As new, more stringent federal environmental regulations come into effect, the fleet of U.S. coal-fired power plants is becoming increasingly less economic in comparison to the alternative of electricity market purchases. Numerous industry groups, environmental advocates, and government agencies have published estimates of the U.S. coal capacity at risk of retirement. However, all of these estimates have been conservative in that they have excluded the costs of installing and operating some of the controls expected to be required for compliance with environmental regulations, and/or they have assumed a long-run carbon-emission price of zero. This study explores a more comprehensive set of assumptions, using Synapse's Coal Asset Valuation Tool (CAVT). CAVT (now on version 6.0) is a spreadsheet-based database and model that forecasts the costs for individual coal units to comply with environmental regulations, and compares these forecasts to electricity market prices. It includes cost estimates for all expected environmental retrofits along with carbon prices.
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Forecasting Coal Unit Competitiveness: Coal Retirement Assessment Using Synapse Coal Asset Valuation Tool (CAVT)
Synapse provided technical and policy support for several aspects related to the NY REV Initiative. This included drafting detailed comments and reply comments on the New York Utilities' proposed Distribution System Implementation Plans, with an emphasis on ensuring that distributed energy resources are properly planned for and implemented. It also included a detailed review of NY energy efficiency activities and recommendations for how to promote the implementation of all cost-effective energy efficiency resources as part of the NY REV initiatives. This work also included technical support for estimates of avoided distribution costs at constrained locations on the grid; i.e., the "value of D."
The National Standard Practice Manual and the Value of Energy Efficiency in New York
Synapse is assisting this group of consumer and environmental advocates with their goal of reducing future transmission costs in New England. Topics will include: (a) properly accounting for energy efficiency in forecasting loads for transmission planning, (b) properly accounting for non-transmission alternatives in transmission planning, (c) participating in ISO-New England’s Strategic Initiative, and (d) providing input to the New England Regional System Plan. This work includes participating in a variety of different forums, including FERC dockets, ISO-NE stakeholder processes, NEPOOL technical committees, and discussions with a variety of New England stakeholders. The E4 Group is composed of the Maine Office of the Public Advocate, Grid Solar, Environment Northeast, Conservation Law Foundation, and Maine Industrial Energy Consumers.
Challenges for Electric System Planning
2016 NECPUC Symposium Presentation
On June 10, 2014, the Maine Public Utilities Commission issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) into the design and implementation of a methodology to determine the value of distributed solar energy in the state of Maine. To inform the inquiry, which served as the first step in designing a study mandated by legislation to support solar energy development in Maine (P.L. 2013 CH. 562), the Commission asked interested parties to respond to questions detailed in the NOI. Synapse assisted the Maine Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) in responding to the inquiry, and later in developing comments on the subsequent draft value of solar methodology issued by the PUC on October 30, 2014.
The OPA’s comments on the draft methodology include recommendations on assumptions about fuel price escalation and heat rate, and suggested modifications to the technical and economic analysis that would more closely align the methodology with best practices.
Comments of the Office of the Public Advocate on the Notice of Inquiry into the Determination of the Value of Distributed Solar Energy Generation in Maine
Report on the impacts of utility investment in developing competitive markets, particularly with respect to electric vehicle infrastructure.
- You wonder if the electric grid can handle the increases in electricity consumption as more consumers purchase electric vehicles
- You want to learn about good rate design for EVs
- You love nerdy webinars!
If you honked (or rang your bicycle bell), you'll want to watch our April 2018 Third Thursday webinar on electric vehicles, featuring Synapse experts Melissa Whited and Avi Allison.
A decade ago, urban-transportation activist (and one-time chronicler of nuclear power cost escalation) Charles Komanoff began programming “the Balanced Transportation Analyzer” — an Excel spreadsheet that synthesizes the volumes, costs, and interactivities among auto traffic, subways and buses, trucks and taxis in New York City. In fall 2017, the analytics team advising New York Governor Andrew Cuomo selected the “BTA” as its primary tool to score methods for designing a congestion-pricing plan. The report released in January 2018 by the governor’s Fix NYC task force has spurred vigorous debate, with transportation-reform advocates rallying around congestion pricing as the key policy measure to relieve chronic Manhattan traffic congestion and provide new funding to repair and revitalize the city’s ailing subways.
