But experts and regulators say there's a catch. Some of the biggest marketers of such deals are stripping the "green" benefits out of them and selling them elsewhere, leaving homeowners with a small discount on the same electricity they were using before. It's commonplace and legal for companies and governments to swap energy credits. In this case, though, critics say it's a case of environmentalism meets the old Tom Waits line: "The large print giveth and the small print taketh away." What SunCommon, Vermont's largest seller of community solar, is taking away are the renewable energy credits, or RECs, tied to community solar projects. They're selling those credits to utilities in Massachusetts and Connecticut so they can meet state requirements that they get a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources. Severin Borenstein, a business administration professor at the University of California at Berkeley, who has followed the issue, described it this way in a blog post this month: "If you've installed solar at your home and are now basking in the I'm-saving-the-planet warm glow, you may be in for a splash of ice water. There's a good chance someone else has purchased your halo and is wearing it right now." Duane Peterson, SunCommon's co-president, argued in an interview that selling the RECs separately is key to keeping energy affordable for his consumers. "We're really clear with folks what's going on with renewable energy credits," he said. The Vermont attorney general's office recently issued a warning letter to solar industry players saying some could face penalties for deceptive advertising if they are not clear when consumers are buying electrons but not environmental benefits. The attorney general's warning says in part, "If your solar project sells the RECs, do not make any statements or suggestions that consumers are using renewable energy from your project." SunCommon's website has four alternating front pages advertising "solar at no upfront cost," ''Ditch fossil fuels, invest in solar" and saying its "mission is to tear down the barriers to renewable energy." In a web-based ad for a community solar project in Bridport, posted in July, there was no mention that RECs would be sold out-of-state. Since the attorney general's warning letter last month, SunCommon has added information about RECs to its website, but it's still on an inside page of the site, near the bottom. The nation's largest solar marketer, San Mateo, California-based SolarCity, promises on its website that customers can "power your home with clean energy. ... Move to a cleaner, renewable energy today." But the contract notes that the green aspects of the power can go elsewhere. Renewable energy credits tied to the customer's solar installation "are the property of and for the benefit of SolarCity, useable at its sole discretion," it says. SolarCity has about a 34 percent share of the U.S. residential solar market, according to GTM Research, a market analysis firm. SolarCity expanded its footprint into Vermont this year, opening an office in Burlington. "We're still reviewing what the attorney general has published on this and we've reached out to his office to make sure we understand all the requirements, but we will make sure that our contracts and advertisements comply with the law in Vermont," spokesman Jonathan Bass said in an email. One difficulty is simply understanding what a REC, usually pronounced as "wreck," is. The federal Environmental Protection Agency explains it this way: A REC "represents the property rights to the environmental, social, and other nonpower qualities of renewable electricity generation. A REC, and its associated attributes and benefits, can be sold separately from the underlying physical electricity associated with a renewable-based generation source." The electricity and the REC can be sold together or separately; the important thing is that the consumer knows the difference, said Bill Bender, president of Solaflect Energy, a White River Junction, Vermont, company that sells them together. If the RECs are sold separately, a Vermont solar investor is getting what the attorney general calls "null electricity," and what Bender called "residual mix" from the New England grid, which as of last year was 39.4 percent natural gas-generated and 34 percent nuclear. Vermont may soon have company in warning consumers to be wary. The Illinois Commerce Commission is reviewing possible rules, said Brad Klein, an attorney with the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago. Explore further: In Vermont, a milestone in green-energy efforts
Severance C.A.,Commerce Commission
Electricity Journal | Year: 2011
As the world's largest free economies move towards a dramatically new future for their power industries, what challenges face electric utilities? Will it be feasible to achieve President Barack Obama's goal of 80% Clean Electricity by 2035? How might electric utilities proceed with the least business risk? © 2011 Elsevier Inc.
Tahan H.A.,New York Presbyterian Hospital |
Sminkey P.V.,Commerce Commission
Professional Case Management | Year: 2012
Purpose/Objective: As professional case managers seek to improve outcomes, including the health status of their clients, it becomes imperative to gather and assess as much relevant information as possible to identify and address the clients needs in a holistic manner. Motivational interviewing is a highly effective technique case managers employ for this purpose. They also rely on it to move their clients toward a course of successful, desirable, and sustainable change, such as healthier diet, exercise, self-care, and adherence to medications regime and follow-up care. PRIMARY PRACTICE SETTING:: Across the case management spectrum, including hospitals, accountable care organizations, patient-centered medical homes, physician practices, clinics, and other settings in which case managers work with clients and their support systems. FINDINGS/CONCLUSIONS:: Motivational interviewing is a highly effective technique for gathering accurate and comprehensive information that is supportive of and additive to the assessment phase of the case management process. Using motivational interviewing, case managers can more readily uncover health and lifestyle needs of their clients. This results in building trusting relationships and developing rapport with clients, which can motivate them to move toward successful and desirable change. Implications for Case Management Practice: The design and implementation of a comprehensive and effective case management plan of care is facilitated by motivational interviewing, whereby professional case managers establish collaborative, respectful, trusting and individualized relationships with clients. Using the specific principles and techniques of motivational interviewing, case managers take a holistic approach to care to address a clients willingness and ability to change; addressing self-confidence and other emotional triggers that affect change and support the clients ability to embrace and sustain positive change. © 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- A company proposing a $2 billion transmission line to ship Iowa wind energy to electric customers in Illinois confirmed Thursday that it has asked regulators to suspend their review while the company figures out how best to move forward with its plan. Clean Line Energy Partners said it is assessing plans for the Rock Island Clean Line, amid opposition from some landowners and uncertain odds of gaining regulatory approval. The Iowa Utilities Board has granted the company's request to pause a technical review of its petitions to build the high-voltage, overhead line through 16 counties. The board is the last major regulatory agency needed to sign off on the line, which the company says would produce enough electricity to power 1.4 million homes in the Midwest. The project has hit a snag in Iowa because some rural landowners have refused to sign voluntary easements granting access to build on their land, and critics oppose the use of eminent domain for the line. The line would start in northwest Iowa and ship power produced by wind turbines 500 miles to a converter station near Chicago. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the project in 2012, and the Illinois Commerce Commission gave its OK last year. In Iowa, the project has recorded easements for only 176 of more than 1,500 properties that would be required, according to the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, which is spearheading opposition to the plan. Those closely monitoring the project say they were told months ago it had been put on hold. Land agents haven't been in the state for months. Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, a supporter of the line, said at a wind energy conference in September that the plan had "kind of been placed on hold right now." Clean Line Energy Partners spokeswoman Sarah Bray said the next day that the project was "certainly still moving forward," with biological studies, wind resource assessment and commercial discussions. Bray struck a different tone in response to an inquiry on Thursday. "Given the unique regulatory structure in Iowa, we are currently assessing ways to move the project forward and continue easement negotiations without incurring significant financial and regulatory risk," she wrote in an email. The Iowa Utilities Board dealt the company a setback this year when it said it would decide whether to approve the project and grant the use of eminent domain in the same hearing. Bray said the ruling means Clean Line Energy Partners would have to invest "tens of millions of dollars" to acquire land while running the risk that regulators could still reject the transmission line as not in the public interest. The board said having separate hearings would be a detriment to landowners. Carolyn Sheridan, president of the alliance opposing the plan, said landowners are anxious to have a decision on the project's future. "We call it having our land held hostage because we don't know what's going to happen," she said.
Suddenly it has dawned on the industry and its cronies that their fat-cat status is threatened by the belated arrival in New Zealand of some serious actual competition, in the form of rooftop solar photovoltaic panels coupled with modern battery storage technology. The new technologies offer consumers the chance to generate their own electricity, end their dependence on overpriced grid-supplied power, and (under the current pricing regime) save money in the process. Enter the Electricity Authority, via a new report solemnly insisting that electricity pricing must be restructured to make rooftop solar uneconomic again for years to come, staving off market penetration by the the new technologies and keeping New Zealand locked into the old, increasingly obsolete electricity supply model – and preserving, in the process, the inflated asset values and profits of the incumbent generators and lines companies. As usual with this sort of neoliberal propaganda exercise, the argument is that what's good for Meridian, Contact, Mighty River and the rest must be good for New Zealand, so any consumers thinking of investing in energy independence must be deterred from doing so for the greater good of society. The industry's problem runs as follows.Residential consumers pay, on average, 28 cents per unit (kilowatt-hour) to purchase retail electricity, and consumer-owned rooftop solar supply can now match or undercut this.Much of the centrally-supplied electricity is generated by the big companies from renewable sources at a cost of less than one cent per unit, while they collect nearly 17 cents per unit (including retail markup) out of the retail price, yielding the fat profits that underpin the very high asset valuations of their hydro and geothermal power stations. If consumers move to self-generation using solar panels, this means falling demand for the big corporates' supply, forcing their prices and profits down. One way for the big generator-retailers to protect their profits would be to cut the cost of transporting their electricity to consumers' homes over the wires of the national grid and local lines networks. At present the grid and lines companies collect nearly 12 cents per unit from the retail price, a big chunk of which is monopoly profit that props up their inflated asset values with approval from another of New Zealand's zombie "regulators", the Commerce Commission. Faced with competition from the new technologies, thus, there is ample scope for the industry to respond by cutting its prices and writing-down its asset valuations. This would be the standard response in competitive markets, but not in the Alice-in Wonderland world of the New Zealand electricity industry, where the Electricity Authority worries more about the risk of "reduced shareholder value" than about giving consumers a break from remorselessly-rising prices, and the Commerce Commission swallows the lines companies' position that their asset values are "sacrosanct". So if the competition from rooftop solar is not to be met by cutting prices, what other avenue is open for the established players to block innovation? The Electricity Authority's solution is simple: raise the costs of the rival new technology by requiring residential consumers to pay more for the alleged "common cost" of peak capacity provided by the lines companies. Never mind that much of this alleged "cost" is just monopoly profit cloaked in accounting jargon.Never mind that the allocation of genuine common costs on infrastructure is inescapably arbitrary. Never mind that in the long run, pushing up peak line charges to squeeze the value out of rooftop solar simply increases the likelihood that better-off consumers will dump their lines connections altogether, and resort to strategies that combine self-generation with battery storage and local cooperative networks to achieve full energy independence, leaving the existing network assets stranded. The Electricity Authority's firm view is that stopping consumers from saving themselves money is "for the long-term benefit of consumers". Which bring us to the final irony.Suddenly the Electricity Authority has woken up to the existence of low-income households that have been driven into fuel poverty by 20 years of price-gouging. Alas, they now might have to pay even more if (i) rooftop solar is installed by the rich, (ii) lines companies refuse to accept lower revenues and asset write-downs, and (iii) no regulator steps in to prevent exploitation of the poorest and weakest players in the market.How different the story could be if New Zealand had a real regulator, and if the words "long-term benefit of consumers" meant anything.