Hawaii public utility commission pushes reforms to benefit the public

April 23rd, 2018 by  on Clean Technica 

Hawaii has the most aggressive renewable energy mandate of all US states — 100% by 2045. Reaching that goal means an end to business as usual in the utility industry. For more than a century, it has been all about selling more and more kilowatt-hours. But as the world careens toward an uncertain future caused in large part by carbon emissions from generating electricity, new constructs are needed to meet the needs of customers while slashing the emissions attributable to the industry.

renewables in Hawaii

Credit: HECO

Hawaii’s public utilities commission is considering how to amend the traditional rules of the game to support the state’s 100% renewable energy goals while insuring utility companies are not asked to shoulder more than their fair share of the burden associated with those changes. Its latest proposal, known as performance-based rates, “encourages electric utilities to increase [capital] investments, thereby increasing the utility’s associated return on investment,” reports Utility Dive.  This creates what the PUC calls “infrastructure bias” to deploy capital intensive solutions.

The purpose of the new PBR rules is to “motivate utility companies to employ cost-savings measures, reduce electricity sales, improve energy efficiency, increase customer choice, integrate customer-sited generation and establish new and innovative services.” It’s all part of an initiative to modify the present regulatory framework so that it better aligns utility company interests with the public interest. Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) is the largest utility company in the Hawaiian islands. One new aspect of the PUC proposals would require utility companies to bear a portion of any future fuel increases until the goal of 100% renewable energy is reached. At present, such costs are simply passed on in full to rate payers.

HECO has been actively participating in programs to reduce consumption of electricity, including a demand response program that most people would call a “smart grid” arrangement. It will use the power of the internet of things to connect appliances, electric vehicles, solar panels, and battery storage systems so they can all work together. The utility company believes such initiatives, which will begin on the islands of Oahu and Maui first before being expanded to other islands, will reduce overall demand by hundreds of megawatts. In a related development, UK firm Ovo last week announced it is now offering the first EV charger optimized for vehicle to grid operation.

EV owners will be incentivized to charge their cars during periods of low demand or during hours when there is excess renewable energy available. Similarly, new tariffs for rooftop solar customers will reward them for feeding power back to the grid during the peak demand hours of 4 pm to 9 pm but will receive no compensation for the electricity they provide to the grid at other times.

Utility companies obey all the normal rules of commerce. They seek to maximize their income and return on investment. By refocusing the rules that govern the industry, the Hawaii public utilities commission is taking important new steps to align the interests of companies, customers, and the environment. Hopefully, other state utilities commissions will take notice of what is happening in Hawaii and adjust their policies accordingly. 


4 States Get Over 30 Percent of Power from Wind — and All Lean Republican

Even though new U.S. wind power installations were down in 2017, wind energy is expected to pass hydro as the nation’s top renewable energy source this year.

Kansas farms and wind farms. Credit: Kansas State University Research and Extension

Kansas claimed the second-highest percentage of in-state electricity production from wind in 2017, just behind Iowa. Credit: Kansas State University Research and Extension

A new report underscores that even as Republican leaders remain resistant or even hostile to action on climate change, their states and districts are adopting renewable energy at some of the fastest rates in the country.

Four states—Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota—now get more than 30 percent of their in-state electricity production from wind, according a new report by the American Wind Energy Association. Each of those states voted for Donald Trump in 2016, and each is represented by Republicans in the Senate and has a Republican governor.

In fact, the top 10 congressional districts for installed wind power capacity are represented by Republicans, according to the report, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

While the U.S. wind power industry continued to expand last year, however, its growth rate slowed, with 7 gigawatts of capacity added in 2017, down from more than 8 gigawatts added in 2016.

The slower growth likely was due in part to changes in tax credits. Developers could take full advantage of the federal Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit for wind energy through the end of 2016, but it began phasing down starting in 2017. And the governor of Oklahoma, the state with the second-highest wind power capacity, signed legislation in 2017 to end state tax incentives for the industry three years early amid a budget crisis.

U.S. Renewables Still Fall Short

Nationwide, wind now supplies more than 6 percent of the country’s electricity, and it is expected to pass hydroelectric power as the largest source of renewable energy in the U.S. this year.

But the total slice of renewables—which provide about 17 percent of the nation’s electricity—is far short of the energy transition experts say is needed to avoid dangerous warming. A paper last year by some of the world’s leading climate change experts said renewables need to make up 30 percent of the global electricity supply by 2020 in order to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

Map: States by the percentage of in-state electricity generated from wind energy.

One of the greatest areas of potential growth for wind in the U.S. may be offshore, particularly in the Northeast.

Except for Maine and Vermont, most Northeastern states generate only a tiny fraction of their power from the wind, according to the American Wind Energy Association. But Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York among others have been pushing to expand offshore wind development.

New Jersey’s New Wind Power Push

In January, New Jersey’s newly-elected governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, signed an executive order that aims to boost offshore wind development, with a goal of having 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind power installed by 2030.

Last week, New Jersey lawmakers also passed a bill that would require the state’s utilities to purchase 35 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030, up from the existing target of nearly 25 percent by 2021.

That bill has split environmental groups. The Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter opposed it in part because it includes cost caps for renewables that, if exceeded, would nullify the renewables standard.

Dale Bryk, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the bill “a pretty amazing package” because of its incentives for energy efficiency and renewables. She said her organization has analyzed the cost caps and found that the state can easily stay within them while meeting the goals for renewable energy.

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