Plugged In | NCSL’s State and Federal Energy Newsletter


  • Maine Data Disclosure Law: Spurred by months of questionable bills charged by the Central Maine Power Company, Governor Janet Mills (D) signed a collection of data disclosure measures requiring more transparency from electric utilities. The new laws obligate utilities to provide customers 10-year rate histories and clearly display resources for contact lines for consumer assistance on billing statements. The laws also grant the Maine Public Utilities Commission the authority to force utilities to issue corrections to customers provided with inaccurate or misleading information.
  • Barriers to Keystone Tumble: Following an executive order from President Donald Trump, another barrier to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline fell away after a federal appellate court ruled to lift an injunction on the start of construction. However, while construction could begin on the long-delayed project to carry 800,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Canada to the Gulf Coast, a major section of the route is still in contention. The Nebraska Supreme Court has yet to rule on a lawsuit challenging the route through the state, which is opposed by a group of landowners, environmental groups and two tribal nations. 
  • Small Efficiency Improvements Yield Big Returns: According to new research from the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy (ACEEE), energy efficiency retrofits to an existing home can yield an 18.5% return annually. This return on investment is higher than that of residential rooftop solar, which can reach up to 5.6%. ACEEE found that light efficiency retrofits, which reduce energy use by 10%, have the best rate of return.
  • Michigan Farmlands Cleared for Solar Development: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) authorized land enrolled in the state’s Farmland and Open Space Preservation Program to be used for commercial solar projects, opening roughly 3.3 million acres of farmland to solar development. All projects on protected farmland must adhere to Michigan’s pollinator-friendly solar guidelines. While the land under the program has been open to wind projects and oil and gas exploration, solar was historically restricted because it was considered to have a larger footprint.  
  • Ferrari Enters Plug-In Hybrid Market: TThe plug-in hybrid vehicle market will soon have a new luxury entrant with Ferrari’s upcoming 1,000-horsepower SF90 Stradale. The Stradale will be able to run its electric-only mode for 25 kilometers (15.5 miles), as well as reach 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) from a standing start in just 2.5 seconds. Set to hit showroom floors in early 2020, the Stradale is Ferrari’s first production-volume hybrid. The company aims to equip roughly 60% of its total production with hybrid technology by 2022. 


Ohio Considers Saving Nuclear at the Expense of Renewables

Nuclear stack towers against bright blue sky.Ohio lawmakers are debating a controversial bill to swap out the state’s current renewable mandate and replace it with a subsidy for two nuclear power plants in the state—in addition to cementing cost-recovery charges on customer bills for two coal plants and rolling back the state’s energy efficiency standard. The House passed HB 6 on a 53-43 vote, with a group of Democrats helping the measure gain enough traction after a number of Republicans expressed concerns about the subsidies. The bill would establish an Ohio clean air program that would technically be available to nuclear and solar generators in the state that meet certain criteria over a six-year period. However, in practice, the program would likely only benefit the state’s two nuclear plants—Davis-Besse and Perry—because eligible resources must have a minimum capacity of 50 MW and the majority of utility-scale solar installations are well under 10 MW across the country. To raise funds, electric customers in the state will pay a monthly surcharge of $1 per month for residential customers to generate the projected $198 million that would be required annually to pay out the clean air program’s credit price of $9 per MWh. Any cost impacts will be offset by the repeal of the state’s renewable portfolio standard, according to supporters of the measure. Meanwhile, a last-minute amendment to the bill added language reflecting an Ohio Supreme Court ruling that authorized subsidies of two coal plants. The bill is currently being debated in the Senate. If approved, it would make Ohio the fifth state—along with Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey and New York—to establish a policy to provide financial support to struggling nuclear plants.

The Never-Ending Net Metering Saga

Solar panels on roof.Legislators in Connecticut and New Hampshire have passed legislation to amend their net metering policies, which allow distributed generation customers to sell excess electricity to their utility at the retail rate and receive credit on their utility bill. Connecticut enacted an omnibus energy bill which included provisions to extend the state’s net metering policy. In 2018, Connecticut enacted legislation to end net metering by October 2019 and replace it with a new compensation mechanism. House Bill 5002, enacted this session, delays the phase-out of net metering until the end of 2021. The New Hampshire passed House Bill 365 in May to increase the state’s net metering capacity limit from 1 megawatt (MW) to 5 MW. The bill also prohibits utilities in the state from reselling the power supplied by net metering customers to the New England Independent System Operator (ISO) to prevent any utility cost-shifting between net metering customers and other utility customers. The bill was vetoed by Governor Chris Sununu (R) due to concerns related to utilities and ratepayers, however, as the legislature passed the bill with a veto-proof margin, the measure goes back to the legislature for a veto override, which requires a two-thirds majority vote. 

