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PG&E gas bills will jump to pay for pipeline work

By David R. Baker

June 23, 2016 Updated: June 23, 2016 6:07pm

  1. pastedGraphic.pdf

    Photo: Liz Hafalia, The San Francisco Chronicle

    Smoke and fire can be seen after an explosion near Skyline Blvd and San Bruno Avenue in San Bruno, Calif., on Thursday, September 9, 2010.People standing on Claremont Street watch smoke and fire shoot into the ... more

    The California commission accused of growing too close to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on Thursday approved an 85 percent jump in the amount of money the utility collects from customers to spend on its natural gas pipelines, saying the money would fund badly needed safety work.

    The 4-0 decision by the California Public Utilities Commission comes even as PG&E stands trial in a federal court for criminal charges related to the deadly 2010 explosion of a natural gas pipeline under San Bruno.

    Under the decision, the amount PG&E collects each year to fund its gas transmission and storage system will rise in stages, from about $715 million in 2014 to $1.324 billion in 2018. While the increase is substantial, PG&E had wanted more, asking the commission for $1.5 billion.

    “Although the rate increase is large, this is about work we believe is necessary to the safety and reliability of the system,” said Commissioner Catherine Sandoval.

    $6 rise in average bill

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    Loan Firm Dividend Solar Merges With PACE Funder Figtree, Raises $200M


    PACE is growing fast and solar loans are replacing leases.

    by Eric Wesoff  June 23, 2016

    Dividend Solar and Figtree Financing just agreed to merge.

    Dividend is a solar financing firm offering residential loans that include performance guarantees and warranty management. Figtree provides property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing for energy-efficiency improvements, including solar power and water conservation upgrades. PACE financing allows home or business owners to access long-term financing that is repaid through their property taxes.

    The merger represents the first-ever combination of a residential solar lender and PACE financing provider. The deal includes a commitment of up to $200 million from LL Funds (founded in 2009 by Morgan Stanley alums.) As part of the transaction, Shivraj (Raj) Mundy of LL Funds will join Dividend as its executive chairman.

    Dividend will soon launch a residential PACE program in California before expanding it nationally.

    Direct ownership via loans (and other mechanisms like PACE) is gaining traction as PV systems continue to get cheaper while financing options continue to improve. Third-party financing is still the dominant form of financing for residential solar, but by 2020, GTM Research forecasts that direct ownership will eclipse third-party ownership.

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    Half Empty or Half Full Solar Glass

    23  JUN 2016

    Claims that residential solar rooftops result in unfair cost shifting to non-solar ratepayers were vigorously debated at a June 21 meeting held by the federal agency charged with ensuring competition and consumer protection.

    Utility cost shifting claims are not based on “substantial evidence,” said Jon Wellinghoff, SolarCity chief policy officer, during a Federal Trade Commission meeting on distributed solar and its market and environmental impacts. “Comparative cost benefit analyses should be performed to determine the net benefits to customers and the grid.”

    Wellinghoff, former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chair, added that the cost savings of distributed energy are not factored into calculations of ongoing grid costs not picked up by rooftop solar project owners. That includes, for example, that California’s grid operator recently cancelled 13 transmission projects estimated to cost $192 million because of increases in distributed solar and energy efficiency. “Ignoring this will create redundant investments,” Wellinghoff warned.

    “In god we trust, but with all others we should verify with data,” said Karl Rábago
    Pace University’s Energy & Climate Center executive director, agreeing with Wellinghoff. He added that cost imbalances attributed to distributed solar could well stem from “poor forecasting, overbuilding, and immunity from competition” by utilities.

    Defending cost shifting claims was Severin Borenstienn, University of California at Berkeley professor of business administration & public policy at the Haas School of Business. He noted that of the solar rooftops installed in U.S., half are in California, with half of the in-state installations in Pacific Gas & Electric territory. PG&E data show the cost to non-solar customers “are real,” he said.

