Maine’s low-income residents, like those throughout the United States, face higher energy burdens (i.e., spend proportionally more of their budgets on electricity and heating fuels) than other residents. While Maine has addressed this disparity through various measures for decades, the state and other relevant entities can act more effectively by gaining a better understanding of how and where this disparity tends to strike. With this in mind, the Maine Office of the Public Advocate commissioned a study by Synapse Energy Economics (Synapse) to shed light on the energy burdens faced by Maine’s residents. The resulting report describes Synapse’s findings on energy use in homes. We relied on various publicly available federal data sources such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Low-Income Energy Affordability Data (LEAD) tool. We assessed differences in home energy expenditures by income bracket, by home ownership status, by type of heating fuel, and by county. The analysis reveals that Maine’s low-income households have a high energy burden: The average (mean) home energy burden for low-income households is 19 percent. On average, low-income households in the state far exceed the thresholds for the various definitions of energy poverty (generally starting with a minimum energy burden in the range of 6 to 10 percent of household income). In comparison, we find in our analysis that the average home energy burden for all Maine households is 6 percent.
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Madison G&E is seeking to build 66 MW of wind in Iowa in Docket 3270-CE-127. Synapse provided expert testimony on behalf of Sierra Club regarding the Company's assumptions and modeling. Key questions included whether or not larger turbines or simply a larger project would have been more economic.
Synapse reviewed the Maritime Link Interim Cost Assessment. Specifically, Synapse analyzed the value of the Maritime Link asset to ratepayers given costs associated with a delay in delivery of energy via the Maritime Link. Further, Synapse assessed if the Maritime Link Project, approved by NS UARB in 2013, would be “used and useful.” Bob Fagan and Tyler Comings submitted joint direct testimony on these issues to the NS UARB.
Synapse provided technical assistance and expert testimony on behalf of Conservation Law Foundation regarding the grid modernization plans of Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil in Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities dockets 15-120, 15-121, and 15-122. Synapse reviewed the methodologies and assumptions used by the companies in their plans. Synapse also assessed the extent to which the proposed plans meet the Department’s objectives for grid modernization, with particular focus on the plans’ incorporation of distributed energy resources as a key contributor to grid modernization.
Maritime Electric finalized its Open Access Transmission Tariff. Synapse provided technical support to the Prince Edward Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission to assess the tariff's compliance with FERC open access principles.
Sierra Club retained Synapse to review the draft parameters for Michigan’s impending IRP process proposed by the state’s governing agencies. Synapse found that, while most of the parameters were appropriate and up to standards for IRPs, Synapse identified a few areas in which changes could be beneficial for both planning participants and customers impacted by the IRP. Synapse’s comments to the Michigan Public Service Commission Staff outlined such changes, for example clarifying the relationship between the IRP process and the transmission and distribution and fuel planning processes; defining how utilities should select a preferred scenario; and modifying some modeling assumptions to better align with utility planning and ensure a more accurate, detailed, and robust analysis.
Synapse is assisting the Michigan Public Service Commission in the development of a strategy to comply with EPA’s Clean Power Plan. To support the state planning process and evaluate compliance options, Synapse has built a detailed representation of the regional electrical system in System Optimizer, a utility-scale capacity expansion model. The model optimizes specific electric generating unit build and retire decisions, cost-effective energy efficiency, unit retrofit decisions, emissions trading programs, and emissions targets through 2034. Synapse developed Michigan-specific inputs to the model in collaboration with staff of the Public Service Commission, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the Michigan Agency for Energy. Synapse will use the model to test compliance plans developed by the joint agencies and stakeholders, including Michigan utilities, consumer, industry, and environmental groups.
On behalf of the World Bank, Synapse developed a transparent, user-friendly, Excel-based model that can estimate the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions resulting from changes to electric-sector policies. It attempts to produce a reliable, documented estimate of GHG savings attributable to the initiative, suitable for use in international analysis and crediting of GHG reductions. This software tool is a power sector model, designed to examine effects of policies such as price changes, subsidies, and emissions taxes on the operation of an existing electric system. The current, first implementation of the model developed with stakeholder involvement from agencies in Morocco and is based on data and policy options that are specific to Morocco. The software is designed to be easily updated as new data become available. It is also readily adaptable to other countries in future implementations. Development of the tool itself, a user manual, and an internal report demonstrating the tool’s abilities were finalized in Spring 2018.
