Advanced Energy Perspectives

NEWS: Nobody Bought Hawaii’s Electric Utility After All; PG&E Facing Criticism for EV Charging Monopoly

Posted by Lexie Briggs

Jul 29, 2016 11:46:28 AM

    

This week in advanced energy we saw more news of utilities merging (or not) and issues facing a California utility looking to install EV charging infrastructure – or monopolize the EV charging market in Northern California, depending on your point of view. All that, plus an all-electric heavy urban transport truck from Mercedes-Benz in this week’s news round up.

Remember when we reported, last December, that “somebody did buy Hawaii’s electric utility?” Well, it didn’t exactly work out that way. NextEra’s proposed acquisition of Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) was one of the major examples of a growing trend of utility M&A. That deal was dealt a final blow this week when the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission rejected the application once and for all.

At issue was the overall benefit to the state. Regulators agreed that NextEra would be capable of running most of the state’s electric system, it would not actually benefit the state to allow the merger to go through. “After reviewing the entire record, the Commission concluded that while NextEra is fit, willing, and able to step into the shoes of the HECO Companies without a loss in performance, the Application for the proposed Change of Control is not in the public interest,” reads a summary of the decision.

The PUC listed five major areas of concern, including insufficient benefits to ratepayers and opening up the possibility of bankruptcy, but one stands out: NextEra was not prepared, according to the PUC, to contend with the “specific and unique” renewable energy issues facing Hawaii, including a high penetration of rooftop solar and a mandate to reach 100% renewable energy by 2050. This begs the question: Who is?

Anyway, NextEra has found a new target for acquisition. The company has agreed to buy Oncor, the Texas transmission and distribution utility, from the bankrupt Energy Future Holdings. 

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the country, M&A is still going strong. Exelon’s subsidiary (and previous acquisition) Constellation announced it had reached an agreement with ConEdison Solutions to acquire its retail electricity and natural gas business. The deal would provide Constellation with 560,000 new customers in 13 different states, including Texas, as well as Washington, D.C. The deal would make Constellation the largest U.S. competitive energy supplier.

Exelon is no stranger to M&A. Earlier this year, Constellation’s parent company secured the acquisition of Pepco Holdings, giving the company a large foothold in the mid-Atlantic, and resulting in the largest electric utility in the country by customer base.

In non-M&A utility news, Pacific Gas & Electric has been looking to build out EV charging infrastructure, but is running into roadblocks. The market is there: Fully 20% of the EV owners in the nation live in Northern California. Other California utilities have successfully gotten utility EV-charging proposals approved, but PG&E has had its rejected once already. This new plan is raising objections from both consumer groups and private companies like ChargePoint and Volta.

The first issue is that PG&E is asking for more ratepayer money than either San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison did, and companies see PG&E’s plans as a threat of a utility building an infrastructure monopoly by requiring that the price of charging an EV be tied to time-of-use rates. Greentech Media reports that, under PG&E’s plan, companies like ChargePoint and Volta may not be able to participate at all unless they drastically change their business model to accommodate time-of-use rates.

PG&E’s plan also requires interchangeability of hardware and network services – meaning they want to be able to buy chargers independent of the charging network. According to Coleen Quinn, ChargePoint’s vice president of market development and public policy, this is a capability that doesn’t exist, and is not achievable in the market yet. “There are no standards right now for the industry to establish the interchangeability of hardware and networks,” she told Greentech Media.

Nearly three years ago we asked “Are EV Chargers Utilities?” and took a look at the coming build-out of EV charging and how regulators would go about managing the processtreat this new infrastruture. Since then, the rise of several companies, most notably ChargePoint and Tesla, with their SolarCity-powered Supercharger stations, have built out the beginnings of a nationwide charging network, solving the chicken-and-egg problem. What could the future hold if utilities were to monopolize the service? Nobody knows yet, as only California has even come close. But as the EV market continues to grow, more and more state regulators will be faced with managing growing consumer demand for easily accessible chargers.

Speaking of EVs, Mercedes-Benz just revealed the first all-electric big rig truck, with a capacity of 29 tons. Designed primarily for use in urban environments, the Urban eTruck was unveiled in Stuttgart. The truck has a max range of 200 miles, so it’s not a long-haul vehicle, but it can be used in the final stages of shipping in cities to minimize the shipping costs and reduce noise. As TechCrunch points out, it beat the Tesla version, promised in last week’s “Master Plan Part Deux.” Don’t expect to see these trucks on city streets anytime soon, though. The launch date is “the beginning of the next decade,” but the same battery technology used for the big rig is already being tested in a light distribution truck model in European markets.

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Topics: News Update

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