Colorado Marches Toward Carbon-Free Power, Transportation

Electric vehicle charging.Colorado recently experienced a flurry of legislative action, with Governor Jared Polis (D) signing seven climate and energy bills in late May. Several of the bills focus on energy infrastructure modernization. HB 1260 requires localities to update their building codes to include one of the newest versions of the International Energy Conservation Code, ensuring that commercial and low-rise residential buildings are up to date on energy-efficient power systems and building design. HB 1003 amends the state’s existing community solar gardens (CSGs) policy and more than doubles the maximum allowable size of a CSG from 2 megawatts to 5 megawatts. Meanwhile, the Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution (HB 1261) codifies statewide greenhouse gas emission goals, laying out plans to decarbonize Colorado’s economy 90% below 2005 levels by 2050. While the economy-wide plan does not include enforceable mandates, the state will be adopting a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) rule in August which will require automakers to sell no less than a mix of 7% to 9% electric vehicles beginning in 2022. Along with SB 77’s provision for utility companies to file transportation electrification plans, the upcoming ZEV rule charts the course to fulfill Polis’ vision of reaching 100% carbon-free power and putting 1 million electric vehicles on Colorado’s roads by 2040.

States Enact New Clean Energy Policies

Solar panels and wind turbines against orange sky.Maine, Maryland and New York have joined the growing number of states that have updated their statewide clean energy goals and policies this legislative session. Maryland passed SB 516, which establishes a 50% renewable portfolio standard (RPS) by 2030, including 14.5% from solar resources and no less than 1,200 megawatts from offshore wind. Following intense pressure from the House and labor groups, the Maryland Senate chose to maintain waste combustion’s designation as a Tier 1 renewable resource in the updated RPS. In addition to establishing job training programs and setting aside $7 million to help fund small and minority-owned businesses in the clean energy sector, the bill also requires the state to evaluate how to reach 100% clean energy by 2040. Governor Larry Hogan (R) allowed the bill to pass without his signature, though he expressed concerns over the bill’s ability to create new clean energy jobs for Maryland workers. Meanwhile, the Maine Legislature passed Senate Paper 457 that will increase Maine’s RPS to 80% by 2030 and reach 100% by 2050. The bill is on Governor Janet Mills’ (D) desk. In New York, legislators passed the Climate and Communities Protection Act, which will establish a clean energy mandate as well as the most stringent emissions reduction standards within the United States following Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) anticipated signature. The bill would mandate the state’s utilities to supply 100% carbon-free energy by 2040 and formalize an economy-wide emissions reduction target of 85% from 1990 levels by 2050. The bill also designates clean energy program benefits to disadvantaged communities.

Nevada to Revamp Utility Business Model

Nevada State House building.Nevada enacted SB 300 requires the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to develop performance-based regulations for electric utilities. Nevada joins Hawaii as the second state to enact legislation to overhaul how utilities are incentivized. By separating utility revenues from capital expenditures, Senate Bill 300 will allow utilities to generate greater earnings by meeting energy efficiency and clean energy goals and expanding service options for customers. The bill authorizes electric utilities to submit applications to establish alternative rate-making plans, directs the PUC to adopt regulations for those plans, sets deadlines for adopting performance-based regulations, and includes a mechanism for earnings sharing with utility customers. The bill also removes previous requirements for utilities to file rate cases every three years and directs the PUC to establish a plan to educate customers on the alternative rate-making mechanism for plans proposed by utilities. Hawaii recently took another step in its process to establish performance-based utility regulation, completing the initial phase in the proceeding. In Phase 1, the Hawaii PUC adopted a portfolio of performance-based regulation tools to update the traditional cost of service regulation with a new framework, setting up the PUC for more detailed work in the coming months. During Phase 2 of the proceeding, beginning this month, the PUC will develop specific details of the new Regulatory Adjustment Mechanisms and Performance Mechanisms. 