Synapse worked for the National Efficiency Screening Project (NESP) to develop a National Standard Practice Manual (NSPM). The purpose of the NSPM is to improve the way that utility customer-funded electricity and natural gas energy efficiency resources are evaluated for cost-effectiveness throughout the United States, and to inform decision-makers regarding which efficiency resources are in the public interest and what level of investment is appropriate. The NSPM updates and expands upon the California Standard Practice Manual and will provide the principles, concepts, and techniques for sound, unbiased evaluation of energy efficiency and other demand side resources. Synapse's primary role was as the lead technical consultant and was responsible for the overall drafting of the manual, managing the Drafting Committee of five experts, and incorporating input from the Review Committee.
Synapse is providing the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers with technical support for the National Grid rate case. The project includes expert testimony and addresses issues related to performance incentive mechanisms, multi-year rate plans, advanced metering, rate designs, and electric vehicles.
Testimony of Tim Woolf and Melissa Whited on National Grid Rate Case
Direct Testimony of Tim Woolf and Melissa Whited on Power Sector Transformation Proposals
Synapse and Raab Associates provided technical and facilitation support to New Hampshire PUC staff for a stakeholder process to address grid modernization issues and policies for the state. Synapse assisted with developing agendas for stakeholder meetings, providing technical and policy analyses, and communicating the results of those analyses. After the stakeholder process, Synapse assisted with compiling initial and final reports with recommendations from the stakeholder group.
Advanced Energy Economy Institute retained Synapse to review earnings adjustment mechanisms proposed by National Grid in New York. Earnings adjustment mechanisms provide performance incentives for utilities that better align utility performance with regulatory goals. Tim Woolf and Melissa Whited filed testimony before the New York Public Service Commission that provided recommendations regarding which performance incentive mechanisms to approve, as well as appropriate financial incentive allocations.
Synapse also prepared a report on state-wide performance incentive mechanisms for New York. The report examines some of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three types of performance incentive mechanisms: outcome-based, program-based, and action-based. Because current efforts to implement performance incentive mechanisms in New York focus on outcome‐based mechanisms, the report provides an in-depth analysis of outcome-based performance incentives.
Rebuttal Testimony of Woolf and Whited on National Grid EAM Proposal
Earnings Adjustment Mechanisms to Support New York REV Goals
Sierra Club retained Synapse to analyze Northern Indiana Public Service Company’s (NIPSO) request for rider on $400 million in capital costs at three coal-fired power plants in Indiana (Bailly, Michigan City, and Schahfer) as they seek to comply with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Coal Combustion Residual (CCR) rule and Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELG). In this docket, NIPSCO seeks to retire four coal-fired units (Bailly 7 & 8 and Schahfer 17 & 18) while retaining three units (Schahfer 14 & 15 and Michigan City 12). Synapse assessed NIPSCO’s economic analysis and supporting “qualitative assessment” and examined whether the retention of the three units would be in the interest of ratepayers, and if the company’s qualitative assessment was reasonably constructed. Dr. Jeremy Fisher filed testimony demonstrating that NIPSO’s ratepayers see $200-$600 million in benefits with the incremental retirement of Schahfer 14 & 15 and that the Company’s application does not support the decision to install retrofits at the units.
Review of the 2017 Nova Scotia Load Forecast.
