Income Guarantees Approved for FirstEnergy and AEP – Customers to Pay More for Power

firstenergymonopoly

In December, EPCO took a stand against the power purchase agreements that FirstEnergy and AEP presented before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). Over the last several months additional hearings were held, and experts testified for each side, regarding the viability and potential consumer costs of the proposals. On March 31, the PUCO issued their ruling in favor of the power purchase agreements for both FirstEnergy and AEP. The complete order with opinions from the PUCO can be read here.

The PUCO has given FirstEnergy and AEP approval for an eight year rate plan. This plan will go into effect over the summer, following a set of auctions on pricing later this spring. Simply put, the customers in these territories will be subsidizing FirstEnergy and AEP to ensure they turn a profit through 2024. FirstEnergy has argued that over the eight year term, the rates consumers pay will be lower in aggregate (projected at $256 million), following an initial increase in the first couple years.

However, many in opposition including the Ohio Consumers Council believe this deal will cost consumers at least $3 billion over the eight year term. Some estimates have even put the cost to consumers at nearly $6 billion. There is clearly a stark contrast regarding the potential cost to consumers. This divide is due in large part to differing assumptions regarding where the natural gas market, and state of renewable energy, will be in the future.

To understand this argument better, let’s take a brief step back to evaluate how we got here. Historically, most electricity in Ohio has been produced from coal fired plants. But over the past five years, half the large coal fired plants in the state have been retired.  During that time, generation from coal dropped from 82 percent throughout Ohio to 59 percent.

There are two significant reasons why this shift has occurred. First, the influx of natural gas in the market has provided a less expensive and cleaner alternative to coal fired generation. In just the past couple of years, the price for natural gas is down roughly 60 percent and trading below $2 on the stock exchange. The second issue is the increased cost of compliance due to additional federal and state regulations levied on coal and nuclear plants.

The utilities were able to successfully argue to the PUCO that their coal fired and nuclear plants are unable to compete in this changing market. As more natural gas fired plants come online, and additional regulations are issued, it has become exceedingly difficult for FirstEnergy and AEP to compete. In order to ensure that their plants stay active and produce the necessary power for the regional grid, they required a subsidy from the consumer in the form of an income guarantee.

The utilities have argued that natural gas pricing is going to dramatically increase to bolster their claims that rates will precipitously rise in the future. According to their logic, once rates increase their plants become more competitive. The utilities added that the need for the income guarantee is short term until the market turns in their favor.

The only problem with this argument is there is nothing to support the utilities claims. To the contrary, a great deal of research, data, and market analysis has shown the opposite trends have, and will continue, to occur. The current freeze on the Ohio renewable energy portfolio is likely to expire by the end of the year. Even Governor Kasich has come out strongly opposed to any continued freeze.  Once this current legislation expires, private investment in renewable energy will continue at an increasing pace. Furthermore, many of the projections that FirstEnergy has cited have already been proven wildly incorrect. Natural gas prices continue to plummet to historic lows and show absolutely no signs of significant increase over time.

Groups such as the Ohio Consumers Council have vowed to challenge these rulings at the state level, while others seek appeals through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Despite claims to the contrary, it is unlikely to change the outcome of the PUCO ruling. At this time, EPCO is warning clients that rates will be increasing in the near future. The PUCO ruling will result an increased cost of doing business that ultimately will adversely affect business growth and development in Ohio. As such, the best course of action to take is reducing the amount of electric consumption at your facility through a comprehensive set of energy efficiency measures. Be sure to consult your energy advisor on what your next steps should be.

Please follow and like us:

2016 Energy Industry Predictions

2016-energy-predictions-blog2015 has proven to be a very interesting and dynamic year in energy. Events large and small have had an economic impact both globally and locally across the country. A few notable highlights include this year being the hottest year on record, oil prices trading below $35 a barrel, and renewable energy possibly reaching a global tipping point.

I have spoken to many clients over the past couple of months inquiring about what 2016 has in store. The most frequent inquires I get pertain to what will happen with the markets, legislation, and regulations affecting how they will do business in the upcoming year.