On February 15, 2018, Charlie joined Synapse for a webinar on congestion pricing and the BTA. His talk covered the intricacies of traffic modeling, his calculations of net benefits from congestion pricing, the implications of the New York congestion-pricing debate for urban transportation reform, and other potential applications of externality pricing (e.g., carbon taxes) in the United States.
Bruce Biewald, CEO/Founder of Synapse Energy Economics, moderated the discussion. This webinar is part of Synapse’s Third Thursday webinar series.
Avoided Energy Supply Costs in New England 2018 study materials:
- AESC 2018 Report - June Re-Release
- AESC 2018 Report - March 30 Release
- Click here to download the User Interfaces.
- Appendices for the AESC 2018 Report and a slide deck with study results can be found below.
For more information about the AESC study, please visit our project page.
Synapse has also conducted supplemental analysis on the avoided costs of compliance of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act. Visit here for more details.
Appendix C - AESC 2018
Appendix D - AESC 2018
Appendix J - AESC 2018
AESC 2018 Presentation of Results
Synapse testified on behalf of the Illinois Attorney General, recommending that Ameren should consider prioritizing low-income populations when implementing voltage optimization projects.
Synapse’s Rachel Wilson provided analysis and testimony on an Avista Corporation rate case before the Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission. Ms. Wilson evaluated Avista’s production cost modeling, which used the AuroraXMP model, to determine if its requested increase in power costs was reasonable. She found that Avista’s modeling methodology led to a sustained overestimate of annual power supply costs, as evidenced by the compounding of credit deferral balances in its Energy Recovery Mechanism. Ms. Wilson recommended that Avista recalibrate its modeling to allow the Energy Recovery Mechanism to function as intended—to capture the variability between modeled and actual power supply costs. She further recommended that Avista more fully explore the possibility of joining the Western Energy Imbalance Market, which is a real-time wholesale energy market in which participants can buy and sell energy when needed.
Massachusetts GWSA Appendices
The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) conducted a study on benefits of residential heat pumps for space heating and water heating in five major cities in the Southwest. Kenji Takahashi of Synapse Energy Economics played a key advisory role assisting SWEEP with conducting the first major analysis of heat pumps against natural gas heating in the region. More specifically, he reviewed, advised, and offered recommendations on key assumptions and methodologies for evaluating energy, economic, and emissions impacts of heat pumps.
You can read the report on SWEEP's website.
Electric vehicles (EVs) have the potential to provide substantial benefits to society by reducing emissions while lowering both transportation fuel costs and electricity rates. Effective EV rate design is critical for ensuring that these benefits are realized. Through rate design, electric utilities are in a unique position to ensure that EVs charge in a manner that minimizes costs to the grid, while providing customers with fuel savings relative to gasoline, which helps to drive EV adoption.
On behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Synapse is evaluating EV rate design at both the state and national levels. In June 2018, Synapse released Driving Transportation Electrification Forward in New York, a report examining New York utilities’ electric vehicle rate design proposals. NRDC filed this report along with comments in Docket 18-E-0206. The Synapse team is drafting a similar report for Pennsylvania. A national report currently in the works will provide utilities, regulators, and other stakeholders with an overview of key issues and best practices from a national perspective.
Driving Transportation Electrification Forward in Pennsylvania
California often leads the nation in its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by decreasing the use of fossil fuels. Also important—but often overlooked—is California’s role as an oil producer. While this role has declined, the state still produces about 5 percent of U.S. crude oil, or 0.5 percent of world production.
Supported by the 11th Hour Project, Synapse Energy Economics analyzed the GHG and economic impacts of reducing oil output in California. Compared with a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, the study considers a policy scenario that would end all new oil drilling in the state and ban oil production within 2500 feet of homes, schools, and hospitals to mitigate the slew of local environmental and human health impacts associated with oil extraction. Under this policy scenario, the oil cutbacks (assuming they were all gasoline) are replaced by enough new solar power to fuel an equivalent number of vehicle miles travelled using electric vehicles.
The Synapse analysis finds that the state as a whole gains about 5,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs per year under the policy scenario. Cutbacks in oil jobs are almost exactly replaced by new solar energy jobs. In addition, because electric vehicles are much cheaper to operate per mile, consumer respending of fuel savings generates about 5,000 new jobs. The policy scenario also avoids 48.4 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually by 2030, worth $2.8 billion per year using the Obama administration’s estimates of the social cost of carbon.
