Naughty & Nice

By Published On: December 20, 2013

The days may be cold but they sure are bright. While all those festival bulbs are oh so merry, they’re also oh so piggy. Seasonal decorative lighting causes the evening peak load to rapidly soar, using as much as 120 MW/minute over a two-hour stretch, according to the California Independent System Operator. Holiday lights are not the only fascinating and entertaining mix of naughty and nice. Here’s the rest of Current’s 2013 list: NAUGHTY The Gift That Keeps on Giving Southern California Edison’s attempt for a trial run of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at 70 percent power for five months—the time of which kept getting extended by the utility—was too Grinchy even for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The agency pushed back informally, and Edison not only withdrew the ever-morphing idea, but decided the heck with the whole thing (see “nice” above). At the state commission level, the cost of the nuke—somewhere around $68 million/month—is still in Edison’s and 20 percent owner San Diego Gas & Electric’s rates. The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to take years to decide whether ratepayers should still be ponying up their dollars for a powerless power plant. NICE Budget Calm Amidst Paper Storm Started nice. Then Naughty. Back to nice. California officials passed an annual budget without going into overtime this year. That feat was the second year in a row that the colorful battle over the state’s spending plan didn’t’ run for weeks on end, resulting in massive overtime by legislative staff and a huge pile of unpaid bills. The timely passage allowed for energy agencies—principally outside the state’s general fund—to grow and prosper. Although healthy, the California Public Utilities Commission budget was put under a state microscope. After the Jan. 10 state audit, the constitutionally independent agency was hit with allegations that it had an overly cozy relationship with the utilities it regulates. The cozy safety blanket ended up being zero-based budgeting required by this year’s law. Most say that’s a good thing for safety enforcement. Solar Lit Fairy Tales Proposition 39 is supplying $2.5 billion over five years to build efficiently heated and cooled school rooms. That is to ensure a comfortable environment for schoolchildren as they learn reading, ‘riting, & ‘rithmetic—or Wikipedia, multitasking, & résumé enhancement. The funds are to be used to allow instruction in a less-stressful environment—which includes more sunlight, healthier air and cozy temperatures to ensure efficient and effective learning. NAUGHTY Legislative Lethargy Derails Innovation Interesting proposed legislation like splitting up the California Public Utilities Commission and the Office of Ratepayer Advocates and promoting community solar farms for renters and those lacking photovoltaic roofs shriveled like desiccated mistletoe. Lawmakers did get it together to approve AB 327. That bill allows continued net metering for solar and begins the process of reducing the number of rate tiers to limit cross-subsidies. The governor also sent a chunk of cash to the State Treasurer’s Office to back regional Property Assessed Clean Energy programs for homeowners to reduce upfront costs. Congress’ Anti-Mistletoe Too much, or too little egg nog in federal legislators’ cups led them to drive out Obama nominees under the influence. Colorado regulator Ron Binz was in strapped into his skis and ready to jump into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chair when coal state lawmakers sideswiped him. Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy was subjected to four months of shoves by the Republican-dominated Congress as she teetered at the edge of the federal slope. Occidental Inhales the Smoke In plans to use the cloak of carbon sequestration to produce more oil in Kern County, Occidental Petroleum would take carbon dioxide captured from a proposed power plant and use it to pressurize depleted oil wells to wring the last petroleum out of the Elk Hills field. The Department of Energy is backing the power plant—proposed by Hydrogen Energy California—with $400 million in financing. So far, emissions from burning the extra oil squeezed out of the ground haven’t been included in the environmental analysis for the project. NICE Greenhouse Gas’ Rudolph California is driving a carbon auction sleigh in this part of the world, ignoring the foibles elsewhere and attempting to curb greenhouse gas emissions via greenback charm. We won’t have a clue whether it’s making a dent in global warming emissions for another year. But, it makes some feel fuzzy, if not toasty. What will be nice is disbursement of the auction’s “climate dividend” from the revenue generated by utility auctions. Utility customers can expect gifts under their holiday tree thanks to a California Public Utilities Commission vote on Dec. 19—sending $755 million their way. Good Will = Good Economics As an economic decision for primary owner Southern California Edison, taking the disabled San Onofre Nuclear plant off the grid in June allowed for less radioactive waste build up. That lessens the amount of dangerous waste close to 8 million people within 50 miles of the reactors. Although the site remains radioactive, it is nice that a tad less seawater is being consumed to keep the previously operational big nuke cool. Thus, ocean flora and fauna are allowed a tiny reprieve. With San Onofre’s 2,100 MW permanently closed, the California Independent System Operator and other regional grid operators moved without a hitch this year to keep transmission stable and generation available. Property Assessed Clean Energy’s Candle A number of California munis emptied their stockings the Federal Housing Finance Agency filled with coal. Current public financing programs for green energy home retrofits are in place in Sonoma and Placer Counties, numerous cities in Western Riverside County and Sacramento. That is in spite of the FHFA’s ongoing threat to foreclose on homes with federal mortgages that signed up for regional renewable loans to finance energy improvements in exchange for liens on mortgages. Jingle bells are ringing because the federal authority hasn’t enforced its 2010 policy and agency head Ed Marco was replaced by Rep. Mel Watt, a moderate North Carolinian. Regulators Recognize Retirement The California Public Utilities Commission accepted a walking cane and hearing aid before breaking a hip and going stone deaf. The agency continues to publicly discuss what’s on the horizon for the arthritic utilities in a new nimble utility world. Regulators also looked at an increasingly decentralized and digitized future, leading to smaller and less-monopolistic utilities.

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