Declaration on Energy Choice & Competition

A Civil Society Call for All Leaders of Governments, States & Nations to Remove Barriers to Affordable, Reliable, and Clean Energy

An international group of civic leaders gathered in New York City this week to sign a Declaration on Energy Choice and Competition on the sidelines of the Atlas Network’s 2019 Liberty Forum.

The declaration is the brain child of Julian Morris and Adrian Moore of Reason Foundation, Guillermo Peña Panting of Honduras’ Fundación Eléutera, Rod Richardson of the Clean Capitalist Leadership Council, and the Energy Choice Coalition.

The group unveiled the document in support of broadening energy freedom around the world on the eve of the Atlas gathering, an annual networking event of international think tanks and civil society organizations dedicated to individual freedom and removing barriers to human flourishing.

The civil society declaration calls upon world leaders to commit to removing barriers to competition in energy markets to increase opportunities for renewable energy, efficiency, and innovation. Organizers of the project are encouraging people to sign the declaration ahead of  next month’s UN climate change conference, where they plan to submit it to world leaders.

In order to improve access to clean, reliable, affordable energy for all, and thereby reduce harmful air pollution, improve access to clean water and sanitation, reduce disease, improve productivity, and enable more rapid innovation and economic development, as well as more rapid and effective mitigation of and adaptation to climate change risks, we now call upon leaders of all governments, states and nations to commit substantially to reduce, within and between nations, not only government-sanctioned barriers to choice and competition in energy markets, but also similar barriers to cleaner and more efficient products and energy innovations.
— Declaration on Energy Choice and Competition

The declaration calls access to clean, reliable, affordable energy a human right and argues that energy choice and competition in energy generation, transmission, and distribution are necessary for human advancement.

The authors point out that over 800 million people around the world currently have no access to electricity and many more lack access to reliable electricity. Improving access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy is best achieved through maximizing consumer choice and competition within local power markets, they argue.  

Choice and competition drive innovation, as producers strive to deliver better quality at lower prices. To lower costs, producers reduce inputs, such as energy. Over time, this dynamic has driven a trend toward lower carbon emissions per unit of output. More so in competitive power markets, as found in Texas, the United Kingdom, Chile, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland, according to the authors of the declaration.

Studies show competitive U.S. state markets have delivered faster decarbonization at a lower cost, compared to monopoly markets, since 1997. These results make sense, because innovations spread faster, and policy incentives work better, if markets are open, not closed.

Richardson of the Clean Capitalist Coalition describes the declaration as an international collaborative effort between both organizations and individuals, and said efforts to advance energy choice and competition will be aided greatly if local, state, and national leaders unite in commitment to energy market freedoms.

Sign the Declaration on Energy Choice and Competition here.

PG&E Monopoly is not Good for Customers or Forests

Last week was not a good week to live in California, especially for the astonishing 800,000 people who lost power. For the unlucky ones who had less than 24 hours’ notice, it was an exceptionally bad week. A blackout would be bad enough, but it was especially egregious given that the power outages were deliberately caused by the state’s biggest monopoly utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), in an attempt to reduce the risk of its infrastructure sparking another wildfire.

Unsurprisingly, the sudden blackouts did not go down well with consumers. Without sufficient notice – PG&E even knocked out its own website making communicating with its customers all the more difficult – traffic lights went out; hospitals, police stations, and fire stations weren’t prepared; and up to $200 million dollars’ worth of food rotted. All because of bad planning and a misuse of funds. Just this morning, the CEO of PG&E said that the blackouts will have to occur for the next ten years.

The California fire season is getting worse every year, in part because of rising temperatures and shrinking rainfall, but also due to California’s refusal to actively manage its forests by thinning tree growth, ground brush and other fuels. Fires aren’t being fought the way they should be, and because of California’s housing crisis and high property values, more people are moving into fire-prone land.  

Fire is a natural part of the lifecycle of a healthy forest. As a forest matures, fuel sources build up on the forest floor and tree growth becomes denser making it more prone to fire caused by lightning or other causes. Naturally occurring wildfires regularly reduce the amount of fuel and keep it from building up. But in California and many other places, small wildfires have not been allowed to occur, nor has the local government gone in and cut trees and cleared brush. This has left our forests in an unnatural state and vulnerable to major fires because of the amount of available fuel.

PG&E knew this, and yet for years dragged its feet on updating aging infrastructure, preferring instead to line their investors’ pockets,  donate to political campaigns friendly to them, and cozy up with regulators. Rates went up for customers, ostensibly to update infrastructure, but very little was actually done. It was an outdated PG&E tower that caused last year’s deadly Camp Fire, prompting a class-action lawsuit that has pushed the monopoly utility into bankruptcy court.  

That wasn’t the first lawsuit either: the company was fined $3 million in 2010 for covering up a pipeline explosion,  and this year the courts said PG&E violated its probation. If PG&E were a politician instead of a government-created monopoly, the attack ads would write themselves.

A California bankruptcy judge has decided that PG&E – the state’s largest utility with 40 percent of ratepayers – cannot be trusted to write its own restructuring plan. What’s next for California electricity customers remains an open question. Will PG&E emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a vertically integrated utility?

One thing is for sure, more and more customers are saying they want greater local control over where they get their power. Municipal-run Community Choice Aggregation (CCAs) are popping up all over PG&E territory. We think California should go further by increasing competition in the retail sector.

California allows limited electricity choice for residential customers, but it should do more to increase direct access to competitively priced electricity for consumers. Competition will bring efficiency and innovation to the electricity market. Letting the private sector compete to generate electricity and provide ancillary services will free up incumbent utilities to focus on improving the distribution infrastructure. California’s crumbling power lines aren’t going to fix themselves.

Just in Time for Halloween: Grid Resiliency Docket Returns at FERC

Bloomberg is reporting that FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee told reporters after today’s FERC meeting that the commission plans to revive action on grid resilience “sooner rather than later.”

“I have always said we will do a careful, thoughtful, data-based, scientific examination of our record:” Chatterjee told reporters, according to Bloomberg. His comments come on the heels of a letter-writing campaign from utility commissioners from six coal states - Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming - raising concerns about the increasing number of coal plant closures “bringing increased attention to grid resilience and fuel security.” The letters call on FERC to finalize its review of the electricity grid and consider imposing rules to reduce closure of fossil-fuel power plants.

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Renewables top coal in power generation for first time

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Renewables hit a major milestone in April, contributing more electricity generating power to the grid for the month than coal, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Renewable sources provided 23 percent of total electricity generation to coal’s 20 percent.

“This outcome reflects both seasonal factors as well as long-term increases in renewable generation and decreases in coal generation,” according to the EIA.