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    New California Interconnection Ruling Increases Transparency and Limits Costs


    The update to California’s Rule 21 has something for ratepayers, developers and utilities alike.

    by Julian Spector

    June 24, 2016


    California set a standard for defining how distributed energy resources connect to the grid with the passage of Electric Tariff Rule 21 in 2000. At a meeting Thursday, the California Public Utility Commission finalized an update to that policy that once again puts the state at the forefront of reimagining the grid.

    In most markets, murky interconnection standards add considerable costs and time delays to new renewable energy projects that are trying to hook up to the distribution grid. Developers have to pay back the utility for costs incurred while getting the grid ready to receive the new generation, but there's no guarantee the costs will match the utility's estimate. The CPUC's new decision addresses that information gap by establishing greater transparency beforehand about the potential costs associated with interconnection and limiting the cost overruns a developer is liable for. The ruling applies to distributed generation projects that aren't subject to net metering.

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    Testing the Clean-Energy Logic of a Tesla-SolarCity Merger



    Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla and chairman of SolarCity, says he wants to create the “world’s only vertically integrated energy company” with the merger of the two companies.


    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    Imagine a world in which every home and building is a miniature power plant, with solar panels on the roofs and electric vehicles and stationary battery banks in the garages.

    Meters and software would manage the flow of power, allowing homeowners and businesses to seamlessly buy and sell electricity at the best prices, simultaneously lowering their costs and raising the amount of green energy on the grid.

    That’s the long-term vision behind the plan that Elon Musk described late Tuesday, explaining the rationale for Tesla to acquire SolarCity and create the “world’s only vertically integrated energy company.’’And it may very well become reality, whether in years or decades, and whether Mr. Musk’s version of the vision is one that proves viable.

    Still, if Mr. Musk and his cousins, Lyndon and Peter Rive, can trounce the competition and surmount their financial woes — and those are very big ifs — the integrated company they are trying to assemble could be in a position to dominate.

    “This is an effort to build the Apple of clean energy,” said Daniel M. Kammen, the director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. “That really is part of the new wave of companies that could make this decarbonization addressing climate change really work.”

    Wall Street, at least for the moment, is not on board.

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    Tesla’s Plan to Buy SolarCity Has Major Flaws

    Deal Professor




    Harry Campbell

    The market hates the idea of Tesla Motors acquiring SolarCity.

    After Tesla’s announcement on Tuesday of a $2.8 billion offer to acquire SolarCity, Tesla’s stock was down more than 8 percent early Wednesday morning, more than the total market capitalization of SolarCity itself. The market is ascribing a negative value to this possible acquisition.

    The reaction reflects two things.

    Solar City is a maker of solar energy products, basically home and business solar panels. Tesla is a maker of battery-powered cars, though some view the company’s battery-making component as its bigger future.

    To Elon Musk, the chairman of SolarCity and the chief executive of Tesla, putting together these two different businesses is “blindingly obvious” and a “no-brainer.” A blog post on the Tesla website explained the reasons:

    We would be the world’s only vertically integrated energy company offering end-to-end clean energy products to our customers. This would start with the car that you drive and the energy that you use to charge it, and would extend to how everything else in your home or business is powered.

    In other words, the deal makes sense because people who buy Tesla’s cars also want solar power. In a combined company, they can get it in the same place.

    The market is not buying it.

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    What Would Tesla’s Solar Strategy Look Like if It Bought SolarCity?


    Musk has touted the synergies between Tesla and SolarCity. What would integration really enable?

    by Julia Pyper   June 23, 2016

    The Tesla Motors store on Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade is located next to Greek Cuisine Stop’n Cafe and across from J.Crew. Here, it’s possible to purchase some slacks, a high-end electric vehicle and a gyro within a dozen or so steps.

    Someday in the future, it might be possible to purchase solar panels at this location as well -- all in one quick and easy round of errands.

