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Paringa Resources constructing new coal mine in Kentucky

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CALHOUN, Ky. (AP) — Construction is underway on a new underground coal mine in western Kentucky that would employ about 280 miners.

Paringa Resources says it is planning to begin mining coal at the McLean County site next year. The mine would sell coal that’s used to generate electricity at power plants, a sector of coal that has been in steep decline in Kentucky and parts of Appalachia.

Paringa CEO Grant Quasha says the company has a contract with Kentucky’s largest utility, LG&E, to sell about half the coal mined at the new Poplar Grove mine. The mine would produce about 2.8 million tons of coal a year.

Quasha says the there is a base of experienced workers in the area to draw from.

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Ohio utilities board signs off on FirstEnergy rate hike

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio regulators have rejected appeals of an earlier decision that allows FirstEnergy Corp. to impose electricity rate increases for three years.

The move will give FirstEnergy an additional $204 million each year. Homeowners using an average of 750 kWh of electricity a month will see monthly bills increase by $36 a year.

The money is supposed to go toward improving the utility’s electricity distribution grid.

Opponents argue that it opens the door for Akron-based FirstEnergy to put the money toward its struggling nuclear and coal power plants.

FirstEnergy has been trying to convince Ohio lawmakers that it needs $300 million in new charges to save its two aging nuclear plants that are facing stiff competition from natural gas power plants.

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Energy Capital Partners buys power plant operator Calpine Corp.

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Calpine Corp., one of the only publicly traded U.S. power generation firms, sold to Energy Capital Partners for $5.6 billion in cash.

ECP is joined in the purchase by a consortium of investors led by Access Industries and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

ECP offered Calpine’s stockholders $15.25 per share in the deal, according to a release by the Houston-based company.

The parties currently expect the transaction to close in the first quarter of 2018.

Merchant generators like Calpine, which sell electricity to utilities on an open market, are facing financial pressures recently. Flat demand, renewable energy installations and continuing low fuel prices have been hard on the merchant generation business.

Calpine’s 2016 profits nosedived by 60 percent from a year earlier. NRG unit GenOn Industry, with more than 15 GW of power across 18 states, filed for bankruptcy in mid-June. NRG itself is selling off power generation assets to cut costs. Dynegy reported a $1.24 billion loss in 2016.

As part of the deal, Calpine has 45 days to entertain other options.

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Home Depot pairs with GE unit to expand rooftop solar program

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The Home Depot has selected GE unit Current to expand its rooftop solar energy program.

Current partnered with Home Depot on site selection, project implementation plans, financing and incentive capture for 20 solar power installations in New Jersey, as well as 10 additional stores in Connecticut, Maryland and Washington, DC.

The 11.9 MW portfolio will deploy nearly 30,000 rooftop solar panels and reduce electricity grid demand by an estimated 30 to 35 percent annually at each Home Depot store.

“Our alternative energy projects are important elements of our sustainability and operations efforts as they reduce carbon emissions while also lowering our energy costs,” said David Hawkins, vice president of labor and operations for The Home Depot.

The solar power installations are part of Home Depot’s renewable energy initiative which also includes wind farms, solar farms and fuel cells that will bring the company’s renewable energy footprint to more than 130 MW.

“Home Depot is a great partner to demonstrate the value of onsite solar energy as a practical, affordable and important business strategy, and drive further market adoption,” said Erik Schiemann, General Manager of Solar at Current. “We are now beginning to leverage digital technology to collect data that will help our customers become even more efficient.”

The Current team will add metering technology as part of the solar installations at select Home Depot stores in each region. Digital tests will gather data about local grid interaction and onsite plant production, as well as detailed weather tracking sensor data. These insights will help Home Depot optimize energy usage long term at similar locations.

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S&C Electric, Ameren Corp. test Illinois microgrid

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Ameren Corp., a Midwest-based utility, and S&C Electric Co., conducted a successful 24-hour islanding test this month at the recently deployed Ameren microgrid in Champaign, Illinois.

The microgrid has been operational since May and can provide a seamless transition from grid-connected to island mode.

The test focused specifically on the 50kW microgrid at the site, which powers an Ameren research facility. The complete microgrid includes 225 kW of renewable generation (PV solar and wind) and 250kW / 500kWh of battery energy storage.

The test began at 8 a.m. on Aug. 3, 2017, with the battery’s state of charge at 97 percent capacity. Once the battery was depleted to 90 percent capacity, solar and wind generation kicked in, simultaneously carrying the load and charging the battery.

This pattern continued throughout the day, never letting the battery fall lower than 88 percent capacity. In short, the microgrid functioned without any human interaction, automatically coordinating resources and ensuring power never faltered.

Upon conclusion of the 24-hour test, the microgrid successfully moved back into grid-connected mode without any loss of power for end users.