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“Record generation from wind and near-record generation from solar contributed to the overall rise in renewable electricity generation this spring. Electricity generation from wind and solar has increased as more generating capacity has been installed. In 2018, about 15 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar generating capacity came online.

"Wind generation reached a record monthly high in April 2019 of 30.2 million megawatthours (MWh). Solar generation—including utility-scale solar photovoltaics and utility-scale solar thermal—reached a record monthly high in June 2018 of 7.8 million MWh.” Read more at EIA.gov.

And then check out the forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance which expects solar and wind to power half the globe in 2050.

FERC Chairman tells Congress to Make Energy Policy Boring Again

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In these divided political times and 24-hour news cycles, even previously wonky policy topics have gotten pulled into the partisan fray. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee’s recent comments at an energy industry event on the evolution of energy policy and what it means for the utility sector are a case in point.

Chatterjee told an industry crowd earlier this month that Congress should “make energy policy boring again.”

We say good luck with that, but we understand Chatterjee’s point. Lawmakers and energy industry leaders made similar comments at this year’s CERAWeek in Houston, calling for separating the policy of energy from the politics of campaigns.

Removing the politics from energy policy is not going to happen. The issue is too important for politicians to let it go and not use it to try to rally voters – whether that’s climate activists or energy jobs voters. But let’s take a closer look at why regulators like Chatterjee – himself a long-time political and policy aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell before being confirmed to FERC – want Congress to get back to setting policy.

FERC was established by Congress in 1977 as an independent regulatory agency with oversight of interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil. FERC’s mission has expanded over the years to include the permitting of pipelines, export terminals, hydropower projects and other energy infrastructure.

By design, the commission is set-up to be independent from undue political influence. No more than three of its five commissioners may come from a single political party and because its decisions are reviewable by the courts, the commission is meant to be free from direct presidential and congressional interference.

The commission is set up to oversee the implementation of the laws set by Congress, but that role has changed as Congress has been increasingly unable – or unwilling – to address the political questions around energy production and climate change. Activists have taken to targeting FERC as a substitute for action at the congressional level.

Decisions made at commission meetings on whether a project should be permitted have become default signposts for which direction the country is going on energy policy. The end result is that the once sleepy FERC has become a political battleground with its commissioners increasingly divided based on where they stand on climate change.

It shouldn’t be this way.

The chairman didn’t use a version of President Donald Trump’s famous line about making America great again by accident. He knew it would grab people’s attention. His message: regulators are there to carry out the laws set by Congress, not make policy.

According to Utility Dive, Chatterjee said that considering the effects of climate change when evaluating energy infrastructure projects was not within FERC’s jurisdiction.

“If the commission wanted to take a different direction in how we evaluated the climate impacts of pipelines that we evaluate, that directive would need to come from Congress. I don’t believe it is within our statutory purview to take that expansive view ourselves,” Chatterjee said.

Such a stay-in-your-lane approach at FERC bucks the growing trend of federal agencies expanding the scope of federal statutes. In the same way that some judges are viewed to legislate from the bench, environmental advocates increasingly view FERC as a way to advance their goals of moving the nation’s energy mix away from fossil fuel.

“Congress has the tools to effectuate the necessary direction that the country should go, and then it should be up to the agencies like the FERC to implement that direction. But we ought not be setting national energy policy at an independent regulatory agency,” Chatterjee noted in his speech.

Chatterjee has a point. The legislative process provides an opportunity for deliberation by legislators and an avenue for stakeholders to have their concerns heard. It’s a much more transparent process than the regulatory approach and, if voters ultimately don’t like the direction Congress takes, they can vote out their representative in the next election – an option not available with unelected regulators.

But while Congress writes the laws, it’s up to federal agencies like FERC to implement those laws. And since legislation is rarely clearly defined, federal agencies have a lot of influence in how the law is carried out.

In the case of addressing issues with the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), a review by FERC is underway. Utility Dive reports that Chatterjee sees the need to modernize PURPA as high priority to ensure the law matches up “with the realities of today’s market.”

Chatterjee’s comments, though, also signal a need for Congress to address the underlying questions about advances in wholesale electricity markets and evaluating the impacts of energy use on the climate.

Supporters of renewable energy have raised concerns that opening up PURPA could result in changes that make deploying renewable generation sources more difficult, which speaks to the need for Congress to engage stakeholders through public hearings and the legislative process. Chatterjee, for his part, doesn’t share concerns that renewables could be disadvantaged.

“I think renewables are at a place where they can stand on their own and compete without government subsidies and policies. And so, any reforms that we make to modernize PURPA, in my view, should not and would not have a detrimental effect on renewables because I think renewables can compete on their own,” he said.

PURPA was created in 1978 to encourage fuel diversity at a time when electricity markets were monopolies and oil dominated America’s energy mix. Today, wholesale and retail markets have increased renewable energy use, and advances in storage are creating new opportunities to develop renewable energy assets. Competition has proven an effective driver of new investment in generation and is advancing sustainability goals while reducing carbon output. A greater emphasis on competition and demand pricing would encourage more renewable energy development while making sure ratepayers aren’t left paying for unused capacity and unwanted generation.

Energy Choice: Eight states to watch

Injecting competition into monopoly power markets is great way to lower costs, spur innovation and encourage the use of more renewable energy sources. Unfortunately, only a handful of states currently offer electricity consumers at the residential level a choice in where they get their power.

Our outdated utility system where customers receive electricity from a regulated, vertically-integrated monopoly that handles generation, transmission and local distribution, and where electricity prices are set by government regulators to allow the utility to recover its incurred costs in infrastructure no longer matches our changing menu of available generation sources.

Everyone needs electricity – at work, home and on the go – and demand is increasing as our lives become more digitalized. Giving the end-user consumer the power to choose their service provider encourages companies to compete based on the quality of service and price rather than sit back and collect a guaranteed rate of return on investment.

A 2017 report from the Retail Energy Supply Association found that customers in states that still have monopoly utilities saw their average energy prices increase nearly 19 percent from 2008 to 2017, while prices fell 7 percent in competitive markets over the same period.

Given the benefits of free-market competition, grassroots efforts to introduce competitive energy markets are sprouting up across the nation.

The energy freedom movement has not gone unnoticed by incumbent utilities. The big utilities have built up substantial political influence over decades of working closely with state and federal lawmakers, and they’re not shy about wielding their power to oppose threats to the status quo. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Southern Atlantic states.

To be fair to the incumbent utilities, the rapid growth of distributed energy sources and the push for greater competition in their markets is a threat to the existing cost-of-service model that has been in place for over a century. But change is inevitable, especially as concerns about climate change drive the transition to lower-carbon energy sources.

