Tag: energy

FERC and the future of energy efficiency

By Kelsey Bagot — Aug. 21, 2013 at 5:10pm

Photo credit: Nixdorf, Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Nixdorf, Wikimedia Commons

With U.S. climate-change bills and international climate talks repeatedly facing defeat, one of the main ways for the United States to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions could be through both improving grid efficiency and transmission and integrating renewable energy into the electricity network.  But surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), the government agency with the necessary driving force and legal authority to do so is relatively unknown to most individuals.

FERC Jurisdiction

Enter the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC – the big bad regulators of the US energy market. Most recently, FERC led the investigation of JP Morgan for its alleged manipulation of California energy market prices through unlawful bidding schemes, ultimately resulting in a $400 million settlement.

Under the Federal Power Act (FPA), FERC has exclusive jurisdiction over the transmission and sale of electric energy in interstate commerce and all facilities for such transmission or sale, which, among other things, includes setting wholesale electricity rates.[1] Under its statutory mandate, FERC must ensure supplies of electric energy at just, reasonable, and not unduly discriminatory or preferential rates.[2]

Under recent leadership, FERC has taken a more aggressive approach in defining its statutory power under the FPA and has begun to play a more prominent role in energy efficient and renewable generation. One of the first, and most significant, ways FERC has flexed its regulatory power with regards to energy efficiency is with the integration of demand response resources into the wholesale electricity market.

Demand Response

FERC defines demand response as a reduction in the consumption of electric energy by customers from their expected consumption in response to an increase in the price of electric energy or to incentive payments designed to induce lower consumption of electric energy.

Retail electricity customers often pay a fixed rate for electricity. However, in organized wholesale markets, electricity prices vary widely between seasons and even throughout the day depending on demand, supply, and other transmission constraints. This price structure creates a disconnect between wholesale and retail electricity markets, and therefore retail customer usage is not responsive to fluctuations in wholesale electricity markets. Demand response promises to “bridge the wholesale-retail gap by giving retail customers the incentive to withhold consumption when wholesale prices are high, easing strains on the system at time of peak electricity usage.” Currently, however, much debate surrounds the question of how best to send wholesale price signals to retail customers.

FERC Order 745

FERC Order 745, issued March 15, 2011, mandated that retail customers participating in demand response programs be compensated for their reductions in energy use at the wholesale market price for energy. Order 745 has been criticized by electric utilities, who claim that it overcompensates demand response participants by providing a double payment: the benefit of avoiding the cost of purchasing electricity and the wholesale price of electricity.  According to the Order’s critics, this will lead to economically undesirable outcomes and inefficient behavior long-term. After FERC denied a request for rehearing on the Order, these objecting parties sought review at the Court of Appeals, where the case is currently pending.

Possible Consequences of Order 745 and Demand Response

Critics of demand response are concerned that rather than causing an overall decrease in energy consumption, these programs will simply shift demand from high-peak to off-peak periods, possibly resulting in even greater energy consumption in total. For example, in a scenario without demand response programs, a business seeking to reduce its electricity costs might install energy efficient equipment to reduce its electricity consumption.  Alternatively, as a participant in a demand response program, the business might shift production to off-peak periods, consuming the same level of electricity while paying lower costs and receiving market-rate compensation.

However, many in the clean tech industry support providing demand response participants with wholesale prices, claiming demand response can act as a cost-effective alternative to building new generation. What this means is that a variety of entrepreneurs and technology solutions start-ups will have a chance to create value for their product, and consumers will have the ability to make choices in the energy markets.

Bottom Line

FERC’s introduction of demand response does not exactly equate to energy conservation. However, it may pave the way for increased participation and generation of electricity by new renewable sources. And with FERC taking a new aggressive stance on its jurisdiction to regulate demand response resources, the agency is showing promising first signs of its willingness to take on reductions in fossil fuel consumption and U.S. production of greenhouse gases.

[1] 16 U.S.C. § 824(b).
[2] 16 U.S.C. § 824d.

Smart Regulation and Federalism for the Smart Grid

By Joel B. Eisen

This Article examines the “Smart Grid,” a set of concepts, technologies, and operating practices that may transform America’s electric grid as much as the Internet has done, redefining every aspect of electricity generation, distribution, and use. While the Smart Grid’s promise is great, this Article examines numerous key barriers to its development, including early stage resistance, a lack of incentives for consumers, and the adverse impacts of the federal-state tension in energy regulation. Overcoming these barriers requires both new technologies and transformative regulatory change, beginning with the development of a foundation of interoperability standards (rules of the road governing interactions on the Smart Grid) that will influence development for many years. This Article describes the federally coordinated standard-setting process started in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, leading to a collaborative dialogue among hundreds of participants, with leadership from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”). After setting forth the need for interoperability standards and elaborating on the standard-setting process, the Article focuses on a 2011 order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) that declined to adopt an initial group of standards. While this may appear a step backward, the Article argues to the contrary, finding that FERC’s order supports the flexibility of the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, the NIST-led process that will produce interoperability standards critical to a wide range of energy saving technologies. FERC’s order allows this process, not a regulator’s imprimatur, to give standards credibility. By holding off on forcing adoption of the standards, but preserving the potential for more significant federal intervention later, it may lead to state adoption of the resulting standards. In this adaptive approach to energy law federalism, neither top-down federal regulation nor private sector standard setting is the exclusive means of overseeing Smart Grid development. FERC’s approach may promote a more positive federal-state relationship in the development of the Smart Grid, and may even portend a more collaborative relationship in energy law federalism generally, avoiding the disruptive jurisdictional clashes that have marked recent attempts to innovate in the electric grid.

Cite as: Joel B. Eisen, Smart Regulation and Federalism for the Smart Grid, 37 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 1 (2013).

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Eyes on a Climate Prize: Rewarding Energy Innovation to Achieve Climate Stabilization

By Jonathan H. Adler

Stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at double their pre-industrial levels (or lower) will require emission reductions far in excess of what can be achieved at a politically acceptable cost with current or projected levels of technology. Substantial technological innovation is required if the nations of the world are to come anywhere close to proposed emission reduction targets. Neither traditional federal support for research and development of new technologies nor traditional command-and-control regulations are likely to spur sufficient innovation. Technology inducement prizes, on the other hand, have the potential to significantly accelerate the rate of technological innovation in the energy sector. This Article outlines the theory and history of the use of inducement prizes to encourage and direct inventive efforts and technological innovation and identifies several comparative advantages inducement prizes have over traditional grants and subsidies for encouraging the invention and development of climate-friendly technologies. While no policy measure guarantees technological innovation, greater reliance on inducement prizes would increase the likelihood of developing and deploying needed technologies in time to alter the world’s climate future. Whatever their faults in other contexts, prizes are particularly well suited to the climate policy challenge.

Cite as: Jonathan H. Adler, Eyes on a Climate Prize: Rewarding Energy Innovation to Achieve Climate Stabilization, 35 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 1 (2011).

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