TODAY’S STUDY: UTILITY PERFORMANCE IN NEW ENERGY
Benchmarking Utility Clean Energy Deployment: 2014; Ranking 32 of the Largest U.S. Investor-Owned Electric Utilities on Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency
Joseph M. Kwasnik, Dan Mullen, Ron Pernick, Clint Wilder, July 2014 (Ceres and Clean Edge)
Executive Summary: Benchmarking Utility Clean Energy Deployment
At a time of unprecedented challenge for U.S. electric utilities, renewable energy and energy efficiency have become increasingly important elements of the U.S. electricity system. Until now, however, there has been no single source of information on how U.S. electric utilities rank in terms of deploying these clean energy solutions.
This first-of-its-kind report by Ceres and Clean Edge is meant to help close that gap. Benchmarking Utility Clean Energy Deployment assembles data from more than 10 sources, including state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) annual reports, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission 10-K filings and Public Utility Commission reports, to show how 32 of the largest U.S. investor-owned electric utility holding companies stack up on renewable energy and energy efficiency.
These parent holding companies represent over 80 subsidiary operating companies scattered throughout the U.S. and collectively account for about 68 percent of total 2012 U.S. retail electricity sales.
While these companies differ widely in size, geography, resource profiles and ownership of generation assets, they all share an obligation to provide the public with safe and reliable service at reasonable rates, and a responsibility for maintaining and modernizing the electric distribution grid. As such, they have a vital role to play in enabling the widespread deployment of clean energy.
Benchmarking these utilities provides an opportunity for transparent reporting and analysis of important industry trends. It fills a knowledge gap by offering utilities, regulators, investors, policymakers and other stakeholders consistent and comparable information on which to base their decisions. And it provides perspective on which utilities are best positioned in a shifting policy landscape that includes the Environmental Protection Agency’s newly released carbon pollution limits for existing power plants. These power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States and account for one of every 15 tons of carbon pollution globally.
Companies were benchmarked on three key indicators of clean energy deployment: 1) Renewable energy sales, or the total amount of renewable electricity sold to retail customers; 2) Cumulative annual energy efficiency savings; and 3) Incremental annual energy efficiency savings, or the energy savings from new programs or new participants in existing programs. All three indicators are provided as a percentage of annual retail sales to allow for comparison across utilities of different sizes. This report focuses on the amount of renewable energy delivered from electric utilities to their customers, and does not cover independent power producers. Since states have different approaches to defining and tracking renewable energy, the renewable energy sales findings in this report are not intended to be a yardstick of a utility’s compliance with its state renewable portfolio standards. Nevertheless, the renewable energy sales data provided in this report are a strong indicator of the utilities’ clean energy deployment.
Wide disparities were found in the extent to which electric utilities currently deliver renewable energy and energy efficiency, the cornerstone resources of a sustainable 21st century electric power sector. For example, five of the 32 companies included in this report accounted for nearly 54 percent of renewable energy sales.
NV Energy, Xcel Energy, PG&E, Sempra Energy and Edison International ranked the highest for renewable energy sales, with renewable resources accounting for roughly 17 to 21 percent of their retail electricity sales in 2012. SCANA, Southern Company, Dominion Resources, AES and Entergy ranked at the bottom, with renewable energy sales accounting for less than two percent of each of their total retail electricity sales.
Energy efficiency top performers included PG&E, Edison International and Northeast Utilities, each of whose cumulative annual energy efficiency savings was equivalent to 16 to 17 percent of their annual retail electric sales in 2012. Pinnacle West, Sempra Energy, Portland General Electric, Puget Sound Energy and Northeast Utilities performed the best on incremental energy efficiency savings. Each achieved savings of approximately 1.5 percent of retail electric sales, or higher, which EPA estimates is achievable in its recently proposed Clean Power Plan.
Bottom ranking companies on energy efficiency included PSEG, SCANA, Pepco Holdings, Dominion Resources and Entergy. Cumulative annual energy efficiency savings for each of these companies accounted for less than one percent of their annual retail sales. Similarly, bottom performers on incremental energy efficiency included Dominion Resources, PSEG, Entergy, FPL and Southern Co.