The existing market model has also resulted in some high-profile controversial uses of ratepayers’ money. Here’s just a few examples of where monopoly utilities made bad bets with other people’s money:

The reorganization of energy markets toward open competition has experienced fits and stops since its beginnings in the 1990s, but here are eight states – starting with the aforementioned southern states – where change is in the air.

Florida

Florida is arguably the state with the most heated battle surrounding energy choice at the moment. It’s also the state where citizens stand the best chance of winning their energy freedom soon.

In early 2019, advocates in Florida began collecting signatures to place energy choice on the ballot, specifically the question of whether the state should have competitive wholesale and retail electricity markets.

The measure would amend the state’s constitution to declare that it is the policy of the state of Florida that "its wholesale and retail electricity markets be fully competitive so that electricity customers are afforded meaningful choices among a wide variety of competing electricity providers.

The initiative would not directly restructure of the state’s retail electricity market but would make it the state’s policy to provide consumers of investor-owned utility companies with the rights to choose providers on a competitive wholesale and retail electric market and to produce electricity for themselves. The Florida Legislature would still have to pass laws to implement the amendment.

Advocates for the amendment face a steep climb since Florida’s incumbent utilities are well connected politically and within the business community, and are not shy about spending their ratepayers’ money to oppose competition.

While organizers of Florida’s energy choice campaign have raised nearly $4 million and collected nearly half of the signatures needed to get on the ballot, they must still overcome the collective opposition of the state’s incumbent utilities and their combined spending power.

Florida’s attorney general challenged the ballot initiative language in court as being misleading and argued that “voters simply will not be able to understand the true meaning and ramifications of the proposed amendment.”

Florida’s Supreme Court heard arguments in the case at the end of August and, for now, the issue is in the hands of those justices. Since American democracy is based on the concept that the power of the government comes directly from its citizens, courts generally lean toward empowering citizen engagement in the legislative process, which bodes well for Citizens for Energy Choice.

Keep an eye on Florida.

North Carolina

A groundswell of public support for energy choice is happening in North Carolina, where advocates for cleaner sources of energy are pressing officials to open the state’s power market to competition.

Duke Energy has a monopoly on generation and delivery in the Tar Heel state, but it is also saddled with a history of rate increases and environmental violations, including the improper handling and disposal of coal ash at one of its powerplants, that have soured relations with its ratepayers over the years.

Proponents of energy choice formed a coalition of local and regional organizations earlier this year to counter Duke’s close relationships with state lawmakers, launching “follow the money” type reports and a website to track the big utility’s spending against energy choice.

The Energy Justice coalition members have put Gov. Roy Cooper and the state’s other elected officials on notice that “the interests of utility monopolies no longer coincide with those of the state’s electric power customers.”

The coalition is still building grassroots support through public education efforts and is planning on introducing legislation to open North Carolina’s power market to competition. The coalition is currently engaged in opposition to legislation supported by Duke Energy that would give the utility the ability to increase electricity rates to pay for coal ash cleanup and grid modernization.

The coalition recently ran a newspaper ad declaring that “Duke Energy and other electric monopolies are trying to pass a deceptive bill that’s opposed by consumers and businesses. That’s why they gave our politicians $1.6 million over 10 years and ramped up their giving in 2018 while they wrote this bill.”

With so much fire in the belly of advocates, North Carolina is a state worth watching.

South Carolina

In neighboring South Carolina, consumer groups are also driving the push for expanding energy choice as a response to the state’s high prices.

According to the Palmetto Promise Institute, “South Carolinians pay more for electricity than any other state in the union.”

A big reason for those higher prices is the unfinished and now-abandoned $9 billion Santee Cooper nuclear powerplant that the South Carolina Legislature has permitted the incumbent utilities to charge to ratepayers. As long as the existing cost-recovery model allows incumbent utilities to place all the risk on ratepayers, the “if we build it, they have to pay for it” status quo will continue to encourage risky investments.

Public opposition to the current electricity market model even prompted the South Carolina Post and Courier newspaper to publish an editorial in support of competition.

“Part of what led to the multibillion-dollar V.C. Summer boondoggle can be traced to having a system of regulated monopolies and, of course, the Base Load Review Act that allowed SCE&G to charge ratepayers in advance for the now-abandoned nuclear project,” the Post and Courier’s editorial board wrote last December. “Economic incentives push for-profit utilities to make expensive, risky investments rather than, say, try to help customers reduce their energy consumption.”

The Palmetto Promise Institute study mentioned above found that consumers have typically benefited from greater competition in electricity markets.

Republican State Senator Tom Davis similarly declared that “energy competition is the answer” to South Carolina’s high energy prices. Having such powerful voices supporting energy choice bodes well for the chances of success in the Palmetto State.

Georgia

Another Southern state where change is in the wind is Georgia, which has long offered consumers the ability to buy natural gas in a competitive market. Competition also exists at the wholesale level for large industrial customers of electricity. So far though, residential electricity customers have not enjoyed the same freedom to choose their service provider in the Peach State.

Given the success of competition in the gas and wholesale electricity markets, its unsurprising that residential power customers would want in, too. A statewide poll completed in March found “overwhelming support for an all-of-the-above energy strategy that would encourage increasing the use of renewable energy in Georgia.”

The poll by Public Opinion Strategies found that 75 percent of Georgians would “prefer a new electricity system that opens up markets to competition and gives consumers choices.”

Calls for more competitive markets are not as far along as in the other states we’ve mentioned so far but with public support so high, Georgia should be on everyone’s list.  

Nevada

Nevada was the site of one of the most notable battles regarding energy choice in recent memory. A state constitutional amendment that would have allowed energy choice was on the 2018 ballot but was ultimately defeated after a massive spending campaign by the incumbent utility.

The language was similar to what’s now being proposed in Florida. It was actually the second time the question of whether Nevada should adopt a retail competitive electric market was on the ballot, as it passed with an overwhelming 72 percent of the vote in 2016. However, the state constitution requires citizen-initiated amendments to be passed by the voters twice before being adopted.

After losing at the ballot box in 2016, the incumbent utilities were better prepared the second time around. After spending a collective $63 million against the amendment, with NV Energy spending more than anyone in the history of Nevada politics, the measure failed, but not until NV Energy caved to the demands of its biggest customers to provide more renewable energy options – a move that splintered the environmental movement’s support for energy choice. But while the environmental community claimed victory, residential consumers were left out in cold.

With so much public sentiment on their side, advocates for energy choice in Nevada should be expected to be heard from again soon.

