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Topic: Regulation

[Episode #113] – Coal Plant Self-Scheduling

Owners of uneconomic coal plants in the US have tried many ways to keep operating, even when it is not profitable to do so, such as out-of-market subsidies and re-regulation (as we discussed in Episode #41), bailouts and wholesale market controls (as we discussed in Episode #70), and seeking capacity payments or other novel payments for alleged reliability (as we discussed in our trilogy of shows on decarbonizing power markets, Episodes #90, #97, and #105).

But there’s another tactic, variously known as “self-committing” or “self-scheduling,” and it happens when a utility that owns a coal-fired power plant elects to operate the plant no matter what the going rate for power is, even if that price is below its operating costs. Fully regulated utilities oftentimes can pass the costs of operation onto their customers even when they’re electing to run at a loss, without having to go to the trouble of asking for additional cost recovery from a regulator, or getting a legislator or wholesale market operator to give them a handout in one form or another. And it all happens more or less invisibly to customers and regulators. Only a researcher with a sharp eye and expert knowledge of what to look for would even detect these uneconomic operations, such as our guest in this episode.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #98] – Why Building Transmission is So Hard

Building high voltage transmission lines has never been easy, but now it’s arguably both harder than ever, and more necessary than ever, as we seek to unlock the vast potential of wind and solar in the US and ship it to major population centers. But it’s not a business for the faint of heart, as we’ll hear in this incredible story by award-winning investigative reporter and author Russell Gold of the Wall Street Journal. His new book, Superpower, chronicles the story of Michael Skelly, a developer who spent a decade and a great deal of money trying to build five major transmission lines in the US to support the burgeoning wind industry, only to be undermined, deceived, shot down, and ultimately driven to giving up, by people who opposed the lines for their own selfish interests. It’s an amazing story and a great cautionary tale for any prospective transmission line developer, as well as a wellspring of crucial insights that will benefit all who work in energy transition.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #67] – Transition’s Disruptors Part 2

What do the frackers and Tesla have in common? They have both succeeded in disrupting their industries by adopting new technologies, applying financial innovation, appealing to changing consumer preferences, and taking advantage of (or disrupting) their regulatory environments. Indeed, these disruptive forces are in play throughout the energy transition, and whether it’s electricity, or heat, or mobility, the outcome is generally the same: nimbler, more efficient, cleaner, and safer upstarts steal away market share from rent-seeking incumbents who control captive markets. The transition upstarts are hot; the moguls of oil provinces and monopoly utilities are not.

This is Part Two of a sprawling discussion that lasted over two hours with veteran energy, mining and commodities analyst Liam Denning of Bloomberg. We explore the ways in which these disruptive forces are working for transition and the risks that the incumbents face…and how to spot the winners and losers of energy transition from a mile away. In this episode, we talk about changing consumer preferences, the role that regulations play in alternately supporting and stymieing disruptors, and how the falling cost of energy as more renewables come into the system will affect energy markets and business models.

Part One of this interview was in Episode 66.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #66] – Transition’s Disruptors Part 1

What do the frackers and Tesla have in common? They have both succeeded in disrupting their industries by adopting new technologies, applying financial innovation, appealing to changing consumer preferences, and taking advantage of (or disrupting) their regulatory environments. Indeed, these disruptive forces are in play throughout the energy transition, and whether it’s electricity, or heat, or mobility, the outcome is generally the same: nimbler, more efficient, cleaner, and safer upstarts steal away market share from rent-seeking incumbents who control captive markets. The transition upstarts are hot; the moguls of oil provinces and monopoly utilities are not.
This is Part One of a sprawling discussion that lasted over two hours with veteran energy, mining and commodities analyst Liam Denning of Bloomberg. We explore the ways in which these disruptive forces are working for transition and the risks that the incumbents face…and how to spot the winners and losers of energy transition from a mile away. In this episode, we talk about the roles of technological and financial innovation. Part Two of this interview will air on Episode 67.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #50] – Siting Long Distance Transmission Lines

Many outlooks for a mostly renewable U.S. power grid include a lot more high-voltage transmission lines. But is this a realistic hope, considering how few of these lines we’ve built in recent years, and the many barriers they always seem to face? One might think not, considering the many obstacles a typical transmission project has to overcome. Then again, we can always change the rules and invent new ways of siting transmission lines, because when there’s a will, there’s a way. Our guest in this episode is a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and an expert in regulatory challenges to integrating more renewable energy into the nation’s electric transmission grid, as well as issues around siting interstate electric transmission lines and pipeline, and she’s going to help us sort it all out.

Geek rating: 6

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[eLab Extra #4] – Transition in New York and the World

Full Episode

This is a special, free "extra" episode recorded at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit in December 2016 in Austin, Texas.

What are some of the ways that New York is building its resilience capacity while executing its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) energy transition plan, particularly as a response to the damage it suffered in Superstorm Sandy? Is it possible to have a successful energy transition without also securing justice and equity, particularly for the underserved and disadvantaged among us? And what is the future for energy transition in the U.S. in the era of President Trump? Eleanor Stein of America’s Power Plan, who was Project Manager for New York’s REV initiative, shares her insights from a lifetime of work on climate and justice issues at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit 2016.

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Geek rating: 1