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Investigation triggers fresh fight over NH efficiency programs

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Investigation triggers fresh fight over NH efficiency programs



An investigation by New Hampshire utility regulators into the state’s energy effectivity applications is drawing loud objections from the state shopper advocate, the utilities that function the applications, and effectivity advocates. 

It was lower than a 12 months in the past that the New Hampshire Public Utilities Fee issued a now infamous order that rejected the utilities’ proposed three-year plan to develop the ratepayer-funded applications, which function underneath the umbrella NHSaves. As a substitute, the fee slashed the charges that assist the applications and mentioned cuts would proceed sooner or later with a purpose to transition to “market-based” applications. 

That call prompted lawsuits, widespread criticism and cries of foul from energy contractors with jobs within the pipeline. In response, state lawmakers got here up with a legislative answer, handed early this 12 months, that established funding ranges going ahead for NHSaves, though at ranges significantly decrease than had been anticipated. 

The statute, generally known as Home Invoice 549, units a deadline of July 1, 2023, for the utilities to submit their subsequent Triennial Energy Effectivity Plan, which is able to define the 2024-2026 spending plan for providers equivalent to energy audits, dwelling weatherization, and equipment rebates, for fee approval. 

However about two months in the past, the fee issued a discover that it’s opening an investigation forward of that submitting to discover “whether or not adjustments to present effectivity programming, planning, efficiency incentives, and analysis are warranted.” 

The continuing “is a direct affront” to the legislative directives in HB 549, mentioned Donald Kreis, the state shopper advocate, in a movement calling for the cancellation of the continuing. 

In an electronic mail, Kreis mentioned the fee is “making an attempt to embroil itself” within the strategy of growing the triennial plan, a activity which is usually left to the utilities in collaboration with energy effectivity specialists, the workplace of shopper advocate and different stakeholders. 

Not solely is the fee’s involvement inconsistent with the statute’s directive, however “it additionally displays a misperception of the suitable function of a utility regulator,” Kreis mentioned. “Regulating a utility shouldn’t be the identical as working a utility, even when the utility is deploying energy effectivity applications.”

HB 549 units the parameters for NHSaves, together with funding ranges, the tactic for measuring cost-effectiveness, and utility submitting necessities. But the investigative docket “appears to query what was set in statute,” mentioned Nick Krakoff, a employees lawyer for the Conservation Legislation Basis, an intervenor within the continuing. 

For instance, he mentioned, “the statute establishes the first check for use to find out cost-effectiveness. So actually that ought to be the top of the matter. That the fee appears to need to reexamine that may be very regarding.”

NHSaves is designed to avoid wasting energy, decrease shopper payments, and cut back greenhouse gasoline emissions. From 2018 to 2020, NHSaves decreased carbon emissions within the state by greater than 3.3 million tons, based on a report from the 4 electric and gasoline distribution corporations that function this system. For each $1 invested in energy effectivity, $3.37 in advantages had been generated, the report mentioned. 

However in its 2021 ruling, the fee expressed a desire for “the event of market-based, not utility-sponsored and ratepayer-funded, energy effectivity applications.”

State Rep. Michael Vose, R-Epping, a chief sponsor of HB 549, mentioned he doesn’t have an issue with the Public Utilities Fee’s present investigation. 

“The PUC thinks that perhaps these applications must be checked out extra intently to verify they’re as cost-effective as they are often,” he mentioned. “They need to have a look at how the subsequent energy effectivity plan goes to be put collectively.”

HB549 successfully put “guardrails” on spending for this system, he mentioned, because the utilities “had been being too aggressive. All they may see had been the advantages of energy effectivity and so they completely ignored the prices.”

However in a movement objecting to the investigation, Eversource, New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, Liberty Utilities and Unitil Energy Programs mentioned the statute clearly spells out the fee’s function because the reviewer of the energy effectivity plan. 

“If HB 549 had supposed for the fee to handle and oversee the event of those plans, language to that impact would have been included within the statute,” the utilities mentioned within the submitting. 

As well as, they mentioned, having to take part within the investigation on the identical time they’re collaborating with stakeholders with a purpose to put collectively the three-year plan creates an “unreasonable burden” on employees that’s “untenable.”

The final plan rejected by the fee proposed spending greater than $350 million on energy effectivity over three years, the state’s most formidable plan but. The plan was to be funded by way of the system advantages cost on ratepayer payments, proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gasoline Initiative, and carry-over revenues from the ahead capability market. 

The subsequent plan should keep inside the funding ranges prescribed by HB 549, which units funding at 2020 ranges, with modest will increase allowed for inflation, Vose mentioned. 

The fee has up to now defended its continuing. In a submitting rejecting the movement from the buyer advocate, the fee mentioned such an investigation is nicely inside its authority and in furtherance of its “broader function overseeing public utilities.”

Questions or feedback about this text? Contact us at editor@energynews.us.



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Maine program gives small towns a leg up on electrification funds

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Maine program gives small towns a leg up on electrification funds



A brand new grant program in Maine goals to assist speed up the transition to electric warmth pumps within the state’s smallest cities.