Arizona

Another Western state that finds itself in the thick of an energy choice battle is Arizona. After failing to get anywhere in talks toward enacting competitive energy markets five years ago, the Arizona Corporation Commission is now looking to vote before the end of the year on rules that would allow independent power producers to compete for customers with the Arizona Public Service Company (APS).

Regulators are currently looking at wholesale customers, but there’s a push to make residential markets competitive as well.

One of the commission’s five members, Justin Olson, has been an outspoken champion for full energy choice based on the Texas model, noting in a recent editorial that “allowing households to choose their energy provider in a competitive marketplace will empower Arizona ratepayers who are tired of being captive customers to a monopoly.”

Public frustration with the incumbent utility due to repeated rate increases and altered rate structures that have been confusing and unpopular have spurred interest in competitive markets.

Arizona still has a ways to go before competition is a reality, but if advocates can educate state regulators on the benefits of competition and mobilize public support, energy choice could very well be in Arizona’s near-term future.

Illinois

Illinois is the first state to make this list that already offers energy choice to its residents. It’s just a flawed market that could be improved.  

Illinois has the third-highest number of residential retail choice customers in the country. But by allowing the incumbent utilities to continue to compete in power sales, state regulators have put up barriers to market entry for independent service providers that have slowed the state’s progress. Participation in retail markets actually fell to 1.8 million in May 2018, down from a high of more than 2 million in 2016.

As we have previously noted: “The existence in Illinois of default service procurement plans and market pricing failures have caused consumers to switch back to the traditional utilities. Both issues could be resolved through better market design that gives competitive suppliers a greater role and improved consumer protection measures.”

Illinois is a good example that simply winning energy freedom does not guarantee its success. Proper market design that isolates the incumbent utility’s monopoly to only cover the poles and wires and leaves the generation and sale of electricity to private-sector companies to encourage maximum competitiveness is crucial to ensure a truly competitive atmosphere. Vertically integrated utilities also have a financial incentive to maximize the amount of electricity they sell which discourages efficiency and disadvantages costumer-generated electricity. Separating a utility’s revenue from the electricity sales removes the motivation to sell as much energy as possible and eliminates any bias against customer-based generation.

As state regulators consider reforms to the current electricity market, Illinois will be an important state to watch.

Ohio

The final state on our list is Ohio. Like its neighbor, Ohio’s market allows consumers to choose their electricity service provider but also like Illinois, the Buckeye state’s market is flawed.

Ohio was an early adopter of energy choice and is one of the two states with more participants in its competitive market than Illinois. Unfortunately, Ohio officials at the time stopped short of fully separating the incumbent utilities from generation and retail sales.

The failure to isolate the monopoly utility has prevented true competition from taking off and resulted in inflated electricity prices. A 2017 study of the market by Ohio State University found that the flawed design has isolated utilities from competition and allowed them to continue to base rates on capacity investments and a guaranteed rate of return rather than on market rates.

Unfortunately, Ohio lawmakers have recently been moving in the wrong direction. Instead of increasing competition, the Ohio legislature recently approved House Bill 6 to bailout uncompetitive nuclear and coal power plants while cutting support for energy efficiency and renewables. A citizen-led effort to repeal the legislation by ballot initiative is currently before the state’s supreme court.

Proponents of House Bill 6 have flooded Ohio’s airwaves and mailboxes with political ads attacking the repeal effort as an attempt to surrender Ohio’s sovereignty to China. That alone makes Ohio a state to watch.

To say that Ohio remains a work in progress is an understatement, but attempts by Ohio lawmakers to buck the national trend toward the adoption of more renewable energy is instructive. Nuclear and coal are being driven from the electricity market because of competition from natural gas.

The only way noncompetitive resources can stay in the game is if lawmakers interfere in the market. Interference paid for by consumers. We think Ohio’s resistance to the energy transition is inevitably doomed to fail in the face of consumers’ demand for greater control over the energy they use.

Ohio’s reorganization of its electricity market got off to a good start, stalled out and is now backsliding in the face of strong corporate interest. Ohioans are now pushing back. All of this makes Ohio a state to watch.

Energy Choice Fact Check: Assessing the Truth About What’s Been Learned About Competition

The Arizona Energy Policy Group (AEGP) recently published a report entitled “Retail Competition in Electricity: What Have We Learned in 20 Years?” in an attempt to quash momentum in Arizona to allow customers to choose their service provider.

Energy choice, when adopted by states like Arizona, allows for open markets where customers are able to finally have a say in who generates their electricity as well as how that electricity is made. Providing customers with the ability to identify the power provider who most aligns with their priorities, whether that’s the lowest price, the cleanest energy mix or the most innovative program offerings is a popular idea that is both saving consumers money and driving the transition to cleaner generation sources in the electricity sector.

While end users appreciate the ability to break from their monopoly electric utility, the resulting competitive markets have made incumbent utilities quite nervous.

Organizations representing utilities have poured unprecedented amounts of funds into political groups to oppose market reforms. The recent report from the AEGP is just the latest attempt to dissuade consumers from taking flight.

Unfortunately, the facts and the history of energy choice across the United States don’t line up with the claims AEGP makes in its report. We’ve pulled together this handy review of AEGP’s main claims and see what’s what.

Claim: There’s no evidence that energy choice consistently reduces rates for residential customers.

Fact: Markets that have embraced competition and consumer choice have demonstrated consistent energy price reductions compared with comparable markets without energy choice.

Monopolies have little incentive to reduce prices, innovate or improve efficiency because their customer base has nowhere else to go. Even when a traditionally integrated utility makes a bad investment decision it doesn’t pay the price because it is guaranteed a rate of return on investment that is covered by its customers. 

The anecdote to monopolistic behavior is competition. As noted by South Carolina State Sen. Tom Davis in a letter advocating for competitive energy markets in his state:

“The legislature has given the big utilities service-area monopolies and guaranteed them (on average) a 10.2 percent return on invested capital – even when they make poor decisions. Predictably, these big utilities pursue capital-intensive projects in order to maximize their return.  That’s why, despite a steady decrease over the past decade in the wholesale price of power in our country, retail rates charged by the utilities in our state have soared.”

Several studies have shown this to be the case. An Ohio State University study showed that the lack of competition in the state was responsible for increasing power costs. The American Public Power Association tracked electricity data and found that since 1997 electricity rates on average have increased 56 percent overall. In states with energy choice, however, rates increased 47 percent compared with non-reorganized states with incumbent utilities that saw 66 percent increases.

Long-term trends aren’t necessary to see the difference in rates, though, as looking at changes from 2016 to 2017 by the Energy Information Administration found that the only fives states that saw average rates decrease were states that had enacted energy choice. On the flip side, the largest year-over-year increase was in Florida, a state where energy choice advocates are battling to open the market to competition.

