Plugged In | NCSL’s State and Federal Energy Newsletter



  • A Snowy Solar Decathlon: The U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon took place in Denver on Oct. 5-15. This biennial collegiate competition is made up of 10 contests that challenge student teams to design and build full-size, solar-powered homes. For the first time in the event’s 15-year history, snow fell on the Solar Decathlon. In conjunction with the Solar Decathlon, several Denver-area architectural and engineering firms participated in the Sustainable BARKitecture Dog House Competition, in which they designed state-of-the-art dog houses that integrated sustainable features, such as rainwater collection and solar-powered lights.
  • Opening ANWR: A push to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling is moving through Congress. Lawmakers are currently considering a tax overhaul that would be partially funded with $1 billion in new revenue generated by energy exploration in ANWR. Most recently, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced a bill that would allocate a 50 percent revenue-sharing split between the state and the federal government.
  • Solar, Storage and Microgrids to the Rescue: Several solar and storage companies and organizations have pledged to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid that was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. Sonnen, a German energy storage company, announced plans to build microgrids in Puerto Rico to help alleviate the damage caused by the Category 5 hurricane. Tesla has sent hundreds of battery storage packs and solar panels to help Puerto Rico rebuild its devastated grid. The company recently reported that its first project is a solar-plus-storage project at a children’s hospital on the island. Additionally, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) collected more than $1.2 million in product and monetary contributions from its solar industry members to deliver to Puerto Rico.  
  • Winter Is Coming: There is no reason to fear, however, according to an industry outlook, for growth in demand will be met by growth in supply. The Natural Gas Supply Association’s annual winter outlook expects that colder temperatures will combine with growing exports and industrial demand to push demand to record levels this winter. Temperatures are expected to be 13 percent lower than last year. The outlook projects, however, that upward demand pressure will be met by an 8 percent increase in production and high storage levels, keeping prices relatively stable.


Store It Online

Computer keyboard on top of image of the earth.The California Legislature is hoping to boost energy storage without a financial investment. The idea is to simply require local governments of a certain size to provide all permitting information and documentation online—and to allow for online submission of applications. Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed the bill, A.B. 546, in early October. It will require any city or county with a population of 200,000 or more to make the forms more easily accessible and less confusing. In addition, the governor is authorized to provide guidance on energy storage permitting, best practices and factors that municipalities might consider when setting parameters. By doing so, the state believes it will bolster storage development and speed up the permitting process. 

Consistent PACE

This summer continued the trend of legislatures debating or enacting legislation on Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing. States can authorize PACE programs, which permit property owners to take on a tax assessment for clean energy upgrades that they pay back through a new line item on their property tax bill. In recent months, Alaska’s governor signed commercial PACE enabling legislation into law, increasing the count of states with PACE laws to 34 and Washington, D.C. Nebraska enacted legislation that expands eligible jurisdictions for commercial PACE programs to include agricultural properties. New York enacted revisions to its commercial PACE law (Assembly Bill 7394 and Senate Bill 5990A), allowing for the private sector to offer financing for PACE projects. Additionally, in the final week of the session the California Legislature enacted two consumer protection bills for residential PACE programs. 

Possible Nuclear Support Coming to Connecticut

Nuclear power plant.The Connecticut General Assembly has considered several bills that offer support for the at-risk Millstone nuclear power plant in recent sessions. In late October, however, S.B. 1501, was signed into law, which allows the state’s sole nuclear plant to sell up to 75 percent of its electricity in a market that has been set aside for renewable energy—a market that clears higher prices. There is no guarantee that this moves forward though. The state must first decide it’s in the interest of ratepayers and review the results of a market study that is currently underway. The governor signed the bill and asked for financial information from Millstone’s owner to see if the plant needs the support offered in the law.


