Clean Line pursues key approvals for transmission projects

Clean Line transmission projects aim to carry energy from wind farms in rural areas like western Kansas to supply loads to the east. (Photo by Joseph Novak via Creative Commons)

Clean Line transmission projects aim to carry energy from wind farms in rural areas like western Kansas to supply loads to the east. (Photo by Joseph Novak via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

A $2.2 billion project that would connect yet-to-be-developed wind farms in southwest Kansas to the nation’s largest power market is on trial in Missouri this week.

Just to the east, Illinois regulators are poised to decide whether to allow a $2 billion sister project that would link wind-rich northeast Iowa to the same power grid.

Wisconsin fixed-charge decision a sign of more to come

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

State regulators last week voted to nearly double fixed charges for Wisconsin Public Service Co. electric customers in a decision that opponents say will penalize seniors and other low-use customers and discourage energy efficiency and investment in rooftop solar.

Thursday’s 2-1 decision was the first of three similar cases in the state to be decided in the coming weeks. These normally routine electric rate cases have drawn national attention because of a broader ongoing debate over utilities’ response to the increasing popularity of distributed solar.

In northeast Wisconsin, only 340 of Wisconsin Public Service’s 400,000-plus electric customers have solar energy systems — one of few facts in the contentious case that was not in dispute.

But Wisconsin Public Service Commission Chairman Phil Montgomery said now is the appropriate time for regulators to enact reforms that address the issue.

Wisconsin utility willing to invest in new U.P. power plant

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
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By Jeffrey Tomich

Wisconsin Energy Corp.’s chief executive said the company is “willing to be an investor” in a new power plant to help alleviate a generation capacity shortfall in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

CEO Gale Klappa made the comment Wednesday during an earnings conference call in answer to questions about whether the unfolding crisis in upper Michigan could affect Wisconsin Energy’s ability to win approval from Michigan regulators for the buyout of Integrys Energy Group.

Klappa said that the company remains engaged in talks with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and state Attorney General Bill Schuette on a “global solution” to the Upper Peninsula’s energy woes, and that a solution could be agreed on within 60 to 90 days.

Utility challenges net metering plan in Ohio Supreme Court

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Ellen M. Gilmer

One of the nation’s largest electric utilities is facing off against Ohio regulators over the state’s net metering policy.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) last week asked the state Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit from American Electric Power Company Inc.’s Ohio division alleging that recent changes to agency code would force the utility to subsidize its competition.

The lawsuit attempts to lessen the costs shouldered by public utilities in a deregulated electricity market. In Ohio, electricity generation became competitive under state law in 2001, allowing customers to choose to receive power generated by their traditional utility or by a competitive supplier. Distribution services and billing, however, remain the utility’s responsibility.

Exelon says nuclear ‘at risk’ designation is little help

Exelon's nuclear power plant at Byron, Illinois. (Photo by Bill and Vicki T via Creative Commons)

Exelon’s nuclear power plant at Byron, Illinois. (Photo by Bill and Vicki T via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

An executive for the nation’s largest nuclear generator said U.S. EPA’s proposed carbon plan, which designates 6 percent of the nation’s nuclear capacity “at risk” for retirement, provides little help to prop up financially struggling reactors.

“There’s not really much of an incentive,” Kathleen Barrón, senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs and wholesale market policy for Exelon Corp., told Illinois regulators.

Barrón’s comments came during an Illinois Commerce Commission policy session Tuesday on the state’s efforts to comply with the Obama administration’s plan for a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 2030.

The meeting was the second of three scheduled by the commission to discuss implementation of the EPA rule, which is expected to be finalized next summer and implemented a year or two after that. A third policy session is set for Nov. 6.

Study: Midwest states should collaborate on EPA carbon rules

(Photo by Michael Leland via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Michael Leland via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

States within the Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s footprint could save billions of dollars complying with U.S. EPA’s proposed carbon rules for existing power plants by banding together and applying strategies beyond the four “building blocks” put forward by the federal agency, according to an analysis by the grid operator.

The analysis was conducted by the Carmel, Indiana-based regional transmission operator to help members prepare comments to submit to EPA. Results were presented to the grid operator’s Planning Advisory Committee on Wednesday. MISO hasn’t decided yet if it will submit formal comments by the deadline, which was extended until Dec. 1, said Brian Rybarik, MISO’s interregional director of external affairs.

FutureGen officials say Sierra Club complaint jeopardizes project

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

Efforts to develop the FutureGen “clean coal” demonstration project in western Illinois cleared a major hurdle last month with a legal victory that will force consumers to purchase the $1.65 billion project’s output.

But a different legal challenge — a Sierra Club complaint filed with the Illinois Pollution Control Board — is keeping jittery investors on the sideline and threatens to derail development of the plant, a FutureGen executive said in testimony filed with the board.

FutureGen 2.0 is the second iteration of a federal clean coal demonstration project originally proposed by the George W. Bush administration more than a decade ago. The original, more ambitious plan was scrapped after years of planning and political rancor because of massive cost increases.

Clean Line transmission project gets chilly reception in Missouri

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

MONROE CITY, Missouri — A plan to string high-voltage transmission lines 200 miles across the state of Missouri got a chilly reception from area landowners during the first public airing of the project Tuesday.

Over the course of several hours, farmers, business owners, politicians and organized labor representatives aired opinions about the $2.2 billion project, which aims to deliver 3,500 megawatts of cheap wind energy from the southwest Kansas plains to more populated areas hundreds of miles to the east.

The hearing was the first of a series of public meetings on the project being held across the state. While some in attendance support the jobs, taxes and clean energy that developers promised, coalitions of landowners opposed to the project, most of them wearing neon green T-shirts or stickers that said “Block GBE,” dominated the hearing.

Minnesota case puts value of solar in spotlight

(Photo by Oregon DOT via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Oregon DOT via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeffrey Tomich

There’s a new cash crop coming soon to the Twin Cities — electric power from community-owned solar gardens.

But just how much interest there is in harvesting the sun’s rays from jointly owned solar-electric systems could be dictated by state regulators in a key decision today. [UPDATE: Regulators sided with Xcel Energy in the case, updated story coming later today]

A 2013 law requires Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc. to administer a program for community solar gardens — centralized solar electric systems whose production is shared by people to buy stakes and get a credit on their power bills.

Xcel CEO charts steady course to lower-carbon future

Xcel CEO Ben Fowke. (Image via YouTube)

Xcel CEO Ben Fowke. (Image via YouTube)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Rod Kuckro

Xcel Energy Inc. Chief Executive Officer Ben Fowke may have found the sweet spot as the leader of one of the nation’s largest utility holding companies.

It’s not that his four regulated utilities with operations in eight states aren’t challenged by the multiple trends shaking up the electricity industry across the U.S. They certainly are.

It’s that Fowke, 56, views the challenges more as opportunities as he navigates a careful course toward a less carbon-intensive future.