SAN FRANCISCO — It was a late San Francisco night in the middle of September. Alfonzo McKinnie had just recently gotten back from Chicago, and he wanted to see the new arena. So he hopped onto one of those rental scooters.“That was my first time riding one of those. I see them everywhere,” McKinnie said. “I just rode all the way around just to see the arena. You know, because there’s been a lot of buildup to this moment.”McKinnie was impressed. Outside: the craning, shining walls glittering …
The new rate would affect about 1,000 customersHow the standby rate is calculated was described as “very complicated” and “not totally intuitive” by those involved in the rate hearings. But in the case of residential customers with grid-tied systems, the charge is a flat $24.83 regardless of the rated capacity of the system. So someone with a 5-kW photovoltaic (PV) system would pay the same amount as someone with a 3-kW system. An article about the rate case in the Portland Press Herald cited the example of Thomas College in Waterville, Maine, which had installed a 12,600-square-foot PV system. The college’s president said the standby charge would add $38,000 to the college’s power bill over five years, a 56% increase, according to the Press Herald. The article didn’t explain how that number was determined.There are about 1,000 customers in Maine who would be affected by the new standby rate, Rice said. They include institutional, residential, and commercial installations.A number of interests oppose the potential surcharge, including the Maine Public Advocate’s Office, Thomas College President Laurie Lachance, and Fortunat Mueller, co-founder of a renewable energy company called ReVision Energy. A basic change in the rate structureUnder CMP’s current rate plan, residential customers pay a delivery or service charge and a separate charge for the energy itself (electricity is provided through independent suppliers). On the delivery side of the bill, CMP says it now charges $9.36 per month, which includes the first 100 kWh of electricity, and then 6.9 cents per kWh after that.Under the new plan, the service charge would climb to $12 per month ($24.83 for net-metered residential customers) and the per kWh charge would drop to 5 cents. In other words, monthly charges are still related to how much electricity a customer uses, just not as much.“We are striving to move in the direction of higher service charges and lower kWh charges in our distribution pricing structure,” Rice said in an e-mail. “This would make it more closely reflect the actual cost of providing service.”But to Mueller, any rate plan that disconnects the amount customers pay from the volume of electricity they use “sends the wrong market signals to energy consumers.”“By eliminating volumetric charges and transitioning to (higher) fixed rates, CMP’s proposal will eliminate the incentive for customers to reduce their peak usage or overall consumption,” Mueller said in written comments filed with the PUC in December. “As a result, use of the electric grid will be less efficient and will likely require construction of additional expensive infrastructure that would otherwise be unnecessary.”He called the proposed standby rates “illegal under Maine law.” Longer payback for solar renewable investmentsMueller also said that replacing “volumetric charges” with another billing model is a “back door attack” on net-metering, the financial backbone of grid-tied renewable systems.Under net-metering rules in Maine, excess PV production is credited to a customer’s bill at the customer’s per-kWh rate, Mueller says. These credits are carried forward for up to one year and used to offset times when a PV array or a wind turbine doesn’t make enough power.“Under net energy billing, excess solar production is credited only at the customer’s per kWh rate (volumetric charges), not against any fixed costs,” Mueller wrote to the PUC. “As such, any rate design changes that replace volumetric charges with fixed fees reduces the benefits of net metering and makes solar system economics far more challenging and, in the case of CMP’s proposal, will extend payback periods by several years.”In a telephone interview, Mueller also argued that while CMP says the cost of providing service isn’t driven by the amount of electricity it sells, that’s really not the case. Ultimately, he said, the cost of providing service is driven by the peak load on the system, which typically occurs on a summer afternoon.“The great irony is that solar customers who have low or in some cases negative consumption at the time of system peak, and therefore are reducing the cost to serve, are the ones who will be penalized by this change. It’s totally nonsensical and inequitable.” The same issue is percolating elsewhere around the countryMaine is far from alone in this debate. It’s also popped up in California, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Arizona, where regulators last fall approved an Arizona Pubic Service plan to begin charging a fee for customers who generate some of their own power. That added an average of $5 a month to the bills of solar customers.The fee was later blamed for a drop in new photovoltaic installations, and Mueller said CMP’s proposal would be “absolutely devastating” to the rate of solar installations in Maine.“We believe, based on past experience with pricing, that if CMP’s rate structure is adopted, the rate of solar adoption in Maine will slow to a crawl and our dependence on fossil fuel energy will increase as a result,” Mueller’s written comment said.In Vermont, Mueller said a study a year or two ago found that non-solar customers don’t actually subsidize net-metered customers, as several utilities have argued. Because they are exporting power when both energy and transmission/distribution costs are at their highest, they are probably under-compensated for the power they generate, he said.A bill now in the state Legislature would seek a similar study in Maine. The current rate hearings are expected to be wrapped up by July. Maine’s largest electric utility is seeking permission from state regulators to impose a new “standby” rate that would add roughly $13 to the monthly bill of a residential customer with a grid-tied renewable energy system.The plan would tack on $24.83 a month to the Central Maine Power power bill for a net-metered residential customer vs. the flat $12 charge for a customer without renewables, CMP said. The proposal is part of a rate case before the Maine Public Utilities Commission.CMP is a subsidiary of Iberdrola USA, a Spanish-owned holding company with energy operations in 24 states. CMP’s service area, which takes in the most densely populated southern and central quadrants of the state, includes more than 546,000 residential and 62,300 commercial and industrial customers.Like a number of other utilities around the country, CMP is looking for a way to recoup some of the money it’s not earning in electricity sales to customers who generate some of their electricity but still remain connected to the grid.The company views the new standby rate as a way of spreading costs evenly among customers and ensuring that consumers who don’t generate any of their own electricity aren’t forced to subsidize the renewable energy systems other customers have installed. Although grid-tied solar or wind customers don’t spend as much on electricity, CMP spokeswoman Gail N. Rice said, the cost of serving them doesn’t go down. “This is not a fight against renewables,” she said.Others disagree.
