SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
It’s no secret that The Sunshine State has not developed solar power in a meaningful way, despite overwhelming public support from Florida voters. Florida ranks 3rd in rooftop solar potential yet is 14th in total installed capacity according to industry data.
This could all change thanks to a hardworking grassroots coalition called Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC) of which Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a founding member. FSC is working to place an amendment on Florida’s 2016 ballot that would allow solar companies to sell solar power. FSC is made up of over 50 non-partisan groups, organizations, and companies ranging from the Tea Party Network and the Christian Coalition to Greenpeace and Sierra Club. It also includes important business groups like the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. The campaign has overwhelming grassroots support with thousands of volunteers and supporters across the state. Over 200,000 petitions of the 683,149 needed to qualify for the ballot have already been gathered.
The fight for solar choice is not without its challenges and the ballot initiative process is a complex one in Florida. When 10% of the required petitions have been verified, Florida’s Supreme Court reviews the ballot language. The oral arguments supporting and opposing this proposed amendment recently took place in Tallahassee with SACE staff and supporters in attendance, and we are optimistic the Court will give its approval soon.
It won’t be easy to gather the rest of the petitions by the end of this year and then to run a successful campaign to educate voters prior to the election in November 2016. Big monopoly utilities have enormous influence with policymakers in Florida’s state capitol and they have already announced a phony ballot initiative to confuse voters and maintain the status-quo.
But this is a historic effort that may offer the first ray of sunshine to Florida citizens who want a voice and a choice on energy in the Sunshine State. To get involved, please visit www.flsolarchoice.org.
At the August 21 meeting of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Board of Directors, the Board approved TVA’s 2015 Integrated Resource Plan and set the agency’s 2016 budget. Because we expect TVA’s pattern of effective stakeholder engagement to continue throughout the implementation of the 2015 IRP, SACE staff took the opportunity during the public listening session of the Board meeting to share 4 major ways that the TVA Board can help ensure the growth of renewable energy and energy efficiency throughout the 2015 IRP planning period.
When approving its budget last year, Board members voted to cut the budget for TVA’s lowest-cost resource, energy efficiency, by 25 percent. The 2015 TVA IRP confirmed that increased investment in energy efficiency is a cost-effective choice – yet TVA’s energy efficiency programs are currently stalled at less than 1/3 of its 2011 IRP target. While no large Southeastern utility can yet be considered a national leader on energy efficiency, TVA will continue to lag behind regional leaders in energy efficiency savings without the proper budget for energy efficiency programs.
At the August meeting, the Board approved the FY 2016 budget with a slight increase in energy efficiency funding ($6 million from FY 2015) – nowhere near the 50% increase SACE recommended. We are hopeful that TVA will focus spending on energy efficiency programs that benefit low-income communities where it’s needed most, like in Memphis, TN, as explained by SACE Energy Organizer Sandra Upchurch during the public listening sessions. Additionally, SACE staff noted why TVA must prioritize development of a more robust energy efficiency planning process, including meaningful stakeholder engagement, so that TVA can revisit concerns about planning methods used in the IRP and engage the public in how to improve its programs.
SACE Executive Director Dr. Stephen Smith encouraged Board members to embrace new clean energy technologies and push the agency’s staff to create a Renewable Energy Development Plan. This plan would create a renewable energy siting and development strategy in much the same way TVA already approach natural gas development plans. This plan should include elements such as identifying solar energy development zones and optimizing balancing of wind and solar resources to meet energy demand.
Lastly, SACE Energy Research Attorney Angela Garrone pointed out the $66 million TVA wastes per year on the abandoned Bellefonte nuclear site in Alabama. The IRP makes it clear that these two long un-finished Bellefonte units are not needed to meet customer demand under any IRP scenario. Accordingly, TVA should stop throwing good money after bad at Bellefonte and instead reinvest this money in its energy efficiency budget.
Unless TVA adequately funds its clean energy programs in the years to come, the IRP becomes a frivolous exercise and not worth the paper it is written on.