Northeastern States Increase Offshore Wind Ambitions

Off shore wind turbines.States in the Northeast are jockeying to become the leader on offshore wind with an increasing number of states creating procurement mandates, holding project solicitations and commissioning and releasing offshore wind studies. Connecticut enacted legislation to increase offshore wind procurement targets. HB 7156 allows utilities to procure up to 2 gigawatts (GW) of electricity from offshore wind resources by 2030, a significant increase from the state’s prior procurement target of 300 MW. Connecticut’s bill requires the project solicitation process to begin two weeks after the bill is signed to allow it to align with the solicitation already underway in Massachusetts, with a goal of securing better pricing for both states. Additionally, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (D) recently announced a major development plan to establish the State Pier in New London as a hub for the offshore wind industry. The Connecticut Port Authority will partner with the offshore wind developer Ørsted and utility Eversource to redevelop the pier into a state-of-the-art port facility and upgrade infrastructure and heavy-lift capability, funded by $93 million in public-private investment. In April, Massachusetts regulators approved the state’s first offshore wind contracts for a total capacity of 800 MW. Additionally, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) published a report in early June recommending that the state procure an additional 1.6 GW of offshore wind. DOER also found that building a single, independent transmission line for new offshore wind projects will have a smaller environmental impact than if each offshore wind developer building multiple lines for each new project, and the report advocates for a solicitation in 2020 to construct a single transmission line to serve new offshore wind projects. New York also enacted SB 6599 establishing a new target of 9 GW of offshore wind by 2035 and requiring 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040.

Resilience and Security Gain Momentum

Neighborhood street Utility poles and trees down after a storm.Floridians know a thing or two about surviving hurricanes. But wouldn’t it be even better if their power survived too? That’s the idea behind Florida HB 797, which passed both chambers in May, and authorizes the state’s utilities to take a variety of storm-hardening measures to protect the electric grid from increasingly intense storm systems. The new law requires utilities to develop 10-year storm-hardening plans, including taking the costly step of burying power lines underground. The cost of implementing those plans would be borne by ratepayers, and while consumer advocates argued against the bill for raising the cost of electricity, earlier storm-hardening measures paid dividends in recent years and likely worked in the bill’s favor. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Texas are worried about more sinister threats: malicious physical and cyber attacks. Through enacting a pair of bills—SB 475 and SB 936—lawmakers established the Texas Electric Grid Security Council to coordinate and share best practices within the industry and created a state cybersecurity program to facilitate collaboration and coordination between state agencies, utilities and grid operators. The two bills increase oversight and require cybersecurity best practice implementation.


California Approves Wildfire Mitigation Measures

Forest fire.The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved wildfire mitigation plans for utilities and authorized Public Safety Power Shutoffs, which allow utilities to de-energize their power lines to avoid sparking fires during high winds. The CPUC’s order includes guidelines for utilities on how they must notify vulnerable populations, first responders and the public about shutdowns, along with other protocols. Less than two weeks after the CPUC approved these shutoff measures, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) instituted its first shutoff, cutting power to approximately 22,700 customers in two events spanning five counties. PG&E also announced that it will bury distribution lines in the town of Paradise, Calif., which was ravaged by last year’s Camp Fire, as well as other nearby areas in an effort to harden the utility’s electric system to protect against wildfires. Additionally, the newly-formed, legislatively-established California Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery released a draft report discussing the intersection of wildfire and utilities. The draft report provides recommendations for policy changes to ensure the equitable distribution of the costs of wildfires among affected parties. The report placed inverse-condemnation reform—a rule that holds a utility liable for property damage caused by its equipment, even if the utility has followed all the safety rules—as its top policy option for managing the risk of wildfires driving utilities to bankruptcy. 

Michigan’s Largest Utility Taps Renewables and Dumps Coal

Energy mix.The Midwest utility, Consumer’s Energy, which has relied on coal for years, recently received regulators’ approval for its integrated resource plan, which will bring sweeping changes for the utility’s energy mix, including the largest solar build-out of any utility in the region and the closure of its remaining coal plants over the next 20 years. The plan will increase renewable energy from 11% to 56% of the utility's fuel mix by 2040 and reduce power plant emissions by 90%. 

Reliability Coordinator Service Launches in California

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) is set to formally launch its reliability coordinator (RC) service next month following the operation’s North American Energy Reliability Corp. (NERC) certification. The certification solidifies CAISO’s transition toward total grid oversight responsibility, shifting its RC service from current operators, Peak Reliability, to ISO’s own unit—known as RC West—on July 1. CAISO’s leaders anticipate that RC West will be able to offer day-ahead or real-time contingency analysis and emergency mitigation services for at least 50% lower cost than its competitors. The initial service launch will begin with 16 balancing authorities in California, as well as one in Mexico. However, CAISO expects that RC West will serve as many as 24 additional authorities by November, becoming responsible for the reliability oversight of 87% of the Western Interconnection’s total electricity load.

