How are TVA’s customers reacting to TVA’s new electric bills?

Over 1,500 people have joined Facebook Group "Glasgow Citizens Against the New EPB Rate Structure." Glasgow EPB reported 5,456 residential customers in 2016.

Two days ago, SACE released a report by Synapse Energy Economics detailing evidence that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) changed its electricity prices to favor industrial customers to the tune of $1.4 billion over the past several years. TVA made one public disclosure in 2015 that prices were being cut for industry and raised for residential customers – and privately boasted about the industrial rate cut to its “direct serve” customers.

One reason few customers noticed is that TVA’s overall rates were not rising very fast. Considering all customers of TVA and its local power companies, TVA’s rates increased only 2% from 2011 to 2016. The 5% average rate hike for residential customers, or about 1% per year, may have seemed like normal inflation to most customers.

TVA Challenged by Local Power Companies

TVA has an exclusive agreement to provide electricity to over 150 local power companies in the Valley – most people will pay a bill to local companies like Memphis Light, Gas and Water, Nashville Electric Service, Knoxville Utility Board, Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, or some other entity. But those companies are required to purchase power from TVA, at rates set by TVA.

Yet a few local power companies were already sounding the  alarm and expressing their discontent publicly. In a press release regarding routine rate adjustments, Athens Utility Board’s Assistant General Manager Wayne Scarbrough publicly scolded TVA, writing:

“TVA announces record revenues, insists on handing out $100 million in year-end bonuses every November as if it were an investor owned utility, and yet continues to squeeze our customers with another rate increase?  We consider that unacceptable on behalf of our customers.”

Athens Utility Board General Manager Eric Newberry wrote a passionate complaint to TVA Board President Richard Howorth. So far, TVA has not changed course. Click the image to read the entire letter.

By October, Athens Utility Board staff frustration had reached a new level. Its General Manager, Eric Newberry, wrote to the TVA Board President to, “stop this madness of continual annual rate increases and rate change proposals … These actions put an undue financial burden on the citizens of the Valley … throttle economic growth, and are unjustified …” The letter is well worth reading in its entirety.

Elsewhere, Volunteer Energy Cooperative President Rody Blevins wrote, “… the leadership of VEC has debated TVA at every turn concerning their plans to increase the rate. … I pledge to you that VEC will continue challenging TVA on their plan to increase and alter the residential rate.”

Similarly, a public exchange at an Etowah Utilities Board meeting was reported as follows:

“Those, typically, we pass through (to the ratepayers),” EUB General Manager John Goins said. “We’re not certain what effect it’ll have on our customers.”

Those rate hikes occur routinely, and Board member Gene Keller asked if that has been questioned by Goins.

“We as the Southeast District Power Distributors Association have attended several meetings and expressed our feelings about the rate increases,” Goins said. “About the way it’s structured and that we aren’t happy with TVA and what they’re trying to do.”

Board member David James said it’s led him to question the benefit of the presence of TVA.

“I used to like the fact that we have TVA here, but it seems like every year they’re going up, plus they’re paying these higher-ups tremendous bonuses,” James said.

“It just sends the wrong message,” Keller added. “It’s a monopoly – it’s a no-lose proposition.”

Although sharing a common frustration, these three utilities have responded differently to TVA’s pressure to raise rates. While the average residential customer served by TVA has seen rate increases of 5% from 2011 to 2016, Athens Utility Board has held its price increase to only 2% and Volunteer Electric Cooperative has held its price increase to under 4%. However, Etowah Utilities Board has raised electricity prices by over 15%. Read more…

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No Bonuses for Mismanagement, Mistakes at Nuclear Expansion Projects

This blog was written by High Risk Energy Intern, Kailie Melchior.

I’ve been tracking the troubled nuclear power expansion projects in South Carolina and Georgia and have some observations. With SCE&G and Santee Cooper in South Carolina, I thought utilities learned that taking big bonuses while pushing off costs from a deeply troubled new nuclear power expansion project to the ratepayer wasn’t a good idea…or did they?

In neighboring Georgia the Public Service Commission (PSC) on December 21, 2017 ignored their own Staff’s recommendations and that of other intervenors, including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy by failing to institute clear protections for Georgia Power customers from the uneconomic (by billions of dollars) Plant Vogtle expansion. Instead, the Commission approved essentially everything Georgia Power asked for and doled out just a slight reduction in the overall profit the company could make on the mismanaged project that is more than five years delayed and has doubled in cost to over $27 billion.

