Category Archives: Utilities

Another Bad Week,
 Make That Month,
 For The Coal Industry

It’s been a bad week for the U.S. coal industry. On Monday, Michigan-based Consumers Energy announced that it planned to close all its remaining coal-fired generation by 2040; the company already had closed seven of its 12 coal plants in 2016. Then, on Tuesday, Vectren, an electric and gas utility serving parts of Indiana and Ohio, said it planned to retire three of its coal-fired plants and sell its ownership stake in a fourth by 2023; this from a company that just two years ago was dependent on coal for 90 percent of its generation.

But this week is hardly unique. Just last Friday, FirstEnergy said it was going to close or sell the 1,300 megawatt coal-fired Pleasants plant in West Virginia by Jan. 1, 2019 after being unable to convince federal regulators to approve a deal between two of the Akron, Ohio-based holding company’s subsidiaries that effectively would have moved the facility from the open market into rate base, forcing consumers to pay for the plant even if it was no longer economic.

Not to be forgotten, earlier this month, AEP announced plans to slash its carbon dioxide emissions 60 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050 (based on a 2000 baseline, see my story here). And finally, on Jan. 30, PPL announced plans to reduce its CO2 emissions by 70 percent by 2050 (based on a 2010 baseline).

So, in reality, it’s been a bad month, and similar months are likely moving forward.

Continue reading Another Bad Week,
 Make That Month,
 For The Coal Industry

AEP Looks Forward, Beyond Coal, Trump Team Still Stuck In The Past

The rear guard defending the coal industry in the White House and across the mall at the Department of Energy need to put their reading glasses on and spend some quality time with a couple of just-released documents that put to rest any dreams of recovery.

The first, from American Electric Power, is a corporate document filled with congratulatory platitudes and the obligatory cautions about going too far, too fast. But, and this is the key, it acknowledges reality, and lays out a plan for addressing that reality instead of pining for the past. The report, Strategic Vision for a Clean Energy Future 2018 (which is available here), should be required reading for the Trump White House and the administration’s energy-related political appointees.

The forward-looking tone is evident from the outset, with Nicholas Akins, chairman, president and CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based AEP, writing: “We have diversified our generating portfolio to provide our customers with the clean energy solutions they are asking us for.” [Emphasis added] You could easily read right over this, but it’s worth digging into the details a bit.

Continue reading AEP Looks Forward, Beyond Coal, Trump Team Still Stuck In The Past

Latest DOE LED Report
 Illustrates Transition
 In Electric Power Sector

I was at Home Depot this weekend (so many tools, so little time) and they had a special on LED lights that caught my attention—a four pack of dimmable 60-watt replacement LEDs was selling for $9.88, or just under $2.50 a bulb. I’m not the type to track day-to-day pricing for much of anything, but the display caught my attention because I had just finished reading the Energy Department’s latest report on the status of the LED market—which found that the typical dimmable 60W replacement bulb in 2016 cost roughly $8 apiece.

This is important for two reasons. First, DOE assumes that LEDs are steadily going to account for an ever-larger percentage of the installed lighting stock in the United States, estimating that by 2035 86 percent of all the lighting in the country will be LEDs of one type or another and that these vastly more efficient lights will cut primary energy use by 3.7 quadrillion British thermal units (Btus)—that’s a lot of electricity that will no longer be needed, about 10 percent from the 2016 level, in fact, when roughly 37.5 quads were used to generate electricity in the U.S. (Paying attention out there in utility land?) But those DOE forecasts rely heavily on pricing assumptions, and if the current price of the most commonly used LED has already tumbled below $2.50, down roughly 70 percent from just a year ago, that means the nationwide take-up of LEDs almost certainly will be faster than DOE currently estimates.

Second, the sharply declining price of this lowly light bulb is a symbol of the massive changes under way in the energy industry, such as the steep declines in solar and windpower costs, the surge in corporate interest in cleaner energy and the plateauing of electricity demand. These changes are largely market-driven and, thankfully from my perspective, outside the reach of politicians on either side of the aisle.

Continue reading Latest DOE LED Report
 Illustrates Transition
 In Electric Power Sector

Storage Puts Utilities
 In A Big Bind
 On Demand Charges

Electric utility executives already fretting about slow/no growth in their service territories have another item to add to their growing list of worries: the prospect that many of their commercial customers could begin installing behind-the-meter storage to lower their demand charges.

A recent white paper from DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Clean Energy Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, shows that it could be economic for almost 28 percent of commercial customers across the country to install batteries at their business sites to cut their electricity consumption during specific periods of the day, thereby reducing their exposure to utility-imposed demand charges. This would amount to a one-two punch for utilities: electricity sales would drop if the batteries were linked with solar and the amount of revenue collected from these charges would fall, not a pretty picture for the utility industry.

Continue reading Storage Puts Utilities
 In A Big Bind
 On Demand Charges

New Analysis
 Begs The Question:
 Is Vogtle Project
 Too Costly To Complete?

Last week’s headlines focused on Georgia Power’s newly signed agreement with Toshiba committing (recommitting?) the Japanese parent of bankrupt Westinghouse to pony up $3.68 billion to fund the completion of the long-delayed Vogtle 3 & 4 nuclear power plants. While that is clearly good news (at least for the moment) for Georgia ratepayers, who could otherwise have been stuck with the bill, it has obscured the real news—that no one knows how much it is going to cost or how long it is going to take to complete the two reactors.

The day before Georgia Power’s headline stealing news, staff and the independent construction monitor filed testimony at the Georgia Public Service Commission covering the latest six months of activity at the site (from July 2016-December 2016, with rollover analysis through April 2017). Their conclusion? The project has been a mess since the beginning, and there are still no signs of improvement (although admittedly couched in far more diplomatic/technical language, to which we now turn).

At the macro level, much of the problem can be traced to the absence of a credible integrated project schedule or IPS, an absolute must in a project as complex as this, William Jacobs, Jr., and Steven Roetger told the commission. Jacobs has served as the project’s independent construction monitor since 2009; Roetger is the commission’s lead analyst for the project. They have been highly critical of the Southern/Westinghouse work at Vogtle for years and have warned consistently that the stated completion dates bore no relationship to reality; see my stories here and here.

Continue reading New Analysis
 Begs The Question:
 Is Vogtle Project
 Too Costly To Complete?