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STATE LEGISLATIVE ACTION

Pipeline Replacement and Expansion

  • The Massachusetts House of Representatives approved a bill this month establishing an infrastructure replacement program to replace aging pipelines and a gas expansion program to make natural gas available to more customers in the state. H.B. 3873 is currently before the State Senate. In Washington, the State Senate is currently considering H.B. 2177 to expand natural gas in areas lacking natural gas infrastructure. The bill would allow customers and utilities to suggest proposals for the financing and building of natural gas infrastructure and allow gas companies to recover the capital costs of the infrastructure.

Southern SunNREL photo of solar workers

  • The Georgia legislature is considering a bill, H.B. 874, that would help electric customers install solar energy on buildings by allowing third parties to provide financing for the purchase and installation of solar panels that sell electricity to the grid. Currently, Georgia Power and municipal and cooperative utilities are the only authorized sellers of electricity, essentially prohibiting third-party financers from entering this market. According to DSIRE, at least 22 states allow third-party ownership or leasing on solar energy systems. Similar legislation has been introduced in Georgia in previous sessions. Renewable energy comprises about two percent of energy in the southeast and 13 percent nationally.

Rolling Back Efficiency

  • A bill in Indiana which would repeal the state’s energy efficiency standard has been sent to the governor. The two-year old mandate for demand-side management requires investor-owned utilities to reduce electricity sales 2 percent by 2019. The program was originally authorized by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and has saved customers more than 979 million kWh of electricity—more than enough to power 78,783 homes, according to Energizing Indiana’s website. Supporters of the bill say that the mandate’s cost is too substantial for utilities and ratepayers, while opponents say that the standard lowers energy costs and that the bill would be a step backward for the state.

AlaskaNREL photo of TransAlaska Considers Natural Gas Infrastructure Project

  • This month, the Alaska Senate passed S.B. 138, creating a framework for a North Slope treatment plant, an 800-mile gas pipeline and a natural gas liquefaction plant and export facility planned for Nikiski. The proposal makes the state a partner with the North Slope’s major oil producers—BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips— and TransCanada Corp. The state would be a direct investor with a 25 percent share, but Alaska could turn over its share of the North Slope gas treatment plant and the pipeline to TransCanada. Opponents have criticized the proposal saying that the state is giving away too much. However, supporters have cited that allowing TransCanada to take over at least part of the state’s share will greatly reduce the amount of money that the state must invest. The bill now heads to the State House for consideration.

Windy Debate Update

  • An Alabama wind energy bill (S.B. 12) has been approved by the Senate and sent to the House for consideration. The bill authorizes the Public Service Commission to regulate the design, location, installation and operation of wind farms and authorizes local governments to approve installations. The state currently has no regulations in place. Meanwhile in Maine, legislation introduced on behalf of the governor would repeal the requirement for increasing levels of installed capacity and include a statement of new goals: expanded economic opportunities in the state, including in the manufacturing, construction and development of wind energy projects, and lower electricity prices for consumers. Maine currently has a graduated requirement of installed onshore and offshore wind capacity. Lastly, an Oklahoma bill would impose a moratorium on further wind energy development in the eastern portion of the state until 2017. The region was rated less than “fair” for annual wind power estimates by a 2008 National Renewable Energy Laboratory map. The bill has passed the Senate and been sent to a House committee.

Submetering

  • Lawmakers in Ohio are currently considering bills—one has been introduced and the other is being drafted—to regulate renters’ submeters. Utility submetering is the practice of installing meter systems in individual units of a larger property, allowing for each customer to pay for individual usage, rather than a property owner receiving a bill for the entire property. Utility submeter companies and landlords that install and manage this equipment may charge fees, in addition to passing on the cost of utilities. H.B. 422 would authorize a landlord or submeter company to charge only the actual cost of utilities to residents. Critics of the legislation say the legislation is too far-reaching while supporters want to ensure utility customers do not pay unfairly high prices in an unregulated market.

STATE ENERGY NEWS

Renewables and Net Metering

  • The Minnesota Public Utility Commission approved the Department of Commerce’s “value of solar” tariff—a voluntary alternative to net metering—required by legislation enacted in 2013. Included in the tariff are projected economic impacts of climate change attributed to power plant carbon emissions. The legislation also required increases in the state renewable portfolio standard, which affected  regional markets. The North Dakota Public Service Commission recently settled a rate case with Xcel Energy ensuring that the new renewable mandates in Minnesota won’t affect electricity prices in North Dakota, which does not have a renewable portfolio standard. Meanwhile, Louisiana’s net metering policy got a reprieve this month. The Public Service Commission is reviewing the state’s net metering policy, which is capped at 0.5 percent of each utility’s peak demand, and recently opted to study the cost of solar to utilities and consumers. Several utilities have announced they’ve reached the net metering cap, triggering a review of the policy.

nuclear stacksShutting Down Nuclear Reactors in Illinois

  • Chicago-based Exelon Corp. announced this month that unless market conditions improve, the company will close its six nuclear power plants in Illinois. Exelon, the nation’s largest operator of nuclear plants, said it has been five years since the plants turned a profit. Exelon cited low natural gas prices and an increase in wind power as major contributors to low wholesale electricity prices, which are forcing reactors to operate at a loss.