It’s Been a Rough Couple of Months

Hurricane Harvey photo.Beginning in August 10 straight Atlantic storms reached hurricane strength—a record not seen since 1893. Of those, two were Category 5 hurricanes (Irma and Maria) and two were Category 4 (Harvey and Jose). The cumulative damage to Texas, Florida and U.S. territories in the Caribbean—Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—is still being assessed. In addition, wildfires have been razing large parts of the Western U.S., including residential areas in Northern California. By no means complete, the following contains energy-related items of note:

Reverse Demand Response

Wind turbines and solar panels.The utility Arizona Public Service is trying a new “reverse demand response” approach to avoid renewable energy curtailments on its system. This new demand-side planning strategy is open to all nonresidential dispatchable loads with at least 30 kilowatts of nonessential demand. An article detailing the program highlighted an example of a municipal water fountain as a qualifying load that could operate in a negative pricing event. During negative pricing periods, the customer would be directly compensated by the power producer for using the excess generation. While traditional demand response—lowering demand during a peak period—is increasingly popular, the concept of increasing demand to meet excess generation is less explored. 

Western Governors EV Pledge 

Electric car charging station.The governors of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming signed a memorandum of understanding to create a unified regional electric vehicle plan. The goal is for states to work together to make it easier to drive and charge vehicles through a web of 5,000 miles of freeways in those states. The collaboration is intended to improve funding opportunities, create minimum standards for charging stations, and identify and develop ways to include charging stations in planning and development processes.

Delaware Looks Offshore

Wind turbines.Delaware Governor John Carney (D) signed Executive Order 13 in September establishing the Delaware Offshore Wind Working Group. The order directs the working group to study the potential environmental and economic development benefits of offshore wind development in Delaware. The working group is made up of nearly 20 members including state legislators, and Public Service Commission, utility and nonprofit staff members, among others. The group will review the opportunities, benefits and barriers to offshore wind development, and draft any necessary legislation, such as amendments to the state’s renewable portfolio standard. The working group is required to submit a report to the governor by Dec. 15. The report will include recommendations on short-and long-term strategies for developing offshore wind and plans to develop job opportunities in the offshore wind industry. 

A Plan for the Future (Energy Jobs Act) 

Jobs street sign.The Illinois Power Agency (IPA) released a draft of its “Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan” in late September that outline the IPA’s implementation of the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act (House Bill 2814). Among other provisions, the Future Energy Jobs Act amended the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to include new procurements and programs to be administered by the IPA. The IPA’s plan describes how it will compensate for solar, wind and other renewable energy projects and outlines the renewable energy programs that the IPA will implement under the Future Energy Jobs Act. The plan discusses the eligibility of renewable energy certificates (RECs) for use in the state’s RPS and describes the Adjustable Block Program, providing details on program aspects including the structure of blocks, REC prices and pricing model development, and more. The IPA provides preliminary examples of solar renewable energy certificate (SREC) prices based on system size, type and location and the programs the system qualifies for, such as the Illinois Solar for All Program. These preliminary prices, however, are subject to adjustments depending on the number of project applications and market and policy changes. Additionally, the IPA’s plan includes a description of the Community Renewable Generation Programs that details program aspects including project eligibility, subscriber requirements, consumer protections, REC ownership under this program and more. It also provides information on the Illinois Solar for All Program including program funding and design, and customer terms, conditions and eligibility.  The IPA has until Dec. 4 to revise the draft plan and file it with the Illinois Commerce Commission. 


Clean Power Plan?

Energy Power plant.In October, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt gave formal notice of proposed rulemaking on the Clean Power Plan (CPP) after determining the rule exceeded the agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act. Comments are currently being accepted and are due on or before Dec. 15, 2017. Afterward, the agency may begin developing a new, formal proposal. President Donald Trump directed the EPA to review the regulation in March. Pending action from the Trump administration, the rule as it currently stands has been stayed. Opponents and supporters both agree that the timeline for reaching a final resolution could be years—not months—away. Read more details in this NCSL Info Alert.

Emergency Aid Package

Trump signed a $36.5 billion emergency aid package into law in response to recent natural disasters that hit parts of the U.S. and its territories. The package delivers nearly $18 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, $16 billion to the National Flood Insurance Program, $577 million to wildfire response efforts, and allows Puerto Rico to receive up to $4.9 billion in loans to pay employees, and fund other services. This is the second package of emergency funding, and Trump has told lawmakers he will seek a third installment.

