Vol. 8: Issue 11 | November 2020
Approximately 120 ballot measures were put to voters in this election and several states approved measures with direct impacts on the energy sector. In Nevada, voters approved a measure (Question 6) requiring utilities in the state to procure 50% of their electricity from renewable energy sources. The same measure was approved by voters in 2018, but the state requires ballot measures be passed twice before becoming part of the state constitution. In New Mexico, voters approved an amendment (Amendment 1) to shift the state’s Public Regulation Commission from a five-member elected body to a three-member commission, appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate. Meanwhile, measures in Alaska and Louisiana appear to have failed. In Alaska, voters considered a citizen-led initiative (Ballot Measure 1) to boost taxes on the state’s leading oil producers, while Louisiana’s Amendment 5 would have lowered the property tax burden on liquified natural gas terminals.
Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina are collaborating on an effort to promote offshore wind energy development. The new initiative provides a framework for cooperatively developing offshore wind along with the necessary workforce and supply chain. The effort is projected to provide up to 86,000 jobs and $57 billion in investments over the next decade.
The North Dakota legislative budget section voted to reallocate $221 million in federal coronavirus aid to various state agencies, which includes a $16 million grant to oil companies to support continued hydraulic fracturing in the state. State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helm has indicated companies could be eligible for a reimbursement of $200,000 per completed well.
The Arizona Corporation Commission recently approved amendments to clean energy rules that would establish a 100% carbon-free requirement by 2050, with interim targets for 2032 and 2040. The new rules still require a final vote and this month’s election of new commission members could result in changes to the rules before they are finalized.
NucScale Power’s achievement of becoming the first small modular reactor (SMR) company to have its design approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission may have been marred by news that some of its partner cities continue to get cold feet. The first NuScale SMR power plant is scheduled to be built in the coming decade in Idaho and would provide carbon-free power to municipal utilities across the West, as long as the developer can stop cities from hemorrhaging support—something a $1.4 billion DOE grant is supposed to help achieve.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities opened an investigatory docket to explore strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state’s natural gas distribution systems while maintaining affordability, reliability and safety. The move comes as regulators develop plans to achieve the state’s climate targets for 2050.
President Donald Trump has appointed James Danly to replace Neil Chatterjee as chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Chatterjee, in an interview with the Washington Examiner, said that "perhaps" the Trump administration was retaliating against him for his recent actions encouraging power grid operators to incorporate state carbon pricing policies into their markets. Chatterjee went on to say that he is “totally at peace” with the White House’s decision.
FERC has made several significant decisions recently, including proposing a market rule that would remove barriers to the participation of distributed energy resources in wholesale markets with potential implications for how EVs interact with the grid. FERC also recently declared its authority to consider incorporating a carbon price into wholesale electric markets, and upped anxiety over its earlier Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR) in the PJM Interconnection. An order addressing PJM’s implementation of the MOPR may have further complicated the issue of which resources qualify as receiving a state subsidy, while a complaint filed with FERC by gas generators seeking a MOPR-style rule in New York’s electricity market set off alarm bells in the Empire State.
The proposed New England Clean Energy Connect electric transmission line received permitting from the Army Corps of Engineers, clearing the way for construction to begin on the controversial project that would bring hydropower from Quebec to Maine and Massachusetts. The project still needs a Presidential Permit from the Department of Energy to cross the international border and has faced significant opposition from environmentalists and other groups, despite promising to deliver clean power to the region.
The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) backed off naming and shaming utilities for cyber-violations over fears that it would only offer adversaries a list of easy targets for future attacks. Meanwhile, the Trump administration released a strategy intended to give the U.S. a competitive edge in fending off cyber-attacks for sectors considered critical to national security through enhanced collaboration between relevant federal agencies.
On Nov. 4 the United States formally exited the Paris Agreement, which is designed to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius as compared to pre-industrial levels. Under the agreement, the U.S. committed to cut carbon emissions by up to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. President-elect Joe Biden has promised to take steps to rejoin the agreement as one of his first acts as President.
President Donald Trump signed a memo to assess the impact of the hydraulic fracking sector and study the effects of “prohibiting or sharply restricting, the use of hydraulic fracturing and other technologies,” including potential impacts on national security.