NWPPA Members Raise Concerns with Pole Attachment Legislation and Other Issues in a Meeting with Josephine Eckert, Aide to U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Update provided by Nicole Case, NWPPA Legislative Consultant
NWPPA joined PPC in a meeting in Portland, Oregon with Josephine Eckert, Energy Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). Eckert was in the Northwest for the August congressional recess and made time to meet with public power.
Representing NWPPA were Annette Creekpaum, General Manager for Mason County PUD #3, Mike Bradshaw, General Manager for Benton REA, Troy Berglund, Benton REA, and Chris Roden, Cowlitz PUD. Creekpaum led the meeting highlighting the need to retain local control when it comes to managing pole attachment requests from private industry. Last month, broadband deployment legislation was introduced in the Senate that would do away with local control – removing the existing exemption for municipal and public/people’s utility district electric utilities.
Eckert was very familiar with the legislation and NWPPA’s letter to Senate Commerce Committee leadership opposing the bill. She was interested in public power’s experiences. Bradshaw and Berglund reiterated NWPPA’s position that regulating public power is not necessary. Current law exempts not-for-profit utilities from federal regulation. The bill would give the FCC authority to regulate municipal and public/people’s utility districts, establishing shot clocks and regulating fees.
Bradshaw emphasized safety concerns: the size of small cell broadband equipment may turn out to not be so small. “Some of the equipment that has been installed by telecommunications companies on power poles and/or in a power line right-of-way appears to approach the size of a refrigerator,” Bradshaw said. Installing any telecommunications equipment above or below electric utility lines on power poles not originally configured for such equipment requires careful planning with safety in mind. Additionally, a mandated standardized fee for pole attachments could transfer costs to electric customers. Public utilities are currently allowed to develop their own pole attachment rates based on the cost of installing and maintaining poles in their respective service territories, which can vary based on terrain, climate, and other factors. Eckert pledged to talk to Senate Commerce Committee staff about this legislation and keep in touch with us as it proceeds to a hearing this Fall.
NWPPA members also raised the need for hydro relicensing legislation to pass in the Senate and for the reinstatement of ability to advance refund municipal bonds. PUDS like Mason County #3 rely on municipal bonds for capital investment and manage the costs of those bonds through refinancing or prepayment. The tax reform bill of 2017 removed this ability.
DOE Prepares Liberty Eclipse Cyber Exercises
Update provided by Meguire Whitney
The Department of Energy is planning exercises for the fall to test the electric grid’s ability to recover from blackouts caused by cyberattacks. Officials from DOE’s new cybersecurity office have emphasized existing resilience features of the grid and hope the new exercise, called Liberty Eclipse, will help identify gas pipeline vulnerabilities in particular. The exercise will include a two-day simulation in mid-October with energy sector executives, as well as a grid recovery exercise at a DHS facility on Plum Island, N.Y., on November 1. The additional exercises come on the heels of the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement last month that Russian hackers had the ability to cause electric blackouts, although such claims have since been walked back and DHS has admitted that “context” was missing from that initial report.
This exercise does not affect the existing bi-annual NERC-sponsored GridEx exercise, which also tests the grid’s ability to withstand and respond to cyberthreats. NWPPA has been monitoring federal legislative and regulatory interest in grid cybersecurity with an eye toward maintaining the existing standards-setting process. If the new exercise reveals any previously unknown vulnerabilities, it may renew appetites for Congressional or DOE action outside those channels.
EPA Will Not Revise Ozone Standards in Near Term
Update provided by Meguire Whitney
On August 1, the EPA announced in a filing at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that it will not seek to revise the Obama-era ozone regulation “at this time.” The 2015 rule tightened national standards for ozone pollution down from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb, but was met with fierce criticism from industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who challenged the standard as requiring overly burdensome and costly compliance measures. The Trump administration had previously asked the court to stay the challenge while it reviewed the issue. The EPA’s latest filing gives the green light for court challenges to move ahead.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA must measure and update its ozone regulations every five years. Although the Trump administration has indicated it will leave the regulations alone for now, it has indicated it may adjust the rubric by which the standards are assessed in 2020 to look beyond public health and include economic and energy production factors as well.
Senate Commerce Committee Plans FCC Oversight Hearing
Update provided by Meguire Whitney
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold an August 16 hearing on oversight of the Federal Communications Commission. The Commission’s efforts to remove barriers to rural broadband deployment is likely to be a topic of discussion, potentially including S. 3157, legislation to “streamline” small cell deployment by establishing shot clocks and fee schedules for attaching equipment to municipal utility poles. NWPPA recently sent the Committee a letter expressing concerns with such legislation, and the Committee held a hearing on broadband that featured significant discussion of the bill.
On-bill Financing Law Signed by Governor
Update provided by Alaska Power Association
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker signed HB 374, the on-bill financing legislation, into law on July 29. The bill states that a utility may enter into a written on-bill financing agreement to finance the purchase and installation of a renewable energy system, energy efficiency device, energy storage device, or energy conservation system in a residence or other eligible building. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Adam Wool (D-Fairbanks).
The law keeps on-bill financing programs voluntary for electric and gas utilities, but it does stipulate certain requirements if a utility chooses to participate. Some of the provisions relate to clearly stating the interest rate to be charged, allowing utilities to disconnect service for failure to pay the meter conservation charge associated with the financing but forbidding removal of the equipment purchased, and showing the meter conservation charge as a separate line item on the bill, among others.
The law will take effect on October 27, per the 90-day effective date provision in Alaska’s Constitution (Article II, Section 18).