Governor Wolf has signed into law Act No. 40 under HB 118.  This Act, in addition to a number of other matters, adds language to modify the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS).   For your convenience, the actual language from the Bill is included at the end of this post.

The AEPS became effective on Feb. 28, 2005.  It requires that a specific percentage of electricity sold to Pennsylvania retail customers by Electric Distribution Companies (EDC) and Electric Generation Suppliers (EGS) should be obtained from alternative energy resources.  The percentage amounts of electricity covered by the purchase of Tier I, Tier II and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) gradually increases each year through 2021.  By 2021, AEPs mandates that 18% of all electricity will come from alternative energy resources.

The Pennsylvania market for SRECs has been primarily oversupplied for several years.  This is in large part because PA was one of only two states that allowed sites outside of its geographical footprint to provide SRECs to satisfy the PA AEPS requirements. Currently there are a number of solar/photovoltaic sites in other states registered to provide SRECs to PA AEPS.  Below is a chart complied from the publicly available qualified facilities data on the PA PUC’s website:   (http://www.pennaeps.com/reports/)

 

 

You can see in the chart, at the present time, PA has only approximately 19% of the total nameplate capacity of facilities qualified to provide SRECs into the market coming from within its borders.   Despite this, Pennsylvania was the state of origin for 74.1% of the SRECs retired under the AEPS statute in the 2015 Reporting Year.

One of the expectations of restricting geographical eligibility to allow only those sites within the Commonwealth to provide SRECs to satisfy PA’s AEPS is that we will see an increase in the value of PA SRECs.  For reference, the current market price is approximately $5.00/2017 SREC and the alternative compliance payment (ACP) for 2016 was approximately $124/SREC.  In the 2015 Reporting Year, the weighted average credit price was $78.62/2015 SREC.  The ACP is calculated as 200% of the average SREC price paid over the compliance year which runs June to May.  The price impact of the restriction may take a few years to materialize because existing contracts with facilities outside of Pennsylvania are grandfathered.

The second expectation is that some of the in-state PA solar projects that may have previously been shelved due to financial decisions may now become viable.

If you need assistance with these projects, or any other renewable or on-site generation issues, McNees has a team of energy managers, engineers, accountants and attorneys to help you.  Please feel free to contact Amy York (ayork@mcneeslaw.com) or any of our attorneys in the Energy and Environmental Group for more information.

As promised, the actual language from the Bill:

This new language, effective as of the date of the Act, or October 30, 2017, added to AEPS requirements that solar systems satisfy one of the following:

(I) DIRECTLY DELIVER THE ELECTRICITY IT GENERATES TO A RETAIL CUSTOMER OF AN ELECTRIC DISTRIBUTION COMPANY OR TO THE DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM OPERATED BY AN ELECTRIC DISTRIBUTION COMPANY OPERATING WITHIN THIS COMMONWEALTH AND CURRENTLY OBLIGATED TO MEET THE COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS CONTAINED UNDER THE “ALTERNATIVE ENERGY PORTFOLIO STANDARDS ACT.”

(II) BE DIRECTLY CONNECTED TO THE ELECTRIC SYSTEM OF AN ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE OR MUNICIPAL ELECTRIC SYSTEM OPERATING WITHIN THIS COMMONWEALTH.

(III) CONNECT DIRECTLY TO THE ELECTRIC TRANSMISSION SYSTEM AT A LOCATION THAT IS WITHIN THE SERVICE TERRITORY OF AN ELECTRIC DISTRIBUTION COMPANY OPERATING WITHIN THIS COMMONWEALTH.