Claim: Residential electric rates in competitive states are higher on average than those in traditionally regulated states.

Fact: Comparing electric rates where the only main variable in power markets is the presence of energy choice shows the movement in the right direction for customers.

Opponents of competitive markets tend to cherry pick data from states that have only partially reorganized their electricity markets. These markets can have higher electricity rates for a host of reasons unrelated to competition. In fact, one of the main reasons for higher prices is that partially reorganized markets leave up many of the barriers to competition. When governments don’t trust markets to work and continue to try to direct it through regulation, it adds costs and discourages competition and innovation.

For a more direct comparison of competitive vs noncompetitive markets, it’s useful to look at regions where certain customers have the right to choose their energy service provider and others have not – but where power providers are subject to the same regional factors such as fuel prices, grid infrastructure, demographics and weather patterns. 

The best example in that case is Texas, a state that’s had energy choice for almost two decades. A longitudinal study by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power found that those with energy choice saw a rate decrease of more than 23 percent over a decade, while those without energy choice saw rates increase. The only real difference between the markets was whether there was a competitive playing field for service providers.

Claim: Energy choice requires an ISO (independent service organization) or RTO (regional transmission organization) and states without such wholesale market mechanisms face prohibitive resource planning and reliability challenges.

Fact: ISOs and RTOs were only created in 2000 to operate the grid and their establishment has made markets where they operate more efficient, effective and reliable.

AEGP is correct that energy choice would require Arizona to establish an ISO or RTO to manage the state’s electricity grid and its connection with the West’s wider transmission system in place of the incumbent utility.

Prior to 2000, ISOs and RTOs didn’t exist and utilities maintained exclusive control over their vertically integrated operations, from generation to transmission and distribution. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) changed that with its Order 2000 after finding that “there were still significant barriers to ensuring that the United States had an abundant supply of electricity at the lowest price possible for reliable service.”

FERC Order 2000 created RTOs and ISOs to ensure “nondiscriminatory access to transmission infrastructure.” An RTO or ISO is responsible for controlling and monitoring the use of the transmission grid in their respective territories and for making sure competitors can get their energy services on the regional delivery network.

It does require some upfront cost to setup an RTO or ISO, the expense is a long-term investment in the electricity grid that will improve service, reduce consumer utility bills, spur innovation and increase deployment of renewable energy sources. The average utility rate in Texas in areas with energy choice was 23 percent lower than parts of the state without energy choice.

All of the benefits that have been achieved by the over one dozen states that have implemented energy choice required the establishment of such ISO or RTO systems and association transitions that are less than 20 years old today. That implementation did not serve as an impediment, and in fact over two-thirds of Americans get their electricity through ISOs or RTOs.

Claim: There is meaningful adoption of innovation in markets without energy choice as well as those with choice.

Fact: The free market is the best engine for innovation as it frees entrepreneurs  

Besides lower electricity bills, another benefit of competitive markets is that they drive innovation and the adoption of technological advances that incumbent market participants often pass over or at least delay.

Monopolies simply don’t have the same incentive to innovate and adapt to customer requests and changing market conditions as private companies in an open market do. Incumbent utilities around the country are investing in utility scale wind and solar projects because they see the threat to their business model from competition.

Look no further than the debacle in Nevada for proof that monopolies will spend and do whatever it takes to defend their guaranteed rate of return. Florida is currently headed down the same dead-end path as Nevada.

There’s an easier, less expensive way to drive clean energy adoption.

If the threat of competition is enough to scare incumbent utilities into building more renewable generating sources, just think what full competition could do. Monopolies are incapable of giving consumers the range of choice in products and services they desire. The only way incumbent utilities can compete is to lobby public officials to erect barriers to competition and keep customers trapped.

Customers who desire the cleanest energy mix possible should have the ability to dictate that through the power of their individual choices.

Claim: The AEGP report is an unbiased and data-backed assessment of competitive energy markets.

Fact: The AEGP report is clearly biased toward incumbent utilities

As noted earlier, incumbent utility companies have immense political capital and they have not been shy in wielding that influence to protect their market position and bottom lines. The Arizona Energy Policy Group was formed in 2018 by the incumbent utility companies. It is not surprising then that AEPG is advocating for policy measures that would directly benefit the utilities rather than Arizona customers.

Fact check: Arguments against competitive markets and energy freedom don't hold water

EIA

The U.S. electricity industry was restructured in the 1990s to increase competition at the wholesale level by breaking up the generation and distribution functions of some vertically integrated utilities. In addition, some states restructured retail sales by unbundling the electricity delivery and electricity generation.

An increasing number of electricity customers now have access to the competitive retail markets, giving them choices in suppliers of electric power. Roughly 14 states and the District of Columbia allow consumers to purchase electricity from third-party providers instead of requiring power to be generated and delivered by one monopolistic utility. 

In these states, customers are afforded the freedom to shop for the energy sources that best match their priorities, whether that’s the provider with the lowest price, the greatest amount of renewable energy, the most attractive program incentives or any other factor they care about.

While true energy choice for end users is not permitted in the majority of states across the country, the debate about whether or not those markets should allow greater competition is heating up.

A ballot initiative to amend the state constitution in Nevada was put to a vote in November 2018 – it failed after the utility spent a record amount of money to fight the popular initiative – while Florida’s State Supreme Court is set to answer soon whether a similar ballot initiative will be allowed in its elections in the fall of 2020.

The predictable political battles over consumer freedom creates a debate about how states can best speed the transition to a lower-carbon emission economy and whether the old regulated utility model has outlived its usefulness. The fights have turned ugly with opposing sides hurling opposing “facts” at consumers.

The mudslinging isn’t surprising given the stakes. The falling cost of dispatchable generation from wind and solar, the development of smart meters and other digital solutions, and the evolution of financing options have empowered electricity consumers like never before – threatening the way electricity has traditionally been generated and sold in the process.

To clear up any confusion about opposing claims, let’s fact check some of the most common arguments used by opponents of energy choice.

Claim: Allowing consumers energy choice would lead to higher utility bills.

In opposition to the Florida energy choice push, a spokesman for Florida Power & Light noted that “Floridians have access to electricity that is both cleaner and more affordable than the national average. This system would be dismantled under the proposed constitutional amendment.”

Fact: Competitive markets result in lower prices for consumers.

A study by Ohio State University found that the lack of energy competition in Ohio is to blame for electricity cost increases. Competitive markets also shift the investment risk away from captive ratepayers and on to competitive power companies.

