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POLITICO New York Energy: DiNapoli to audit PSC; Duffy to lead photonics council

By David Giambusso and Scott Waldman

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DINAPOLI TO AUDIT PSC HANDLING OF CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS — POLITICO New York’s Scott Waldman: State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is auditing the Public Service Commission’s oversight of customer complaints. The audit will begin this week, according to Jennifer Freeman, DiNapoli’s spokeswoman. She did not provide a timeline as to when it may be completed or when the results would be made public. The PSC handles consumers’ complaints about utilities, internet companies and energy service companies. For years, the PSC has been criticized for being too close to the industry it regulates. Many consumers have tried to make complaints to the state about utilities or Internet companies, only to be referred by state regulators back to the company they’re complaining about, said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. She praised DiNapoli’s audit and said oversight of the PSC is long overdue.

DUFFY HEADING UP PHOTONICS COUNCIL — Gannett’s Jon Campbell: “Former Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy will lead a five-member panel that will oversee the establishment of the major photonics center in Rochester. Duffy, now the head of the Rochester Business Alliance, will serve as chairman of the AIM Photonics Leadership Council, the SUNY Polytechnic Institute is set to announce early this week. The panel — which is required by the U.S. Department of Defense — will ‘establish the strategic and technical direction’ of the Integrated Photonics Institute of Manufacturing Innovation, a $600 million state and federally backed center awarded to Rochester earlier this year … The Leadership Council will be one of two committees overseeing the photonics center, which will be headquartered at the former Bausch + Lomb building in downtown Rochester. Apart from Duffy, the remaining members haven’t been named, though SUNY Poly says they will be appointed in the ‘near future.’”


--U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer says the VW fine should include rebates for customers who bought its emissions-spewing cars.

--An animal control officer saved an injured bald eagle trapped in a lock at Rotterdam.

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ELECTRIC UTILITIES EMBRACING OBAMA CARBON RESTRICTIONS — The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Smith: “U.S. coal companies and at least 16 state governments are working on challenges to the Obama administration’s new rule limiting carbon emissions from power plants. Most electric utilities have a different strategy: They are embracing it. From Dominion Resources Inc. in Virginia to Dynegy Inc. in Houston to Ohio’s FirstEnergy Corp., electricity producers say they plan to comply rather than contest the regulation. The main reason, executives and experts say, is that economic forces are pushing the power industry inexorably toward a lower-carbon future. ‘Everybody is moving in this direction anyway,’ said Dominion Chief Executive Tom Farrell. The new regulations just add certainty to companies’ plans to move away from relying on coal to generate electricity, turning instead toward cheap natural gas as well as renewable energy, which is available at increasingly lower cost.”

IEA WEAK ON RENEWABLE PROJECTIONS — Vox’s David Roberts: “The International Energy Agency was created in 1974 by countries that had just been through a bruising oil crisis (and were headed for another). Some 23 participants in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) founded the IEA to gather and share information about energy, model future energy trends, and help mitigate the adverse impacts of (or avoid) subsequent energy crises. Since then, IEA has become a widely respected source of energy data and analysis. Its annual World Energy Outlook (WEO) is considered the gold standard in energy modeling, producing endless media coverage and shaping the assumptions of policymakers and the investment class. It is somewhat vexing, then, that the IEA has always been, and remains, dismally pessimistic about wind and solar energy. This pessimism has led it to underestimate wind and solar again and again, a track record of failure one might think would trouble an agency known for the quality of its modeling. But if it's troubled, IEA hasn't let on.”

ARIZONA UTILITY CLAIMS SOLAR USERS NOT PAYING FAIR SHARE — UtilityDive’s Herman Trabish: “Arizona's major power producer produced a cost-of-service study that said rooftop solar users don't pay their fair share of the grid ahead of its formal cost-of-service proceeding, leaving rooftop solar advocates upset and distrustful of the analysis. ‘APS says it wants to look at the costs of solar only,’ said attorney Court Rich on behalf of The Alliance for Solar Choice. ‘That is just as absurd as a solar industry proposal to only study the benefits of solar without consideration of the costs.’ [Arizona Public Service] withdrew its request for a $21 grid access fee, or $3/kW, last month in exchange for a full cost-of-service proceeding before its upcoming rate case. The request came along the heels of allegations of bias against rooftop solar leveled at three ACC commissioners, who have since said they will not recuse themselves from APS's controversial case.”

STAT OF THE DAY: The use of renewable as a source of electricity will decrease by 3 percent in 2015, largely driven by a drop in hydropower, the Energy Information Administration reports.