Last month SACE staff toured Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Georgia along the Savannah River. This included the two existing nuclear reactors along with the massive construction site for the two proposed Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactors.
The tour followed on the heels of the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) approving an additional $169 million in expenditures for the 39-month delayed project that is $1.4 billion over budget, just for Georgia Power’s share, which is 45.7% owner. This does not include the over $1 billion in outstanding litigation.
The Commissioners rejected several of our common-sense recommendations in the 12th semi-annual Vogtle construction monitoring docket (VCM), which could have helped protect customers from some of the risks caused by the delays and subsequent cost increases. They also amended the Advisory Staff’s recommendation by striking our request for the costs and an explanation of the mitigation measures required for the water withdrawal permit from the Savannah River to be included in future VCM reports.
We proposed to protect ratepayers and help minimize the financial impact of cost overruns by reducing Georgia Power’s allowed return on equity from the current 10.95%. The South Carolina Public Service Commission (SCPSC) just approved this type of proposal where SCE&G’s nuclear expansion at V.C. Summer is also over budget and delayed. Unfortunately, the SCPSC also approved a $698 million (in 2007$) increase on top of a 27.7% increase in electric bills over the past six years because of the nuclear project.
Because of the 39-month delay, the average Georgia Power residential ratepayer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours per month will see a $319.00 or a $6.26 per month increase in their electric bill beginning in April 2016 through June 2020. The $319.00 increase consists of $132.00 in higher fuel costs and $187.00 in higher Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery (NCCR) costs. Georgia Power ratepayers currently pay an additional 9.4% on their bills for this “nuclear tax” due to anti-consumer state legislation passed in 2009 incentivizing building new reactors. Over $1.2 billion in pre-collected financing costs have been charged to customers and the financing costs represent the largest share of the project’s cost overruns.
South Carolina has similar legislation.
Both projects have many critical path activities that are severely delayed and the possibility of schedule compression continues to decline as these delays increase. SACE believes that regulatory and legislative changes are needed in both states in order to protect ratepayers.
As an usually long legislative session drags on in North Carolina, once again the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) – which requires the state’s investor-owned utilities to meet up to 12.5% of their energy needs through renewable energy or energy efficiency – is under attack. Two bills with provisions to freeze the REPS are under consideration, with a likely deleterious impact on solar development in one of the country’s most active markets.
North Carolina has the only renewable portfolio standard in the Southeast. Since the REPS’ passage in 2007 the state has become a leader on solar energy development and ranks fourth nationally with more than a gigawatt (1000 megawatts, MW) of solar. The benefits brought by solar development have been significant: according to a study released by Duke University in February, the state’s solar industry and its suppliers now employ more than 4,300 workers at 450 companies – representing over $2 billion of direct investment in the state, the bulk of which is going to economically-challenged rural areas.
The REPS faces perhaps its most viable threat to date, as language to freeze its requirements is now included in two separate bills: H760, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015, and Energy Policy Amendments bill H332. This year’s attack on the REPS is more nuanced than in the previous legislative session; rather than an outright repeal of the REPS, the current language would instead freeze it at 6% of Duke Energy’s generation, as well as allow energy efficiency to fulfill half of that goal, up from the current 25% allowance in place through 2020. Given that these levels of energy efficiency and renewable energy have already been achieved in North Carolina, the bill would still mean the effective end of the REPS.
Neither bill has been sent to the Senate Floor yet, as legislators focus their efforts on passing the state budget. Negotiations on the budget have necessitated three continuing resolutions so far this session, extending the session until September 18. There is no deadline for ending the session, and as a reference point, the 1998 session lasted a record 170 days. Although the budget will eventually have to be passed, no movement is required on any other bill – bills that met the Crossover deadline or were exempt from Crossover remain eligible for consideration in next year’s legislative session.
For now, we are watchful and waiting to spring into action if H760 or H332 does begin to move forward. In the meantime, we encourage North Carolinians keep up the pressure on their elected officials to protect the clean energy jobs and economic development that solar and other renewable resources have brought to the state.
To read more click here.