Energy Briefs – December 2022

Longtime Benton REA manager retires

Benton REA’s longtime manager has retired.

Mike Bradshaw worked at Benton Rural Electric Association for 33 years and spent 41 years in the electric utility industry.

Troy Berglund, vice president of member services, is serving as interim general manager.

The Benton REA Board of Trustees is working with a consulting firm to conduct a national search for a successor to Bradshaw, who retired in October.

A new general manager is expected in May 2023.

Bill expands industry assessments, training 

The U.S. Department of Energy will invest up to $72 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to expand a program helps industry save energy and train workers. 

The investment creates new Industrial Assessment Centers at trade schools, community colleges and union training programs and will go toward building new centers to support developing workers to support energy efficiency and emissions reductions in commercial and institutional buildings. 

The program provides free, hands-on assessments to small- and medium-sized manufacturing facilities to help save energy, increase productivity and operations. It has conducted more than 2,000 assessments with typical savings of about $130,000 per client.

Cascade Natural Gas ranks tops for customer satisfaction 

Cascade Natural Gas Co., the Kennewick-based utility that provides gas service to 310,000 customers in the Tri-Cities and other rural communities in Washington and Oregon, was the top-ranked gas utility in its category in J.D. Power’s 2022 Gas Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study. 

The study considers safety and reliability, billing, corporate citizenship, price, communications and customer service. 

J.D. Power said overall satisfaction dipped to its lowest point since 2016 on the increasing price of natural gas. 

Cascade Natural Gas was the highest ranked utility among midsized utilities in the West. Long Beach Gas & Oil was second, followed by Intermountain Gas Co. and Avista. 

Portland-based NW Natural and Seattle-based Puget Sound Energy were second and fourth among large utilities in the West. 

State inks deal with carbon emissions auction platform

The state Department of Ecology has joined the Western Climate Initiative Inc. to use the nonprofit’s secure online auction platform for Washington’s new carbon emissions allowance market.

Auctions are expected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars that will be invested in reducing emissions and improving the state’s climate resiliency.

WCI Inc., formed by jurisdictions with cap and trade emissions programs, already provides such a platform for California and Quebec’s combined emissions market, as well as for Nova Scotia’s independent market.

Under the Climate Commitment Act passed earlier this year, Ecology must set up a cap-and-invest program by 2023. That program will set a statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions, and then gradually reduce the cap to match the emission limits set in state law.

By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions are required to fall by 95%, and for the remaining 5% of emissions to be offset.

The law requires businesses and organizations that produce more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year to obtain emissions allowances for their total emissions.

State to require heat pumps in new homes

New homes and apartment buildings built in Washington state must be equipped with electric heat pumps beginning in July.

The state Building Code Council recently voted in favor of the requirement. The switch aims to reduce carbon emissions and reliance on nonrenewable heat sources. Natural gas is pollutive, contributing to health issues in gas-burning homes and creating greenhouse gases that accelerate global warming, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

The Building Industry Association of Washington expressed frustration at the mandate, saying the council ignored industry concerns that it will further aggravate the state’s housing crisis.

“Washington has both a housing shortage and a housing affordability crisis. At a time when only roughly 15% of households in Washington can afford to purchase a median-priced home, this additional tax on energy only makes things worse,” said Greg Lane, BIAW’s executive vice president.

The association said the new requirement removes the incentive for natural gas companies to run natural gas into new homes, essentially eliminating the ability for homeowners to have natural gas ranges and fireplaces.

BPA plans to hold power, transmission rates  

The Bonneville Power Administration will hold its power and transmission rates flat in 2024-25 as a buffer against market volatility. 

The federal power marketing agency, based in Portland, said its strong 2022 financial performance allowed it to hold rates flat. If approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the rates will be in effect Oct. 1, 2023-Sept. 30, 2025. 

BPA provides power generated by 31 federal dams and the Columbia Generating Station nuclear plant in Richland to 142 Northwest utilities, including those serving the Tri-Cities. 