As to what will become of the facilities currently registered outside of the state to provide SRECs, the law says this:

NOTHING UNDER THIS SECTION OR SECTION 4 OF THE “ALTERNATIVE ENERGY PORTFOLIO STANDARDS ACT” SHALL AFFECT ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:

(I) A CERTIFICATION ORIGINATING WITHIN THE GEOGRAPHICAL BOUNDARIES OF THIS COMMONWEALTH GRANTED PRIOR TO THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THIS SECTION OF A SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC ENERGY GENERATOR AS A QUALIFYING ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCE ELIGIBLE TO MEET THE SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC SHARE OF THIS COMMONWEALTH’S ALTERNATIVE ENERGY PORTFOLIO COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS UNDER THE “ALTERNATIVE ENERGY PORTFOLIO STANDARDS ACT.”

(II) CERTIFICATION OF A SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC SYSTEM WITH A BINDING WRITTEN CONTRACT FOR THE SALE AND PURCHASE OF ALTERNATIVE ENERGY CREDITS DERIVED FROM SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC ENERGY SOURCES ENTERED INTO PRIOR TO THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THIS SECTION.

In April 2017, Energy Secretary Rick Perry issued a request for the Department of Energy (DOE) to organize a study examining electricity markets and reliability.  The request was looking to explore three specific concerns: 1) The evolution of wholesale electricity markets, including the extent to which federal policy interventions and the changing nature of the electricity fuel mix are challenging the original policy assumptions that shaped the creation of those markets 2) Whether wholesale energy and capacity markets are adequately compensating attributes such as on-site fuel supply and other factors that strengthen grid resiliency and, if not, the extent to which this could affect grid reliability and reliance in the future; and 3) The extent to which continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants.

As one may imagine, this request led a number of environmental and intermittent resource groups to question exactly what this exercise was attempting to accomplish and if its findings would be politically focused.  After months of abundant speculation, on August 23, 2017 the DOE released its findings.  While the principal conclusions of the study will not come as a surprise to those in the electricity markets, the study seems to take a solid “middle of the road” approach.

Perhaps most significant in this otherwise extensive and unclear report was that the DOE did not find that renewables are a threat to grid reliability and also did not obviously state that coal was necessary for grid reliability.  They specifically said, “Hydropower, nuclear, coal and natural gas power plants provide [essential reliability services] ERS and fuel assurance critical to system resilience”.  By grouping these fuel sources all together they relax the discussion around each of these fuel sources, predominantly coal and nuclear.

The main take away from the study is that favorable economics of natural gas-fired generation was the primary driver of baseload (i.e. coal and nuclear) power plant retirements.  Low growth in electricity demand (attributed to some permanent loss of load from the economic downturn and energy efficiency policies) coupled with the expansion of renewables on the grid have also played pertinent roles in baseload retirements.  The report also touched on adverse economic impacts of the requirements for regulatory compliance for some baseload plants.  DOE primarily named coal and nuclear costs to implement the  Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS), the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and the Cooling Water Intake Rule as reasons cited for additional plant retirements.

The report was expected not only to analyze but also provide “concrete policy recommendations and solutions”.  In this space, the recommendations presented were less concrete and particularly vague.   The bulk of the recommendations focused on FERC.  Some of those suggestions included having FERC expedite their ongoing efforts with states, RTO/ISOs and stakeholder input to improve energy price formation , studying and making recommendations on regulatory mechanisms to compensate grid participants for services necessary to support reliable grid operations and working to expeditiously process LNG export and cross-border natural gas pipeline applications.  The report also calls on DOE and other Federal agencies to accelerate and reduce costs for licensing, relicensing and permitting of grid infrastructure like nuclear, hydro, and coal providing some hazy “specific reforms” for these technologies.

The DOE is looking for the public to submit comments regarding this study, although it is also unclear who is receiving these comments and how long this window will be open. The report will not end the ongoing debates in various states regarding whether nuclear and/or coal generation resources should be subsidized to ensure that all existing plants remain in operation, even if particular plants are inefficient or uneconomic.  It also fails to address whether wholesale market changes adopted after the Polar Vortex (such as PJM’s Capacity Performance product) are sufficient to provide the additional compensation and market signals to ensure generation reliability.

For additional information, please reach out to: Amy York (ayork@mcneeslaw.com) or Pam Polacek (ppolacek@mcneeslaw.com).