North Carolina Approves Duke Energy’s First Solar + Storage Microgrid

Regulators in North Carolina recently approved Duke Energy's first solar plus storage microgrid, which is aimed at improving electricity reliability in Hot Springs. The town relies on a single 10-mile transmission line that passes through mountainous terrain, creating frequent outages.  The microgrid will include a 2 MW solar array and 4 MW lithium-ion battery, allowing the town’s grid to maintain power during outages. The microgrid will provide grid benefits, such as voltage regulation and peak load reduction, during other times.  The project will help the state and utility better understand the benefits of microgrids and storage technologies. 


New Bans, Rules in Place for Offshore Drilling

Oil rig.The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued a new rule for blowout preventers, claiming that the changes are aimed at preventing another offshore drilling disaster like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident, which killed nearly a dozen offshore rig workers. Key revisions include rolling back blowout preventer testing requirements, eliminating the need for BSEE to certify third-party testers, and allowing oil companies to determine their own approaches to monitor their on-site safety valves rather than follow the more stringent federal regulations, established under President Barack Obama. The new rule will align federal regulations with industry standards, and the Trump administration estimates that the changes will save oil companies over $1 billion in the next 10 years. These changes were announced just days after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a new law ceasing state permits for offshore drilling or oil and gas exploration near the New York coastline, highlighting growing tensions between the federal and state governments regarding offshore resource extraction.

As Storage Grows, So Do the Issues Surrounding It

Electric grid substation.The energy storage market saw year-over-year growth of 232% in the first quarter of 2019, according to a market research report. It was another record for the industry, with 148.8 MW of capacity additions between January and March. And while states like California, New York and Hawaii have received much of the attention, other states are starting to get in on the action, as well, including Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts and New Jersey. The latest is Utah, where developers announced plans to build the world’s largest clean energy storage project—a 1-gigawatt facility that wouldn’t use lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries, which have so far dominated energy storage deployments. Instead, the Advanced Clean Energy Storage project would take advantage of four different storage technologies: renewable hydrogen, compressed air, large-scale flow batteries and solid oxide fuel cells. 

With such rapid growth comes additional scrutiny, and regulators and industry alike have been trying to iron out the details on everything from market participation rules to safety standards. While there have been concerns over fires at li-ion battery facilities for several years, an explosion at an Arizona Public Service (APS) li-ion facility sent four firefighters to the hospital and renewed questions surrounding the potential fire hazards. In response, the Energy Storage Association launched a safety and responsibility initiative to develop and promote safety standards that will help the industry continue to grow while addressing concerns surrounding operations. Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is busy addressing concerns surrounding market participation. After issuing a rule last year to require market operators to design rules to facilitate energy storage participation in markets—and to do so in a way that recognizes the unique characteristics of the emerging technology—commissioners roundly denied a request for states to be allowed to opt out of the rule. Finally, storage is finding some advocates in Congress. Bipartisan bills have been introduced in both houses that would allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to help develop grid-scale storage to allow new technologies reach commercialization, while other bills would grant the storage industry access to tax incentives. 

Taking Cyber Seriously

Cyber security graphic image.For the first time ever, the U.S. electric grid’s operations were affected by a cyber-intrusion. The event happened on March 5 and caused a Western utility to lose visibility to certain parts of its system in California, Utah and Wyoming. While there was no effect on generation assets and no one lost power because of the event, the system’s supervisory control and data acquisition system (SCADA)—operational control and monitoring systems that incorporate network data into visual computer interfaces—was affected. The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), which oversees grid reliability and cybersecurity on behalf of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), is now investigating to determine the root cause of the problem. Separately, NERC has continued to enforce cybersecurity rules, with two more fines against electric power utilities, each for $1 million. The fines were proposed for breaking more than two dozen grid security rules, including several violations that posed “serious” risks to the reliability of the bulk power grid. The fines add to a record year in cybersecurity enforcement for NERC, which has assessed around $12.4 million in fines so far in 2019—up threefold from the total issued over the entirety of last year.

Largest US Solar Project Advances

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has advanced the Gemini Solar Project, a large solar photovoltaic (PV) project on federal lands in Nevada. BLM released a draft environmental impact statement for the project, beginning a 90-day comment period that will run through early September. The Gemini Solar Project would be among the 10 largest solar PV projects in the world and would cover about 7,100 acres of BLM land 33 miles outside of Las Vegas, Nev. If built, the project would have the capacity to produce up to 690 MW of electricity, enough to power roughly 210,000 homes and businesses annually. The Gemini project has generated several concerns, including its potential impacts on the character of the landscape and on the threatened desert tortoise and its habitat. The draft environmental impact statement released by BLM analyzes these impacts and evaluates possible mitigation measures and alternatives to eliminate or reduce them. To receive final approval, the Gemini project will require a resource management plan amendment to change the visual resource classification of the area.  