Bullseye! for SunShot

Solar panels.The U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative has hit its 2020 utility-scale solar cost target of six cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), three years ahead of schedule. Research released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that the average price of utility-scale solar is now under $1 per watt and below six cents per kWh. Residential- and commercial-scale solar costs have also decreased significantly, moving closer to the 2020 SunShot cost targets of 10 cents per kWh for residential solar and 8 cents per kWh for commercial solar. NREL estimates the system cost has declined to approximately 16 cents per kWh for residential systems and roughly 11 cents per kWh, for commercial solar energy systems. SunShot attributes these accomplishments to the speed of change across the solar industry and the rapid speed of change of solar technologies. The Department of Energy has established new goals to cut utility-scale solar costs to 3 cents per kWh, commercial solar costs to 4 cents per kWh and residential solar costs to 5 cents per kWh by 2030. 

ITC Finds Serious Injury

Installation of solar panels.In September, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that low-cost, imported solar panels and modules have caused “serious injury” to U.S. solar manufacturers. The ITC’s vote was unanimous and the four commission members found that two plaintiffs, Suniva and SolarWorld Americas, were harmed by the importation of solar equipment. The following month, ITC commissioners released three different remedy recommendations, which will be sent to Trump for review by Nov. 13. Ultimately, the decision is left to Trump—who will issue a final decision by early 2018. The ITC’s ruling has triggered a wave of intense lobbying by both supporters and opponents of the tariffs. The opponents include the majority of the solar industry, utilities, conservative think tanks, members of Congress, investment banks, as well as large companies, such as Microsoft, which assert that tariffs would make it more difficult for companies to meet renewable energy commitments. The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that Suniva and SolarWorld’s tariff and price floor proposals could endanger 88,000 solar jobs and put at risk two-thirds of utility-scale solar projects set to come online in the next five years. ns. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a stay of the rule in June, but the federal appeals court ruled the agency does not have the authority to halt the rule, as it amounts to an amendment or revocation of the rule. 

How Do You Make the Grid More Resilient?

Power lines grid.That’s exactly the question the U.S. Department of Energy hopes to address with $32 million to support early stage research and development in the area of grid resilience. DOE announced the funding for seven “Resilient Distribution System” projects that aim to improve the resilience of the nation’s grid. The funding comes in the wake of several highly destructive hurricanes and wildfires caused widespread electrical outages from California to the U.S. Virgin Islands. One of the projects will focus on restoring electricity through distributed generation, energy storage and microgrids.

Cy-zing Up Cyberthreats

Computer hacker.Malicious hackers have been targeting the power sectors in the U.S. and Europe, possibly gaining access to operational controls, according to cybersecurity firm Symantec. The group, identified as Dragonfly 2.0, has been targeting dozens of energy companies since spring 2017 using phishing emails, Trojan software and other attacks to gain access to networks. Code for the attacks was written in Russian and French and employed similar methods to those use during a 2015 attack that shut down parts of Ukraine’s grid, which has been blamed on Russia. Symantec notified the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC). Meanwhile, a recent study by the Congressional Research Service warns that federal oversight of cyber risks to vital energy infrastructure is too fragmented, while DOE is preparing a new multi-year plan to address energy sector cybersecurity. Aside from direct threats to energy companies, concern is rising over threats to the vendor supply chain—companies that develop software and components used by energy companies—with NERC proposing new standards to shore up vulnerabilities and address risks during the planning and procurement process.

Removing “Regulatory Burdens”

The Department of Interior (DOI) issued a report that examines how to speed up permitting for energy projects and minerals mining by adjusting existing policies designed to protect wildlife and conservation areas. This could affect how it grants rights of way as well as new guidance on FERC-licensed interstate pipelines. Additional changes may include rescinding or revising rules affecting offshore and oil gas drilling.


NCSL Capitol Forum

NCSL Capitol Forum logo.Join us at this year’s NCSL Capitol Forum, which will take place Dec. 10-13 in Coronado, Calif. The meeting will bring together top national experts to discuss a number of important policy topics of interest to state legislators. In addition, NCSL’s Task Force on Energy Supply will meet on Dec. 10 to discuss a variety of energy-related issues, including the response to recent natural disasters and the impact on critical energy infrastructure, how the U.S. can remain competitive in a rapidly global energy market, advancements in wind energy technologies, recent actions related to the future of U.S. nuclear waste storage, and more. Please contact Kristy Hartman for more information regarding the Task Force on Energy Supply. 