I spent the better part of the fourth quarter researching and interviewing fellow industry experts to ascertain where the industry will go in 2016. Below are my energy industry predictions for 2016.

  • Nationally, the supply of natural gas is up compared to this time last year. The regional transmission grid (PJM) serving Ohio has announced it has adequate capacity to meet energy demands this winter. This winter is projected to be warmer than average. Taken collectively, this means businesses should expect energy prices in our region to trend lower and costs to be down this winter compared to last year.
  • After two consecutive summers of dramatically increasing electric rates, consumers in northeast Ohio can expect much better pricing during the summer of 2016. Many consumers wisely locked into longer two and three year fixed rate contracts over the past two years. For a large number of consumers, those contracts are expiring during the first half of 2016. Now is the time to explore new contract terms with your energy advisor.
  • LED lighting technology, efficiency, and pricing improved dramatically over the past year. Though there will continue to be improvements to the technology, it is unlikely the industry will achieve improved pricing at quite the same rate. Businesses that have been waiting to install LEDs until the market reaches a plateau on pricing, may want to consider 2016 as the year to make their move.
  • Contrary to popular belief, there are still incentives available for energy efficiency retrofits; you just need to know where to look. There is a very good likelihood that SB 310, which froze the energy portfolio standards in Ohio, will expire by the end of the year. That means businesses could expect a return of the rebates First Energy once offered. But large electric consumers still have incentives they can capitalize on in the form of an exemption to costly riders attached to their electric use. Businesses should consult their energy advisors to learn more.
  • Columbia Gas of Ohio customers will continue to have access to favorable rebates. Columbia provides service to a majority of counties throughout Ohio. Their rebate program is very comprehensive extending from residential to commercial and new construction.
  • President Obama’s Clean Power Plan will continue to foster dialogue and potential turmoil within the energy market. State lawmakers and utilities have cited that the plans objectives will prove prohibitively costly to plant operations. A number of states, including Ohio, have already filed suit against the EPA in court. Either way, the end result will affect energy markets.
  • The Federal Government passed, and signed into law, a $1.1 trillion budget and tax extenders bill at the end of 2015. Included was an extension of Section 179D in the tax code that allows for qualifying businesses to receive up to $1.80 per square foot in deductions for eligible energy efficiency projects.

The energy markets are historically too volatile to perfectly predict. One certainty though is those businesses that are prepared with a plan are better insulated against unexpected weather anomalies, global crises, and unforeseen regulations. Be sure to consult with your energy advisor about implementing a contingency to properly manage your energy portfolio in 2016!

Please follow and like us:

4 Proven Steps to Get the Best Electric Utility Rate

electric-utility-dealOhio’s SB3 deregulated the electric market in 1999, and by 2001, commercial and industrial businesses were able to select their own electric generation suppliers. However, by 2008, 90% of the market still acquired their generation from their utility directly. The intent behind deregulation was to increase competition through “shopping” and ultimately drive down pricing for the consumer.

Today, many businesses are seeing the benefit of shopping beyond their utility to service their electric generation. Despite this, most clients I work with haven’t fully taken advantage of the increased competitive landscape. In my experience, mid-market businesses shop similarly (if not identically) to the small commercial and residential markets. Mid-market businesses typically field offers from brokers and suppliers; evaluate a fixed rate option versus a variable rate option; and consider one, two or three year terms.

This method of shopping will certainly get a deal done, but leaves substantial savings on the table for larger energy intensive businesses. Let’s evaluate this concept further using two examples.

Example 1:  A local hardware store is in need of a new electric generation contract. They use 28,000 kWh annually and approach a broker about a potential deal. The broker fields a few offers in the market and returns with the best option. A two-year fixed rate deal at 6.85 cents per kWh. Over the course of the agreement, our hardware store owner will pay a total of $3,836 for their electric generation.

Perhaps if they had used an energy advisor, they may have saved 2/10 of a penny per kWh. That a savings of about $112 or nearly $5 per month. In truth, that’s probably not enough savings for our hardware store owner to fret over. Shopping on their own would likely work just as effectively. But for larger energy intensive businesses, the difference of a few tenths of a penny could be substantial.

