Wired In Newsletter: August / September 2018

Sarah Gilliam | September 5, 2018 | Wired In Newsletter

With the summer months fully in the rear view mirror, we look forward to fall and this year’s exciting 2018 mid-term election. Our staff has been busy researching and profiling several key state and federal races throughout the Southeast in our “2018 Candidates On Energy” weekly blog series. Follow the blog series here for new candidate profiles each week or join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the #2018CandidatesOnEnergy hashtag. Lastly, we encourage you to make a plan to be a clean energy voter by checking your registration here.

Article 1: National Drive Electric Week, Sept. 8-16

Article 2: High Electric Bills Spark Outcry from Customers

Article 3: JEA Demand: Protect Customers, Stop Gambling on Vogtle Nuclear Reactors


1. National Drive Electric Week, Sept. 8-16

Are you curious about electric vehicles? Then mark your calendars because National Drive Electric Week is right around the corner! This year, it kicks off on September 8 and runs through September 16th. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more from electric vehicle owners who will share their experiences, see a wide range of models that are available, and at some events test drive an electric car!

Drive Electric Week started in 2011 as a single day event and has grown to an entire week. Each passing year adds more drivers sharing the advantages of driving electric in additional cities and has become an international phenomenon. Once again, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is proud to partner with other clean energy groups, dealers, and EV drivers at events taking place all over the South!

There are all different types of events including electric tailgate parties, press conferences, award ceremonies, informational booths, and most are led by local plug-in drivers and advocates. The vibe is designed to be fun and relaxed so you can feel free to ask questions and learn in a stress-free environment.

Are you considering going electric? Come to one of the events listed and see for yourself! To find an event near you, go here. Here are some highlighted events in our region:

Tennessee

Chattanooga, Sept. 8, 10 AM-3 PM, link here.

Knoxville, Sept. 8, Noon- 4 PM, link here.

Memphis, Sept. 9, 9 AM-4 PM, link here.

Florida

New Port Richey, Sept 8, 10 AM-2 PM link here.

Ft. Lauderdale, Sept 8, 10 AM-4 PM, link here.

Miami, Sept 13, 5 PM-9 PM, link here.

Sarasota, Sept 15, 10 AM-2 PM, link here.

North Carolina

Asheville, Sept 9, 12 PM-4 PM, link here.

Georgia

Alpharetta, Sept. 8, 11 AM-4 PM, link here.

2. High Electric Bills Spark Outcry from Customers

At their August board meeting, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board of Directors heard from more than a dozen customers from across the state frustrated with high bills, disappointed in TVA’s lack of innovation, and tired of TVA giving them the run-around on energy. At the meeting TVA’s CEO, Bill Johnson, continued to talk about TVA’s low rates, but the fact remains that customers do not pay a “rate”, they pay a “bill” based on their total energy usage plus added fees. (Click here to see SACE Executive Director Dr. Stephen Smith explain this in a one minute video!)

Tennessee holds two seemingly contradictory positions on rankings of states related to electricity bills according to analysis of 2016 data by the EIA. If states are ranked from highest rates to lowest rates and from highest bills to lowest bills, we would expect there to be some correlation between the two lists. However, Tennessee would be in the bottom 10 in the first list and in the top 10 in the second list. That is, Tennesseans rank #7 for the highest bills in the country despite also having some of the lowest rates in the country. This duality highlights the extremeness of the issue here: TVA has left its customers behind by falling behind other utilities in their investments in technologies that allow customers greater control over their usage and thus their bills. For more EIA data resources, click here.

At TVA’s previous board meeting (in May) TVA’s board voted to approve a misguided new rate structure that will likely hike bills on the Tennessee Valley’s most vulnerable residents and diminish clean energy progress. The rate-structure vote in May followed a rushed and inadequate public engagement process, ignoring comments from customers at TVA board meetings in opposition to the rate-hike proposal and further exacerbating the high bills issue. As TVA continues to raise rates while increasing fixed fees and cutting energy efficiency, customers’ bills are likely to continue to rise.