Goodbye Clean Power Plan, Hello Affordable Clean Energy Rule

Coal plant.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released its final Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule to replace the Obama Administration’s landmark Clean Power Plan. The ACE rule does not set limits for power plan greenhouse gas emissions but instead allows states to set performance standards and choose from a list of technologies to improve power plant efficiency at individual facilities. The final rule extends the timeline for when states must submit their plans to reduce emissions to three years. Additionally, the ACE rule eliminates a controversial measure, previously included in the Clean Power Plan, that would have changed when the construction of power plan efficiency improvement projects would have triggered compliance with the New Source Review Program, which requires plant operators to get preconstruction permits if a project will lead to increased greenhouse emissions. The ACE rule has already received criticism from congressional Democrats, and, like the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, will likely face significant legal backlash.   


NCSL 2019 Legislative Summit

NCSL Legislative Summit logo for Nashville.Register today for the NCSL Legislative Summit, Aug. 5-8, in Nashville, Tenn. There are great sessions planned this year including a discussion on electric vehicle infrastructure and a session on state efforts to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation and power sectors. And don’t miss Dolly Parton, who will be headlining this year’s meeting! In addition, the Task Force on Energy Supply will meet on Aug. 4 followed by the annual half-day Energy Policy Summit on Aug. 5. Sessions will explore a range of topics including workforce development in the energy sector, pipeline safety, cybersecurity, clean energy investments, modernizing the electric grid, and much more. Please contact Kristy Hartman for more information. 

Webinar Resources: The Need for an Electric Grid Transformation 

Much of the nation’s electric grid network is aging and outdated, but rapid advancements in new technologies—along with shifting consumer preferences and a changing energy mix—may provide innovative and important opportunities to upgrade the nation’s electric system. Costs are plummeting for energy storage and renewable energy projects, while utilities are investing in smart metering infrastructure and demand management solutions—all of which require a rethinking of traditional grid investment and traditional grid operations. View the recording and slides from this webinar exploring the major elements of grid modernization and discussing the policies that are shaping the future of the nation’s electric grid.

Webinar Resources: What’s the Outlook for Carbon Capture and Storage?

Although coal generation faces increasing economic, policy and technological challenges, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies may offer new opportunities for the coal sector. CCS technologies have the potential to decrease carbon emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants, provide economic benefits, and maintain fuel diversity and reliability. Due to high upfront costs and risks, the deployment of CCS technologies has been slow, but recent federal funding may change the dynamics. In 2018, Congress expanded CCS tax credits and most recently, the Department of Energy announced $24 million in research grants for carbon capture technologies. View the recording from NCSL’s webinar where speakers discussed the current challenges for CCS technologies as well as new opportunities for deployment.


EIA Launches New State Energy Portal

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) launched a new State Energy Portal that provides state-specific energy information in one place. The new portal features customizable visualizations that automatically populate each time a user returns to the page. EIA’s new portal provides answers to questions about key energy issues for all 50 states, Washington, D.C., five territories and several regions of interest. Pulling from more than 50 state sources, the State Energy Portal features information on a range of energy topics, including renewable energy generation, coal production and employment, motor gasoline prices, ethanol production, and more. 

New Study Highlights Potential Growth in Advanced Technology

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) released a report discussing scenarios to achieve the decarbonizations efforts necessary to lower U.S. emissions to 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. The study presents three scenarios that each require action on all levels, from local, state and federal policymakers, to investors, consumers and companies. The scenarios established by C2ES all underscore a need for stronger public support to encourage larger investments in research and development and economy-wide efforts across various sectors, including power, transportation, building efficiency and others. 

EPRI Report Analyzes the Impacts of EMPs

Researchers at the Electric Power Research Institute released a new report summarizing a three-year industry-funded investigation into the impacts of high-altitude electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) on the electric transmission system. The study found that the shock waves from a nuclear weapon detonation could cause a paralyzing multistate blackout unless grid operators harden their digital controls to manage power flows. EPRI’s report included results from extensive laboratory testing and analysis of the potential EMP impacts and proposed measures to protect digital relays from EMPs, as well as strategies for shielding substation control buildings that house those relays.