In August, Effectivity Maine announced a $4 million program to assist cities with fewer than 5,000 residents reduce energy use in public buildings. 

Although the plan is modest in measurement, organizers hope it’s going to assist speed up the transfer from fossil fuels to electrified warmth throughout the state. 

“We simply have to spur this market transformation,” mentioned Michael Stoddard, govt director of Effectivity Maine. “These public {dollars} are extremely useful to get that going.”

This system, funded by means of the federal American Rescue Plan, is a part of a current focus by Effectivity Maine on serving to underserved communities entry the advantages of energy effectivity and clear energy expertise. This summer time, the company introduced an $8 million initiative to assist pay for electric car chargers in rural areas.

The newest program focuses on a very urgent situation for Maine: The necessity to transition to a cleaner heating gasoline. The state experiences chilly winters – temperatures routinely drop under zero – and a few 60% of households within the state use heating oil to remain heat, the best proportion of any state within the nation. Heating oil is among the many dirtiest heating fuels accessible and costs, which have lengthy been unstable, have doubled previously 12 months. 

Widespread adoption of electrical warmth pumps is a serious a part of the state’s environmental agenda. The one emissions related to warmth pumps are these produced by the electrical energy that powers them. And the price of utilizing warmth pumps is often nicely under that of utilizing heating oil. In 2019, Maine set a goal of installing 100,000 heat pumps by 2025, a goal it’s nicely on the best way to assembly. 

As adoption continues to develop, Effectivity Maine desires to guarantee that smaller cities and cities have an opportunity to get in on the monetary and environmental advantages. 

“Smaller cities face some limitations which are both completely different or just a little bit extra pronounced,” Stoddard mentioned. “With this initiative we thought we’d begin by concentrating on among the cities that by advantage of their measurement we imagine have confronted extra of those limitations.”

Smaller cities, Stoddard mentioned, might have a more durable time getting contractors to bid on their tasks. They might have fewer staff, making it tough to place collectively paperwork or financing preparations. And in small cities with decrease common incomes, there could also be resistance from residents who marvel why their tax {dollars} ought to pay for benefits they will’t afford for their very own properties, mentioned Richard LaBelle, city supervisor of Norridgewock, a central Maine group with a inhabitants of about 3,300.

These cities might also merely have too many competing calls for for restricted income, mentioned Neal Goldberg, a legislative advocate with the Maine Municipal Affiliation. 

“They produce other value facilities they must be aware of,” Goldberg mentioned. “Is that this the 12 months to put in a warmth pump or is that this 12 months to purchase sufficient salt to maintain your roads protected?”

A simplified course of

To assist small cities overcome these obstacles, the brand new program presents vital monetary incentives to assist pay for tasks that can reduce municipal energy payments and carbon emissions. Effectivity Maine expects most members will pursue warmth pump retrofits, although LED lighting tasks, refrigeration upgrades, and different heating and air flow gear additionally qualify for incentives. 

Eligible buildings embody city halls, group facilities, public security buildings, public works amenities, and libraries. Colleges, outbuildings, and non-permanent constructions are usually not eligible. The incentives range with undertaking sort, however municipalities can obtain as a lot as $2,800 for the set up of a brand new high-performance air-source warmth pump in an current constructing, capped at 90% of the whole undertaking value. 

Norridgewock has made use of earlier Effectivity Maine incentives and expects to benefit from this new provide as nicely, LaBelle mentioned. Norridgewock is an inland city with out a lot vacationer visitors to assist enhance income, he mentioned. The incentives, subsequently, make it simpler to make a case to residents that they’ll get their cash’s value from investments in energy-saving tasks.  

In recent times the city has upgraded a lot of the lighting in municipal buildings to LEDs and put in warmth pumps in some amenities, together with its library and hearth station. LaBelle expects to make use of the brand new program to help deployment of warmth pumps in much more buildings. 

“We’re in search of efficiencies in any approach we presumably can,” he mentioned. “It has been a rising concern for us, naturally, as we see the nationwide developments in fossil fuels and the prices of energy.”

Recognizing that small cities might not have sufficient staff to finish advanced or aggressive utility processes, Effectivity Maine has made these grants noncompetitive and tried to streamline the paperwork as a lot as attainable. And these efforts make a distinction, LaBelle mentioned. 

“Typically, municipal officers will be afraid of making use of for grants due to administrative burdens,” LaBelle mentioned. “They’ve actually, actually minimized that.”

To use for these newest grants, a group want solely select the undertaking sort it’s planning to pursue and full a primary kind that can enable Effectivity Maine to confirm the eligibility. The company additionally presents digital consultations to cities that want help figuring out what tasks would possibly make sense for his or her amenities.

“When you will have a finite price range, for those who simply make it first-come, first-serve, then the cities with deeper pockets will are inclined to eat a lot of the price range faster,” Stoddard mentioned. “There might not be a lot left by the point smaller cities are capable of get their financing all in a row.”

