Thursday, September 17, 2015

How Demand Flexibility Can Help Rooftop Solar Beat Demand Charges in Arizona

The debate over rooftop solar has grown increasingly contentious, pitting solar PV companies against utilities in many parts of the country. But nowhere has the debate been more heated than in sunny Arizona, where many customers have flocked to rooftop solar as prices have come down in recent years. Most recently, utility Salt River Project (SRP) has introduced a demand charge for solar customers.

Already common among commercial rate structures but much less so among residential, a demand charge is a component of the overall bill based on a customer’s maximum demand (kW) each month, in addition to more-traditional charges based on total consumption (kWh).

SRP argues that it needs to recover costs from its solar customers that they impose on the grid through high demand. The utility position is that solar customers use the grid in much the same way as non-solar customers, and impose similar costs. Yet traditional rates coupled with existing net energy metering (NEM) riders mean that solar customers pay much less per month than other customers. SRP’s new rate is designed to recover the difference by imposing a charge on a customer’s peak demand each month, which generally occurs after the sun sets.

However, solar companies and others claim that this pricing structure is unfair. The largest PV developer in the U.S., SolarCity, has sued the utility, arguing that SRP is practicing anti-competitive behavior. In any case, whether the new rate is fair or unfair, it means that the PV market is growing much more slowly in SRP than it was a year ago; interconnect requests have More



Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Fortis anti-green position reopens other issues

A recent press release from Canadian-owned utility Fortis TCI, contradicting an earlier pronouncement by the Rufus Ewing-led government that the company was considering a change in part from inefficient diesel generation to renewable or green energy, has reopened debate on a number of related issues, including the cost of electricity in the TCI and the relationship between successive TCI governments and Canadian firms.

Fortis TCI headquarters in Providenciales

Fortis Inc. is the largest investor-owned gas and electric distribution utility in Canada. Its regulated utilities account for 90 percent of total assets and serve more than 2.4 million customers across Canada and in New York State and the Caribbean – Belize, Cayman Islands and the TCI.

In 2011, the government of Belize expropriated the approximately 70% ownership interest of Fortis Inc. in Belize Electricity Ltd (BEL) an integrated electric utility and the principal distributor in Belize.

Fortis still owns Belize Electric Company Limited (BECOL), a non-regulated hydroelectric generation business that operates three hydroelectric generating facilities in Belize. There is an ongoing controversy over a secret and possibly unenforceable agreement between the then government of Belize and Fortis over alleged pre-emption rights in relation to national waterways.

In 2013, in opposing a proposed $1.5 billion acquisition of CH Energy Group in New York, a local grassroots group pointed to what they say is Fortis’ poor record in dealing with projects in Belize and British Columbia and citing "misinformation and a lack of trust" on the part of Fortis.

Meanwhile, Fortis TCI has possibly the highest cost of electricity in the western hemisphere and five times higher than those charged by the closest mainland utility Florida Power and Light (FPL). Further, the company returns to its Canadian parent a profit averaging $1,000 per year per household from a customer base numbering only 9,000 consumers, which equates to more than $80 per month per household in pure profit.

Notwithstanding the extraordinarily high profit margins enjoyed by Fortis, the company is permitted to import supplies and equipment duty free and constantly upgrades its distribution system in order to lower its long term costs.

While the internal operating statements of Fortis TCI have yet to be made public, it has long been suspected that the utility uses accelerated depreciation to write off capital expenditures quickly and therefore reduce their publicly reported profits. US accounting practices require that capital equipment and assets be depreciated more closely in line with the life expectancy of the asset, reducing the annual write off and therefore showing a more accurate, and possibly higher net profit.

The latest Fortis policy on renewable energy sources puts a halt to the hope of generating power from wind energy from the prevailing trade winds or from solar panels.

Fortis defended its new position on a reported failure of German green power efforts. However, Germany is a northern European country with far less solar energy available, which in spite of huge labour costs and social benefits is now expected to raise its electricity rates to less than $0.09 per Kwh or just 1/6th the cost of Fortis power.

Fortis purchased the former assets of Provo Power Company (PPC) in 2006, three years after the PNP came to power in a 2003 by-election. At the time of the purchase, then premier Michael Misick denied any knowledge of the buyout saying he had nothing to do with the buyout and could not forecast the fate of the employees. However, the stamp duty on the purchase would have yielded the country upwards of $9 million and was subject to negotiation with the Misick government and undoubtedly Misick himself.

At the time of the buyout, PPC was charging $0.26 per Kwh and now Fortis charges an additional surcharge that almost doubles the old rate to $0.51 per Kwh.

Last year, during the first year of the newly elected Progressive National Party (PNP) government, Fortis purchased the Grand Turk power company, Turks and Caicos Utilities from an American firm.