    This is the future that Tesla’s Elon Musk envisions -- a near future where a consumer’s decision to go green is convenient, stylish and economically appealing, all at the same time. That is the future he’s hoping to create with Tesla’s proposed purchase of SolarCity for roughly $2.5 billion.

    “In order to solve the sustainable energy question, we need sustainable energy production, which is going to come primarily in the form of solar, overwhelmingly in the form of solar in my view. Combine that with stationary storage and electric vehicles, and you have a complete solution to a sustainable energy future,” Musk said on a Wednesday morning conference call. “And those are three things that I think Tesla should be providing.”

    Tesla currently offers electric vehicles and energy storage solutions for homes, businesses and utilities. But while Tesla already has a close relationship with SolarCity -- Musk is on the board and the company is run by his cousin Lyndon Rive -- Musk made the case that there are efficiencies to be gained by formally combining the two entities.

    “It’s quite difficult to create an integrated product if you’re forced to be at an arm’s length and be two different companies,” he said.

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    Energy-efficient homes: yes, we want them. But we haven’t done the work.

    Updated by David Roberts on June 22, 2016, 2:00 p.m. ET @drvox



    There have never been more options to manage your energy use at home. If energy nerdery is your thing, tools and services abound to help you cut consumption, increase efficiency, and generate your own electricity. In fact, "behind the meter" energy management is one of the hottest topics in the energy world today, full of all kinds of hype and utopian predictions (some of which I have made myself).

    And why not? Energy management can be fun. It’s like a puzzle — and as you solve it, you do something tangible to cut your emissions and contribute to the climate fight.

    So it’s worth it, for us energy journalists at least, to take a deep breath and remember that the home energy management revolution hasn’t actually arrived yet. Things are shifting, especially among younger customers, but managing your own energy is still more of a hassle and expense than most homeowners want to take on.

    For evidence, we turn to the research firm Deloitte, which just released its annual survey of residential and business customers on the subject of energy management. There’s lots of info to dig through, but I’m going to focus on residential customers — and particularly on millennials, which as we all know are the center of the universe.

    Homeowners have good intentions, despite low energy prices

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    Volkswagen agrees to pay billions to drivers over emissions scandal

    By Jacob Bogage June 23 at 4:25 PM


    (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

    Volkswagen has agreed to pay $10.2 billion to settle its U.S. emissions scandal case, according to the Associated Press, citing two anonymous people briefed on the matter, in what would be one of the largest payouts by an automaker in history.

    The case stems from the carmaker’s 2015 admission that 11 million vehicles worldwide had cheating software designed to get around emissions tests. The settlement will compensate owners of 482,000 vehicles with two-liter diesel engines that were programmed to turn off emissions measurement data outside of laboratory settings.

    The German automaker will pay owners between $1,000 and $7,000 per vehicle in compensation and promised to fix the cars free of charge to keep them from spewing 40 times the legal limit of harmful nitrogen oxides, according to the AP. Of the $10.2 billion, about three-fourths would go to car owners, with the rest paying off government fines.

    U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer has imposed a gag order on settlement discussions. Official announcements of the settlement are set for Tuesday.

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    California’s climate change agency just approved a $500 million plan — but there’s no money for it



    An electric Nissan Leaf is plugged in at a charging station in Malibu.


    June 24, 2016, 12:05 a.m.

    The state agency in charge of combating climate change signed off on a $500 million plan Thursday morning to get 100,000 clean cars on the road, limit pollution from heavy-duty trucks and replace outdated school buses.

    There’s just one problem.

    “What’s missing is the most important part of the funding plan, which is the funding,” said Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air, to laughs from the crowd at the meeting of the California Air Resources Board.

    The board regulates greenhouse gas emissions in the state and decides how much of the money collected from polluters should be spent to improve air quality and public health. But the board does not control when it actually gets the cash.