Example 2: A mid-sized manufacturer that consumes 6 million kWh annually is looking for a new electric contract. The facility director for the plant approaches a broker and inquiries about what electric contract would be best for the business. The broker then evaluates a few options and returns with the best deal. As a larger user, the manufacturer has increased purchasing power. As such, they receive a more favorable rate of 6.55 cents per kWh for a two-year fixed rate contract. Over the term of the agreement, our manufacturer will pay $786,000.

However, had they utilized a knowledgeable energy advisor, they could conceivably have secured a deal that was 3/10 of a penny less per kWh. Over the course of a two-year agreement, that amounts to a savings of $36,000 or $1,500 per month. Almost all my clients would consider that a savings worth pursuing.

The logical question our manufacturer would now ask is how they can take advantage of that better pricing. Below are some helpful tips to get the best deal possible for your business’ unique energy portfolio.

  1. Explore shopping through an auction platform. Suppliers will offer only one price while brokers may provide two or three. On an auction platform, you have access to every potential supplier in the market bidding for your business.
  2. Most businesses choose between a fixed rate and variable rate option. Consider a blend of both, where you capitalize on rates when they are low while insulating yourself against potential market volatility.
  3. Do not wait to shop until a month or two prior to your existing contract expiration. The closer to expiration, the higher the pricing will be. Begin exploring options at least six month beforehand.
  4. Try to buy when pricing trends lower during the winter months. As demand declines during the cold season, so too does the pricing in the market.

Be sure to work with your energy advisor to understand the complexities of shopping for an electric contract and securing the best option for you and your business.

Please follow and like us:

Energy Upgrades—Is Total Cost of Ownership the Best Way?

total-cost-of-ownershipWhen evaluating energy upgrades, the #1 question a business will ask is always, what is the return on our investment (ROI)? How much am I (really) going to save from doing this project? Traditionally in energy efficiency projects, Total Cost of Ownership analysis is the universally accepted way of determining ROI. While total cost of ownership is a good benchmark for evaluating the value of energy upgrades, it isn’t the ‘be all end all’ way of determining the projects benefits. In this blog, I’ll discuss total cost of ownership analysis, as well as additional methods for getting the most accurate ROI projection for your energy efficiency project.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is defined as, “an estimation of the expenses associated with purchasing, deploying, using, and retiring a product or piece of equipment. “ Let’s look at a school system deciding whether or not to upgrade to LED lighting. While the florescent lights the district is currently using has a lower starting price, LED lights may have a better value over an extended period of time. If the total cost of ownership shows an advantage of LED lights over florescent lights in the next 2-5 years, than the LED lights are most certainly the better choice. However, there are complicating factors, such as access to capital, alternative capital expenses, and the current economic situation of that particular school district that should also be considered.

A total cost of ownership analysis takes into consideration multiple factors including initial cost, product lifespan, energy cost to operate, frequency of maintenance, expense of product replacement, hours of operation, utility incentives, and how the product will be used. While this is the go-to method of gauging the value of energy efficiency projects, EPCO likes to take this analysis a step further. It is common practice to determine TCO by using industry standard figures for maintenance, repair and operation (MRO) expenses. EPCO has found this isn’t always the most accurate method for determining ROI in energy upgrades.

At EPCO, we believe interviewing the client and understanding their unique energy fingerprint, is the best method for understanding the true inputs and cost of operational expenses. Some businesses have energy expenses that are higher than the industry standards. For example, manufacturers that operate and run equipment more heavily during second shift will likely have a more unfavorable load profile than their counterparts producing mostly during first shift. This effects avoided cost values. EPCO will always review historical billing and consumption patterns to determine the true value of an energy efficiency project.

Although SB 310 led to the discontinuation of small commercial energy rebates throughout northern Ohio, larger businesses and school systems have the potential to capitalize on remaining incentives and tax credits for energy efficiency projects. One such example is receiving an exemption to costly utility fees and riders that appear on all electric consumer bills. EPCO has the expertise to identify, prepare, and submit exemption applications on behalf of clients. Most energy firms overlook this option, but it has added benefits for many large businesses and school districts.