Other Key Findings
State policies are a key driver in utility clean energy investment. The top-performing utilities on renewable energy sales are typically based in regions with aggressive policy goals, while utilities delivering the lowest amounts of renewable energy to their customers are mostly located in the Southeast, which historically has had weak state-level support for clean energy.
▪ Similarly, all of the top performing utilities on energy efficiency are located in states with strong efficiency policies, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon.
▪ The EPA’s new proposed standard for reducing carbon pollution from power plants will provide further incentive for states to improve utility clean energy performance.
Two of the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan’s building blocks, energy efficiency and renewable energy, are increasingly economically feasible options for electric utilities. Energy efficiency is the lowest-cost energy resource and the cost of renewable energy continues to decline dramatically and is quickly becoming cost- competitive with fossil fuels.
Even among companies in similar market and regulatory environments, however, there is a range of performance, suggesting that strong state-level policies are not the only factor in utility investment in clean energy.
Performance in the benchmarking report is not the only measure of clean energy leadership, which should include support for clean energy policies. For example, National Grid has been an outspoken supporter of energy efficiency, while FirstEnergy has been a vocal critic of Ohio's energy efficiency policy.
Discrepancies between utility benchmarking performance and actual on-the-ground actions highlight shortcomings with data quality and benchmarking efforts. For example, at least one company reported here has taken public credit for energy savings by industrial customers when the utility was not involved in the efficiency projects.
Customers are increasingly in the driver’s seat in influencing clean energy policymaking. In a sign of this trend, a few of the top clean energy utilities in this report are facing customer pressure for not being clean enough. Cities and counties within the service area of these utilities have are actively pursuing plans to establish their own power purchasing entities in response to customer demand for expanded clean energy options
Better, more up-to-date data is paramount. Data on utility clean energy deployment is too scattered among numerous sources, as outlined in Data Sources, Issues and Quality on page 23. Forming a complete and uniform picture of how utilities compare is critical given the rapid expansion of energy efficiency and renewable energy in the U.S. and the importance of carbon-free renewable generation to this industry. The report’s Conclusion (page 24) offers specific recommendations on how federal and state agencies, utilities, regulators and other stakeholders can improve the quality and availability of utility clean energy data…
Energy efficiency and renewable energy, which have grown dramatically in the U.S., will become increasingly important resources for U.S. electric utilities going forward. Forming a complete and uniform picture of how utilities deploy these resources is critical. Following are specific recommendations on how federal and state agencies, utilities, regulators and other stakeholders can improve the quality and availability of utility clean energy data.
-Better, more up-to-date data is paramount. Data from important sources such as EIA and state RPS reports are not only incomplete but are often dated.
-EIA, in its annual information request from electric utilities, should create a new Form 861 file focused entirely on renewable energy that is populated, at a minimum, by renewable energy sales and capacity data broken out by holding company and all subsidiaries; by renewable energy type (including distributed assets); and by ownership type (utility-owned, contracted, or customer-owned).
- As part of this new form, EIA should clarify the definition of renewable energy to include only sources such as wind, solar PV, solar thermal, geothermal, biomass, and small hydro (up to 30 MW), and explicitly exclude problematic energy sources that are considered renewable in some states (such as waste coal and “black liquor”), large hydro (greater than 30 MW) and fuel cells (unless powered by renewable fuels). These two improvements alone would greatly aid data collection and transparency.
- Additionally, EIA, FERC, or another federal agency should begin tracking distributed and centralized grid intelligence infrastructure such as energy storage and demand response, in addition to tracking smart meter deployment.
- Federal guidance on state RPS and EERS reporting requirements could ensure comparable, verifiable and timely data about utility clean energy deployment throughout the U.S.
- The financial community, including investors in the electric utility industry, should use this data to better evaluate the financial, environmental and social performance of electric utility companies. The data in this report should help investors identify how IOUs are adapting to disruptive challenges facing the sector and the extent to which utilities earn revenues from deploying clean energy.
- Electric utility companies should use this report to compare themselves to their peers, especially companies in similar market and regulatory environments, and to evaluate their positioning and strategies.
- Policymakers would benefit from determining which clean energy policies have been most effective in driving investment and creating value for customers, utilities, and the wider economy.
- Consumers can assess how much clean energy their utility has deployed, how the utility is progressing toward state renewable energy and energy efficiency requirements (if applicable), and how well positioned the utility is for a lower-carbon future.