The Los Angeles City Council has mandated that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the largest municipally-run utility in the United States, analyze powering 100 percent of demand with renewable energy. To date, LADWP's efforts have been insufficient, as the utility has only published an analysis of a slight increase over current renewable energy targets and is not planning to finalize their 100 percent renewable study until 2020 at the earliest.
Food & Water Watch engaged Synapse to analyze a potential pathway to 100 percent clean energy in Los Angeles by 2030. In our study, we found that it is possible for LADWP to exclusively use renewable resources to power its system in every hour of the year. What's more, we found that under one of the clean energy pathways analyzed, the transition to 100 percent renewable energy in every hour of the year can occur at no net cost to the system. The resulting report, Clean Energy for Los Angeles, provides a roadmap for how to achieve 100 percent renewables by integrating and harnessing renewable energy more efficiently and investing in additional efficiency, storage, and demand response.
Although the report only focuses on a single city, the results are important and applicable to many other parts of the country. Los Angeles's 4 million residents make the city larger than 22 entire states, while the annual energy served by LADWP is greater than sales in 13 individual states, indicating that if this transition is possible in Los Angeles, it is feasible in other parts of the country as well.
Synapse analyzed the macroeconomic impacts of federal fuel economy standards and state zero-emission vehicle standards on the U.S. economy. Our team compared the impacts of vehicle standards set for 2017-2025 to the impacts of keeping standards at 2016 levels. Our analysis indicated that federal and state vehicle standards will result in positive employment impacts and GDP growth in both the short term and long term. Synapse released Cleaner Cars and Job Creation, a report prepared for Union of Concerned Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council, and American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, in March 2018.
Giving Back Half the Gains
Massachusetts’ Green Communities program helps the state’s 351 cities and towns find and successfully implement clean energy solutions. To receive Green Community designation, communities must develop and implement a plan to reduce energy use by 20 percent within five years and meet additional criteria including allowing for permitting and siting of renewable energy, purchasing fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles, and adopting more stringent building codes. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources engaged Synapse to review Green Community Annual Reports, verify whether municipalities have reached their 20 percent energy reduction goal, and develop a Progress Report for the program highlighting achievements to date. Synapse will also identify strategies that are effective across towns, provide support to towns to meet their energy reduction goal, and make recommendations to continue to advance and improve the program. Synapse developed the Green Communities Program 2016 Progress Report, available here, and is currently developing the 2017 report.
Synapse is conducting an energy burden study of low-income Maine households. Drawing on the results of an energy baseline survey by GDS Associates, this study will analyze how energy burdens differ between low-income and non-low-income households, and across factors that can impact participation in and efficacy of energy efficiency programs, such as age, race, language, education level, homeownership, need for ancillary repairs, and current energy usage. Synapse will then map the energy burden of low-income Maine households, an effort that can inform efficiency program design, improve targeting efforts, and demonstrate how the collection and application of low-income energy efficiency data can be improved.
Environmental Entrepreneurs retained Synapse to perform an analysis of the economic impacts of clean vehicle standards in Colorado. We assessed the likely employment and gross domestic product impacts from Colorado enacting aggressive greenhouse gas emission standards and pursuing increased electric vehicle penetration. Our summary report concluded that the pursuit of a lower-emitting vehicle fleet is likely to result in small but positive long-term macroeconomic impacts in Colorado.
Maritime Electric finalized its Open Access Transmission Tariff. Synapse provided technical support to the Prince Edward Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission to assess the tariff's compliance with FERC open access principles.
Synapse hosted special guests Jeannie Ramey from Climable and Dave Dayton from Clean Energy Solutions, Inc. (CESI) to discuss microgrids and selected distribution system topics, with a special focus on the environmental justice implications of our energy delivery systems. Our panelists described several innovative community-led microgrid projects in the Boston area that are part of Climable’s Resilient Urban Neighborhoods program. Climable is a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based and woman-run nonprofit committed to fostering energy democracy and climate resilience. CESI, a Boston-based group that has consulted within the clean energy movement for over 25 years, is a Climable project partner, along with Synapse.
Webinar recorded live on August 16, 2018.
The Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers engaged Synapse to review National Grid’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) pilot program. Tim Woolf and Melissa Whited filed testimony in support of National Grid’s advanced metering functionality pilot, concluding that the program could provide net benefits to customers, spur company-wide AMF in Rhode Island, and provide long-lasting improvements to Rhode Island’s power sector.