Comments on NSPI Reply Evidence
On behalf of Counsel to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB), Synapse assessed Nova Scotia Power's (NSPI) advanced metering infrastructure pilot proposal in 2017. NSPI requested approval to deploy advanced (“smart”) meters to up to 1,000 customers at a cost of $8.2 million. Ms. Alice Napoleon identified multiple issues with the proposal, including, among other things, that the pilot period would neither provide sufficient time for data collection nor cover the period of highest system demand; that the pilot’s size was not adequately justified; that complementary programs to help customers experience the benefits from implementation of AMI were omitted; and that the proposed network for the pilot is not consistent with the network that may be required for full implementation. The evidence concluded that the design of the proposed pilot would not provide a solid basis for determining whether the costs and benefits associated with AMI justify a full roll out. Ms. Napoleon recommended that NSUARB not approve the current pilot application based on the current record of evidence. To address deficiencies identified by Ms. Napoleon and others, NSPI withdrew its initial AMI application and stated its intention to submit an amended filing.
In October, 2017, NSPI submitted an application to implement AMI throughout its service area. The application requested Board approval of a capital work order for $133 million to replace about 495,000 conventional meters with smart meters over the period 2018 to 2020. In early 2018, Alice Napoleon submitted evidence on behalf of the NSUARB regarding NSPI's proposal. Specifically, the evidence considered: 1. cost effectiveness of the proposal, including the magnitude of and support for claimed benefits such energy savings associated with critical peak pricing; 2. the reasonableness of allowing a return on the conventional meters to be replaced; and 3. coordination with the energy efficiency utility, EfficiencyOne, to enable benefits of the meters to be realized. In response to this evidence, NSPI submitted a sensitivity analysis to more fully consider the downside risks. The Board approved NSPI’s proposal subject to conditions but disallowed a return on the existing meters.
Evidence of Alice Napoleon Regarding Pilot NS Power AMI
Synapse submitted formal comments to the Department of Energy regarding its use of the Federal Power Act to allow continued operation of the Yorktown coal units in Virginia. Dr. Ariel Horowitz drafted the comments, which focused on the lack of a sound alternatives analysis, the imprudence of relying on elderly and inefficient coal units for reliability purposes, and the need for a near-term plan to retire the units.
Utah Clean Energy engaged Synapse to review Pacificorp’s proposal before the Utah Public Service Commission to alter its net metering compensation mechanism for residential customers with distributed generation. Melissa Whited submitted testimony to the Commission critiquing multiple aspects of the Company’s proposed distributed generation rate design. Synapse’s analysis of the bill impacts showed that the Company’s proposed changes would have a substantial negative impact on the adoption of residential solar. The proposed distributed generation tariff would essentially eliminate the economic advantage to residential customers of installing distributed generation. Further, the Company’s plan to move these net-metered customers into a separate rate class would increase costs to non-net metered customers. Whited also testified that demand charges are not appropriate for residential customers. Tim Woolf submitted testimony addressing the Company’s flawed cost-benefit analysis. Based on Synapse’s finding that the benefits of the Company’s existing net metering program surpass the costs, Mr. Woolf recommended that the Commission not approve the proposed changes.
Direct Testimony of Tim Woolf Regarding Pacificorp Net Metering
Rebuttal Testimony of Tim Woolf Regarding Pacificorp Net Metering
Synapse provided expert testimony in the Eversource rate case regarding the Company's proposed performance-based regulation (PBR) proposal and rate design modifications for net-metered customers. Synapse's rate design testimony addressed whether the Company had demonstrated a need for a Monthly Minimum Reliability Charge (MMRC), and whether the proposed MMRC would comport with the rate design goals of efficiency, simplicity, and continuity.
Surrebuttal Testimony of Woolf and Whited Regarding Eversource Rate Case
Supplemental Testimony of Woolf and Whited Regarding Eversource Rate Case
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) has prepared a series of technical reports on Future Electric Utility Regulation, which examine issues related to incremental and fundamental changes to electric industry regulation in a future with high distributed energy resource (DER) levels. Synapse provided research and analysis to support LBNL in producing a technical report on performance-based regulation in a high DER future. The report: summarizes the full suite of mechanisms used in various types of PBR; compares ratemaking and regulation of utilities under cost of service versus PBR paradigms; explains how to incorporate performance-based metrics focused on DER; presents key subtopics from the perspective of both the electric utility and the customer/broader public interest; describes a taxonomy of issues to consider in determining whether to implement some elements of PBR or comprehensive PBR; and describes criteria state utility commissions can consider to evaluate whether to adopt some form of PBR in the context of a high DER future.
