning families like mine will pay over $20 a month before we even flip on the first switch. This will be an increase of over 335% in ten years.

I’m unaware of reasons that would necessitate such a dramatic increase in these charges. Increasing the “fixed” fee has a number of very important negative financial consequences for customers, particularly low income and lower electricity users like senior citizens. Increasing the fixed fee also negatively impacts the economics for energy efficiency investments and financially hurts those who invest in customer owned solar power systems and other forms of distributed generation. KUB has been a leader in promoting Green Energy and Energy Efficiency over the years, and it is unfortunate that there has not been more public discussion on negative impacts of these fees.

It is timely to have this discussion now because these rate design issues can be changed. Additionally, TVA is currently moving to add “fixed” charges to the wholesale rate it charges KUB with what they are calling a “grid access fee”. These changes by TVA may compel KUB to increase their charges even further, perpetuating these problematic fixed fees every month. While the details of the new, additional fees are not yet public, I fear they will likely accelerate this negative trend for customers. TVA’s plan to continue its annual increase to the customers’ base electric rate coupled with increasing mandatory fixed fees, will result in KUB passing the burden through to its electric customers.

I’m requesting that this Board take the following actions:

1. Freeze the current plan to further increase Basic Service charge for KUB’s electric customers.

2. Ask staff to engage with KUB stakeholders and other interested parties to more fully understand and balance the financial needs of KUB and the unintended consequences of excessive mandatory fixed fees.

3. Consider reducing current electric Basic Service fee after completing a Cost of Service Study that properly allocates cost to customer class and sends the proper economic signals to customers.

4. Request KUB staff oppose TVA’s efforts to use wholesale fixed charges, or “grid access fees” to undermine customer efforts save money with energy efficiency and customer owned generation.

It is my hope and understanding that the negative impacts of the excessive fixed fees were an unintended consequence, not an intentional policy move by KUB’s leadership to discourage your customer’s ability to manage their bills through energy efficiency, lower energy use and self-generation. I have included a hard copy of the Executive Summary and a link to a report “Caught in a Fix” that discusses the negative impacts to your customers: Report – Caught in a Fix.

In closing, I want share a comment from another electric customer who has spoken out against excessive fixed cost, “When has it ever been the right of a company under any ethical business practices to penalize their customers for being efficient, conservative and environmentally responsible? Where is the incentive to spend hard‐earned money to improve your appliances, or better insulate your home or more efficiently set your thermostats or air conditioning not to be wasteful, trying to conserve energy for the next generation ‐ when you will allow the utility company to just turn around and now charge an additional fee to offset your savings?”

I believe that most Tennesseans, and I know my membership wants a “clean bill”, free of mandatory fixed fees. Our polling shows over 80% of Tennesseans want a clean bill free of excessive mandatory fixed fees. I know for a fact that my membership is strongly opposed to these fees.

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

Dr. Stephen A. Smith
Executive Director
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

 

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Solar Course Correction from Central Georgia EMC

Some good news to share! Last year we sounded the alarm on Central Georgia Electric Membership Cooperative’s (EMC) new mandatory monthly fee  suddenly being charged to solar customers. We connected with Robert Fowler of Locust Grove, Georgia, a solar owner who was dismayed over the punitive charge and motivated to do something about it. After extensive conversation with Central Georgia EMC, Fowler wrote a letter to his Georgia legislators, which we posted on our blog and shared with local media.

Robert Fowler's Solar Panel System

In his outreach to Central Georgia EMC and elected officials, Fowler explained that not only was this charge unexpected, it was expensive and ate up the majority of his power bills savings that he had previously been enjoying thanks to his investment in solar. The charge was structured as an additional $7  fee per installed kilowatt to each solar customer’s bill ($57.33 for Fowler). To make matters worse, the fee was coupled with a reduction in the credit Central Georgia EMC gave customers for the kilowatt-hours their solar panels send back to the grid down to what is called “avoided cost.” In short, it was a heavy-handed billing tactic that effectively removed any financial benefit for residents who wanted to control their own power bills by using solar energy.