Synapse is providing the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers with technical support for the National Grid rate case. The project includes expert testimony and addresses issues related to performance incentive mechanisms, multi-year rate plans, advanced metering, rate designs, and electric vehicles.
Testimony of Tim Woolf and Melissa Whited on National Grid Rate Case
Direct Testimony of Tim Woolf and Melissa Whited on Power Sector Transformation Proposals
Review of the 2017 Nova Scotia Load Forecast.
Comments on NSPI Reply Evidence
With support from Environmental Defense Fund, Synapse convened a stakeholder advisory council and provided analysis to produce a vision of Ohio’s clean energy economic opportunities. The group—comprised of business leaders, manufacturers, academics, labor representatives, non-profits, and others—produced a shared vision report of how Ohio could create new jobs and economic growth by modernizing its energy economy. Essentially a business case for clean energy growth and innovation, the vision identifies multi-billion dollar opportunities related to attracting leading corporations, transforming transportation, building and deploying clean electricity and energy efficiency, and modernizing the grid, to demonstrate why Ohio is well-positioned to lead if it takes action. The vision also highlights the risks of failing to create conditions that allow Ohio businesses to compete on the national and global levels. After launching the shared vision on May 29, 2018, Synapse and the advisory group will use the report to engage additional Ohio stakeholders. Their combined input will add to a detailed roadmap of specific actions Ohio actors can take to achieve the vision. For more information, see www.poweringohio.org.
Synapse reviewed New Brunswick Power's 2018/2019 General Rate Case application on behalf of the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board Staff.
Join us as we trace the evolution of a new reliability standard that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) appears to be endorsing as a part of its docket on resiliency. The FERC rejected the U.S. Department of Energy's recent request for an immediate FERC rule-making to support “fuel-secure resources.” Instead, the FERC initiated an administrative docket (AD 18-7) to solicit comments from RTOS and stakeholders on how to meet new reliability concerns related to fuel storage. Two recent FERC Orders suggest that the FERC is not waiting for a resolution of the AD 18-7 process before directing RTOs to modify their tariffs to “support” necessary resources whether through capacity market enhancements or through cost-of-service agreements. In this webinar, recorded live on July 19th, 2018, Synapse's Paul Peterson provides a play-by-play analysis of these ongoing actions and developments related to reliability.
We then take a deep dive into distribution level reliability, using New Jersey as a case study. Max Chang leads a discussion on how utilities and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities have invested in distribution infrasture to withstand future large-scale storms in the aftermath of major storm events in 2011 and 2012: Hurricane Irene, the October '11 snowstorm, and Superstorm Sandy.
Moderated by Jenn Kallay
For the January edition of Synapse's Third Thursday webinar series, we talked strategic electrification with Asa Hopkins, PhD, Kenji Takahashi, and Danielle Goldberg.
Dr. Hopkins led a big picture discussion on issues that come up for regions that adopt strategic electrification as a strategy for decarbonization, including what quantitative work can be done to assess the opportunity strategic electrification represents, and its impact on the electric system. He provided helpful examples drawn from Synapse's recent work analyzing strategic electrification opportunities in New York and New England for the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships. Kenji Takahashi and Danielle Goldberg then got into the nitty gritty details of a specific efficiency electrification technology: cold climate heat pumps. Mr. Takahashi and Ms. Goldberg have analyzed heat pump cost-effectiveness by examining various scenarios of fuel switching from fossil fuel heating to cold climate/advanced heat pumps. This includes retrofits, early retirements and new construction for different baseline fuels.
Bruce Biewald, CEO and Founder of Synapse, moderated the discussion, which took place on January 18, 2018.
We've spent early 2018 absorbed in data recently released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). We've been analyzing numbers, creating snappy data visuals, and preparing the Synapse Electricity Snapshot 2018 (available here). In this webinar from March 16, 2018, we discuss the historical trends we found. We also look to the future by reviewing EIA's 2018 Annual Energy Outlook projections for energy use from the electric power, residential, commercial, and transportation sectors through 2050.
In typical Synapse style, we walk through the data using some of our favorite interesting graphs and charts.
Featuring: Pat Knight, Tommy Vitolo PhD | Moderator: Bruce Biewald
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