Midwest Energy News: ELPC Standing Up for Consumers, Energy Efficiency Efforts in NIPSCO Rate Hike Case

An Indiana utility is requesting a fixed rate charge increase of more than 80 percent, even as nationwide utility commissions have denied or curbed many such requests and utilities in other states have backed off the strategy.

The northern Indiana utility NIPSCO argues, as other utilities around the country have, that it needs the rate structure revision to make sure that all customers pay their fair share for upkeep of the grid.

Increased fixed charges are widely seen as an attack on distributed solar, since a set charge regardless of how much energy one uses discourages generating one’s own electricity. The increases also discourage energy conservation and efficiency.

In a case filed October 1 (docket number 4468), NIPSCO asked for fixed monthly charges to be increased from $11 to $20 per month for residential customers. Previously the utility Indianapolis Power & Light Company also asked for a fixed charge increase, from $11 to $17 monthly. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is currently considering both cases.

The commission is often viewed as accommodating to utilities, so clean energy advocates fear the fixed charge increases may be approved. A bill introduced, then later pulled, in the Indiana legislature last year would have forced the commission to approve any fixed charge increase requests.

“This conversation is getting underway in Indiana and the NIPSCO case is on top of the list because of the language they used and their stated intent that, ‘This is just the beginning folks, we’ll be back for more every few years,’” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizen Actions Coalition. “It’s something we’d like to nip in the bud.”

Indiana currently has only a very small amount of distributed solar installed.

In discovery for the rate case, the coalition and the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) found that NIPSCO has only 80 residential and small commercial customers with distributed solar, out of a total of 410,000 residential customers and about 51,000 small commercial customers. Statewide, there are only about 1,000 utility customers with solar.

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Northwest Indiana Times: ELPC Files Testimony Against NIPSCO Rate Hike

A grassroots Indiana consumer group and a heavyweight environmental organization have teamed up to attack NIPSCO’s efforts to raise fixed charges on electric bills.

The Citizens Action Coalition and the Environmental Law & Policy Center have filed testimony with state regulators alleging the increased charge will hit low income, minority and elderly customers the hardest. They also charge it will discourage people from conserving electricity.

“The company’s (NIPSCO’s) proposal would unjustly shift costs and cause disproportionate harm to low-volume, low-income residential ratepayers while undermining the viability of energy efficiency programming,” said John Howat, a witness testifying for the consumer and the environmental group.

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ELPC Statement On U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on Demand Response Programs


Contact: David Jakubiak


Environmental Law & Policy Center Statement On U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on Demand Response Programs


Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

“The U.S Supreme Court’s ruling upholding FERC’s ability to use demand response to keep electricity prices affordable opens the door to innovative opportunities to improve reliability and protect the environment.

“As states examine affordable solutions to our climate change problems, demand response stands as a growth opportunity that benefits businesses and residential electricity customers.”


Midwest Energy News: ELPC Questions FirstEnergy’s Withholding of Documents, More Opposing Voices Join the Chorus

That proposal followed a commitment made two weeks ago by Chicago-based Exelon Corporation to provide the same amount of energy for $2 billion less with resources whose emissions would be 100 percent carbon-free.

“Dynegy agrees with Exelon that this process should be competitive,” Dynegy president and CEO Robert Flexon said in a prepared statement when his company’s plan was announced on Tuesday.

“We believe the counter-proposals are uniformly better for Ohio consumers and businesses than the AEP and FirstEnergy [plans], keeping and creating jobs in the state that stimulate economic growth and development rather than weakening Ohio’s competitive position,” Flexon added. “We ask for serious consideration from the PUCO and Ohio elected and state officials for our proposals.”

Meanwhile, additional information questioning the plan has been produced and filed by grid operator PJM Interconnection.

“The business case against the bailout has become particularly stronger” as a result, said Dick Munson of the Environmental Defense Fund, which also opposes FirstEnergy’s plan.

Limited information

FirstEnergy’s revised plan would have its regulated utilities buy all the output from the Davis-Besse nuclear plant, the W.H. Sammis coal plant, and FirstEnergy’s share of power from two 1950’s era coal plants.

The utilities would resell the electricity in the competitive market, and distribution customers would pay any shortfall or get a credit for the difference between the resale price and the contract price. That price includes a guaranteed rate of return for FirstEnergy Solutions.

The proposed settlement that was filed last month would shorten the term to eight years instead of the original 15. Yet even the revised plan would boost a typical residential customer’s bill as much as $130 per year, according to the Office of the Ohio Consumer’s Counsel (OCC).

The settlement “taken as a whole, does not provide a net benefit to customers, is not in the public interest, and should be rejected by the PUCO,” said expert witness Matthew Kahal in supplemental testimony filed on December 30.

Under the settlement, FirstEnergy would also assume a small share of the potential downside to consumers, reinstate the energy efficiency programs it suspended after 2014, and make other changes.

Critics say some of those provisions could lead to additional changes that would increase consumers’ costs. One example is a section that would raise the fixed costshare of the bill for electricity distribution and could also discourage energy efficiency.

Similar concern focuses on provisions in the settlement for grid modernization.

Some programs that fall into that general category “may have benefits for customers,” said Rob Kelter of the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), which is among the parties who oppose the settlement. “But there’s also a lot of expense involved.”

Yet FirstEnergy has refused to produce documents about the details of the plans for grid modernization. The company claims no final versions exist and says any drafts are protected as attorney work product. It has also refused to provide supporting materials sought in follow-up requests, saying those were too broad or came later.