    That’s up to Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers who have not reached a deal on spending for low-carbon transportation programs next year. As a result, popular programs to subsidize consumers’ purchase of zero-emission vehicles are running out of money, along with similar anti-climate change efforts.

    Thursday’s decision won’t result in any money being spent until the political impasse gets resolved. Board members, who are appointed by Brown and leaders of the Assembly and Senate, said they were worried about the state's climate efforts if the money doesn’t come.

    “I think I’d be remiss if I just didn’t express how important it is that we get this funded,” said Sandra Berg, the board’s vice chairwoman. “I just am thinking about Plan B. It’s so painful.”

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    Cities forge world’s largest alliance to curb climate change

    Cities created the largest network yet dedicated to fighting climate change, highlighting the growing importance of cities in spearheading sustainability initiatives.

    By Nicole Orttung, Staff JUNE 24, 2016 Save for later


    1. Virginia Mayo/AP

    Most attention on climate change policy has focused on national governments, but can cities, too, help curb global warming?

    That's the goal of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, a coalition of more than 7,000 cities spanning six continents.

    The group, created by merging the United Nation’s Compact of Mayors and the EU’s Covenant of Mayors, is a first-of-its-kind global initiative of local governments aimed at supporting each other in “setting ambitious climate reduction goals, taking ambitious action to meet those objectives, and measuring their progress publicly and transparently,” according to a statement released by the European Commission on Thursday.

    New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will co-chair the new Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy along with European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, called the move “a giant step forward in the work of achieving the goals that nations agreed to in Paris.”

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    China could blow the world away as a wind superpower

    By Samantha Lee on Jun 24, 2016 6:02 am

    China is — we could say — a big fan of wind energy. The country has huge potential to harvest wind power, and it could further improve that capacity with the proper energy sector reforms, according to a new MIT study. By 2030, wind could potentially produce up to 14 percent of the country’s primary energy demand, including 26 percent of its electricity. That’s good news, especially since China pledged to raise its share of renewables to 20 percent of its energy mix by then.

    With its long coastlines and vast interior, China already leads the world in installed capacity for wind production — with 145,000 MW of wind power capacity accounting for one-third of the global total (kicking U.S. butt, I might add). But a key challenge in harnessing the full potential is integrating wind power into a traditionally coal-powered electrical system, say the study’s authors. In 2015, wind power fulfilled only 3 percent of China’s electricity demand.

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    A Russian Oil Company Is for Sale — Again

    By ANDREW E. KRAMERJUNE 23, 2016



    A Bashneft plant outside Ufa, Bashkortostan, in Russia. Bashneft, Russia’s sixth-largest oil company, was first privatized in a series of sales in the early 2000s.


    Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

    MOSCOW — For sale in Russia this summer: one repossessed asset, well loved and maintained. Seller is motivated. Everything must go.

    In this fire sale, the asset is Bashneft, the oil company once owned by Vladimir P. Yevtushenkov, who was prosecuted and put under house arrest. And the seller is the Russian state, in desperate need of cash.

    At the right price, investors will bite. But the sale, and dozens of others taking place around the country, will reinforce Russia’s reputation in the global markets for uncertainty.

    Early in his tenure, President Vladimir V. Putin pursued a policy of controlling the so-called commanding heights of the economy with a nationalization push that elbowed Russian and foreign owners out of strategic industries. Now, he is inviting investors back, as Russia faces the economic fallout from a second year of Western sanctions and low commodity prices.

    The political about-face, part of the seemingly endless cycle in Russia between nationalization and privatization, adds to investors’ worries about being blindsided.

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    How Unleashing Energy Data Promises A Future Of Fewer Kilowatts

    JUN 23, 2016 @ 08:51 AM

    Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago

    We provide research and analysis of the world’s energy challenges.

    Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

    Mark N. Templeton, Contributor


    A bank of “smart” electric meters are tested in a Southern California Edison meter service center in Westminster, California. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

    In an era of “big data,” powerhouses like Amazon and Netflix NFLX +1.17% have figured out how to put enormous amounts of consumer data to use to target their products and services, boost sales and make consumers happy. Consumers in turn have come to expect that their laptops and smart phones will tell them what they want to watch, listen to or buy next. The same revolution is possible to help save energy.

    From the Nest thermostats and other sensor devices that make homes ‘smart’ to the electric vehicles sitting in driveways all throughout America, there’s a lot of energy data being collected but not used to its full potential. That data shows everything from how much energy consumers use and at what points in the day they use it most to where they charge up their cars and how charged those cars are when they plug in. At the same time, meters that used to be read once a month are now collecting data in real time.

    Linking all this data could help consumers make better energy choices and save money. All told, using data to shape the generation, distribution and consumption of electricity could bring about as much as $340 billion to $580 billion in value annually. While innovative strategies exist to free this data and make it usable, they’re not being employed fully. And, that’s holding back enormous progress. (Learn more on how in EPIC’s Off the Charts podcast)

    Study after study—including ones by my University of Chicago colleague Michael Greenstone (such as here and here)—has shown that energy-efficiency investments are not delivering the expected returns largely because they are based on model projections instead of real-life data on consumers’ energy use. If they had significant amounts of actual data, entrepreneurs, researchers and decision makers could study the “before” and “after” of specific energy improvements to target which investments are working and which are not.

    Rather than the government specifying where energy-efficiency funds should flow, the market would reward entrepreneurs who figure out which investments have the best returns. From there, entrepreneurs could help consumers learn which behaviors are costing them the most and which energy-efficiency improvements they actually need to cut their energy use and energy bills. Everyone from automakers to appliance manufacturers could learn how to improve products to meet consumers’ needs at the lowest cost and for the least amount of energy. And, utilities, combining their data with device makers, could learn to make better decisions about how to manage local grids—just in time for more EV chargers, more distributed solar and wind resources and more advanced energy storage to come online.

    Policymakers in Washington and around the country know that the lack of access to energy data is a barrier.  Last year, Senator Edward Markey and Representative Peter Welch introduced companion bills in the Senate and the House—the Access to Consumer Energy Information Act or the E-Access Act—which direct the Department of Energy to encourage states to allow customers to access their energy data.  Other policymakers have started efforts like the Green Button Initiative, which makes it easier for consumers to access and share their individual data, and the Energy Data Initiative, which tries to cobble together available information and make it useful for entrepreneurs.

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    California is on the verge of closing its last nuclear plant. Is that really a good idea?

    Updated by Brad Plumer on June 21, 2016, 6:30 p.m. ET @bradplumer


    Aerial view of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant which sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean at Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County, California, on March 17, 2011.

    MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

    California’s half-century dalliance with atomic energy could soon be over. On Tuesday, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. announced its proposal to close Diablo Canyon, the state’s last remaining nuclear power plant, by 2025.

    This is just the latest in the utter decimation of America's nuclear fleet. Back in 2013, the United States had 104 reactors supplying one-fifth of its electricity. Since then, five reactors have been retired early and at least seven more are scheduled to close — all victims of cheap natural gas, unfavorable economics, and local opposition.

    These closures are almost always terrible news for climate change. When two reactors at the San Onofre nuclear power plant in southern California closed in 2013, they were largely replaced by natural gas generation, leading to higher carbon-dioxide emissions. And Diablo Canyon is even bigger, supplying 9 percent of California’s electricity.

    PG&E claims it can avoid a similar carbon disaster this time around. In a deal struck with environmental groups, the utility plans to ramp up investment in efficiency, solar, wind, and storage between now and 2030 to replace Diablo Canyon with clean energy rather than fossil fuels. The question, however, is whether it can actually pull off this tricky balancing act — and whether spending all this effort simply to displace existing zero-carbon energy is really the best way for California to slash emissions.

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