The data shows that 40 percent of households on TVA’s system have an income at or below 80 percent of Area Median Income. These low-income households use 10 percent less electricity than the average household. Despite using less electricity, TVA’s fee hike means a significant number of low-income households will pay more on their monthly electric bills.

Some might claim that customers in the Southeast have high bills because electric space heating is prevalent here and the climate requires high air conditioning usage. But this explains a small portion of the difference at best. Households in the South consume less electricity for heating, on average, than households in the Northeast or Midwest. The bulk of the difference comes down to less energy efficiency funding and poor-to-non-existent energy efficiency policies. TVA could make energy efficiency a priority and help customers lower their bills, but so far they haven’t.

Join the Renew TN campaign to find out ways to make your voice heard as we continue to fight back against high bills.

3. JEA Demand: Protect Customers, Stop Gambling on Vogtle Nuclear Reactors

In Kenny Rogers’ song, The Gambler, the secret to success is knowing when to hold your cards and knowing when to fold ‘em. JEA has concluded that the Vogtle reactors are a bad hand for its customers stating that “a decision to continue the project cannot be justified on any rational basis.” It’s demanding that one of the partners, in the tortured project, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG), walk away from the table before it’s too late to avoid the worst economic impacts for JEA customers, and the partner utilities’ customers.

JEA has a vested interest in the project because it has a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with MEAG that requires it to shoulder some capital and operating costs during the Vogtle construction. The PPA was signed long ago and market conditions have significantly changed since then – for the worse. The projected cost of the Vogtle AP-1000 nuclear reactors have more than doubled to over $27 billion, and are well over 5 years delayed.

We’ve seen this hand before

In July of last year, you may recall, that construction of the proposed VC Summer AP-1000 nuclear reactors in South Carolina was abandoned after the bankruptcy of Westinghouse – the designer and builder of the reactors. Santee Cooper, a utility partner in the project, balked at a revised cost estimate that put the cost to complete the reactors at over $25 billion. With Santee Cooper out, SCG&E, the other utility partner, abandoned the project as well.

That left the proposed Vogtle 3 & 4 reactors in Georgia as the last game in town on nuclear construction. Without a lead contractor, Southern Company, Georgia Power’s parent company, has taken over the role of building the reactors. Yet, history has a tendency to repeat itself, and the Vogtle reactors are also way over budget and behind schedule. Southern Company just announced another round of cost overruns of over $2 billion dollars – bringing the current projected cost to over $27 billion. That projection is even more costly than the VC Summer reactors – which caused those utilities to fold their hands.

The owners of the Vogtle project include Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power (30%), MEAG (22.7%) and Dalton City (1.6%). There is a vote expected by the partners in late September on whether to continue with the Vogtle project. JEA is demanding that MEAG vote NOT to continue the project. JEA is clearly ready to litigate should MEAG vote to move forward with the project.

You got to know when to walk away, know when to run

On August 17, 2018, JEA sent a letter to MEAG with an independent economic analysis, that stated, in part, the following:

  • The announced 2021 in-service date is “questionable” and the units are “economically obsolete.”
  • The latest cost overruns add another $10 million to the PPA costs for JEA customers.
  • If the project were to be canceled, the savings to JEA customers could be as much as $727 million (present value) according to JEA’s consultants – even after purchasing replacement power.

To its credit, JEA has done its homework on the project. The Vogtle partners would be well advised to do a similar analysis on the impact to their customers. After all, Vogtle’s utility partners shouldn’t be gambling their customers’ hard-earned dollars on a project that has already been deemed economically obsolete.

It’s OK to conclude that you’re holding a bad hand. The smart move is to fold ‘em, and walk away.

Sarah Gilliam
Sarah Gilliam joined the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in 2015 as the Communications Coordinator. She will coordinate the digital media efforts and virtual presence, and assist with traditional press…
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