Taking this point nationally, the Retail Electric Rates in Deregulated and Regulated States report has found that rates across the country are rising across the board for electricity, increasing by 55.9 percent from 1997 to 2018. In states without energy choice, the increase over that same time has been 65.5 percent, while states with energy choice have seen a more meager 47 percent increase. These trends of what has happened after competition is introduced is the critical factor in measuring how much consumers benefit.

Well-designed competitive markets offer a number of other benefits beyond just lower prices, including more efficiency, innovation and supplier options. A lack of competition allows regulated utilities to avoid competitive pressures which makes them slow to adopt new but more efficient technologies and business models that better serve consumers.

Attempts to scare consumers about how opening the market to competition will affect their utility bills is not supported by the facts. Looking at the impact of competitive markets in Texas, the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power found that “average residential electricity prices in deregulated areas have declined more than 23 percent during the 10-year period between 2008 through 2017. During the same time period, average residential prices in regulated markets have slightly increased during the same period.

The absolute cost of energy carries with it many different influences, including fuel costs, weather conditions and local regulations making it difficult to do a direct apples-to-apples comparison. However, looking at the price trend in Texas, the claims of those opposed to competition don’t hold water. In addition to lower electricity rates, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) notes that customers in competitive markets also see less price volatility in their monthly utility bills. This is because electricity prices are less influenced by fluctuations in the wholesale power market.

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EIA data shows that from 2005 to 2016 competitive energy providers went from supplying 11 percent of total U.S. retail electricity to 21 percent, while total customers in retail choice programs has hit nearly 17 million in the past five years. These numbers indicate a high level of success and customer satisfaction.

California does hold important lessons but not the ones opponents of competition want you to learn. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) released a report in 2017 examining what went wrong with reorganizing of the regulated market the last time and how to avoid such pitfalls this time around and ensure consumers have a greater say in the energy they use. California’s answer is to allow for local municipalities around the state to develop their own government-run power providers called community choice aggregators, or CCAs, which can be more responsive to community members on issues such as price and generation sources. 

As the entity responsible for the issues that led to the 2000s energy crisis, the commission has every reason to exercise caution as it encourages greater competition in the state’s electricity market. But rather than stick with the old monopoly institutions, the commission found:

“California’s status as the 5th largest global economy is directly linked to its ability to embrace advanced and innovative energy technologies, maintain safe and reliable grid operations and keep prices relatively stable, while allowing new market entrants to flourish and protecting ratepayer interests.”

The lesson learned appears to be that removing barriers to competition encourages innovation and drives adoption of cleaner energy sources.

Claim: Restructured markets would force customers to rely on unproven energy providers.

A common note of fear that those opposing energy choice tap into is that the existing utilities are the best for the job of generating and delivering energy simply because they’ve been doing it for so long, and thus opening the market will introduce inexperienced service providers.

The president and CEO of Associated Industries in Florida has warned that energy choice in Florida would “force us to rely on new, unknown corporations that have no experience or track record dealing with our state’s unique challenges, such as hurricanes.”

Fact: Competition is good for all players in the market. Under competitive markets, poor performers are driven out by consumers who can vote with their feet. A strong cop on the beat to make sure service providers play by the rules and consumers are protected is an important component of a well designed market.

Claim: Energy choice would decrease investment in renewable energy.

Fact: Competition is driving more efficient and targeted private sector investment into cleaner forms of energy, including wind and solar and storage. The competitive model is also shifting the investment risk off the backs of consumers and back onto the companies and service providers competing for their business - where it belongs.

While the main argument for energy freedom comes in the form of allowing customers to opt for the energy generation from the supplier with the lowest prices, many suppliers set themselves apart by offering renewable energy.

Customers today increasingly want to know that their homes and offices are being powered by wind, solar, and other clean energy sources, and many are willing to pay a premium for that service - though with the falling price of renewables, most providers can compete on price, too. For these customers, energy choice gives them the ability to sign up for the provider best aligned with their values.

The competitive market is responding to consumer demand and delivering cleaner energy in the process. And because consumers can easily switch providers for any reason, service providers have a natural incentive to provide superior customer service and to strive to innovate to maintain their competitive edge. It’s a win-win that does not require government intervention.

Compare that to traditional integrated utilities that don’t make money from selling electricity, but from building generation facilities and infrastructure. An integrated utility has no incentive to reduce the price of electricity or improve its efficiency because the government guarantees it a specific rate of return on its investment. Under such a system, the customer is captive and has little to no say in how electricity is generated.

In Florida, opponents of competition point to recent utility-driven initiatives to invest in solar energy and permit net metering as signs of progress and an indication that the utilities are responsive to consumer demands. The chairman of Citizens for Energy Choices contends, however, that this was a result of the energy choice movement and not something the utility would otherwise have done on its own.

The state’s solar growth, he contends, “didn’t occur until we started pushing competition. Suddenly the utilities react.”
— Florida Sun Sentinel

Giving up on energy choice now would be allowing the monopoly utilities to do just enough to placate clean energy advocates and not actually continue the momentum that energy choice would allow to grow. It would also force consumers to bear the full risk associated with building new generating capacity instead of allowing private companies to take on those risks.

Illinois Fast Becoming National Leader in Modernizing Electricity Infrastructure

Texas is the first state most people think of when the issue of modernizing the nation’s electricity sector is discussed, but there is a good argument to be made that Illinois is worthy of equal consideration.

The land of Lincoln has transformed itself over the past two decades into a leader in the transition to a modern electricity grid. State lawmakers have passed several pieces of legislation aimed at bringing the state’s power system into the 21st century. In doing so, they have put an emphasis on creating a market that can deliver a more dynamic grid that is cleaner, affordable, reliable and more responsive to consumers needs.

As digital technology continues to transition the electricity sector further away from the old vertically integrated utility model, consumers stand to benefit from the efforts of Illinois lawmakers to prepare the ground for a modern grid.

The seeds of Illinois’ reimaging of its power system were first planted back in 1997 with the Electric Customer Choice and Rate Relief Law, which reorganized the state’s two largest electric utilities, Ameren and Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), and created one of the nation’s largest retail electricity choice markets.

While the creation of retail choice markets was a major step forward, the implementation has not been without its challenges. In fact, one cloud over Illinois’ modernization efforts is the ongoing trend of declining participation in its retail residential markets.

Illinois has the third highest number of residential retail choice customers after Texas and Ohio. However, Illinois has seen participation in its retail markets fall to 1.8 million customers as of May 2018, down from more than 2 million in 2016, an annualized decline of more than 7.5 percent each year. As of May 2018, third-party suppliers served only 59 percent of Ameren customers and 32 percent of ComEd’s customers.

