Archive for February, 2011

Competitive Electricity Markets and Innovation

Posted on February 24, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , |

A few of us from Clean Currents metroed down to Capital Hill this afternoon to attend the COMPETE Coalition’s briefing on competitive electricity markets and innvoation.  The speakers discussed a recently published white paper by KEMA on the subject. The main conclusion of the paper is that three main elements of competitive markets drive innovation:

  1. Fair market rules that foster competition and allow entrepreneurs to participate.
  2. Accessibility to markets for new participants that can meet evolving customer needs.
  3. Risk and reward dynamic that incentivizes entrepreneurs to take risk in hopes of making a profit.

In the discussion of these three elements, speakers from several companies that are living proof of competitive markets encouraging innnovation took the stage.

Allen Freifeld, a Senior VP of External Affairs for Viridity Energy spoke about a project his company is working on with the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA- Philly’s version of WMATA) to harness the electricity generated when trains brake. Currently, this electricity is not being utilized in the SEPTA system. Viridity Energy will use battery technology to store this electricity and work with SEPTA to determine the optimum use for it at any given moment. The options include selling it into various PJM markets (PJM is the regional transmission organization or electricity market that our area is part of ) or keeping it for use within the SEPTA system. This stored electricity provides the valuable service of regulating the frequency of the PJM system and makes the whole thing run more efficiently. Efficient operations can lower the carbon footprint of the region’s electricity usage while at the same time, saving SEPTA millions of dollars annually.

Viridity Energy is able to provide this service because market deregulation has seperated out the various components of electricity supply into seperate competitive markets. These markets, under the auspices of clear rules established by PJM and FERC, allow entrepreneurs to address very specific challenges . This allows them to be nimble and flexible in dealing with problems.

Gene Hunt, Director of Communications at Beacon Power, compared the small suppliers’ felxibility to steering a powerboat, while operating an intergrated utility is more like navigating a giant freightliner. The small suppliers can quickly adapt to changing situations while utilities are often one or two steps behind of what is actually happening. Beacon Power is also working in the storage field and has recieved a Department of Energy Loan Guarantee to implement its flywheel technology as an alternative to battery-based short term storage. Flywheels utilize magnets and can harness excess electriticity (acting like load) or release it to the grid (acting like a generator), just like batteries. Under the Massachusetts RPS, flywheels can even earn Renewable Energy Credits by helping reduce the need for fossil-fuel balancing resources.

Technologies that can help balance and regulate the grid are becoming more and more important as renewables enter the picture. Since renewables produce electricity intermittently (the wind is not always blowing), batteries and flywheels are necessary to keep the system in balance. Balancing technologies have great potential to optimize electricity consumption and eliminate inefficiencies.

These innovations hold promise for the future of electricity. However, as the moderator of today’s event, William Massey, former FERC Commissioner and Counsel to the COMPETE coalition pointed out, these technologies will take time to implement and get right. There will be a degree of experimentation and adaptation along the way. With competitive electricity markets provide a stable climate for entrepreneurs, innovations will continue to improve the way we use electricity.

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Don’t Be Misled

Posted on February 7, 2011. Filed under: News |

Living in states where the electricity market is deregulated has led to lower energy prices for consumers due to competition among energy providers. An open market also allows businesses and homeowners to make an electricity purchase towards clean, renewable technologies and to support business models besides standard utility companies.

Overall, this option is a positive for the consumer because it empowers one with the ability to make their own energy choice. However, not all electricity providers are created equal. Some options may be purposefully deceptive. The Public Service Commission (PSC) urges consumers to educate themselves about their choices and be cautious of companies who do not meet PSC regulations.

Recently, the Maryland PSC has scrutinized the practices of Veridian, one of the competitive supplier operating in Maryland. See the full articles in The Baltimore Sun here and Baltimore Business Journal here. The PSC closely monitors the practices of competitive electricity suppliers to ensure that consumers protected from deceptive practices and that one company’s practices are not indicative of the industry as a whole.

Learn about the registered providers in your state:
Maryland Public Service Commission
Distric of Columbia Public Service Commission
Delaware Public Service Commission
Pennsylvania Public Service Commission

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MD General Assembly Bill Creates Sustainable Source of Funding for Renewable Energy and Efficiency

Posted on February 4, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Anyone with experience in renewable energy/efficiency industries in Maryland knows that financial incentives are a key component to helping consumers adopt new technologies and that these incentives often lack a steady stream of funding. A bill introduced in the Maryland General Assembly Session this past week, SB 304, can help create a steady stream of funding.

SB 304, cosponsored by Senators Manno and Garagiola, creates a Renewable Energy Public Benefit Fund.

The fund is collected through a 1.3 cent/kwh charge on residential ratepayers for electricity usage over 1000kwh/month. Since the average ratepayer in Maryland uses around 1000 kWh, the charge is only assessed on ratepayers using more than average. In fact, more than 50% of ratepayers in Pepco and BGE territory (as well on on the Eastern Shore) would not be impacted at all, because they use less than the 1000 kWh hour threshold.

The proceeds from this charge go into a fund to support popular renewable energy grant programs administered by the Maryland Energy Administration as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency programs through the Maryland Clean Energy Center . Further, customers can get a rebate if they elect to purchase wind power through their electricity supplier. Public Benefit Funds are common and effective, with dozens of states utilizing them to support clean energy initiatives. And the wind power component is similar to a program the city of Boulder, CO (a super green city!) has been running for several years now.

If this sounds good to you and you are a Maryland resident, contact your Senator and tell them you support SB 304. Better yet, submit testimony or come out to the hearing in Annpolis on Wednesday February 15th at 1:00 PM.

Want to spread the word about SB 304? Here’s a fact sheet to get you started:

Renewable Energy Benefit Fund (REBF) Fact Sheet:

  • A Public Benefit Fund like the REBF is a smart and proven policy choice to provide stable funding for clean energy and energy efficiency programs.
  • 30 states and the District of Columbia have a Public Benefit Fund.
  • The REBF will reduce pressure on funds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
  • The REBF would support popular grant programs administered by the Maryland Energy Administration as well as the Maryland Clean Energy Center.
  • Since 2008, the Maryland Clean Energy Center has encouraged the transformation of the energy economy with programs that catalyze the growth of business, increase related “green collar” jobs, and make clean energy technologies, products and services affordable, accessible, and easy to implement for Maryland residents.
  • Sustainable funding for MEA and MCEC programs will support clean energy and energy efficiency and will help grow these industries and create more green jobs in Maryland.
  • Since electricity prices are falling across Maryland, now is a great time to introduce the REBF. If it is structured appropriately, ratepayers will still see a rate decrease.
  • A charge of $.013/kWh assessed only on ratepayers using above 1000 kWh per month translates into over $12 million per year into the REBF
  • The 1000kWh threshold will encourage energy efficiency and onsite renewable options, like solar.
  • By encouraging clean energy and energy efficiency, the REBF can reduce electricity demand, which help further decrease electricity rates.
  • The REBF is budget neutral.
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