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PSC fines city utility over lack of renewables

Great Falls' municipal utility arm, Electric City Power, faces a $23,260 fine from the state Public Service Commission for failing to obtain renewable energy credits in 2008. In a unanimous vote at a work session last Tuesday, the PSC voted 5-0 to fine Electric City Power, rejecting city requests for leniency.

Great Falls' municipal utility arm, Electric City Power, faces a $23,260 fine from the state Public Service Commission for failing to obtain renewable energy credits in 2008.

In a unanimous vote at a work session last Tuesday, the PSC voted 5-0 to fine Electric City Power, rejecting city requests for leniency.

Competitive electricity suppliers fall under a 2005 state law that requires at least 5 percent of their power portfolio to come from renewable energy. The law was specifically applied to groups such as Electric City Power through an amendment legislators passed in 2007.

The PSC's formal order may go out later this week or early next week.

"I don't think anybody likes to see penalties for noncompliance," said Coleen Balzarini, executive director of Electric City Power and the city's fiscal officer.

An appeal is one option city officials will discuss, but it's not a foregone conclusion, she indicated.

For one thing, Balzarini said, the commission's fine is only $5,815 more than what it would have cost for the city to purchase the necessary renewable energy credits in 2008.

The city could pay the fine, or it could appeal the PSC... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Great Falls' municipal utility arm, Electric City Power, faces a $23,260 fine from the state Public Service Commission for failing to obtain renewable energy credits in 2008.

In a unanimous vote at a work session last Tuesday, the PSC voted 5-0 to fine Electric City Power, rejecting city requests for leniency.

Competitive electricity suppliers fall under a 2005 state law that requires at least 5 percent of their power portfolio to come from renewable energy. The law was specifically applied to groups such as Electric City Power through an amendment legislators passed in 2007.

The PSC's formal order may go out later this week or early next week.

"I don't think anybody likes to see penalties for noncompliance," said Coleen Balzarini, executive director of Electric City Power and the city's fiscal officer.

An appeal is one option city officials will discuss, but it's not a foregone conclusion, she indicated.

For one thing, Balzarini said, the commission's fine is only $5,815 more than what it would have cost for the city to purchase the necessary renewable energy credits in 2008.

The city could pay the fine, or it could appeal the PSC order and incur more legal costs, Balzarini said.

Balzarini said the city will comply with state renewable energy requirements in 2009, thanks to power it creates from sewage at the city's wastewater treatment plant, plus renewable wind energy credits it has already purchased this year. She said a few more credits might need to be purchased before a March 31, 2010 deadline.

"We've already got our credits in place for 2009," Balzarini said.

The city's failure to obtain the energy credits for 2008 drew rebukes Monday from two Great Falls men who have criticized the city's energy venture in the past.

Great Falls freelance writer Travis Kavulla said the PSC actions "bring into question whether the city really possesses the requisite experience and knowledge to run a power company in the 21st century. This is a major oversight and really speaks volumes to how poorly ECP has followed the energy laws of the state."

"The city has known about this for some time," said Richard Liebert, chairman of Citizens for Clean Energy. "They should keep their eye on the ball."

According to the state agency, Electric City Power should have obtained 2,326 kilowatt-hours worth of renewable energy credits for 2008.

City government hoped to receive credit for the 1,425 kilowatt-hours its cogeneration facility produced at the wastewater treatment plant in Great Falls' Riverview area in 2008. The project uses sewage and other materials at the plant to generate electricity. However, city government failed to obtain state certification and had not yet registered with the Western Renewable Energy Generation Information System.

PSC staff member Kate Whitney last Tuesday recommended the commission reject Electric City Power's several requests for leniency. She contended Electric City Power failed to take "all reasonable steps" to meet state requirements by a March 31, 2009 deadline for 2008.

Balzarini said PSC staff was cooperative and the city hoped its efforts to comply in 2009 would help get it out from underneath penalties for 2008.

"Would we have liked some mercy?" Balzarini asked. "Yeah."

Balzarini noted Electric City Power's purchase of wind energy credits this year does not mean the city gets to use the actual electricity generated. A renewable energy credit simply supports a renewable energy operation.

Kavulla said the city could have saved itself at least $10,000 simply by getting the cogeneration facility certified by the deadline.

Al Brogan, a PSC staff attorney, said the PSC has no authority over whether the city charges the fine to its customers or pays it from general city coffers. Balzarini said the cost will be passed on to customers, not to the city's general fund or taxpayers.

Brogan said three other groups were asked to justify their renewable energy portfolios, but only Great Falls was proved to have failed to comply. Another group, the Western Area Power Administration, pointed out it was a federal agency that's not subject to state regulation.

In addition, Brogan defended the PSC's impartiality in cases involving Electric City Power in Great Falls.

"I do not believe that the commission is predisposed to be unfair to anybody," Brogan said.

At Tuesday's work session, PSC Chairman Greg Jergeson noted he had been previously accused at Electric City Power Board meetings of being unfair to Great Falls.

"I'm kind of reluctant to say anything at this point," Jergeson said.

However, Public Service Commissioner Ken Toole said he did not think the commission should be "dinking around" with renewable energy credits by granting a lot of waivers.

"It's important that the rules are consistently applied," Toole said at the meeting. "That's a major concern to me." Commissioner Brad Molnar voted yes by proxy, making the decision unanimous.


Source: http://www.greatfallstribun...

DEC 1 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/23408-psc-fines-city-utility-over-lack-of-renewables
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