WHY MARKETS WON’T SAVE US: Mark Buchanan writes in Bloomberg View that too much reliance on free markets to curb the rise in global temperature is likely unwise. “Protecting the environment, economically rational as it may be, requires a long-term perspective that markets lack. As the Bank of England's Andrew Haldane has noted, short-termism seems to be getting worse: U.S. and U.K. investors tend to place a much lower value on distant cash flows than they should, with returns more than 30 years out counting essentially for nothing. This is troubling if we're expecting markets to put a price on the risk of, say, an ecological disaster unfolding over the next 50 years or century. Another issue is that markets, even in the most optimistic dreams of economic theorists, can work well only if investors have good information. When it comes to how business ventures may affect ecosystems, they often don't. Last year, when Deutsche Bank organized an initial public offering for China Tuna Industry Group Holdings, it took the environmental group Greenpeace to point out that the prospectus' projection of growth in fishing completely ignored a scientific assessment showing that the Pacific bigeye tuna is already severely overfished and needs protecting. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange suspended the offering, but only because a party outside the market happened to be vigilant. Similar concerns surround green bonds. It's not clear that the "green" label can always be trusted. Many ecologists worry that projects for biofuels, for example, may have broadly negative effects on the diversity of species.”

RENEWABLE ENERGY FINANCING HITS A SNAG — The New York Times’ Diane Cardwell: “Only a few months ago, it seemed that the renewable energy sector could do little wrong: Stock prices were soaring and money was pouring in as investors flocked to get in on the action. That is no longer the case. Low oil and gas prices have roiled the energy markets, and the specter of rising interest rates has rattled investors’ confidence in the industry’s returns. Although energy and financial experts say that the basics of the business remain sound, the lofty stock prices have tumbled, leading renewable energy companies to scramble for new approaches to their businesses. Nowhere has the retrenchment been more acute than in a newfangled financing mechanism called a yieldco. Yieldcos, public companies conceived by renewable energy companies as a way to raise cheaper capital for project development, have attracted billions in new investments. The yieldcos buy and operate power plants, mainly those that their parent companies develop. The yieldcos then collect the contracted electricity fees and pay the bulk of them out as dividends. With investors hungry for stable returns, energy yieldcos were greeted with enthusiasm through initial public offerings of their stocks over the last year and a half.”

NRDC TOUTS RENEWABLE RISE — Natural Gas Intelligencer: “While tipping its hat to natural gas, the third annual energy report released Thursday by the New York City-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said renewable energy use is at a historic high and poised for even greater advances. Last year, cumulative emissions in the United States were below 1996 levels, according to the NRDC's latest nationwide energy report, 'A Tectonic Shift in America's Energy Landscape.' U.S. carbon pollution dropped by 10% over the past decade, the report concluded. 'Meanwhile, coal and electricity consumption are down nationwide, while oil use today is lower than in the early 1970s,' an NRDC spokesperson said.”

CANADA OIL SANDS BOOM DRYING UP — The New York Times: "After an extraordinary boom that attracted many of the world’s largest energy companies and about $200 billion worth of investments to oil sands development over the last 15 years, the industry is in a state of financial stasis, and navigating the decline has proved challenging. Pipeline plans that would create new export markets, including Keystone XL, have been hampered by environmental concerns and political opposition.The hazy outlook is creating turmoil in a province and a country that has become dependent on the energy business. Canada is now dealing with the economic fallout, having slipped into a mild recession earlier this year. And Alberta, which relies most heavily on oil royalties, now expects to post a deficit of 6 billion Canadian dollars, or about $4.5 billion. The political landscape has also shifted."

REPORT SHOWS HOW SEA LEVEL RISE WILL AFFECT US: Chris Mooney of the Washington Post reports on a study out of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that coastal dwellers in the United States may want to leave their children some SCUBA gear: “The striking result is that millions of Americans may already live on land destined to be someday — albeit perhaps in a very distant future — reclaimed by the sea. But the number for whom this is true will rise dramatically if carbon dioxide emissions continue unchecked — or, if recent concerns about the destabilization of the ice sheet of West Antarctica turn out to be well founded.”

CECIL HUNTER LIKELY TO GO FREE — The New York Times: “The government of Zimbabwe said Monday it would not call for the extradition of an American dentist involved in the hunt that killed a lion known as Cecil because he had all the proper documentation for the hunt. Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, told reporters that the American hunter, Dr. Walter J. Palmer of Minnesota, would not be charged in the killing of the 13-year-old lion in July outside Hwange National Park in northwestern Zimbabwe.”


--OPEC ruining it for everyone: OPEC is posting record production compromising oil’s recent rally, Nicole Friedman of the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Light, sweet crude for November delivery settled down $2.53, or 5.1%, at $47.10 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract posted the biggest one-day percentage decline since Sept. 1. Brent, the global benchmark, fell $2.79, or 5.3%, to $49.86 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.”

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