Turning Hydraulic Fracturing Emissions into Fuel

  • Primus Green Energy Inc., an alternative energy company in New Jersey, is currently testing whether it is possible to produce liquid fuel from methane emitted during natural gas extraction. If the process is as efficient as initial tests suggest, it may solve one of the concerns with hydraulic fracturing. During the hydraulic fracturing process, natural gas may escape through the wellhead or pipelines or be flared intentionally where pipelines aren’t available to bring the fuel to market. Current tests show that about 70 percent of methane molecules processed ended up as liquid fuel, but it’s still unclear whether the techniques that make the gas-to-liquid transformation possible are contributing to emissions that they are meant to offset.

International Agreements

  • Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and French Ambassador François Delattre pledged coordination on transportation, energy research, water management and climate adaptation. France is the second-largest foreign investor in the state and Virginia is expected to be one of the fastest growing economies in the country. Further west, Manitoba Hydro penned agreements this month to provide 108 megawatt (MW) of electricity from 2016 through 2021 and 308 MW of electricity to Wisconsin Public Service for up to 10 years beginning in 2027. The sales are planned to use electricity from two proposed generating states; the 308 MW portion of the agreement will require a new transmission line, currently in the planning stages.

Energy Jobs

  • The Illinois Clean Energy Trust released a study this month that found more than 96,000 individuals working in clean energy jobs in Illinois—a field that is expected to hit 100,000 workers this year. Sixty-two percent of businesses in the industry in Illinois focus on energy efficiency. Jobs include engineering, research, manufacturing, assembly, installation, maintenance and sales and distribution. According the report, between 2008 and 2012 Illinois was a top five state for renewable energy development.

FEDERAL ENERGY NEWS

FERC Bumps Up Security NREL photo of substation

  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to draft proposed physical security standards for electric utilities within the next 90 days. The standards are in response to a 2013 physical attack on a California substation, along with other recent threats to grids. The standards will require registered entities to prove they have steps to address physical security risks and vulnerabilities to the Bulk-Power System.

Court Axes Bush-Era Stream Buffer Zone Rule

  • The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down the Stream Buffer Zone Rule that allowed mountain-top mining operations to dump waste in and around nearby waterways. The Court determined that the waste would adversely affect the environment, water quality and living ecosystem around the streams, and therefore violated the Endangered Species Act. The rule at question was instituted by President Bush and eliminated the previous protection rule that outlawed mountaintop removal dumping within a certain distance from waterways.

Hydraulic Fracturing Rules Get Reviewed

  • EPA sent a notice of proposed rulemaking to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review related to reporting requirements on the health and safety of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid. The proposal would require the manufacturers, producers and distributors of products used in hydraulic fracturing to detail the potential hazards attributed to their chemicals. Additionally, a U.S. Department of Energy report released this month states that hydraulic fracturing chemicals should be publicly disclosed with "few, if any, exceptions." Most states with fracking fluid disclosure rules currently provide trade secret exemptions for the disclosure of chemicals, allowing operators to report the raw chemicals separately from the additive products they go into.

Deadline Extended

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is extending the deadline for submitting public comments to the proposed rule on greenhouse gas emission limits for new power plants to May 9, 2014. The original submission deadline was March 10.

No Re-hearing For You!

  • On March 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has denied the Department of Energy’s (DOE) request to reconsider its decision that DOE stop collecting fees from electric utilities for the disposal of nuclear waste. The Court originally ruled in November that DOE could not collect the fees (which amount to $750 million annually) because it had abandoned the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage project.

Dealing With Propane Shortages

  • The U.S. Senate approved the Home Heating Emergency Assistance Through Transportation Act (H.R. 4076), a bill to exempt trucks carrying propane from federal motor carrier safety regulations through May 31, 2014. The exemption would allow emergency deliveries of propane to be expedited in states dealing with current propane shortages due to a tough winter. The bill previously passed the House on March 4 and now goes to the President for his signature.

NEW NCSL RESOURCES & UPCOMING EVENTS

Webinar on Reliability, Risk and Energy Diversity

  • The nation’s energy mix is changing quickly. The retirement of coal power plants, growth of natural gas, rising renewable energy production and the threat of nuclear plant retirement have created an environment that may pose a risk to a reliable electric grid. Additionally, last winter’s polar vortex placed great strain on the grid in much of the Midwestern and Northeastern U.S. Register for this April 17 webinar, which will look at the risks posed by the changing mix, explore how the polar vortex event severely challenged some parts of the grid and discuss a variety of solutions.

U.S.-CaSL March 2014 covernada Energy Policy

  • This March State Legislatures article, “Partners in Power” explores the long-standing energy relationship between the U.S. and Canada that makes up one of the largest integrated energy markets in the world, encompassing the production and distribution of resources and an interconnected electric grid.

NCSL Energy Program Contacts: Denver

NCSL Energy Program Contacts: Washington, D.C.

  • Ben Husch, committee director, NCSL Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee, 202-624-7779
  • Melanie Condon, policy associate, 202-624-3597

NCSL would like to thank the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for providing images for this newsletter.

 

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