Performance-Based Regulation in a High Distributed Energy Resources Future (webinar slides)
Synapse was retained by the Alliance for Clean Energy New York to develop an analysis of the role of existing renewable generation in achieving New York’s goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. The report shows that so-called “Baseline” resources, which New York policymakers assumed would keep their energy and attributes in New York through 2030, have other markets for their production. If those resources are exported, New York would be forced to acquire substantial additional new renewable generation. Synapse analyzed policy options to compensate existing renewable resources for retaining their attributes in New York, and showed that they are less expensive than developing new renewable resources.
With support from Environmental Defense Fund, Synapse convened a stakeholder advisory council and provided analysis to produce a vision of Ohio’s clean energy economic opportunities. The group—comprised of business leaders, manufacturers, academics, labor representatives, non-profits, and others—produced a shared vision report of how Ohio could create new jobs and economic growth by modernizing its energy economy. Essentially a business case for clean energy growth and innovation, the vision identifies multi-billion dollar opportunities related to attracting leading corporations, transforming transportation, building and deploying clean electricity and energy efficiency, and modernizing the grid, to demonstrate why Ohio is well-positioned to lead if it takes action. The vision also highlights the risks of failing to create conditions that allow Ohio businesses to compete on the national and global levels. Synapse and the advisory group followed the release of the vision report with further stakeholder engagement and analysis, leading to a second report focused on actions that the public and private sectors can take to advance the clean energy economy in Ohio. For more information, see www.poweringohio.org.
Kenji Takahashi presented on "Rhode Island Renewable Thermal Market Strategy -- An Analysis of Energy, Environmental, Economic, Energy Bill, and Local Job Impacts of an Alternative Renewable Thermal Energy Future for Rhode Island" at 2017 Energy Efficiency in Domestic Appliances and Lighting Conference.
The thermal energy sector is a major consumer of energy for space heating and domestic hot water in Rhode Island. Relying primarily on fossil fuels, the thermal sector accounts for approximately one third of Rhode Island’s total energy consumption and carbon emissions. By diversifying the thermal energy sector to increase use of low-carbon renewable heating and cooling technologies (e.g., air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps, wood pellet heating, solar thermal), Rhode Island can make significant strides toward achieving GHG emission reduction goals and reap substantial economic benefits in the process.
Thus far, virtually all clean energy policies and programs in the state have focused on electric sector technologies and natural gas efficiency. Consequently, Rhode Island’s renewable thermal industry has historically been relatively small and slow-growing.
To address barriers facing the renewable thermal industry and promote renewable thermal technologies, Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER) tasked the authors with analyzing policies and programs designed to grow the industry and conducting a detailed market model of alternative thermal sector energy futures. In one of the alternative scenarios, Rhode Island achieves 5 percent renewable thermal energy penetration by 2035. This paper presents the results and methodologies for analyzing this scenario, including the cost-effectiveness, energy rate and bill impacts, local job impacts, and emission impacts of the alternative future. This study broke new ground by applying standard analysis methodologies and approaches used for energy efficiency measures (e.g., cost-effectiveness tests, rate and bill impacts, job impacts) to renewable thermal technologies.
Rhode Island Renewable Thermal Market Strategy (EEDAL Paper)
The New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel retained Synapse to review PSEG’s base rate adjustment proposal based on the roll-in schedule of the PSEG’s Energy Strong investment program.
Sierra Club retained Synapse to assess the 2017 Integrated Resource Pan (IRP) filed by Puget Sound Energy (PSE). Synapse's review found that the PSE IRP included a reasonable near-term resource plan but contained proposed actions that could lead to an unjustified deviation from that resource plan. In addition, Synapse identified a series of unjustified assumptions and conclusions regarding renewable resource costs and availability and coal plant retirement dates that resulted in a biased long-term resource plan. In comments submitted to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, Synapse recommended that the Commission ensure full oversight of PSE's upcoming resource procurement processes and require PSE to use updated assumptions and enable full stakeholder participation in future IRP cycles.