“Their plan may not be final yet, but we want documents that indicate what they intend to do. And that’s what discovery is all about,” Kelter said. “You don’t get to pick and choose what you want to give up to the other side.”

The big concern is that approval of the settlement might later be interpreted as “some type of preliminary permission” for whatever FirstEnergy might later submit—without the benefit of a full review beforehand, Kelter explained.

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Columbus Dispatch: AEP profit-guarantee case, who’s in and who’s out

American Electric Power has 10 allies in its proposal for a profit-guarantee for certain coal-fired power plants, while 11 parties have said they will fight the plan, and a key player has chosen not to participate.

This sets up a battle that looks like a family feud. Each side includes energy companies, consumer advocates and environmental groups.

They will square off next month in a hearing, and in filings with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

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Howard Learner appears on WGN Radio’s “The Download” to talk about the Paris Climate Conference and More

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner talks with WGN Radio host Justin Kaufmann about the Global Climate Treaty established in Paris, what climate change will mean for the Midwest, and how energy efficiency is a “two-fer” for environmental protection and economic development.

Listen to the broadcast on WGN’s website. Howard’s segment begins at minute 36. 

ELPC Statement on Extension of Renewable Energy Credits

Contact: David Jakubiak

Congress Passes Five-Year Extension of Solar and Wind Credits
Illinois Must Take Advantage by Modernizing Renewable Energy Standard

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

CHICAGO – Howard A. Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, issued the following statement in response to Congress’ approval of extensions for the ITC for solar and the PTC for wind:

“Congress’ five year extension of the investment tax credit for solar power and the production tax credit for wind energy set the stage for advancing renewable energy across the Midwest. If Illinois doesn’t modernize its renewable energy standard, those investments in clean energy will go to other states.”


Howard Joins WBEZ’s Worldview to Discuss Paris Climate Agreement

Monday afternoon, Howard Learner joined Jerome McDonnell on WBEZ’s global affairs program Worldview to discuss what the COP21 agreement reached in Paris means to efforts to address climate change. You can listen to the broadcast below.

Learner Op-Ed in State Journal-Register: Clean Power Plan makes good economic sense for Illinois

Illinois is an economic winner under the new Clean Power Plan because of our state’s robust clean wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency resources and nuclear plants. The Clean Power Plans sets flexible standards for Illinois and other states to reduce carbon pollution.

Building new wind farms in central Illinois creates jobs, boosts property tax revenues for schools and local governments, and provides new income for farmers who can continue to grow corn and soybeans while gaining wind turbine lease payments. Wind power produces clean energy that grows Illinois’ economy while reducing pollution for everyone.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest way to reduce carbon pollution while saving homeowners money on their utility bills and businesses money that improves their bottom lines.

Illinois is now fifth in the nation for wind power capacity. Illinois is home to the nation’s largest nuclear plant fleet. Solar energy is primed to accelerate. Illinois homes and business and governmental and university buildings have untapped opportunities for highly efficient LED lighting, improved heating and cooling systems, better pumps and motors, and other modern energy efficiency technologies that save money and reduce pollution.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Illinois Clean Energy Supply Chain report identified 237 Illinois companies engaged in the solar industry supply chain, and 170 Illinois wind industry supply chain companies. These businesses employ 20,000 people across Illinois. The Clean Power Plan and renewable energy development solutions are good for jobs, good for economic growth and good for our environment.

So, what’s the problem?

Missourian Terry Jarrett’s Dec. 7 guest column attacked the Clean Power Plan that is designed to reduce carbon pollution, help grow the clean energy economy and accelerate practical climate solutions. Jarrett’s economic arguments were based on a report by “Energy Ventures Analysis” that, apparently, was commissioned by the National Mining Association, including Peabody Energy, which is headquartered in Missouri. What does one expect when the cost estimates are being generated at the behest of large coal mining companies?

Let’s set the record straight. Some coal plants in Illinois are retiring because of changing realities in the competitive electricity market: (1) low natural gas prices, (2) economical wind power, (3) affordable energy efficiency holding down electricity demand, and (4) nuclear plants for which Exelon is asking for public subsidies to keep running.

Natural gas prices are low — today, $2.02 MMBtu — and many coal plants are just not competitive on a fuel basis. That’s why Dynegy and NRG are retiring some of their coal plants that are uneconomic in the competitive power market. They are converting some other coal plants to natural gas. These corporate business decisions reflect today’s competitive market prices and reasonable near-term projections; the Clean Power Plan requirements, however, won’t take effect until 2023 at the earliest.

Electricity sales are down about 1 percent annually in Illinois due to energy efficiency. There’s a surplus of electric generating supply over demand here. That results in relatively low wholesale electricity market prices. That’s good for Illinois businesses and residents. That’s not so good for power plant owners.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s recent study determined that reaching renewable energy and energy efficiency targets already in state statutes would trigger creation of 9,600 new jobs by 2019. The study also found that investments in wind power and solar energy have “led to a dramatic increase in manufacturing jobs at renewable component manufacturers across Illinois from Peoria to Cicero, Clinton, Rockford, and Chicago.”

Illinois should benefit from cleaner air, clean jobs and economic growth that the Clean Power Plan will accelerate. Let’s be smart, move forward and seize these strategic opportunities for progress.

— Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an environmental quality and economic development advocacy organization headquartered in Chicago.

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