BPA said it was able to include $129 million to protect against the risk of rate fluctuations, which should protect rates during the 2024-25 rate period.  

BPA is legally required to cover its costs and adjust rates accordingly. It establishes rates for two-year periods. 

Freddie Mac: Emissions averted thanks to  ‘green’ mortgages 

Freddie Mac reports a mortgage program focused on green energy helped avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 2,433 cars off the road in 2021.

Freddie Mac, established by Congress to provide capital to mortgage lenders, said its Green Mortgage Backed Securities program issued $617 million in bonds backed by 2,454 Freddie Mac GreenCHOICE Mortgage refinance loans.

To qualify for the program, the property had to have a renewable energy source installed. In some cases, refinanced mortgages paid off debt associated with installing solar panels.

According to Freddie Mac, the 2021 Single-Family Green MBS program netted enough energy to power 1,877 homes and saved homeowners an average of $1,027 in annual utility bills.

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Hydrogen group advances bid for DOE hydrogen hubs

The Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association (PNWH2) – a public-private partnership of tribal, labor, government, environmental and private sector hydrogen company leaders – recently submitted its 20-page concept paper to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), outlining the significant breadth and depth of possibilities for a hydrogen hub in the Pacific Northwest.

PNWH2 is leading a regional effort to land one of very few shares of the DOE’s $8 billion investment in a nationwide network of clean hydrogen hubs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

With the states of Washington and Oregon collaborating in this effort, the PNWH2’s final proposal aims to demonstrate the region’s assets for supporting a hydrogen hub, including natural renewable hydropower and a rich history of innovation in the agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, high tech, maritime and clean tech sectors.

$13 billion earmarked to modernize U.S. electric grid

The Biden-Harris Administration, through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), recently announced $13 billion in new financing opportunities for the expansion and modernization of the nation’s electric grid.

The Grid Resilience Innovative Partnership, or GRIP, program and the Transmission Facilitation Program together represent the largest single direct federal investment in critical transmission and distribution infrastructure and one of the first down payments on an over $20 billion investment under the administration’s Building a Better Grid Initiative.

The federal investments will unlock billions of dollars of state and private sector capital to build projects that increase the reliability of the power grid and modernize it so that more communities and businesses have access to affordable, reliable, clean electricity – helping deliver on the President’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035.

Independent estimates indicate that the U.S. needs to expand electricity transmission systems by 60% by 2030 and may need to triple current capacity by 2050 to accommodate the country’s rapidly increasing supply of cheaper, cleaner energy and meet increasing power demand for electric vehicles and electric home heating as well as reduce power outages from severe weather.

Plan to cut statewide fuel emissions 20% starts Jan. 1

Washington’s new Clean Fuel Standard will begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions from transportation – the state’s largest source of carbon pollution – on Jan. 1.

Over the next 12 years, the new standard is forecast to reduce annual transportation emissions statewide by 20%, or about 4.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. That’s comparable to taking more than 900,000 cars permanently off the road.

The state Legislature passed the Clean Fuel Standard in 2021 and directed the state Department of Ecology to implement the program beginning in 2023.

The new program uses a market approach to incentivize fuel producers to reduce the “carbon intensity” of their products by 20% by 2034 – four years faster than first proposed. The accelerated timeline comes in response to strong public feedback and an independent economic analysis and fuel supply forecast that show 2034 is an achievable target.

 California, Oregon, and British Columbia have adopted similar programs for transitioning to low-carbon fuels. Even before Washington’s program formally begins, fuel producers and energy suppliers have moved to increase clean fuels production. Most notably, BP America committed last year to invest $269 million to double the production capacity of renewable diesel at its Cherry Point refinery, near Ferndale.

The program also includes incentives for building charging infrastructure for electric and hydrogen-fuel vehicles and includes provisions to ensure overburdened communities see increased access to clean transportation.

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