APTN National NewsThe remains – of what may be a prehistoric bison skeleton – has been unearthed in a Whitehorse subdivision .It’s an usual find – but for Yukon paleontologists it’s exciting.They say it will help explain what happened to this particular species of bison – after the Ice Age – and before they disappeared about 400 years ago.APTN’s Shirley Mclean has more.
While Saturday’s top-billed matchups (specifically, Arizona-Ohio State and Kentucky-Cincinnati) looked sexier on paper than any in store on Sunday, day No. 2 of the round of 32 offers some solid games of its own — as well as fewer sleepers. Keep a particular eye on the trio of 2-versus-7 matchups, each of which should be reasonably competitive by the standards of this round.Here’s what else to look for:South RegionalGame to watch: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 8 San Diego State (a harmonic mean of 88.0) at 2:40 p.m. EDT on CBSUpset alert! No. 7 Iowa (27 percent win probability) vs. No. 2 Gonzaga at 7:10 p.m. EDT on TBSIN DEPTHDuke (85 percent win probability) vs. San Diego StatePlayer to watch: Jahlil Okafor, DukeAfter taking care of Robert Morris with ease in its opener, Duke moves on to face the slow-paced, defensively focused Aztecs. San Diego State has a tall team that ranks among the nation’s best at limiting opponents’ shooting efficiency and keeping them from getting to the line. But watch for Duke’s offensive rebounding (spearheaded by All-Everything center Jahlil Okafor) to offset some of SDSU’s defensive advantage. And when the Aztecs have the ball, scoring might be an ordeal. Neither of San Diego State’s two go-to guys on offense — Winston Shepard and Dwayne Polee — could even match the Division I average for efficiency when they ended an Aztec possession, a trend that figures to continue against a solid Blue Devils defense. Midwest RegionalIN BRIEFGame to watch: No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 7 Wichita State (87.6) at 5:15 p.m. EDT on CBSUpset alert! No. 5 West Virginia (55 percent) vs. No. 4 Maryland at 8:40 p.m. EDT on TNTIN DEPTHKansas (57 percent) vs. Wichita StatePlayer to watch: Fred VanVleet, Wichita StateWichita State’s offense clicked in the second half of its victory over Indiana on Friday, but the points may not come as easily against a strong Kansas defense that ranks ninth nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s schedule-adjusted ratings. The game may come down to whether Wichita State can execute its pick-and-roll — according to Synergy Sports, the Shockers’ pick-and-roll ball-handling efficiency ranked in the 93rd percentile of Division I schools; the Jayhawks’ defense was in the 85th percentile at stopping the play. At the other end, it’s worth watching whether the more interior-focused Kansas offense can adapt to take advantage of a Wichita State defense that dares opponents to move the ball around and shoot from the outside. West RegionalIN BRIEFGame to watch: No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Oregon (87.3) at 7:45 p.m. EDT on TruTVIN DEPTHWisconsin (87 percent) vs. OregonPlayer to watch: Frank Kaminsky, WisconsinOregon’s offense — far and away the strength of the team — came to the rescue against Oklahoma State in the round of 64 as the Ducks shot 55 percent from the floor to outgun the Cowboys in a 79-73 win. But securing enough stops to beat Wisconsin might be a struggle for the defensively challenged Ducks. According to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, Wisconsin easily owns the best offense in the country, a unit primed to take advantage of Oregon’s weak shot defense and inability to force turnovers. The Ducks also lack the risky traits that sometimes help heavy underdogs chance their way into upsets. But one path the Ducks might navigate to victory is to force the tempo and make the Badgers play at their pace. Oregon had the 33rd-fastest offense in the country this season (as measured by seconds per possession), while Wisconsin had the third-slowest. East RegionalIN BRIEFGame to watch: No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 7 Michigan State (89.5) at 12:10 p.m. EDT on CBSUpset alert! No. 5 Northern Iowa (55 percent) vs. No. 4 Louisville at 9:40 p.m. EDT on TBSIN DEPTHVirginia (72 percent) vs. Michigan StatePlayer to watch: Anthony Gill, VirginiaVirginia didn’t exactly look dominant against a stubborn Belmont team Friday, and now the Cavaliers must face an even tougher opponent in Michigan State. The Spartans have the talent to stick with Virginia — they’d have a 37 percent chance of the upset here if we based our prediction on preseason ratings alone — and their coach is familiar with deep tournament runs. Plus, Virginia operates its offense at a veritable crawl, slowing down the game and inviting the kind of variance that can prove deadly for a favorite. But other than their snail-like pace, the Cavaliers play a sturdy style as upset-proof as any, relying primarily on two-point shooting, ball security, rebounding, and an old-fashioned big, tough interior defense. It all makes for a team with few clear weaknesses, something Michigan State will likely learn the hard way.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions.