The DC Chapter turned out crowds of people for a November 26 DC Council hearing about whether DC should divest from its investments in the fossil fuel industry. Supporters of divestment cited the looming threat of climate change driven by human-caused fossil fuel emissions. A bill introduced by Council Chair Phil Mendelson would require city managers to move money out of companies in the fossil fuel business if those companies do not change their ways.
On December 3, the DC Chapter's Energy Committee lawyers submitted a briefing to the DC Public Service Commission (PSC) on a rate case by Pepco to increase its charges to DC residents for electrical service. The Sierra Club, joined by Grid 2.0 Working Group, argued that Pepco should be required to upgrade its grid infrastructure to improve reliability and enable broad-scale incorporation of renewable power. We argued that global warming has increased the likelihood of more frequent storms and power outages, and that before the PSC grants any further rate increase, Pepco should be required to improve its electrical grid design to move away from large fossil fuel generating plants toware decentralized distributed power, and thus protect and preserve environmental quality.
Pepco's request, submitted in March of this year, was to increase its authorized rate of return to investors and increase charges to ratepayers by $52 million. Pepco made this request less than six months after the PSC granted it a rate increase in 2012, and they have already announced plans to seek another rate increase in 2014.
To support our argument, we cited a 2009 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy on Service Reliability for Electric Utility Customers, which concluded that planning decisions to achieve reliability must be "economically efficient" rather than simply "keeping the lights on". We argued that Pepco's existing grid is increasingly unreliable and lacks resilience to severe weather (remember the Derecho storm of 2012) or basic provisions for DC's most vulnerable residents during power outages. Moreover, the current “radial design” of the grid is poorly suited to incorporation of distributed and intermittent renewable power (for example from solar panels on roofs or residents and businesses).
We presented industry data that places Pepco in the bottom quartile of rankings on reliability among U.S. utilities over the past decade. In 2003, however, Pepco paid record high shareholder dividends and employee compensation packages while it initiated a program of spending reductions. In 2005, Pepco reduced its staff, its maintenance, as well as its budget for equipment replacement and tree trimming for infrastructure. We pointed out that by 2012, Pepco was employing 58% fewer linemen than it had in 1992. This neglect of its infrastructure has caused Pepco to fall behind the rest of the country, so that Washington DC experiences 70% more power outages, and lasting twice as long as most other major U.S. cities. We further argued "piecemeal" smart grid investments have been inadequate compared to other U.S. utility companies. We argued that to meet the requirement of being "just and reasonable", Pepco needs to incorporate important social goals into its program, such as lifeline rates (subsidized rates for low income households), and environmental surcharges.
According to DC's Clean and Affordable Energy Act, the PSC is required to consider the conservation of natural resources and the preservation of environmental quality. This, we argued, would include the public and environmental health effects of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, the consequent threat of global warming, and the disruptions associated with a warming climate. However, the PSC has not enforced that provision, as Pepco has not adopted a comprehensive plan to mitigate global warming through support of improved efficiency, conservation, and use of renewables in its grid.
We believe that it is proper for the PSC to issue a directive or Order putting Pepco on notice that its past reliability performance is unacceptable and that routine rate increases will not be granted without better coordination and improvements to its infrastructure. The PSC should create a Workgroup that will require the development of a comprehensive reliability investment plan with recommended actions to be completed before Pepco can request any further rate increases. Pepco has failed to maintain or improve its electric grid for too long without proper recourse, and it has failed to address the risks of global warming for the reliability of its services. Stronger, tougher oversight is necessary now to bring our city up from the depths of grid futility to a position it should be in as a world leader in grid reliability.
On November 7, the Sierra Club, along with partner organizations, turned out over 200 people to testify at an EPA public "listening session" on a proposed rule to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants.
In September, the EPA proposed a rule to limit carbon pollution from new coal fired power plants. By June 2014, the Agency will write what is considered to be a far more contentious rule, limiting carbon for existing plants. In an unusual move, the EPA sought public input at 11 Public Listening Sessions around the nation.
We had an outstanding day, with those testifying in support of carbon regulation strongly outnumbering the opposition (over 200 to about 37). Dave Scott, Sierra Club President, was among the many Sierra Club activists who testified at the EPA's listening session, calling on the agency to write strong carbon protections for currently operating power plants. A press conference was held a few blocks away at the National Press Club, hosted by the Sierra Club, Clean Air Coalition, Moms Clean Air Force, the National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, and League of Conservation Voters. The speakers, led by Gene Karpinski, President of the League of Conservation Voters, discussed the key issues at stake for both the Mid-Atlantic region and nationally. Over 80 people squeezed into the room that sat 40. After the press conference, J. Firman, a DC Chapter volunteer, lead a march back to the EPA with participants carrying placards, banners and photos.
There are currently no regulations on CO2 emissions for existing power plants, and this Listening Session was an opportunity for us to offer testimony directly to the EPA on why carbon pollution standards are a critical step in the President's plan to reduce pollution and to take action on climate change. Thanks to everyone who turned out to make this day a success!
On October 1, the D.C. Council voted unanimously to pass Community Renewables Energy Act (CREA), the historic legislation which establishes a new program to help District families, schools and businesses to go solar for the first time. The program will be available to all D.C. energy customers, and will allow them to sign up for up to 100% local renewable energy for their home or business. Advocates applauded the Council members for giving D.C. residents more ways to help deliver local jobs and reduce energy costs.
Many D.C. energy consumers can now go solar. Electric utility Pepco (Washington, DC, U.S.) worked with solar advocates to develop the program. Donna M. Cooper, President of Pepco Region, commented: "Not only are we committed to delivering safe and reliable electricity, we are also committed to collaborating with the District of Columbia government and other stakeholders to become a model of innovative environmental policies and practices, including the expansion of renewable energy to District of Columbia residents."
Despite tremendous growth in solar adoption nationwide, many DC energy consumers, including the 60% of renters, are unable to invest in their own on-site solar energy systems. Shared renewables arrangements overcome that barrier by allowing energy customers to subscribe to an off-site renewable energy project and get utility bill credit for their portion of the energy produced. More information.
Under the leadership of Larry Martin, the Energy Committee hosted a well-attended forum on June 26 to discuss the benefits and challenges of DC's transition to the smart grid, the new system for electricity delivery being developed by power companies around the country. The first speaker was Eric Lightner, from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. Eric described the current infrastructure for electricity delivery in the United States, and explained how utility companies are upgrading their transmission and distribution systems to accommodate inputs from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar photovoltaic cells. The smart grid enables a two-way electricity flow by utilizing digital smart meters that measure how much electricity is generated by solar panels at residential and business locations. Over 40 million U.S. customers now have smart meters installed, providing two-way communications between customers and utility companies. Along with measuring the amount of electricity generated by solar panels installed on homeowners' roofs, smart meters keep track of the reductions to subscriber's electricity bill and provide real-time customer outage information to help utility companies restore electricity more quickly and prevent cascading power outages. Eric also described several other related programs, such as the Green Button initiative, which provides customers with a method of securely downloading easy-to-understand energy usage information from their electricity supplier.
The next speaker was Dan Delurey, Executive Director of the Association for Demand Response and Smart Grid. Dan explained that wind typically blows at night while the energy it produces is used during the day, increasing the need for energy storage. Using demand response techniques, the smart grid will help alleviate some of the peak demand by helping customers use electricity during times when its price is lower (such as programming washing machines and dishwashers to go on at night when prices decline). Consumers can save money and utility companies avoid having to build larger capacity delivery systems that are only needed during peak demand times.
Then Laurence Daniels, Litigation Director at the DC Office of People's Counsel, discussed what the smart grid is likely to mean for DC consumers. Laurence tied the discussion to the experience of the DC rate payer, focusing on the new system's potential to help low-income customers track and manage their electricity bills. Potential benefits include reducing the time needed to restore electricity after power outages, and that all consumers (including low income) will benefit from improved pricing models offered by the smart grid. An important role of the OPC will be to educate consumers on the benefits of the smart grid, while taking precautions regarding the issues of data privacy, health, and reliability.
The final speaker was Bill Gausman, with Pepco's Asset Management and Planning office, who addressed how Pepco is implementing the smart grid for DC and nearby regions. He noted that the rate payer's benefits and satisfaction drive grid modernization, and provided additional details about the ways the company reviewed the costs and benefits of implementing a new system. One example of an improvement is a procedure to locate a damaged power line and allow the network to be re-routed to minimize the number of customers that go out of service. Another is that smart meters can send a signal when they go out of service and when they go back into service, allowing Pepco to avoid going to those houses that have already been restored. Also, new consumer devices called home area network monitoring systems can help customers conserve up to 15% of their energy use.
On October 1, the DC Council voted unanimously to pass CREA, the historic legislation which establishes a new program to help District families, schools and businesses to go solar for the first time. The program will be available to all DC energy customers, and will allow them to sign up for up to 100% local renewable energy for their home or business. Advocates applauded the Council members for giving DC residents more ways to help deliver local jobs and reduce energy costs.
Many DC energy consumers can now go solar. Electric utility Pepco (Washington, DC, U.S.) worked with solar advocates to develop the program. Donna M. Cooper, President of Pepco Region, commented: "Not only are we committed to delivering safe and reliable electricity, we are also committed to collaborating with the District of Columbia government and other stakeholders to become a model of innovative environmental policies and practices, including the expansion of renewable energy to District of Columbia residents."
Despite tremendous growth in solar adoption nationwide, many DC energy consumers, including the 60% of renters, are unable to invest in their own on-site solar energy systems. Shared renewables arrangements overcome that barrier by allowing energy customers to subscribe to an off-site renewable energy project and get utility bill credit for their portion of the energy produced. See http://www.solarserver.com/solar-magazine/solar-news/current/2013/kw40/w... for further information.