President Trump has designated the last week of June as “Energy Week”. Policy weeks have become a trademark of the Trump presidency, and for family businesses, the consequences of this Energy Week could be welcomed by many who are plagued with volatile energy costs. The common thread of Energy Week will be a renewed reliance on traditional energy sources, and dominance of U.S.-based fuels in the export market. The reversal of Obama-era energy policy was a key tenant of the President’s campaign, and based on his Energy Week schedule, Trump aims to make good on that promise. Now, Trump is looking forward, forging actionable plans to shape America’s energy future. In his first 150 days, the president has used his executive power to lift regulatory barriers to domestic energy production and has empowered the Interior Department to begin revisions of Obama-era fracking regulations.
The President has been outspoken on reducing regulations, providing greater access for energy extraction purposes, and encouraging energy production to help lower the cost of our energy production needs. While specifics on the President’s Energy Week plans are scarce, it is known that he will discuss oil and natural gas exports with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he hosts here today at the White House. On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will appear before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee where he will deliberate on the President’s spending blueprint. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will likely offer a preview of some of the President’s priorities when he speaks Tuesday with analysts and executives at the U.S. Energy Information Administration conference in Washington – agenda here. On Wednesday, President Trump will meet with Governors and Native American tribal leaders along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry. This meeting will precede a Thursday panel in the House Natural Resources Committee that will explore energy industry access to federal lands – link here. Finally, the President Trump will host and event at the Energy Department on Thursday where he will focus on how the sale of U.S. natural gas, oil, and coal helps strengthen America’s influence globally.
While President Trump is expected to place his policy focus on traditional energy sources, he is expected to describe openings for other energy exports, including U.S. technology that harnesses power from the wind and sun, and a new generation of advanced and modular nuclear reactors. Many in the industry have argued that the licensing rules for new reactors are cumbersome and convoluted, discouraging investment in an inexpensive and environmentally friendly energy source. There are hopes that President Trump will eliminate these hurdles.
In addition to making it easier to produce traditional forms of energy, the Bureau of Land Management is currently finalizing environmental reviews to allow leasing of federal land for the purpose of installing solar energy collectors in Nevada. The Dry Lake region on Nevada could be the first federal land installation of solar power generation in the country.
Streamlining the energy permitting process and reducing regulations will drive down costs, which is welcomed news for many family-owned and operated businesses with tight margins. FBAE is hopeful that the changes highlighted during Energy Week will lift the burden that stifles job creation and holds back our economic recovery.
While large-scale energy projects seem inconsequential to local family businesses, the unpredictability of a volatile energy market can financially squeeze these vital contributors to our economy. Yesterday, President Trump spoke to a crowd at the Rivertown Marina in Cincinnati, Ohio about his long-awaited infrastructure plan, providing a broad outline of his priorities. In addition to reducing permitting time for projects from 10 years to 2 years and “slashing regulations to speed up the decision-making process,” Trump has made overtures to enhance infrastructure in the energy sector. While specifics have remained scarce, the president has made clear his commitment to eliminating burdensome rules hindering oil and gas exploration.
The Rivertown comments come after Trump’s nominations of Robert Powelson, and Neil Chatterjee to FERC in May. Progress on several natural gas pipeline projects was stalled by the lack of a quorum, causing a number of energy groups to prod the President to fill the positions at FERC. Now, the commission has $50 billion in energy projects to address and is working through proposals to reform wholesale power market structures. Another large component of President Trump’s $1 Trillion plan is the completion of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, which he cited as examples of his administration’s commitment to strengthen America’s energy infrastructure. “Nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final leg,” Trump said. The White House statement indicated that Trump will dedicate $200 billion in his budget this year to energy infrastructure. The completion of these energy pipeline projects will bring welcome relief to small, family-owned businesses.
Improving America’s energy infrastructure can help to reduce energy costs for family businesses by making it easier for energy resources to come to market. Transporting crude oil via pipeline reduces the cost of transportation by 50-60 percent compared to rail transport. In addition to energy transportation infrastructure, the development of more energy efficient electrical grids will also reduce the cost of energy for family businesses across the country. As we begin to overhaul and expand our energy infrastructure it is important that we do so in a way that helps reduce energy costs prepares us for the future ways we will use energy.