State Incentives for Electric Vehicles

Electric car.Many states are considering a variety of incentives to promote hybrid and plug-in electric vehicle adoption. At least 34 states and the District of Columbia offer incentives that provide high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane exemptions and financial incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles or electric vehicle supply equipment. Read more about state incentives and view the interactive map that allows users to compare state hybrid and electric vehicle incentives.

The Nuclear Option(s)

September 2017 cover of State Legislatures magazine.Energy is at the forefront (literally, the front cover) of another edition of State Legislatures magazine. The September issue’s cover story is all about the dilemma many states are facing as nuclear plants struggle to turn a profit. While Illinois and New York have implemented policies to compensate nuclear plants—moves criticized by some as manipulating competitive markets—a number of other states are considering their options. Should they intervene to preserve struggling nuclear plants? Or should they leave it to the markets to decide whether those resources continue operation? Read all about it in “The Nuclear Option(s).”

Doing More with Less Energy

October 2017 cover of State Legislatures magazine.Each year, legislators enact about 100 efficiency-related bills, and this year was no different. States have a range of energy efficiency policies to choose from—setting building-efficiency or reporting requirements, creating efficiency targets or incentives, designating sales tax holidays for buying efficient appliances and enacting various financing and funding initiatives. Examples for the 2017 year can be found across the nation. View this State Legislature’s magazine trend to learn more.

Financing Clean Energy Through Property Assessments

NCSL LegisBriefs logo.An innovative form of financing specific energy and weather-related improvements in homes, known as residential PACE, has taken off, growing to $2 billion in investments in 2016 alone. These voluntary programs provide homeowners with additional options for financing renewable energy, energy and water efficiency, and retrofits to make homes more resilient against seismic activity and storms. Policymakers and consumer advocates are seeking to ensure that such programs sufficiently protect consumers. View this NCSL LegisBrief online—users with a free NCSL account can view the entire brief.

Webinar Resources—Soaking Up the Sun: Policy Options to Achieve State Solar Goals

NCSL webinar logo.Solar energy has experienced explosive growth in recent years. States have played a significant role in this expansion, creating incentives and regulations that have transformed the energy market. The rapid growth has created challenges along with opportunity, and many states are considering a variety of approaches to address market and regulatory challenges. View a recording and presentation slides from this Sept. 28 webinar to learn more about state policy options for solar energy.

Renewable Energy Legislative Update: 2016

Legislative chamber.During the 2016 session, legislatures in 31 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico enacted more than 140 renewable energy related bills. The bills spanned a broad range of topics, from net metering and rate design, to renewable portfolio standards, to energy storage, to siting and permitting requirements for renewable energy facilities. NCSL’s newest Renewable Energy Legislative Update summarizes the notable renewable energy bills enacted by state legislatures in 2016. 


State Efficiency Scorecards Released

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released its annual state scorecards, assessing “state policies and programs that improve energy efficiency in our homes, businesses, industries, and transportation systems.” The scorecard evaluated states in six policy areas: utility and public benefits programs and policies; transportation policies; building energy codes and compliance; Combined Heat and Power policies; state government-led energy efficiency initiatives; and appliance and equipment standards. The most-improved states this year are Idaho, Florida and Virginia. The highest ranked states are Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island and Vermont. View your state’s ranking online

Financing Efficiency in City-Owned Buildings

A new report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab explores how cities can update their public building stock to reduce bills and increase worker productivity and comfort—while accessing financing that does not add debt to balance sheets. The document uses a case study from Dubuque, Iowa, to highlight opportunities that include nonappropriation clauses and shared savings agreements.

Georgetown Climate Center’s State Energy Analysis Tool

The Georgetown Climate Center released an updated version of its State Energy Analysis Tool. The tool uses data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration to provide insights and data on each state’s electricity mix, renewable energy growth and carbon emission reductions. The tool allows users to compare states and regions, explore the economic benefits and job potential of capping carbon pollution, view data maps of several criteria including changes in carbon pollution rates and renewable energy generation, as well as view profiles and regulatory information for each state.