Thankfully, however, that was not the end of the story. After listening to feedback explaining why this bill structure is bad rate design and discriminatory towards solar customers, Central Georgia EMC revisited the decision and ultimately voted to remove the additional charges completely. They outline this decision in a new, updated solar policy for their customers, which went into effect on November 1, 2017.

It is encouraging to see this course correction by the co-op! By removing these additional charges, Central Georgia EMC has made the right decision. The current policy will allow customers to invest in their own energy generation without having to worry about unfair fees.

That said, the new policy is not perfect. While customer who were hit with the $7/installed kilowatt fee were reimbursed for 80 percent of those fees, they did not receive 100 percent, and it would have made sense to “grandfather” the handful of current solar customers into the original net metering agreements rather than dropping everyone down to the avoided cost rate. Even so, removing the exorbitant fee was absolutely the right thing to do and we are very happy that Central Georgia EMC made this decision. Additionally, a Time Of Use rate option was introduced, which is another good step by Central Georgia EMC towards giving their customers more options.

We are encourage to see this positive move and will continue to advocate for fair solar policies and hold utilities accountable throughout the Southeast.

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How I Went Solar In South Carolina

My wife and I just got solar installed on our home’s roof a couple months ago and here is our story of how we went solar. Hopefully it helps you go solar too.

Before adding solar to our roof, we did a couple important things: 1) waited to install solar until after we’d replaced our roof (make sure you have a long life left on your roof before installing solar); and 2) made modest energy efficiency upgrades to cut our electrical use so we didn’t need a huge solar system.

Step 1. Identified solar companies

EnergySage lets you get instant ballpark solar quotes.

There are a lot of companies out there who will install solar for you, but it was nonnegotiable for me in choosing a solar installer that they had to have good professional qualifications. The NABCEP certification has long been considered the gold standard of solar installer qualifications, with each NABCEP certified professional having passed an examination and doing continuing education credits to upkeep their certification. So I sought out only NABCEP certified installers, who can be found in South Carolina here. Secondly, I wanted to make sure that whichever solar company I contracted with was an active participant in the solar business community, so I checked out which installers were members of the SC solar business groups SC Solar Business Alliance and SC Solar Council. I ended up calling several companies to ask for quotes.

For those of you interested in going solar, you can also check out nice online resources to help identify solar companies like EnergySage.com, which gives lots of helpful information to potential solar buyers and gets instant ballpark bids from participating local solar installers, and review sites like SolarReviews.com. SolarizeSC is another good starting place. Check out their program to see if you have an active Solarize program in your area. If you get your installation through their program–and enough of your neighbors do as well–they will donate a solar system to a community location like a school, library, etc.

Step 2. Received multiple competitive proposals

I got quotes from multiple local companies and then compared the proposals side by side. My proposals were very similar, so I couldn’t have gone wrong one way or another, but some very important elements that a potential solar customer needs to weigh are:

Make sure your solar proposals model shade from trees near your house.

  • overall cost
  • proposed system size
  • cost per watt
  • estimated electrical production, incorporating your roof orientation and any shading present
  • warranties of the panels and inverters
  • labor warranties
  • equipment preferences
  • financing options
  • aesthetic considerations

The South Carolina Energy Office has a very handy checklist of considerations and questions to ask any potential solar installers at the end of their Consumer Guide to Solar for the South Carolina Homeowner, which I recommend checking out.

Step 3. Examined costs and benefits

One of the most important cost considerations for rooftop solar is the tax credits. There is a 30 percent federal tax credit and a 25 percent South Carolina state tax credit, but individual families’ circumstances may not allow the use of the full tax credits. For example if the family’s tax liability is too low or too high, they may not qualify for the full credit amount. Read more…

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Florida: Energy Winners and Losers in 2017

Happy 2018! As we would look forward to taking positive steps  towards a cleaner, smarter energy future in the Sunshine State this year, it’s instructive to look at the state energy trends from last year. Clean energy policies and projects advanced in 2017. Here’s a look at some of the energy “winners” and “losers” from 2017 in Florida.