WSAV's JoAnn Merrigan - SACE's Sara Barczak interviewed

In a small, positive step for ratepayers, the Georgia PSC just ordered Georgia Power to refund $43.6 million to customers (part of a separate proceeding, not related to Plant Vogtle) saying that Georgia Power earned more than the approved rate of return on equity. However, some estimate that because of the new federal tax bill, the utility will save tens of millions of dollars. To address the impacts of the new legislation, the PSC ordered Georgia Power to submit a report to them by February 20. We expect this will indicate how much savings the company expects to glean from the federal tax bill. That money should go back, at least in part, to the ratepayers who have continued to finance the mismanaged Vogtle project despite receiving any benefit (the two reactors should have been operating by now). Hopefully, the PSC does a better job to protect the interest of customers and promote fairness rather than allow this newly available money to turn into undeserved bonuses of utility executives. Read more…

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Who has been getting $1.4 billion in rate cuts from TVA?

TVA's local power companies increased residential power prices by an average of about 5% from 2011 to 2016. Click the map to find the effective rate increase for each local power company: https://arcg.is/0bDHnO

Beginning in 2011, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the largest government-owned utility in the country, began cutting cutting rates for industrial customers. This wasn’t publicly discussed by TVA except as part of a rate restructuring in 2015. TVA hasn’t promoted its rate cuts publicly since then.

According to the Synapse report, thanks to these breaks from TVA, industrial customers saved $1.4 billion from 2011-2016, compared to the average rate trend for all customers. As illustrated below, industrial customers served by TVA’s local power companies pay only 6.3 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), and industrial customers served directly by TVA pay only 3.9 ¢/kWh.

Yet overall since 2011, TVA’s average price of electricity for all customers has increased by 2%. Residential customers experienced a bigger increase on average: The average price of electricity for residential customers increased from 10.1 ¢/kWh to 10.5 ¢/kWh. Residential customers were the only customer class to experience a net increase in electricity prices over the five-year period.

Customers in the Tennessee Valley are billed for electricity through a combination of charges. Residential customers are primarily billed based on the total kilowatt-hours (kWh) consumed per month, but large commercial and industrial customers are also billed based on the peak amount energy consumed during a billing cycle (measured in kW). All customers also pay a monthly service charge, a mandatory fee regardless of the amount of electricity purchased. To compare electricity rates across classes, Synapse calculated the price of electricity as the average revenue the utility receives per kilowatt-hour ($/kWh). Sales, revenue, and customer data for this analysis were obtained from the U.S. Energy Information Administration Form 861 for TVA and the LPCs served by TVA.

These price increases varied among local power companies (click for pdf with data), and added up to big money: Synapse estimates that in 2016, residential customers paid $429 million more than if the rate increase had been shared equally. In other words, each residential customer on the TVA system paid an average of $110 in 2016 due to electricity price changes made since 2010 to favor industrial customers.

As if giving rate cuts to large corporations while prices for families and other households were going up isn’t enough, TVA’s executive team is now preparing to ask its Board for approval to make even more big changes to its electric power rates. These changes will likely increase TVA’s potentially illegal preference for industrial customers over residential customers, discourage customers from installing and using solar power, and even make it harder for customers to manage their own power bills by saving energy.

How did this happen? Why didn’t the pubic know? These are questions that SACE and our allies at NAACP and Friends of the Earth, including former TVA Board Chairman David Freeman, are seeking to answer.

Read more…

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Talking Energy Reform with the SC Tea Party

On Monday of this week, I spoke at the annual South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention in Myrtle Beach about the ongoing V.C. Summer nuclear scandal. It was a great opportunity to find common ground with the Tea Party on important energy issues here in SC, as SACE has done with Tea Party groups in other states.

I was invited to discuss what’s really going on with the nuclear scandal, who’s responsible, and what comes next, all in the span of 10 minutes. Here are the main points:

  • In trying to understand how we’ve gotten to this point with huge debt for a canceled power plant that customers may end up having to pay for, the details are many but can be boiled down to this: monopolies, set up by the government, have been taxing us, killing competition, and taking away our freedom.
  • Likewise, the solutions to the mess can be terribly complicated, but it comes down to this key question: is South Carolina’s energy system going to continue down the failed path of corrupt monopoly control that brought us to this point, or will our state’s electric customers be freed to enjoy customer choice in a fair power market that people can understand?