Pro-energy agenda saves families money
By Rep. Krisit Noem
If you’re a family making less than $50,000 annually in South Dakota, you likely spend double the national average on energy every year. It’s one of the largest monthly expenses for many, so if we have the opportunity to drive those costs down, we ought to take it.
When former President Obama was first running for office, he outlined an energy agenda that, as he said, would “necessarily skyrocket” electricity rates. Over the course of the next eight years, his administration implemented provisions that made affordable energy more and more difficult to access. His boldest move promised to increase costs by as much as $17 billion nationwide and put a quarter-million people out of work annually, according to some estimates.
In South Dakota, analysts believed the plan would force electricity prices to rise 30 percent on average and 36 percent during peak times.
In addition to being costly, many questioned whether President Obama’s regulatory actions were within the Executive Branch’s authority. As a result, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the administration’s proposal and Congress passed legislation to stop it, although President Obama chose to veto that effort.
I believe our energy challenges can be solved, but the answer is innovation, not regulation. I’ve been very encouraged by the Trump administration’s actions on this front. In late-March, President Trump signed new Executive Orders to roll back many of the Obama administration’s overreaching energy regulations and I was honored to join Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke hours later as he signed Secretarial Orders reflecting that same agenda. Their actions help clear a path so market-driven ideas can lead the way forward.
By prioritizing innovation, I’m optimistic we’ll see lower costs, a revved up economy that supports good jobs and higher wages, and a decrease in our reliance on foreign energy from volatile regions of the globe. I’m also hopeful that by allowing innovation to lead, we’ll be able to strike a balance between energy production and environmental protection in a way that doesn’t cripple the economy.
There is almost no profession that values the sustainability and integrity of the land than a farmer or rancher. Our livelihoods depend on it. During planting season when I was a kid, I remember climbing into the tractor to take over for my dad and almost always finding a tiny, purple prairie pasque inside. My dad loved that flower and told me countless times how special it was, as it seemed to grow best on native grasslands. It’s an image I don’t forget.
American ingenuity can address even the toughest challenges, but I don’t believe the government is the best facilitator for that innovation. Instead, we need to give folks the freedom to pursue smarter technologies and finally drive down energy costs for South Dakota families.
When the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center was seeking a location, it chose Holyoke for two reasons: the city’s low electricity prices and its access to interstate highways and a fiber optic communications network.
“We think about the cost of electricity every day,” says the computing center’s executive director, John Goodhue.
For many businesses, whether they rely on powerful computers or manufacturing equipment, the price of electricity is a major part of the cost of doing business.
When businesses look to relocate, electricity costs can be a substantial factor in a company’s decision to move to Western Massachusetts. And cities like Holyoke that have municipally owned utilities may have a leg up when it comes to price.
Municipally owned utilities are typically able to offer cheaper electricity than the major investor-owned companies, although the investor-owned utilities say they offer other benefits to compensate for higher prices.
“It’s a significant cost of doing business, and it goes directly to a company’s bottom line,” says Richard K. Sullivan Jr., president and CEO of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council, who served as the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs under former Gov. Deval Patrick. “By and large, Western Massachusetts can be very competitive on utility costs with most everywhere in New England. If you take a look at the municipal (utilities), we can be more competitive than the eastern part of the state.”
In general, the Northeast is one of the most expensive regions in the country for electricity. “It’s absolutely one of the significant factors that companies look at when they’re looking at expansion opportunities or coming into a new area to build new,” Sullivan said.
Competitive prices in Western Massachusetts can make a difference in attracting business, and particularly the smaller municipal utilities have shown a willingness to work with companies, according to Sullivan.
“Certainly, the private companies in Western Massachusetts are always willing to sit and have discussions about an economic development rate or some other type of service that they can provide to be more competitive,” he said.
In Massachusetts, there are two kinds of utilities. The major companies — which in Western Massachusetts include Eversouce, National Grid and Unitil — are for-profit companies owned by investors. They are regulated by the state.