Total cost of ownership is the standard way of determining the added value of energy efficiency projects. Though this analysis can give an accurate judgement of savings with projects, industry standards are not always the best indicator of true ROI. It is important to take an individualized, case-by-case approach, when evaluating energy efficiency projects. To learn more about how this could help your organization, email EPCO at info@energyplanners.com, or visit us at www.energyplanners.com

Please follow and like us:

Ohio’s Ranking Drops on ACEEE Scorecard for Energy Efficiency

Every year, ACEEE (American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy) ranks states on their energy efficiency policy and program efforts and also provides recommendations for ways that states can improve their energy performance. The State Scorecard is a benchmark, which serves to encourage states to continue “strengthening their efficiency commitments as a pragmatic and effective strategy for promoting economic growth, securing environmental benefits, and increasing their communities’ resilience in the face of the uncertain costs and supplies of the energy resources on which they depend.” Last week, the 2015 State Scorecards were released and Ohio was ranked 27th. This is a drop from Ohio’s 2014 placement at 25th.

This drop in ranking is no surprise after Ohio became the first state to reverse energy efficiency and renewable fuel mandates in 2014. Ohio Governor John Kasich signed Senate Bill 310 in 2014, which froze annually-increasing energy mandates until the year 2017. At which point, the “the automatic levels are to be restored”, a provision that Kasich requested to be part of the legislation, according to The Plain Dealer (Cleveland). The bill also included language that establishes a legislative study committee tasked with evaluating the effectiveness and future of the original portfolio standards.

Senate Bill 310 counteracted Ohio Senate Bill 221, which was passed in 2008 and established the efficiency standard. Under Senate Bill 221, Ohio ranked #1 in the nation for advance energy and renewables, “bringing in more renewable energy facilities than any other state,” according to JobsOhio. Under the legislation, utilities can count improvements made by their own customers and also roll over any savings above a given target into the next year. Language in SB 310 created a provision that permits large industrial users to opt-out of utility offered programs; allowing these users to develop and institute internal programs. Concern has arisen that this may adversely impact the effectiveness of the utility offered programs; potentially increasing the cost and burden of compliance on smaller commercial entities.

Overall, the passage of SB 310 has negatively impacted the implementation of commercial energy efficiency retrofits throughout the First Energy territory. Unlike other state utilities, First Energy has opted to discontinue any rebates for energy efficiency work performed by its customers. As a result, there has been a decline in the number of small and mid-size commercial entities instituting energy efficiency related projects. This concern may persist beyond the current two-year freeze in place under SB 310.

Recently, the legislative study committee released a report recommending an indefinite freeze on the mandates. This has largely been met with criticism from environmental groups, politicians and industrial entities alike. In response, Governor Kasich stated that “a continued freeze of Ohio’s energy standards is unacceptable”. There is much debate still to take place before a final determination is made on the future of Ohio’s renewable and energy efficiency portfolio standards. EPCO will continue to provide additional review and analysis as more information becomes available.

Please follow and like us:

EPCO Energy Infographic

Recently EPCO decided to evaluate the influence our team has had within the energy marketplace. We were curious to know what the economic and environmental impact has been from the projects we have facilitated over the past couple of years. To that end, we identified several key metrics from each projects portfolio, and put it into an infographic to share with prospective clients.

We were really pleased the results, and have opted to share it with the larger community. The numbers speak for themselves, but there are three metrics I would like to highlight.

  • $1.87 million in annual energy savings
  • Average project payback period is 0.96 years
  • Energy savings are the equivalent of more than 11.1 million pounds of coal burned

All Projects Infographic

Please follow and like us:

The Time to Shop for Your Natural Gas is Now

It’s hard to believe, but the summer is slowly winding to a close. Even though days are still long and temperatures are high, now is when you want to start thinking about your natural gas contract.

Many businesses, non-profits, and residential consumers only consider their natural gas rate in few instances. It may be when winter arrives and the heat gets turned on or simply when your current contract expires. After all, for most, natural gas comprises a relatively small percentage of monthly expenses.