The conference had a great videographer who has made the video available on Youtube here and I’ve copied it below. If you would like to read a written copy of my remarks, please scroll down below the video.

And please… South Carolina residents: use this quick form to email your elected officials to demand we free our state’s electric customers to enjoy customer choice in a fair power market that people can understand.  Take action here.

Read more…

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Duke Energy Carolinas wants to charge you $18 each month before you even flip a switch!

In what feels like the repeating plot line from the movie Groundhog Day, North Carolina’s biggest utility is headed back to regulators at the North Carolina Utility Commission asking to hike up customers’ energy bills yet again.

Last year it was Duke Energy Progress asking to raise rates, and this year, Duke Energy Carolinas wants to raise customer rates – this time by 17 percent! Less well known is this: as part of the overall rate increase, Duke Energy Carolinas is also seeking an increase in the mandatory fee residential customers will see on their bills – up to $17.79 per month. As recently as 2010, the mandatory fee was only $7.87 per month. If Duke Energy’s request is granted, the monthly charge will have more than doubled in just 7 years and you’ll owe nearly $18 each month before you even flip the switch!

In November, Duke Energy Progress agreed to reduce its mandatory fee request from $19.50 to $14.00 in a settlement agreement with some parties. SACE, and a number of other parties, opposed that provision of the the Duke Energy Progress settlement for a number of reasons. While we all await a decision by the North Carolina Utilities Commission, many of the same issues we saw in the Duke Energy Progress case will be revisited once again in this new Duke Energy Carolinas case.

North Carolina’s consumer advocate has come out strongly against the 17 percent rate hike, and is actually recommending an 8 percent rate decrease! Hundreds of Duke Energy Carolinas customers have attended the public hearings held this month or signed petitions against allowing Duke Energy to increase electric bills to cover its “coal ash mess.”

Residential Mandatory Monthly Fee Trend - Duke Energy Carolinas

Duke Energy Carolina's mandatory monthly fee for residential customers is proposed to increase to $17.79 from the current level of $11.80. The $11.80 per month charge is already 6.5% higher than Duke Energy's actual connection cost -- that is, the cost to add and serve a new customer (not including the cost to generate and deliver electricity). Duke Energy indicates that it believes customers should pay for some of the costs to deliver electricity on a flat-fee basis, which would represent about two-thirds of the target fee of $23.78.

Duke Energy actually believes that its monthly charge should be higher than $17.79, recommending a “target” of $23.78. Duke is requesting a “smaller increase” to a monthly charge of $17.79 as a way of “slowly” migrating towards the target amount. Duke Energy hasn’t said when it would like to start tacking on the additional $5.99.

If the North Carolina Utilities Commission accepts Duke Energy’s proposal, what can you do to avoid this “Basic Customer Charge”?

Absolutely nothing.

It doesn’t matter how much electricity you save or how much solar power you generate, you would still have to pay this mandatory fee to Duke Energy every single month. Is this a fair fee? Read more…

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Tesla Model 3 – Four Day Test Drive Review

This blog was written by Jeff Cohen, Founder, Atlanta Electric Vehicle Development Coalition and Georgia EVentures, LLC and Treasurer of EV Club of the South. Jeff currently owns a Tesla Model S.

On my last trip to the Bay area, I was lucky enough to score a rental of a brand new Tesla Model 3 through Turo, the “Air BNB” of personal owner car sharing. Over a four day, 312 mile rental, I had the opportunity to put the Model 3 through its paces traversing the highways and byways of Silicon Valley.  This review continues my first blogpost of the Model 3:  Tesla Model 3 – First Look Inside & Out

The Preliminaries – Access and Controls

Card Key Access and Mastering Model 3 Door Handles

I picked up the Model 3 at the owner’s home around 7:00 PM.  The owner came out to give me the ‘hotel room style’ card key  which provides ‘guest’ access to the Model 3 [Owners gain access through the Tesla App] to start my 4-day rental. To unlock the Model 3, you hold the card against the driver’s side B pillar and the mirrors unfold and the side-markers blink orange. After two days in the Model 3, I realized that I needed to tap the card against the B pillar to both lock and unlock the vehicle. While there is a setting for auto lock/unlock on the control screen, that feature to my knowledge, was not associated with the card key.

Once inside you press the brake pedal and the Model 3 powers up like her sisters Model S and Model X. BUT if you wait too long to press the brake, you get this message on the controls screen and need to tap the card key against the center of the console below the cup holders. The card key feature is a bit of a negative and most owners will not need it but for guest access it’s a nuisance.

Door Handles – Ergonomically Challenging

While sleek and cool to look at, the Model 3 door handles are not very practical nor easy to use. Once you unlock the car, you push on the right part of the handle with your thumb to release the front part of the handle to open the door.  I pinched my finger on more than one occasion using them. Not intuitive and unnecessarily complicated to operate.  Self-presenting door handles on the Model S/X are neat. Nothing to see here folks.

The Controls Screen – Easy to Use after a Period of Adaptation
Whether you are a Tesla Model S/X owner or a Tesla newbie, the controls screen takes a bit of time behind the wheel to get used to using.  Driving at night and in the Bay area rain made the first drive very challenging as I searched through the Controls Icons and screens to set the mirrors (that took about 4 drives to get right), climate controls, lighting and discover the very cool central heating/cooling vent. Per the pic below, the driving status of the Model 3 is on the left, the controls across the bottom of the screen and the navigation to the right.  The most used icon is the first one to the left – short cut to driver settings. AutoPilot appears next to the speedometer and you set the speed by pressing + and – icons on the screen – a little unnerving trying to keep your eyes on the road and adjust the Auto Pilot controls (more on AP 2.5 below). Maps are clear but unlike Model S and X, the turn by turn directions are at the far right of the screen, which does not tilt toward the driver – so reading those can be a bit challenging. Read more…

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FPL’s #PolluteAndLoot Actions Hit Customers; Lawsuit Moves Forward

One month ago the Florida Public Service Commission, the agency that regulates the state’s biggest power companies, approved FPL’s request to charge customer for the costs to clean-up an underground contamination plume caused by the cooling canal system (CSS) at its Turkey Point plant – the price tag is over $200 million. If you are a family or business in FPL’s territory, the impact will be felt starting with this month’s electricity bill. Meanwhile, a Clean Water Act lawsuit led by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) against FPL over Turkey Point’s pollution was given a green light to proceed after FPL’s move to dismiss the case was denied by a federal judge.

FPL operates the ten square mile CCS for its aging Turkey Point plant 3 & 4 reactors. FPL is the only utility in the country to use this antiquated system for cooling water for power generation—it’s essentially an open industrial sewer. The miles of canals are unlined, and due to the porous geology of south Florida, water from the canals has leached underground to form a plume of hyper-saline and contaminated water spreading westward in the Biscayne Aquifer towards drinking water wells and eastward into Biscayne National Park. The Biscayne Aquifer is the sole drinking water source for Miami-Dade County and the Keys.

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to ….

Water is the lifeblood of south Florida. While its millions of residents are surrounded by water, none of it is suitable for drinking. Fortunately, south Florida is home to one of the most prolific drinking aquifers in the world – the Biscayne Aquifer. Local governments have invested significant resources in tracking and fighting a saltwater intrusion line moving westward and migrating into drinking water resources. Federal, state and local governments have laws and regulations in place to protect those resources. FPL violated them.

In 1978, 1990 and 1992, FPL’s longtime consultant, Dames and Moore, conducted field investigations and provided ground water monitoring reports to FPL – regulators had required FPL to monitor the CSS’s impact on groundwater. The reports showed a significant and increasing salinity contribution from the CCS moving westward of the Turkey Point boundary in the Biscayne Aquifer. In 1978, increasing trends of salinity were observed in the five wells located on a line 2,000 feet west of the western boundary. By 2012, the contaminated water had migrated as far as 3 miles out from the western boundary of the CCS. The plume is now about 10 miles from the drinking water wells of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority.

What did FPL do with the data indicating a growing hypersaline plume caused by the CCS? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The Company failed to take any action to address the impacts of the failing cooling canals on the Biscayne drinking water aquifer until 2013 – when the temperature and salinity spiked in the CCS as state regulators called-in FPL for a consultation. The Company was ultimately charged with violating state water quality standards and entered into agreements to clean up the mess.

FPL’s request for customers to pay was vigorously opposed by the Office of Public Counsel (OPC), SACE, and industrial users. The parties argued that FPL was negligent and knew, or should have known in 1978, but certainly by 1992 that the operation of the CSS was causing an underground hyper-saline plume growing in concentration and size miles beyond the Turkey Point boundary. The OPC expert witness testified that FPL’s clean-up proposal would not be effective in remediating the hypersaline Read more…

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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. The Knoxville paper did a story  on the exploding fixed charges at KUB.

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. Read more…

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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. Read more…

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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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