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Rhode Island wrestles with what net-zero goal means for gas

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Rhode Island wrestles with what net-zero goal means for gas



Rhode Island utility regulators are starting to contemplate what the state’s mandate to zero out greenhouse fuel emissions by 2050 means for its pure fuel system. 

The state Public Utilities Fee, or PUC, has opened a docket to research the way forward for the fuel distribution enterprise, a response to the passage final 12 months of the Act on Climate.

The investigation may result in “wide-ranging and considerably impactful” adjustments, corresponding to moratoriums on new hookups, incentives for renewable pure fuel, and transitioning clients to various heating fuels like electrical energy, the fee mentioned in its discover of the continuing.

Hank Webster, Rhode Island director for the Acadia Heart, a clear energy advocacy group, mentioned it’s essential for the state to begin this dialogue now. 

“The fuel distribution system is without doubt one of the main sources of greenhouse gasses,” he mentioned. “Each time a brand new fuel connection is made, including to ratepayer prices, it locks in long-term fossil gas use.”

Constructing emissions, together with those who consequence from using pure fuel, account for about 35% of Rhode Island’s whole emissions, based on essentially the most recent state inventory. About half of the state’s households are heated with fuel.

The PUC regulates the fuel system, which is operated by Rhode Island Energy, previously Narragansett Electric till its buy this 12 months by PPL Corp. And underneath the Act on Local weather, all state businesses are required to contemplate local weather impacts within the train of their powers. They’re additionally approved to undertake the laws obligatory to satisfy the greenhouse fuel discount mandate. 

The neighboring state of Massachusetts started a similar study into the way forward for fuel in 2020. However that course of has resulted in sharp criticism from local weather advocates, who say it gave an excessive amount of management to the fuel utilities. Earlier this 12 months, Lawyer Common Maura Healey — who’s operating for governor — filed a scathing set of feedback on the proposals rising, saying the consequence can be an energy system that “pumps extra money into fuel pipelines and props up utility shareholders.”

Massachusetts “virtually wasted a 12 months by placing it within the palms of the utilities to manage issues from the start,” mentioned Larry Chretien, govt director of the Green Energy Shoppers Alliance. “No consensus has been reached, not even shut.” 

The Rhode Island PUC is at the moment seeking public comment on the scope of its fuel docket — what questions the investigation ought to search to reply and what objectives it ought to meet. Chretien mentioned he’s inspired that they “are asking quite a lot of the appropriate questions.” 

The Rhode Island communities of Newport, Portsmouth and Middletown, which collectively comprise Aquidneck Island, have been wrestling with whether or not to broaden or reign in pure fuel since 2019, when system failures resulted within the extended lack of fuel service to greater than 7,000 clients within the bitter winter chilly. The island sits on the finish of the pipeline community, making it extra susceptible to issues. 

Narragansett Electric’s then-parent firm, Nationwide Grid, carried out a study and got here up with quite a lot of potential fixes, together with constructing a second fuel pipeline or new fuel services, or curbing fuel use by energy effectivity measures and warmth pumps. 

The repair the utility is currently proposing is to make everlasting an current liquid pure fuel storage facility in Portsmouth. The power, sited as a short lived measure after the outage, offers peak-shaving capability and backup provide through the winter months. It has been the topic of quite a few complaints from neighbors, as a result of noise and security issues.

The allowing course of for the power, earlier than the Energy Facility Siting Board, “actually needs to be seen by the lens of the Act on Local weather,” Chretien mentioned. “Ultimately, we’re going to have to impress all of the heating. The place do you begin, geographically or in any other case, to get that achieved?”

State Rep. Terri Cortvriend, who represents Middletown and Portsmouth, mentioned she believes the island is a “good demonstration place” for decarbonization efforts. She would love the future-of-gas docket to contemplate authorizing networked geothermal tasks. 

Geothermal programs use underground pipes to faucet the earth’s energy for heating and cooling. Massachusetts has accepted a number of geothermal pilots, including one overseen by Eversource that may set up a networked geothermal system in a bit of a comparatively dense Framingham neighborhood.

“I believe that’s the place the longer term is, as we attempt to section out fuel,” Cortvriend mentioned. “It could be nice to do it on Aquidneck Island.” 

The continuing is predicted to final nicely into 2023. Webster mentioned it’s crucial that the method goes “past a tutorial train” and lays out a particular plan for shifting ahead. 

For instance, he mentioned, the plan ought to handle “will we implement a moratorium on new connections, and if that’s the case, when does that begin? Is it systemwide, or will we concentrate on the residential aspect? When will we cease making the issue worse?”

For its half, PPL Corp. seems extra targeted on shifting towards reducing emissions from fuel technology by investing in new applied sciences. 

In a sustainability report launched final week, the corporate mentioned it has set a purpose to realize net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In the case of discovering methods to decrease emissions from its fuel distribution operations throughout Kentucky and Rhode Island, the corporate mentioned it’s prioritizing analysis into carbon seize and sequestration, in addition to hydrogen manufacturing and mixing.

Questions or feedback about this text? Contact us at editor@energynews.us.



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