Some communities — including Holyoke, Westfield, Chicopee, South Hadley and Chester — own their own utilities. These are nonprofits governed by municipal boards. There are 41 municipal utilities statewide, but because of provisions in state law, no new municipal utility has opened since 1926.
Basic service prices for investor-owned utilities in the western part of the state already tend to be lower than in northeastern Massachusetts. And municipally owned utilities can often offer even lower prices.
A website operated by the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice, an advocacy group that supports allowing more municipally owned utilities, found that the average monthly residential bill for 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2016 was $73 for municipal utilities and between $99 and $105 for the four major investor-owned utilities.
“They’re simply more efficient,” said Patrick Mehr, who maintains the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice website.
The two types of utilities disagree on why the prices are different, and both say they offer plenty of benefits to attract businesses.
Municipal utilities do not have to pay property taxes, while investor-owned utilities do, on every pole and wire. Eversource, for instance, pays Springfield around $9 million annually in taxes and Pittsfield $3 million.
However, most municipal power companies voluntarily make payments in lieu of taxes to their communities, based on the value of their property.
Investor-owned utilities also have state requirements that add to their costs: participating in renewable energy programs; offering energy efficiency programs; providing discounts to low-income consumers; and complying with various standards related to buying alternative energy and allowing competitive suppliers to market to their customers. State programs to subsidize the development of renewable energy are also paid for by investor-owned utilities.
For example, businesses in Springfield, Greenfield, Pittsfield and elsewhere have participated in an Eversource program that provides free energy efficiency upgrades to small, local businesses.
Municipal utilities may offer some of these programs voluntarily, but they are not mandated and may not be as comprehensive.
Investor-owned utilities maintain the infrastructure and transmission lines for the electric grid. They are for-profit and larger companies. That means they may pay their chief executives higher salaries, and they pay dividends to shareholders.
Another major difference is that, under state law, investor-owned utilities that distribute power are not allowed to own their own power generation facilities, while municipal-owned utilities are. So, for example, Holyoke Gas & Electric owns and operates the Hadley Falls Dam on the Connecticut River. Ownership means the utilities can get better rates on the power.
State regulations also bar investor-owned utilities from soliciting long-term contracts, which municipal utilities can do.
The municipal companies have smaller geographic areas to maintain, which can help reduce costs and also ensure that linemen know the system well.
Dan Howard, general manager of Westfield Gas and Electric, says having a municipal light company benefits the city, residents and businesses. “Because we’re locally controlled and operated, we have a high public accountability,” Howard said. “When something’s not going right, the consumers of electricity and natural gas in Westfield know exactly who to call.”
Westfield’s utility company maintains city traffic lights and lets the city use its communication towers. Howard said when a new business is considering Westfield, the power company works with city and business officials on a case-by-case basis to figure out what the company’s electricity needs are and how to balance an attractive package for the business with ensuring other ratepayers are not subsidizing it.
Investor-owned utilities counter that they have other features that make them attractive.
Priscilla Ress, of Eversource, said the company in 2016 invested $940 million in maintaining and upgrading the company’s electric system. “Building a better, stronger, smarter grid will improve reliability for our customers no matter the weather, and that’s good for any business looking to locate within the communities we serve,” Ress said.
Spokeswoman Amie O’Hearn mentioned reliability as a major reason to choose National Grid. If there is a big storm, National Grid can call on crews from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York, as well as contractor crews and mutual aid agreements, to fix the power lines.
Often, the choice simply depends on what an individual company is looking for.
Goodhue, of the Green High Performance Computing Center, says he appreciates the responsiveness of a smaller company, and he believes the center, which uses a huge amount of power for computing, got good rates because Holyoke has a municipally owned power source.
“Electricity matters a lot,” Goodhue said. “When you’re planning to consume maybe 10 megawatts of electricity (a day) on a steady basis, that’s a big part of your budget, day in and day out.”
Originally posted at: http://www.masslive.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/02/as_businesses_consider_wmass_m.html