Winners

Utility scale solar                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

No doubt that solar power was the big winner in Florida in 2017. As solar costs continue to plummet, a number of utility scale additions came into service and there were multiple announcements of planned construction of significant new utility-scale solar in the next several years. The solar installations that served Florida in 2017 ranged in size from small systems, such as the Tampa Electric 1.8 MW solar canopy at Legoland Florida, to a number of  larger utility-owned solar systems of about 74.5 MW in size.

Gulf Power, for instance, brought 120 MW of solar power online in 2017 through a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Coronal, which constructed solar installations on three military bases in Gulf’s service territory. Duke Energy Florida announced plans, as part of its 2017 rate settlement agreement,  to build up to 700 MW of solar over the next 4 years – its first 74.9 MW project will be located in Hamilton County. SACE was a party to the agreement as it advanced solar development, closed the chapter on an abandoned nuclear project, and introduced a program to expand the use of electric vehicles.

Similarly, pursuant to a rate settlement agreement, Tampa Electric announced plans to build up to 600 MW of solar in the same time frame – and is pushing for regulatory approval from the Public Service Commission  (PSC) for the first tranche of 145 MW of solar projects. Florida Power and Light (FPL), the largest power company in the state, continued its solar expansion of by brining online another 225 MW in late December of 2016 and will complete another 596 MW (eight 74.5 MW systems) by the end of this year, or early next year.

Municipal utilities aren’t far behind, in fact many are leading their investor-owned utility brethren on solar development relative to the number of customers in their service territory (solar watts per customer). JEA, the state’s largest municipal utility, announced the addition of 250 MW of solar PPAs by 2020 as part of its revised solar policy – bringing it to about 300 MW by 2021. The City of Tallahassee is adding another 40 MW by 2020 to its already existing 20 MW for a total of 60 MW. Look for the announcement of significant solar additions by municipal utilities this year. Read more…

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Clean Line: A TVA Failure of Clean Energy and Environmental Leadership

It has become increasingly clear that the Tennessee Valley Authority is taking a hostile position towards renewable energy. TVA’s recent decision to ignore, or flat out reject, renewable energy from the Plains and Eastern Clean Line project is the latest in a string of anti-renewable energy positions taken by the nation’s largest public utility. TVA is woefully behind peer utilities in procuring significant solar energy resources (Duke Energy North Carolina, Georgia Power, FPL in Florida to name just a few). Newly proposed 2018 solar rate structures would undermine distributed energy resources by taking the buy back rate below retail for TVA’s customer owned solar systems, effectively making TVA an “anti net-metering utility.” In 2016, TVA quietly let a 300 megawatt wind farm power purchase agreement lapse – a nearly 20% drop in renewable energy purchases. These are all examples of TVA’s movement away from clean, renewable energy.

The Plains and Eastern Clean Line project was the largest renewable energy project proposed for the Southeast. The project would have delivered 3,500 megawatts of exceptionally low-cost, high capacity factor wind energy from the Oklahoma panhandle to a converter station in TVA territory.

Naysayers will claim the Plains and Eastern Clean Line just wasn’t cheap enough. TVA could have netted carbon-free energy for about two cents per kilowatt hour ($0.02/kWh) -  a locked-in price, lower than the fuel prices of natural gas.

If TVA had participated, the project could have sent low cost wind power to other utilities in the region, including the Carolinas, Georgia and even Florida. The Plains and Eastern Clean Line would have been the crown jewel for renewable energy projects in the Southeast, this can not be overstated. It would have also been a major United States infrastructure project using High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines to move wind from the Plains to Eastern load centers, demonstrating the value of HVDC technology and diversifying the Southeast’s grid (both resources and connectivity) with systems further to the West. Read more…

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4 Ways You Can Help Defeat Trump’s Disastrous New Drilling Plan

This map shows the areas proposed for offshore oil and gas development by President Trump. The dates indicate the years in which lease sales will be held for those areas.

You may have heard the news that last week President Trump unveiled an utterly insane national plan for offshore drilling that seeks to auction off 90% of our country’s offshore waters to oil companies. In the plan, the coastlines of every single coastal state except Hawaii would be jeopardized by offshore drilling, with potential drilling as close as 3 miles to shore in almost all states. Check out the map on the right to see where exactly the Trump Administration has proposed we drill for oil and gas. Many of these places have never hosted offshore drilling activities, have no desire to host such activities, and do not even have adequate oil or gas resources to possibly justify it. To learn more about this foolish drilling plan, and why it’s such a bad deal for the American people, check out our previous blog post here.