Following the initial Fortis buyout in 2006, the Misick government, which then included current premier Dr Rufus Ewing as director of medical services, proceeded to enter into a hugely expensive and controversial healthcare contract with another Canadian company, Interhealth Canada.

Interest in the Misick connection with Canada has also been revived by some so far unconfirmed but informed reports that he may be a person of interest so far as the Canadian authorities are concerned.

Speculation that the Canadians may have had a hand in Misick’s travel back to the TCI following his recent extradition from Brazil has led to questions as to whether this was designed to protect or pursue significant political and other figures in Canada.

In fact, Canadian interest in the TCI has been around since 1917, when then Canadian prime minister Robert Borden suggested that Canada annex the islands. In 2004, Nova Scotia’s three parties voted unanimously to let the TCI join their province if they ever became part of Canada.

Similar discussions were held by former premier Misick.

As recently as last year, Canadian MP Peter Goldring wanted to revive the proposal for the TCI to join Canada, following the return of elected self-government in the territory in November 2012.

Goldring has been a consistent advocate of increased cultural and economic ties between the TCI and Canada for more than ten years but the idea was dropped when Britain imposed direct rule in 2009, following a commission of inquiry that uncovered widespread and systemic government corruption in the territory.

Goldring, who has visited the islands several times, said they would fit in nicely with the rest of Canada.

But Canada stands to gain more than simply a vacation destination from such a union, he said: "From my perspective, certainly it goes far behind sun and sand. South Caicos Island, for example, is on a deep water channel. It could be readily developed into a deep-water port, which would give Canada tremendous advantage for trans-shipment throughout the entire region."

He added the islands would be a strategic location from which to increase engagement with Haiti and Cuba.



Saturday, September 5, 2015

Millions of reasons to preserve mangroves


Canadian Supreme Court Rules Against Chevron and in Favor of Ecuadorians

The law has finally caught up with Chevron.

Today's unanimous decision from the Supreme Court of Canada opens the door for Ecuadorian indigenous and farmer communities to enforce their $9.5 billion USD verdict against Chevron and is a major victory for human rights and corporate accountability.

Chevron's deliberate dumping of 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water and 17 million gallons of crude into the Ecuadorian Amazon created a massive health crisis and remains one of the worst oil-related environmental crimes in history. After being found guilty of its drill and dump tactics in Ecuador, Chevron has been on the run, spending billions on retaliatory legal attacks seeking to delay justice rather than fulfilling its legal obligations to carry out a full-scale environmental clean-up and provide potable water and health care to the communities it poisoned.

Chevron's $15 billion USD in Canadian assets are more than enough to satisfy the verdict, and the Canadian court's decision to allow the Ecuadorian rainforest communities to pursue action to collect their verdict is a significant step towards justice long denied. The verdict should be a major wake-up call to Chevron shareholders and senior management that despite spending billions to make this issue go away, the company faces major risk to its assets and brand in Canada and beyond. Rather than spend hundreds of millions more on legal fees in Canada to delay justice further, it's time for Chevron to finally do the right thing. More


Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Peak Oil Crisis: A $4 Trillion Hole

Last week reporters at the Wall Street Journal sat down and did some arithmetic.

Tom Whipple

They looked at how much oil was selling for in the spring of 2014 (over $100 a barrel); looked at what it is selling for today (under $50); and concluded that if prices stay low for the next three years, the global oil industry and the countries it finances will be out $4.4 trillion in revenues. As these oil companies, nationalized and publically traded, will be producing roughly the same amount of oil in the next few years, the $4 trillion will have to come mostly out of profits or capital expenditures.

This is where the problem for the future of the world’s oil supply comes in. The big oil companies, especially those that export much of their production, have been doing quite well in recent years. National oil companies have earned vast profits for their political masters. Publically traded ones have developed a tradition of paying out good dividends which they are loathe to cut.

This leaves mostly capital expenditures on exploring for and producing more oil in coming years to take a dive as part of the $4 trillion revenue hit. Even if oil prices of $50 a barrel or less do not continue for the next three years, this still works out to a revenue drop of $1.5 trillion a year or about three times the planned capital expenditures of some 500 oil companies recently surveyed.

The International Energy Agency just came out with a new forecast saying that while current oil prices have the demand for oil products increasing rapidly, there is still so much over-production that the oil glut is expected to last for another year or more before supply/demand comes back into balance. The return of Iran to unfettered production would not help matters.

In looking at the next five years there are several trends or major issues that are likely to impact the supply and demand for oil. First is the recent price collapse that no longer makes it profitable to start projects to produce new oil, most of which now comes from deepwater, tar sands, or shale oil fields and is far more expensive to produce than "conventional" oil. As a result, investment in new oil production projects has dropped substantially in the last year and is likely to fall further.