The existence in Illinois of default service procurement plans and market pricing failures have caused consumers to switch back to the traditional utilities. Both issues could be resolved through better market design that gives competitive suppliers a greater role and improved consumer protection measures.

A top goal of Illinois’ grid reform has been to make the state a leader in the digitalization of the electricity sector and the adoption of smart grid technology to empower the end user with greater control over their energy use through apps and other smart digital devices. This emphasis on digital communications and the complexity in managing an increasingly distributed grid has led the state’s utilities to invest in private telecommunications infrastructure to keep up with bandwidth demand and to ensure they can maintain data integrity in an emergency.

A joint report from the Smart Electric Power Alliance and ScottMadden, Inc. determined that the reforms so far adopted in Illinois have set the state up to take advantage of the trend toward increasing installation of distributed energy resources (DERs).

DERs are energy assets that are spread out across the grid and are increasingly under control of the end users, including rooftop solar, behind-the-meter battery storage, energy efficiency management tools, and electric vehicle chargers. Managed effectively, distributed generation can make the grid more resilient and increase the integration of clean energy assets. But there are challenges to integrating DERs into the larger grid.

Illinois is ahead of most states in preparing for a more decentralized electricity sector. The state has invested in advanced energy management software and adopted real-time pricing structures to handle issues associated with the growth of distributed generating assets.

In 2011, Illinois lawmakers passed the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act to ensure that the state’s increasingly clean and advanced grid was also reliable and resilient. The act authorized $3.3 billion to strengthen and modernize the grid, including a sizable investment in smart meters and other advanced metering technologies to help grid managers identify potential problems before they become issues for the wider grid system. Smart meter technologies also offer a number of benefits to the end consumer, including better access to data about and more control over their energy use.

The state has taken steps to ensure software and cloud-based computing solutions keep pace with other advances in the sector. Because utilities in most states are financially rewarded for making capital investments rather than for operational costs like software, smart meters have long been installed in large quantities but investment in the analytics needed to harness the full power of that data has lagged. Illinois is one of the first states to address this issue by reworking the regulatory model to provide an incentive for investing in smart metering software that will ultimately benefit consumers by putting more control in the palm of their hands.

Over the years, Illinois officials have been unwavering in their commitment to grid modernization. The latest efforts include the NextGrid Illinois Utility of the Future Study, a statewide effort to reimagine what the future electricity sector should look like. The study identifies new technologies, business models and policies to further strengthen grid management and the role of consumers. The results of the study were released this past December and provide a roadmap for Illinois to continue to improve the flexibility, efficiency and clean energy integration of its electricity sector.

Reorganization of Illinois’ electricity markets have delivered a wide range of benefits over the years for the state’s retail consumers.

Illinois was ranked second in terms of grid modernization, behind only California, in 2018 by the GridWise Alliance’s Grid Modernization Index, and the state has surpassed its goal for reducing customer power outage frequency and duration.

The vast installation of smart meters and other digital technologies has also positioned Illinois to be a leader in distributed resource installations going forward.  

In June, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation to provide $70 million in grants through the state’s environmental protection agency to build electric vehicle charging infrastructure and electrifying public transit and school buses.

While further reforms are needed to improve the design of the retail market, Illinois is ahead of most states. 

Energy Choice

Energy choice by definition is pretty straightforward: The ability of consumers – industrial, commercial, and residential – to decide where they purchase their electricity from and which energy source is used to generate that electricity.

The reality for the residential consumer is a bit more complicated.

While giving consumers the freedom to shop around for their daily power offers a litany of benefits – affordability, environmental performance, improved service, and innovation in the types of services available – determining whether energy choice is really an option in your state and neighborhood can be difficult.

Across the country, the electricity sector is a patchwork of traditional vertically integrated utilities and partially to fully open markets with varying degrees of consumer participation. Many regions with restructured wholesale markets do not have retail market competition. The opposite scenario also exists. And while a handful of states allow residential customers the freedom to pick their energy supplier, many impose a thicket of regulations and restrictions that effectively discourage competitors from entering the market and deny the final consumer the ability to benefit from real-time price changes.

So where does energy freedom ring loudest?  

Restructuring vs Actual Energy Freedom

The right to energy choice is available only in states where laws have been passed to reorganize wholesale and retail power sales, breaking long-held monopolies over the generation and delivery of electricity that legacy utilities were granted more than a century ago.

Reorganization of electricity markets started in the 1990s, but poor market design and inadequate oversight in the early 2000s caused some states to reverse course. Today, a handful of states and the District of Columbia allow consumers to purchase electricity from third-party providers.

California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas have allowed some level of competition.

Market participation in these states depends largely on each market is designed. While Texas provides the best example of energy freedom at the consumer level – thanks to its isolation of utilities to the owning and operating of the poles and wires of the delivery infrastructure only – many states do not allow choice at the retail level or impede competition with strict licensing requirements or by allowing utilities to hold on to generating assets and use their competitive advantage to exclude rival power sellers.

States in dark green allow residential consumers to choose a third-party electricity supplier.

States in dark green allow residential consumers to choose a third-party electricity supplier.

So determining whether retail consumers truly have energy freedom requires some digging. Ohio started down the restructuring path in 1999, but stopped short of separating utilities from generation and retail sales. In Georgia, Virginia, and Oregon, big industrial users have electricity choice, but residential customers do not.

Restrictions on Energy Freedom

In states that do allow third-party suppliers to compete for end-users at the residential level, there are also often further restrictions that make it difficult for competitors to gain a foothold or simply for consumers to switch providers. Some of these restrictions include capping the number of customers that can participate and how the eligibility of customers is defined, including requiring a minimum level of monthly energy usage. Understanding such restrictions are key to answering whether energy choice is available in specific areas. Market barriers to electricity freedom included:

  • Electricity choice for residential and commercial customers is limited to only certain designated utilities and their coverage areas in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas, as well as for just commercial customers in Virginia.

  • Electricity choice for residential customers is offered in Virginia but only for consumers seeking electricity from 100% renewable energy sources and only where the local utility does not provide this option.

  • Electricity choice for commercial customers is offered in California but is limited to customers of specifically designated utilities and is capped at a specific number of participants.

  • Electricity choice for residential and commercial customers is offered in Michigan, but no more than 10% of a utility’s sales can come from alternative suppliers.

  • Electricity choice for commercial customers is offered in Georgia but only to customers who reach peak loads of 900 kW or greater.

  • In many markets, the monopoly utility is treated as the default service provider, giving it a leg up on third-party energy suppliers.

So Does My State Truly Allow Energy Choice?

We’ve pulled together the most up-to-date information by state on energy choice programs, eligibility, and restrictions in the chart below.

