Enough Electric Rate Rhetoric - Guest MINDSETTER™ Handy

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


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National Grid

This is a response to the Providence Journal’s editorials on National Grid’s rate proposal, including “Blame Policymakers for National Grid’s 53% Rate Hike” (8.3.17) and “Costly Choices on Energy” (8.26.17). The Journal refused to publish this response. The blaming is that these prices are due to retiring power plants, inadequate new supply and a lack of pipelines to bring natural gas here during winter months when we need it for heat and electricity.

Information about our regional supply comes from the independent system operator (ISO-NE) who manages our wholesale market.  The region’s coal, oil, and n, clear plants are retiring – 4,200 megawatts, or 15% of our total supply between 2012 and 2020. Facilities like Brayton Point are decommissioned because they cannot compete economically against newer, faster and cleaner generating sources.

10,100 megawatts of efficiency and renewables are proposed for development in this region, 6,400 megawatts of new natural gas fired plants. Often renewables are not registered with ISO and are not counted in ISO’s capacity calculations (shamefully). Nevertheless, the fact that efficiency and renewables are the strongest competitors in this region’s market is borne out when gas plants, like Burrillville, lose out in ISO’s forward capacity auctions, because they are too expensive.

Finally, regarding pipelines needed to move natural gas from the shale gas mines to our end of the pipe. The $3.2 billion Access Northeast Pipeline proposed by National Grid and Eversource fell apart when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the utilities could not charge electric customers for the cost of moving the gas they want to sell us. The gas industry was not willing to take the risk of investment given competitive forces so the Court held it was inappropriate for gas pedlars to put that risk on electric customers.

What can we do about such uncompetitive costs? Take advantage of efficiency and renewables to reduce reliance on the region’s wholesale supply. The Narragansett Bay Commission, reduced their load 10% through efficiency and sourced 45% of their remaining supply from renewables for a financial benefit of $4.7 million, and are pursuing 100% renewables for good reason. Governor Raimondo ordered state facilities to use 100% renewables by 2025. Private sector leaders like Toray Plastics generate their own electricity from renewables and a combined heat and power plant. Even JP Morgan Chase, no bastion of liberal ideology or bad investments, will meet all of its global energy needs from renewables by 2020.

Our state energy plan, developed with extensive input from Rhode Island’s energy stakeholders, calls for diversification of our electricity supply to ease costly overreliance on one fuel, enhance our energy security, and to improve our environment. More recently, Rhode Island’s energy stakeholders (including National Grid and the Energy Council of Rhode Island) spent months discussing how to bring down Rhode Island’s energy costs. They had many good ideas like time-based rates that reward customers for lower consumption and more supply during peak demand when electricity is most expensive.  Economic innovation comes when we overcome outdated, unaffordable thinking.

State leaders are moving our utility to a business model that ensures its interests in gas and transmission do not eclipse the drive for a new energy future. They are planning for a better distribution system that will enable that evolution and anticipating electrification of cars and heating/cooling systems so that we can source the new loads efficiently from our best supply options.

It is too bad that National Grid’s last energy procurement plan was filed in March 2016 and its rate case was filed before all this good rethinking takes hold. Stakeholders, advocates, and policymakers have unanimously resolved to put Rhode Island on a path to lower cost electricity and a much better energy future.


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Seth Handy

Seth Handy is a lawyer based in Providence.


Related Slideshow: Power List - Business

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Big Bankers

Kevin Tracy and Oliver Bennett— There are deals and there are BIG DEALS. In Rhode Island, with all of the changing players and banking relationships, one reality is pretty much the same. If you have a big deal that needs sophisticated financing, the community banks may not be able to handle it.

Bank of America may have abandoned the Superman Building, but they are still in Rhode Island and still doing big deals. Kevin Tracy, the former Brown golfer and Oliver Bennett — long ago Fleet Bank trainees — are now the guys you bring in for a $50 million deal.  The more things change - the more they stay the same.

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John Hazen White, Jr. — White has taken Taco to new levels as he has made a series of strategic acquisitions to bolster the Rhode Island manufacturing company into a global firm.

He continues to be a leader in American manufacturing investing in worker retention and employee training.

Behind the scenes, White is a combination of an adviser and moral compass to many in Rhode Island. Despite taking a lower profile than his Lookout RI days, White is still a force pushing for ethics reform. 

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Joe Paolino — Once the young Mayor who took over in the 1980s when Buddy Cianci was forced to resign (the first time), now the leading corporate voice in Providence if not Rhode Island.

While others complain at lunches at the Hope Club and University Club about the plight of the Capital City, Paolino has rolled up his sleeves and taken on issues like panhandling and homelessness.

With a real estate empire that includes much of downtown, some of the top properties in Newport and Hasbro’s campus in Pawtucket to name a few, Paolino has close ties to Governor Gina Raimondo and even closer ties to the Clintons - could a federal appointment be in the works in 2017?

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Steve Kirby — No one dominates commercial real estate in Rhode Island like Kirby does on Aquidneck Island. His red “Kirby Commercial” signs are literally everywhere across the island and in Newport proper -- they are more frequent than street signs.

Want to open a clothing store in Newport? Go see Steve Kirby. Looking to launch a startup tech firm? Call Kirby. Developed cool technology and want to start producing for the Navy? Email Kirby.

Kirby maybe the most influential in business on Aquidniick Island. (PS He will tell you which bankers to talk to).

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Labor Boss

George Nee — President of the AFL-CIO, Nee is one of the most influential players in business in Rhode Island. 

He is Vice Chair of the Convention Center Authority Board, on the Commerce Corp board, the most influential voice for labor at the State House, and involved one way or another in just about every negotiation on constructing public buildings or issuing a tax stabilization agreement in Providence.

For the most part his public persona has been more muted recently, but that has not impacted his private influence. If it happens in Rhode Island, Nee has probably touched it.

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Sally Lapides — If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today and saw the number of Residential Properties’ real estate signs on the East Side he would call it a monopoly and want to break up the company. Lapides not only dominates one of the most affluent sections of Rhode Island, but she also delves into the arts, education and politics.

When you sell the wealthiest and most influential their homes, you make a lot of friends.

Lapides is a force in residential real estate and it will be interesting to see what she does next.

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Helena Foulkes — Two of the biggest decisions CVS ever made were the brain children of Foulkes. The Extracare card and the removal of tobacco from its stores were both influenced by Foulkes.

She has emerged as a national power in business and makes all the business lists for top women, but make no mistake - she is wildly influential in Rhode Island. 

She is close to Raimondo and she may decide to jump into political waters in the future - or may decide if she can snag the CEO spot at CVS.

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Visionary or Free Rider

Buff Chace — One of downtown Providence's biggest real estate magnates is a lightning rod in the Capital City. Widely considered to be one of the prime catalysts of Downcity's resurgence, Chace's accumulation of properties on Westminster Street is straight out of a Monopoly playbook. 

His recent acquisition of the ProJo building has further solidified his dominance, which has not been without intense scrutiny, given his ability to continually secure -- and extend -- tax stabilization agreements at a time when the city's dire financial straits are close to reaching a head. 

Wealthy, influential, and active in the community, Chace has chaired  the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy and has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Providence Foundation, and is a director emeritus for GrowSmart RI and a trustee emeritus of Trinity Repertory Theatre.

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Big Time

Richard Baccari — One of the biggest real estate developers in New England. For decades he has been a major player in Providence, Rhode Island and the northeast.

During that span, he has been the driving and innovative force behind some of the region's most significant residential and commercial development endeavors. 

See a Stop and Shop development and Baccari probably built it. Has fought back business challenges and much more.


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