On the demand side of the equation China is the biggest unknown. For the last 30 years the Chinese have enjoyed unprecedented economic growth, but recently the "world’s factory" has not been doing as well. Its government has been thrashing around wildly trying to stimulate growth and fend off a collapse in its stock market. Some believe China is a huge economic bubble that is about to collapse taking much of the world with it, and obviously reducing its ever-increasing demand for more oil.

The other 800-pound gorilla looming out there is climate change. Except for the drought in California and the storm that flooded New York a few years back, much of America and China for that matter has not been hurt badly enough by anomalous weather to reach an agreement that stopping climate change is the number one priority of all of us. Reports of "feels like" 159°F coming out the Middle East this summer have little impact on those convinced that climate change is a hoax. Should the effects of climate change worsen in the near future to the point that "do something before life on earth becomes impossible" becomes the majority perception of the issue, consumption of fossil fuels could be severely restricted. Although not widely appreciated, there do seem to be viable alternatives to fossil fuels waiting to be exploited.

The violence in the Middle East has grown worse in recent years. Although oil production in some areas has been restricted by geopolitics and violence, most of the oil continues to be produced. It is useless to talk about the next five years in the Middle East; however, we should keep in mind that there are at least a half dozen confrontations going on in the region that could morph into situations where oil production becomes more restricted.

When we net this all together, what do we have? Conventional wisdom currently says that oil prices are likely to be closer to $50 a barrel than to $100 for the next year or more. Capital spending on new production to offset declining production from existing oilfields is likely to drop still further leaving us in the situation where depletion may exceed the oil coming from new wells or fields. This is the argument that those who believe that we are at or near the all-time peak of world oil production about now are using.

The International Energy Agency says that the demand for the cheaper oil is rising rapidly, that production of shale oil currently is falling and the rest of world’s production is relatively static so we should be seeing oil prices rising again by 2017. This is where the turning point in the history of oil production could occur. In recent history rising prices have led oil producers to increase drilling for new oil production again. However the next time around, as mentioned above, there are new factors that may come into play. Will China be increasing its demand for oil in another two years? Will the Middle East still be exporting as much oil, and producing oil given the turmoil and the need to increase air conditioning? Will the world have decided the time has come to clamp down seriously on carbon emissions?

If global oil production does reach some kind of a peak this year and is lower in 2016, can it recover to reach new highs in the years following? Anything from inadequate investment stemming from persistently low oil prices to a major conflict in the Middle East could keep production from rebounding to new all-time highs. We are living in interesting times and just could see peak oil before we realize it. More



Friday, August 7, 2015

Is The Latest Attack In Saudi Arabia The Beginning Of A Resistance Movement?

The latest attack in Saudi Arabia could be the beginning of a resistant movement against the current regime, as well as with Yemeni hostilities carried out by the House of Saud, Catherine Shakdam, Beirut Center for Middle East Studies told RT.

At least 15 people were reportedly killed in an attack on a mosque in Asir province in Saudi Arabia yesterday. A suicide bomber struck a mosque used by the army. The Interior Ministry claims the attack was carried out by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).

RT: Do you think this was Islamic State again?

Catherine Shakdam: I don’t think so. I think it has more to do with the beginning of resistance movements against the Saudi regime, inside of Saudi Arabia rather than just some form of ISIS backlash. Because of where the attack actually took place - in Asir, which is a southern province of Saudi Arabia; we had province right next door to it, in Jizan, where tribes have already declared that they were against the Saudi regime and that they would organize resistance movements against them and actually fight them and reject the legitimacy.

I think that what we’re seeing today is really just an extension of this. And it has a lot to do with the Yemeni war. I’m not saying that the Yemeni are responsible - not at all. What I’m saying is that because of this war a lot of people now within the kingdom are going to react against Riyadh and trying to organize a resistance movement against them, against this dictatorship. And they are reacting. I think even though it was an attack directed against a mosque, it has more to do with who they were targeting - and it’s really just security forces rather than just civilians. So it is not to be confused with the type of the time that we have seen previously, for example, in Qatif, where Shia mostly was directly targeted. It is kind of a different type of attack here.

RT: Compared with other countries in the region, Saudi Arabia was seen as relatively safe from terror attacks until recently. Do you see such attacks becoming more frequent in the future?

CS: It is a possibility. And only because the Saudi have actually funded… terrorism, for decades. You can trace it back to the 1960s when they first allowed elements from the Muslim Brotherhood to come into exile in Saudi Arabia - they were welcomed them with the open arms. And this is today coming back to bite them. All those funds that have been allocated to radical movements across the Middle East and even beyond this. They have tried to open up, I would say, radical fronts in America, in Europe and all over the world. And today those elements that they have leaned on to maintain a strong hand on the Saudi people is actually coming back to haunt them. And they are paying the price today.