Now it’s time to get mad and do something about it. Here are 4 ways you can help defeat Trump’s disastrous new drilling plan: Read more…

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Trump Administration pushes offshore drilling EVERYWHERE

This map shows the areas proposed for offshore oil and gas development by President Trump. The dates indicate the years in which lease sales will be held for those areas.

Today, the Trump Administration took a huge step toward disaster with the announcement of their draft proposed five year program for offshore drilling. The proposed plan will foist oil and gas drilling as close as 3 miles to shore along the entirety of the coasts of the lower 48 states, including the Atlantic, Straits of Florida, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific. Drilling privileges for Atlantic coast areas from Central Florida to Delaware would be auctioned to oil companies beginning in 2020 and for the Eastern Gulf of Mexico area currently under moratorium and Straits of Florida (off of South Florida and the Keys) in 2023. Altogether, the new drilling plan makes 90% of the nation’s waters available for oil companies to drill.

The announcement came in the form of a “Draft Proposed Program”, which lays out a proposed schedule for lease sales of offshore areas to oil and gas companies over a five year span from 2019 to 2024, including 47 total lease sales, including 12 for the Gulf of Mexico, 8 for the Atlantic, and 1 for the Straits of Florida. The proposed program also tentatively rejects any buffer zone around the shore and skips any exclusion of areas due to military, economic, or biological concern, although these could end up being adopted as alternative proposals.

Read more…

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What do “The Last Jedi” and Georgia actually have in common?

At the end of December, just when everyone was focused on the premier of the new Star Wars movie “The Last Jedi” (and the holiday season), the Georgia Public Service Commission ignored their own Staff’s recommendations – and that of intervenors including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy – and unanimously voted to allow the Plant Vogtle nuclear project to proceed. In short: the Commission voted to let Georgia Power continue to build the wildly over-budget and mismanaged plant and to continue recovering costs from customers and earning profits despite management mistakes, with only a slight reduction in the allowed profit that Georgia Power can earn.

The very next day, Vice Chair and Commissioner Tim Echols had an opinion editorial piece published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (which also ran in numerous papers around the region) explaining his support for the beleaguered project and proposing that ‘The Last Jedi” and Georgia actually had much in common. (In fact, it was published the next week in the Washington Times with the headline “What ‘The Last Jedi’ and Georgia have in common”.)

While I give Commissioner Echols props for trying to headline hijack a very popular new film and a piece of the most successful movie franchise of all time (check out how many tags I included in this blog in an attempt to do the same!), he’s aiming more like a storm trooper than a Jedi Knight with those analogies. Commissioner Echols was actually – with a straight face – trying to equate the Last Jedi of the Old Order (our battle worn hero, Luke Skywalker) with the Last Nuclear Plant of the so-called Nuclear Renaissance. Read more…

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These 51 Southeast Mayors and Communities Are Going for 100% Renewable Energy

These mayors have pledged to support 100% renewable energy in their community.

Mayors and cities around the Southeast are going all in on renewable energy, which can help lower electricity costs, reduce pollution, and create jobs. The Sierra Club is compiling a list of all the municipalities, counties and mayors who have proclaimed support for a 100% renewable energy future, listing 186 mayors nationally, and more than a quarter of them are in the Southeast region!

Some mayors and local governments have taken their commitment to the next level and adopted formal goals through their entire city or county commission. Solar and wind power are now the cheapest forms of new electricity since costs have declined so steeply in recent years, so these local leaders are positioned to potentially save their communities lots of money. Meanwhile, scientific confidence is extremely high that we must transition to a clean energy economy to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. The fact of the matter is there’s a lot that cities can do on their own to promote renewable energy, reduce energy needs, cut pollution, and boost quality of life, and the mayors and communities listed below are taking important steps to realize that potential.