There is however a number of non-residential entities that pay a considerable amount for natural gas through the winter. This includes manufacturers, hospitals, schools, and even churches. In some cases, reducing rates by a matter of cents can add up to thousands in annual savings.

We have seen the adverse effect a cold winter can have on the budget. Just think back to the beginning of 2014 when the nation was overcome by the polar vortex. This of course was unexpected for most and hit many hard in the wallet.

Now though is the perfect time to negotiate your natural gas rate. Currently, gas reserves are up more than 5 percent over last year and prices have trended down these past 12-months. As we get closer to the winter season, the prices will go up. This is a function of supply and demand. Purchasing now enables you to capitalize on lower rates. If you signed a 12-month contract at a higher rate, renewing now will save you money during the following winter.

You have several options for exploring a natural gas contact. If you are a smaller consumer, there are programs through your utility and local brokers you can work with. Be sure to understand the terms of the contract offered and the fine print. Consult an energy advisor if you are unclear about any terms in the contract.

Additionally, most local chambers of commerce will offer their membership what is known as community aggregation programs. If you are not already part of your local chamber, you may want to consider exploring the many benefits they can offer.

If you are a larger consumer, spending perhaps $10,000 monthly on energy or more, there are additional options available to you. The market has become rather sophisticated with a number of products to select from. Though you may be experienced in managing your companies’ energy portfolio, it certainly would benefit you to explore options with your energy advisor to ensure you are making the most informed decision.

Please follow and like us:

Why Energy Benchmarking Is For You

Energy benchmarking is an extremely valuable tool in today’s energy marketplace. However, many who manage energy portfolios today are not taking advantage of the resources available to benchmark their facility. Anecdotally, I have found, this is due in large part to the fact many do not know or understand what benchmarking is.

When you benchmark your facility, you are tracking the total electricity, natural gas, steam, water and other utility that your building consumes. In many circles, this is also known as your building performance. Once you have collected the requisite data, you can compare your building performance to facilities that are similar in size and operation to your own.

I recently took time to meet with a colleague, Justin Kale of Energility, to better understand the value proposition of energy benchmarking. Justin is a specialist in this field and shared the following thought.

“Benchmarking is similar to the use of a compass when navigating a path. It is a great way to establish where you’re at and monitor your position over time. This enables you to see how far you have come over a period of time with respect to building energy performance.”

Benchmarking provides the busy CEO, CFO or facility management team, baseline information to be able to compare the energy portfolio of their building to other buildings in their peer group. Once you identify areas for improvement, you can begin to craft an energy plan. Benchmarking gives those same professionals the opportunity to prioritize the deployment of capital resources or achieve recognition for past project implementation.

There are a number of great resources that are accessible in the marketplace to help facility managers to benchmark their performance. One of the more prominent tools is the Energy Star Portfolio Manager. It was created by the EPA to be an “online tool you can use to measure and track energy and water consumption, as well as greenhouse gas emissions”.

Benchmarking will enable facilities to make informed decisions on where investments should be made regarding their capital projects. Ultimately, knowing how your building operates and where weaknesses exist will allow you to reduce consumption, costs, and operational expenses. Furthermore, benchmarking is a process that many can do on their own by leveraging the tools in the marketplace. Whether through the EPA and its Energy Star programs or the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, the resources exist to manage this process on your own.

The final thought I will leave you with is benchmarking can aid you in staying ahead of impending energy mandates and legislation. Whether federal or local, the energy landscape is rapidly changing. It will prove far less costly to become energy efficient on your timetable rather than someone else’s.

As always, if you have questions or concerns about energy benchmarking, consult an energy adviser to help you make the best and most informed decision.

Please follow and like us:

Can a Single Business Battle the Effects of Climate Change?

Is it possible for just one person or one business to battle the effects of climate change? Perhaps a more appropriate way to evaluate that question is to simply ask if you and your business could. It seems like an unrealistic expectation; the idea that a single company can impact a global crisis. Such a goal may not be as out of reach as you may think.

