23 Oct 2011

When utilities sidestep renewables mandates, it undermines their credibitlity and state law

Written by Jim Pierobon

A renewable electricity rule or requirement may be on the books in states such as Virginia and Ohio but that doesn’t mean every utility in that state is going to comply with it. Take the ‘illuminating’ cases of First Energy in Ohio and utilities in Virginia, led by Dominion Virginia Power.

Dominion Virginia Power and First Energy / Ohio Edison get unique 'treatment' from their state regulators. Credit: Xcurmodgeon.blogspot.com

In the Buckeye state, First Energy and its subsidiaries serving mostly northern Ohio are flouting the renewable / alternative energy requirement under a two-year-old Clean Energy Law. So far it’s getting away with it, even while Dayton Power & Light, Duke Energy (serving Cincinnati) and American Electric Power in Columbus are making measurable strides to comply with it amid a heavy reliance on traditional, coal-fired power.

To further insult Ohio’s Clean Energy Law, lawmakers allied with First Energy such as Republican Senator Kris Jordan of Powell now are trying to repeal it. Jordan cited research from the American Tradition Institute (ATI), a Washington think tank that considers green power a “scam.” An ATI report asserts any environmental impact will be negligible because renewable sources are not proven to emit lower quantities of greenhouse gasses. This directly conflicts with a 2010 report from Policy Matters Ohio and the overwhelming science and research widely available, not to mention plain old common sense.

Shift to the Commonwealth of Virginia, where residential customers recently won the right to install net-metered solar systems up to 20 kilowatts (kW) in capacity, twice the previous limit. (Net metering enables end-users to earn credit or be paid for electricity they generate but do not use.) But the utilities there gained the right to impose “stand-by charges” on net-metered systems larger than 10 kW; AND they gained expedited processing by the Virginia State Corporation Commission of any utility requests for these stand-by charges.

The Maryland-District of Columbia-Virginia Chapter of the Solar Energy Industries Association (MDV-SEIA) is fighting the stand-by charges with hopes that Virginia Governor McDonnell, a Republican, who has close ties to Dominion Virginia Power, will consider the consequences. Plug in to the latest developments at MDV-SEIA’s annual regional “Solar Focus” conference November 17-18, 2011 in Washington.

MDV-SEIA  successfully defeated a bill that would have awarded double credit toward Virginia’s Renewable Portfolio Standard credit for electricity and thermal energy (a.k.a. as solar hot water) generated using biomass, and electricity generated using waste. This bill would have reduced the relative advantage of solar energy over other renewable energy technologies.

While biomass and waster-to-energy trump fossil fuels, a credit is a credit and should be left at that. Tipping the scales for one form of renewable energy over another is nothing more than a bid to undermine the less-incentivized generation source.

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