Check out the list below (bolded communities have adopted formal goals) and if your mayor has already stepped up, please thank them. If your mayor hasn’t joined yet, please ask them to join! Keep reading below for measures your city or county can take to help transition to the clean energy economy.

North Carolina Read more…

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Energy Storage: Charging Ahead in 2018

US Annual Energy Storage Deployment Forecast, 2012-2022E (MW), GTM Research and Energy Storage Association, 2017

US Annual Energy Storage Deployment Forecast, 2012-2022E (MW), GTM Research and Energy Storage Association, 2017

GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association recently released a new report on the energy storage market. Due to the rapidly declining price of energy storage (predominately batteries), the report states that nearly 300 megawatts of energy storage is expected to be deployed in 2017 – a 28% increase over 2016. Large, utility-scale battery deployments are leading market deployments. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, lithium-ion battery prices have declined over 70% since 2010.

While the industry growth rate is shockingly good news, the real story is where energy storage is beginning to take hold. States like Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana and Florida are evaluating storage options in integrated resource plans, pilot programs, and through energy storage procurement. Some examples are listed below.

  • Duke Florida plans to add 50 MW of battery storage.
  • Kentucky Power’s IRP has plans for adding 10 MW of battery storage by 2025.
  • Duke Energy in North Carolina will install a 9 MW battery system in transmission-constrained Asheville.
  • West Virginia’s Laurel Mountain wind farm has a co-located 32 MW / 8 MWh lithium-ion battery system.
  • Duke Energy’s Notrees Windpower Project in western Texas is upgrading from lead-acid batteries to a 36 MW lithium-ion system.
  • Southern Company is testing a 1 MW / 2 MWh lithium-ion battery system in Cedartown, Georgia.
  • Southern Company and Gulf Power are testing a 250 kW / 1 MWh Tesla Powerpack in Pensacola, Florida.
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Electric Power Board (EPB) has energized a 100kW/400kWh Vanadium flow battery.
  • Entergy New Orleans paired its new 1 MW solar PV facility with a 500 kWh lithium-ion battery system.
  • Arkansas Electric Cooperative Company began evaluating battery storage in 2015 for its IRP.
  • Dominion Energy (Virginia) has an IRP that evaluates battery storage, and even pumped-hydro storage.

Granted, we are accustomed to the storage discussion being acceptable in the expected places – high cost regions with goals or mandates; however, the South, a historically low-cost region, has a fairly long history of energy storage projects. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Raccoon Mountain pumped hydro station is one of the largest in the country. The project has been operational for nearly 40 years, with a net capacity of 1,652 MW. Power South, a cooperative utility in Alabama, operates the nation’s only compressed-air energy storage system. The 110 MW CAES system was installed in McIntosh, Alabama, in 1991.

We’ve seen this before: an emerging technology becomes cost competitive, and then adoption occurs rather rapidly. It happened with wind, and then with solar, and now energy storage is following a similar trajectory.

Energy storage has a number of unique attributes that are creating significant interest. For example, battery storage and other energy storage devices have a fast ramp rate, and in both directions – meaning energy storage devices can quickly absorb excess renewable energy, and then discharge that same energy when renewable resources are less available. Also, energy storage can provide frequency and voltage support almost instantaneously, which is very difficult (and costly) for virtually all power plants. Storage can provide peaking power, an exceptionally valuable energy resource. As costs decline, energy storage could also provide large scale diurnal or seasonal load shifting capabilities.

Never-the-less,  the energy storage industry is still quite young. Much of the industry is diligently trying to tease out all the possible value streams and propositions provided by quick-acting, low-cost storage options. The Rocky Mountain Institute has evaluated at least thirteen distinct values that battery storage can provide, to a variety of energy users. Some electric utility market structures were conceived well before large-scale energy storage options were foreseen, so some market reforms may be necessary. Also, basic industrial jargon will need to be ironed out and explained to potential utility customers, and their regulators.

But 2018 is already shaping up to be a very interesting year for energy storage. Stay plugged in.

Economics of Battery Energy Storage, Rocky Mountain Institute, 2017

Economics of Battery Energy Storage, Rocky Mountain Institute, 2017

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