Thursday, January 27, 2011

PPL to pay $27 million for market manipulation

In a settlement stipulation filed with the FERC, PPL Montana acknowledges that it manipulated markets during the so-called California Energy Crisis in 2000 & 2001, and will pay $27 million in total fines.  The settlement must still be approved by the FERC.


Friday, January 21, 2011

PSC lack the votes to support HB 244 (repeal the MT RPS)

In another heather exchange this am with Brad Molnar, Travis Kavulla refused to support the motion by him and Bill Gallagher for the PSC to support the bill.  Commissioner Vincent was not present to join Commissioner Gutsche and Kavulla in opposition, and the PSC should revisit the matter next week.

I have not been watching the PSC as regularly as others these last few weeks, but the sense that I am getting from those that are involved in the body, is that with each new issue the idealogical gap between Commissioner Kavulla and Commissioners Gallagher and Molnar widens.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Transmission Line Politics in Montana

If you got a little deja vo reading Matt Gouras AP piece today about  the"hot topic" eminent domain issue facing the Montana Legislature, you were likely not alone.

40 years ago it was a different 500 kV transmission line project, this one being built by Puget Sound Energy, Montana Power Company and the Bonneville Power Administration to export the output of Colstrip units 3&4 to the Pacific Northwest.

Today the line would run north to south, instead of east to west, and is intended (and in all reality will) export wind energy from Montana.  Even dissenters have to acknowledge that to scratch the surface of the approximately 1 million MW of wind energy potential in Montana, that export based transmission lines must be built.

The deja vo moment of 1970s saw the Montana Legislature take a number of actions to protect landowners.  The eminent domain statue is littered with amendments from the 1973 session to protect the rights of landowners.  But perhaps the most substantive result was the passage of the Major Facilities siting act in 1971 & 1973, the result of which provided a substantive review process for major electrical facilities and clear requirements to demonstrate need by their developers.

Today the legislature is not focusing on rebuilding the substantive process of the major facilities siting act (gutted by Republicans in 2001), but rather is considering a number of bills that would either greatly expand the right to condemn private property (in one case to foreign corporations).

The Governor has already staked out his territory on the matter as solidly pro transmission development, leaving the substance and nature of the actions up to the Legislature.  With both houses solidly in control of Republican hands, it is that party, and that party alone, that is driving eminent domain policy in Montana.  

Executive Action in Senate Energy on SB 104

The Montana Senate Energy & Telecommunications took executive action on several minor bills yesterday, and also Senate Bill 104. SB 104 is proposed by freshman Senator Jason Priest, and is designed to inhibit the authority of the Montana PSC to implement inverted block rates.  The committee voted 7-5 on party lines to advance the bill to the full Senate.

The Committee also passed SB 7, which would require the reporting of the price and quantity paid for renewable energy credits, to the full Senate.

There was no action taken on SB 109, which would increase PPLs market power in Montana and effectively eliminate the Montana RPS standard. The Committee is expected to take up that bill on Thursday @ 3:00pm, though the Committee is expected to be occupied with SJ 4 & SJ 5 which call on congress to enact a balanced budget and term limits.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

MT PSC will not review inverted Block Rates, for now

Despite an almost 20 minute rant by Vice Chair Molnar, the young maverick Commissioner Kavulla made a motion to delay action until February to see if any parties appealed to the district court.

The PSC was going to use a new procedure to review the decision to implement inverted block rates, that was invented by Commissioner, i mean Vice Chair, Molnar.  Which would have used the PSC's broad investigative authority to, while, investigate themselves and the utility.

While the PSC decision (which was 3-2), is good for the institutions as it shows that there can be certainty in their decisions, it may have costs.  One has to think that an investigation could provide just the sort of hobby that Vice Chair Molnar needs...

Update: Mike Dennison has the full scoop up at the Billings Gazette  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Montana energy related bills slated for hearing this week

The Montana Legislature is tackling a number of significant bills on energy matters during their first week of hearings:

  • HB 59: Monday at 3:00 pm in House FRET.  Also known as the great PPL giveaway, the bill would expand the Montana RPS to include new incremental hydro capacity.
  • HB 198: Wednesday at 3:00 pm in House FRET.  The bill would fix MATL's eminent domain problem, by granting a retroactive right for facilities that are permitted under the Montana Facilities Siting Act clear eminent domain power.  
  • SB 7: Thursday at 3:00 pm in Senate E&T.  The bill would require the price of RECs sold in Montana to be disclosed.
  • SB 109: Tuesday at 3:00 pm in Senate E&T.  Also known as the total and absolute PPL giveaway, the bill would add all existing non-federal hydro capacity as eligible resource for meeting the Montana RPS. 
  • SB 104: Thursday at 3:00 pm in Senate E&T. This bill would specifically prohibit a public utility from implementing inverted black rates.  In the spirit of the bill, I understand an amendment may be introduced to ban logic and math in utility rate design.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Wild West that is the MT PSC

I think the high point for me was on Monday, when the Great Falls Tribune decided that the action was so noteworthy that they provided the link to the stream on their website. If you have not read the excellent coverage by John Adams (including the video he captured) or two stories (Mon. & Tue.) Mike Dennison filed, they are fantastic and a must read for anyone that will have to practice in this environment.   

I hope that both John & Mike will continue to follow the PSC in the detail (or others).  It is always helpful in these venues to keep the shenanigans in the open so they don't ferment (as happened with one Commissioner) to full blown crazy.