As you can see, whether or not your state truly allows energy choice is tricky. Overall, between 13 and 15 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of electricity choice. And there is a growing support for competitive electricity markets among ratepayers across the country. But as the recent ballot initiative defeat in Nevada and the current fight underway in Florida show, energy freedom advocates have a long way to go.

 

Shell's Silicon Ranch Corporation Launches Program Combining Clean Energy, Carbon Sequestration, Economic Revitalization

Silicon Ranch Corporation, the US solar platform for Shell, has launched Regenerative Energy, which combines clean electricity generation with carbon sequestration, ecosystem restoration, and rural economic revitalization.

To develop its Regenerative Energy program, Silicon Ranch has partnered with regenerative ranchers and local farmers to deploy holistic land-use practices on solar farms across the country. Adaptively-managed grazing animals, diverse native plants, pollinator habitat, and wildlife work together to revitalize soil, enhance biodiversity and resilient ecosystems, sequester carbon in the soil, and strengthen rural economies, the company said.

Silicon Ranch has begun implementing regenerative agriculture practices on operating projects in Colorado, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi, with a plan to transition the balance of its portfolio over time. The company is integrating Regenerative Energy standards into designs for projects in its construction pipeline and is scheduled to bring more than one gigawatt of solar capacity online over the next three years.

Read More at RetailEnergyX.com.

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Nonprofit Relaunches Improved Online Resource Library

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Congratulations to OurEnergyPolicy.org on relaunch of its comprehensive online resource library about US energy policy and research. The library received a makeover and a new name and is now better than ever. The OurEnergyLibrary aggregates nearly 5,000 publicly available reports, white papers, journal articles, and studies on a broad variety of U.S. energy policy topics.

According to the nonprofit organization, the “OurEnergyLibrary provides a more defined focus than a simple Google search by limiting results to curated, professionally tagged publications, while excluding news articles, blog posts, and other extraneous content. It includes studies, reports, papers and other documents, and these resources are all free, publicly available, and produced by reputable organizations.”

Check it out at OurEnergyLibrary.

Reconsidering PURPA

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How relevant is a law enacted 40 years ago in response to the oil shocks of the 1970s? Especially given today’s electricity markets where inexpensive renewable energy resources rapidly supplant the old coal-fired workhorses of the industry. Perhaps it is time to revisit the law and ensure consumers see the best results as rapidly changing economic forces rock the electricity sector.

That’s the argument of U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and others in Congress calling for passage of legislation to modernize the 1978 law known as the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, or PURPA. Energy markets were “drastically different” when PURPA was first enacted, the Wyoming Republican argues, calling it critical to modernize the law to reflect a rapidly changing energy market in which clean, renewable resources have become increasingly economical.

But let’s take a step back and look at the environment in which PURPA was passed. PURPA was the first of several laws enacted by Congress to promote competition in the production of electricity for consumers. Yes, electricity markets were dramatically different before PURPA’s enactment since there was no market for electricity produced by entities other than monopoly-protected utilities.

PURPA was intended to promote investment in small, renewable energy facilities by non-utility generators. Amid spiraling inflation, long lines at gasoline stations and massive cost overruns in the construction of nuclear power plants, Congress sought to promote the type of investment that utilities were reluctant to undertake. At the time, PURPA was successful at jump-starting the creation of an independent generation industry and led to more pro-competition legislation enacted in a bipartisan fashion in 1992.

Today, regional electricity markets are determining the price of electricity for two-thirds of U.S. GDP. They’re not perfect, but have proven better than rate regulation at promoting the lowest costs for consumers, and have helped drive the development of ever-cleaner generation resources and cleaner air. 

So perhaps it is time to reconsider PURPA. After all, at the heart of concerns about the law is a regulatory artifice known as “avoided cost” rates. In other words, PURPA directs utility regulators to guess what the utility’s avoided costs would be had the utility – rather than a PURPA qualifying facility – produced the same amount of energy. It’s another form of failed utility ratemaking that competitive markets have made obsolete. 

But addressing PURPA’s rapidly obsolescent avoided-cost ratemaking process in isolation will do little to help consumers or promote development of a 21st electricity system. Congress should instead look at PURPA in a holistic context. The past 20 years have demonstrated that states with competitive markets have seen electricity costs better contained than in states that maintained the monopoly rate-setting method. Monopoly states today are a regulatory battleground as rooftop solar, consumers and other interests seek to break down barriers to competition and innovation.

In a genuinely competitive electric industry that quarantines monopoly utilities from the market, PURPA is unnecessary. Rather than tinker at the margins of the problems confronting today’s electricity consumer, Congress should confront the elephant in the room by completing the stalled transition to competition.

Only with real competition in electricity markets in which utilities can no longer serve as barriers to entry by new, innovative and cost-competitive suppliers, will consumers genuinely benefit. Such a transition to competitive markets will also help address increasing environmental concerns in the process. It’s a win-win.

Barrasso Reintroduces Bill to Modernize PURPA, Protect Electricity Customers

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The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 was passes as part of the National Energy Act in order to combat the energy crisis of the 1970s. It worked, but the energy world has drastically changed in the 40 years since.

The “Updating Purchase Obligations to Deploy Affordable Resources to Energy Markets Under PURPA Act” (or the UPDATE PURPA Act) makes the following commonsense reforms to PURPA:

• Protects electricity customers from having to pay for unnecessary PURPA costs.
• Empowers state public utility commissions and non-regulated utilities to waive PURPA’s mandatory purchase obligation if additional power is not required to meet customers’ electricity needs. 
• Ensures a level playing field for energy resources by requiring more PURPA resources to participate in energy markets. 
• Prevents abuse of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's one-mile rule.

Read more at Wyoming Senator Barrasso’s website.

Energy Use on the Rise

The latest chart from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shows that US residents used more energy in 2018 than the previous year. Overall energy consumption in 2018 rose to 101.2 quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTU). The prior record was 101.0 quadrillion BTU set in 2007. Energy use increased by 3.6% in 2018 from the previous year, which was also the largest annual increase in usage since 2010. Natural gas, wind, and solar saw the biggest growth in usage in 2018. Solar was up 22%, wind 7.6%, and natural gas 10.7% from the previous year. The latest energy flow chart shows that total renewable energy production doubled, including a five-fold increase in wind and a 48-fold increase in solar in the 10-year period from 2008 to 2018. Read more here.

Ohio’s HB 6 Contradicts Conservative Values

In this well written op-ed, public policy expert Sarah Hunt argues that an Ohio bill said to be about clean energy is actually a government bailout. Instead of boosting the economy while fighting pollution, this bill cost Ohio taxpayers millions with nothing in return. Read the rest at Townhall.