Earth

Let’s take a step back for a moment to appropriately set the stage. Recently, a peer reviewed article outlining the critical effects of climate change began receiving some notable attention from outlets such as CNN and USA Today. The research article painted a grim and distributing image of what Earth’s future may look like in the absence of necessary change in global human behavior.

Originally appearing in Science Advances, the premise of the article argues that Earth is possibly facing the 6th mass extinction event in the planets history. Since 1900, nearly 500 species have gone extinct. During that period, historical data indicates that number should have been just 9.

Arguably, the most alarming conclusion is that the loss of biodiversity would lead to a mass extinction event in as little as three generations. According to the CNN article, the data shows it is possible for humans to wipe out nearly 75% of species on Earth if drastic and needed changes aren’t made. That window to effect change is rapidly closing.

Scientists are not the only ones advocating for considerable change in human behavior. In June, the Pope published a manifesto regarding climate change. In his writings, the Pope argued the reckless behavior of humanity is adversely affecting our planet; a common good that we all must take care of.

Whether advocated by science or the Pope, the steps we all can take amount to the same. It boils down to reducing your carbon footprint. This simple concept is the impetus for energy efficiency, and the foundation for all that I do with my clients. Regardless of your motivations for energy efficient behavior, we each can do our part.

Let’s revisit our original premise. It is difficult still to imagine that a single person or company can effect change on a global scale. But what happens when millions of people and thousands of companies work in concert.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t simply one business, government, or entity that created this problem. It was countless participants, spanning decades, within countries around the globe. Each has played a singular role in what is quickly developing into a global catastrophe.  It stands to reason that we can reverse this trend in much the same way; one business and one person at a time, doing their part.

The one remaining question is what role you will play moving forward…

Please follow and like us:

Energy Efficiency: Transaction vs. Consultative Approach

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar. You’ve been tasked with managing the energy portfolio for a building. Your company may be a manufacturer, hospital, school or commercial real estate property. Regardless of your specific operation, the common thread is that you likely have a very small operating budget, minimal staff, and host of ongoing issues that land on your desk.

You want to be proactive; planning for future issues before they arise, but the resources you are given forces you to be reactive.

As I meet with clients in varying industries, I continually hear this same narrative. To add insult to injury, many of these managers express the challenge of juggling additional responsibilities outside their defined position. Obviously, this further strains their budget, time, and personnel.

Building Construction

This struggle sets the stage for two opposed energy management methods, transaction versus consultative.

A transaction sale can be categorized by solutions that are specific to equipment failure or end of life. You would see this for example with an old boiler or HVAC unit. After decades of operation, they simply stop working. This requires the consumer to engage in a point of sale transaction.

Usually, the replacement comes with a premium cost because of the urgency. In many cases, this could easily erase whatever capital budget you had planned to use for energy efficient upgrades.

Contrary to a reactive transaction is a more proactive consultative approach. We can simplify this with two specific examples.

In the first example, your energy advisor can help you address the unique pain points your facility must deal with. A common one I often come across are issues with facility lighting. It may surprise you to learn that with older lighting technology, you will experience over time lumen degradation. This is a fancy way to say your fixtures aren’t emitting as brightly today as they did when first installed.

(A simple solution for this is to install an LED fixture. Prices for LED solutions have come down dramatically and have become more economical. The life of an LED fixtures last substantively longer than outmoded CFL solutions.)

The second example is the purest form of energy consultation. In this instance, your energy advisor would work alongside you to draft a comprehensive energy management plan. This includes identifying all existing pain points, categorizing remaining equipment life, and producing an analysis on potential retrofit costs and payback periods. This latter portion should factor available incentives and rebates as well as creative or alternative financing mechanisms.

This enables you to prepare, well into the future, for all contingencies and eventualities. You can include capital improvement projects in annual budgets, factor in the energy savings, and ultimately avoid untimely failures that can dramatically disrupt production.

For many dealing with complex energy issues, transaction selling has become the norm. Emerging resources in the market can help you better plan, prepare and manage energy portfolios. Leveraging an advisor can enable you to develop a more structured approach and avoid the roller coaster that has been your energy management strategy to date.

Please follow and like us: