May 2020 Northwest Energy Update

May 2020 Northwest Energy Update

NW Utilities’ COVID-19 Response

The Coalition’s effort to persuade utilities to suspend service shut-offs during the coronavirus crisis has been quite successful, especially among the region’s largest utilities many of which are also increasing support for bill assistance and reconnecting those whose service may have been shut off before the crisis. Governors Inslee of Washington, and Bullock of Montana have also issued executive orders to prevent shut-offs.
NWEC is also working with low-income advocates at the federal level to win additional funding for LIHEAP (Low Income Heat and Energy Assistance Program). NWEC is working with a broad group of members to develop recommendations for federal stimulus funding for clean energy-related “shovel-ready” projects geared to getting the economy restarted.

State Updates

Washington is progressing on rulemaking to implement the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) and the Clean Buildings Act that were passed in the 2019 legislative session. You can stay updated on what’s happening by visiting the Washington Legislation Implementation page of the Coalition web site. In the meantime, here are some highlights.

On CETA, at the UTC dockets are underway to address the acquisition of resources, rules for Clean Energy Implementation Plans, the Carbon and Electricity Markets Workgroup, rules for IRP changes, and rules for the EIA. The UTC has adopted staff recommendations for the adjusted cost of GHG emissions.
The Department of Ecology is leading the rulemaking for Energy Transformation Projects and is developing rules for allowable alternative compliance options. The final draft of the new rules is due in May.
Commerce Department rulemakings are underway for reporting and compliance, planning, low-income energy burden and energy assistance, thermal RECs, incremental cost methodologies, and cumulative impact analysis.
On the Clean Buildings Act, the State Building Code Council will hold a rulemaking associated with EV readiness requirements in new buildings. There is not currently a rulemaking document.. The Department of Commerce is developing standards for large buildings (>50,000 square feet) by November 2020. There are a few more comment periods and workshops taking place this year and there will be public hearings scheduled in the later summer. The UTC will lead rulemaking associated with gas conservation standards, but will not start the process until late this year or early 2021. The UTC will also coordinate rulemaking for the use of renewable natural gas. Docket U-190818 is open and an initial meeting was held last October.
 Numerous utilities in the region are developing transportation electrification (TE) programs and NWEC is supporting strategies to facilitate demand-side management, distribution system planning, equitable rate design and program design that directly and indirectly provides benefits to all utility customers.
In the area of transportation electrification, Tacoma Power, Seattle City Light, Snohomish PUD, Avista, Pacific Power, and Puget Sound Energy are all planning or implementing TE programs. The Coalition is working with these utilities to accelerate investments. We’re particularly focused on demand-side management, distribution system planning, and equitable program design that results in direct and indirect benefits to low-income customers and increased stakeholder engagement.

In Oregon, state agencies are working to comply with Governor Brown’s executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. State agency implementation plans were due on May 15. The Coalition expects to focus on implementation primarily at the Public Utility Commission, with some engagement at the Dept. of Energy and Dept. of Environmental Quality. Key issues will be calculating energy burden on households, expansion of the clean fuels program, the adoption of appliance standards, energy efficiency in buildings and expansion of transportation electrification programs.

Under the governor’s executive order, state agencies must submit plans to:
  • Reduce GHG emissions by 2035 to a level that is 45% below the 1990 level and to get 80% below that level by 2050.
  • Consider and integrate these standards and climate change impacts into policies and budgets.
  • Prioritize actions that reduce GHG emissions.
  •  Prioritize actions that will help vulnerable populations.
  • Consult with Oregon’s Environmental Justice Task Force when making plans.
The Coalition is engaging on this issues in a variety of ways. At the PUC we’re working to make processes more accessible and inclusive and we’re prioritizing dockets on energy burden, IRPs, performance-based regulation, energy efficiency rules, and transportation electrification. We’re also working on natural gas utility caps and clean fuels program expansion at the Department of Environmental Quality, appliance standards at the Oregon Department of O Energy, transportation electrification across multiple agencies, and we’re collaborating with the ZERO Coalition to promote energy efficiency in buildings.

In Idaho, Idaho Power is adopting the utility cost test (UCT) for energy efficiency planning. Our hope is that the change will lead to greater investment in efficiency and less need for generating resources. The Coalition recognizes the risks in this approach and is carefully considering the best way to expand energy efficiency programs when the avoided cost is so low. On another front, the Idaho Power net metering settlement was rejected, which puts resolution of the issue back to square one. It is likely that a new public process will be convened.   In the meantime, current customers are grandfathered into the current rate schedule until 2045.

In Montana, the Northwestern Energy rate case is nearing final action. The PUC approved fixed cost recovery as proposed by NRDC. The commission turned down a proposed demand-side management settlement, but a new DSM advisory group should be convened soon.
The tale of the Colstrip continues with Talen Energy attempting to purchase Puget Sound Energy’s share of Colstrip Unit 4 rather than allow it to be sold to Northwestern Energy. The Coalition and Renewable Northwest are intervening in the case in both Washington and Montana.
The Montana Climate Solutions Council has released its draft report and committees are finalizing recommendations. The final report is expected at the end of June.

Regional Updates

The federal Columbia River System Operations draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) was released in February and, as expected, is not adequate to serve as the basis for a long-term solution to the various challenges associated with salmon recovery in the basin. The Coalition submitted extensive comments on the DEIS. The Coalition is working on a collaborative process with utilities and advocacy groups to forge a regional solution.
The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is not expected to meet the energy efficiency targets contained in the 7th Power Plan. The Coalition is asking BPA to increase funding to make up what could be a 25% gap and is also asking the Northwest Power and Conservation Council to take action to prevent a recurrence of the shortfall through improvements in the 2021 Power Plan (sometimes referred to as the 8th Power Plan).