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) has requested approval to increase its fixed access charges for residential customers (from $10 to $20) and small commercial customers (from $28 to $37). Sierra Club retained Synapse to develop testimony that establishes how these increases in fixed charges are inconsistent with fundamental ratemaking principles. In testimony before the Virginia State Corporation Commission, Melissa Whited addressed how the increases would provide inefficient prices signals, reduce customer equity, and reduce incentives for investments in distributed energy resources. Ms. Whited also recommended alternative methods REC could employ to address concerns about revenue sufficiency.
California’s ambitious state law SB 350 aims to increase renewable energy generation and achieve “widespread transportation electrification” across the state. Pursuant to this law, California’s largest investor-owned utilities are proposing to make over $1 billion in transportation electrification investments. These investments are accompanied by new rate designs to support adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and encourage charging in a manner that is consistent with electrical grid conditions. Synapse was retained by NRDC to evaluate the utilities’ rate design proposals for public fast-charging facilities, commercial fleets, and residential customers.
You can find more recent Synapse work focusing on EV rates, completed on behalf of NRDC, here.
Testimony of Melissa Whited on Commercial EV Rates
Testimony of Melissa Whited on Fast Charging Infrastructure and Rates
Testimony of Melissa Whited on Residential Rates
Rebuttal Testimony of Melissa Whited on EV Rate Design
Electric Vehicles are Not Crashing the Grid
Synapse analyzed the implications of higher fixed charges, time-of-use rates, and minimum bills on customers of Maryland's electric cooperatives. The study focused on the ways that these rate designs would impact low-income customers, low-usage customers, net metering customers, and the ability for Maryland to achieve its energy efficiency goals. This analysis was in response to Maryland Senate Bill 1131, which would have required the Maryland Public Service Commission to approve increases to electric cooperative customers' fixed monthly charges.
In support of New York State’s nation-leading GHG emissions reduction goals—targeting 40 percent reduction of GHG emissions by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050—the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has begun a process of developing an integrated policy framework to address emissions from the heating and cooling sector. Synapse joined a group of consultants led by Meister Consultants to assist NYSERDA with this effort. More specifically, Synapse assisted NYSERDA and Meister with developing (a) a comprehensive database of costs and performance of Renewable Heating and Cooling (RH&C) technologies such as air-source heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps, solar hot water, and heat pump water heaters; (b) an Excel-based tool to analyze costs and benefits of RH&C technologies; and (c) a state RH&C Policy Framework report. As part of our effort to develop RH&C technology profiles, Synapse also participated in a stakeholder meeting by the Advisory Committee of industry stakeholders and experts and facilitated a working group on air-source heat pumps.
In 2016, Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCo) filed a request for rate design modifications, including a tiered monthly “Grid Use Charge” for all residential customers and a voluntary residential demand – time-of-use rate. The Company’s stated intent for the proposed Grid Use Charge was to act as an interim step before the implementation of a demand charge. On behalf of Energy Outreach Colorado, Synapse conducted an analysis of PSCo’s proposal and Tim Woolf provided expert testimony before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Synapse’s testimony challenged the Company’s proposal to move residential customers toward demand charges because such charges are inconsistent with fundamental rate design principles, create inefficient price signals, are complex and difficult for residential customers to respond to, place undue burden on low-usage and low-income customers, and may ultimately increase long-term electricity costs. Project ongoing.
Synapse is providing the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel (OPC) with technical assistance and testimony in Case No. 9406 regarding Baltimore Gas and Electric Company’s (BGE) electric rate increase request to recover costs for smart grid implementation and other costs. The increase of approximately $135.2 million is intended to pay for implementation of advanced metering infrastructure and underground conduit costs in Baltimore. Synapse staff and subcontractor Nancy Brockway submitted testimony covering the benefit cost analysis of the advanced meter infrastructure investments and cyber-security/ privacy concerns associated with the implementation of advanced meter infrastructure investment across the BGE service territory.
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