“We have one of the few microgrids in the world that operates at utility-scale voltages and can seamlessly transition from grid-connected to islanded mode,” said Ron Pate, senior vice president, operations and technical services at Ameren Illinois. “This successful test provided tangible proof that the system can accomplish what it was designed to do. The microgrid isn’t theoretical and our tests don’t need to be lab simulations. We were able to prove that this technology works and can provide key benefits to our customers.”

During the test, the Ameren microgrid functioned on 100 percent renewable energy throughout the day. Many microgrids of this scale need to rely on rotating machines or generators, which prevent 100 percent penetration of renewable energy in these situations. At the Ameren microgrid, when the generation exceeds the load, the excess powers the battery. With a rotating machine, the influx of generation would have caused the system to trip due to penetration limits.

“When designing this microgrid, we were confident that the seamless transition and the ability to run solely on renewable generation would be two of the biggest features to this system,” said David Chiesa, senior director, Business Development, S&C. “Microgrids are becoming more commonplace on the grid, and this test continues to prove how impactful they can be for energy users.”

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Residents oppose wind turbine project in Maine

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ROCKWOOD, Maine (AP) — Residents of a Maine village packed a community meeting to say proposed wind farms would destroy their community.

The meeting was held in Rockwood Wednesday over a new plan to add wind turbines in the Moosehead Lake region. The Morning Sentinel reports the proposal is part of a series of energy projects in New England to help them meet the states’ clean energy goals and fight climate change.

The project was proposed by NRG Energy, a large renewable energy producer.

Residents say they fear the 500-foot tall turbines would adversely affect the aviation on the lake, and may hurt tourism in the region.

David Gaier, the NRG East Region senior director, said Monday that the Somerset Wind project is still in its infancy.

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SMUD, GridX introduce time of day billing analysis tool

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Sacramento Municipal Utility District and GridX Inc. will partner to roll out a new bill scenario analysis tool that will allow SMUD’s customer service representatives to help customers learn more about how the transition to time-of-day rates will impact their bills.

GridX is a provider of big data billing and billing quality analytics solutions for energy companies using smart grid infrastructure. Its advanced technology enables utilities to design, promote and operationalize new energy products and programs.

Under a traditional tiered rate system, bills are calculated based on the volume of energy customers use. Under time-of-day rates, when customers use energy will be just as important as how much they use.

After SMUD transitions all of its customers to time-of-day plans by the end of 2019, about 44 percent of customers will pay less over the course of a year than they do under the current system, even if they make no changes to their energy use. About 49 percent of customers will pay about $2 more per month on average under the new plan, and about 8 percent will pay about $6.80 more per month. If these customers make adjustments to when they use energy, they may be able to reduce their bills and save money on a time-of-day plan.

The new bill scenario analysis tool will allow a SMUD CSR to accurately calculate a specific customer’s bills on a new rate. It will also allow the CSR to discuss various energy use scenarios with the customer and calculate how their bills will be impacted by shifting energy use to different time periods, adding or removing programs, deploying rooftop solar, adding an electric vehicle or possibly switching to SMUD’s fixed rate option. The bill scenarios are personalized to each customer and calculated in real time while customers are on the phone.

“As we transition our customers to time-of-day rates, we want to help them learn as much as possible about how their bill may be impacted and what they can do to control their energy costs,” said Nicole Howard, SMUD’s chief customer officer. “By working with GridX, we’ll be able to roll out an accurate, responsive tool that will allow us to provide specific numbers to our customers so they can make informed choices.”

“Transitioning an entire customer population to TOD rates is a significant undertaking,” said Jian Zhang, CEO of GridX. “SMUD clearly recognizes the needs for, and benefits of, a real-time billing scenario analysis tool to help customers make more informed decisions about their rates and energy use. We are thrilled to partner with SMUD, a long-recognized industry leader in customer service, to deploy this solution and, ultimately, develop best practices supporting the transition to TOD rates.”

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Elliott challenges Berkshire Hathaway bid for Oncor

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Hedge fund Elliott Management bought a package of debt allowing it to challenge Berkshire Hathaway’s bid to buy transmission company Oncor Electric Delivery.

Berkshire Hathway‘s bid for Oncor, part of the restructuring of the bankrupt Energy Future Holdings, amounts to $9.3 billion in cash. EFH has been in bankruptcy for several years amidst several failed acquisition bids by other companies.

The company, owned by investor Warren Buffett, said late last month that it would walk away from the bid if it is not approved by Monday.

Elliott is EFH‘s largest creditor, and has said Berkshire’s purchase price undervalues both Oncor and EFH.

Berkshire, for its part, said Wednesday that its bid was sound and would not be increased.

Elliott prices Oncor at $18.5 billion, including the debt, while Berkshire values the company at $18.1.

Berkshire said its bid has the support of a dozen stakeholders in Texas, as well as several dozen regulatory commitments.

Hunt Consolidated and utility holding firm NextEra Energy Inc. previously made serious runs at Oncor, for close to $20 billion and $18 billion, respectively. Both acquisitions were scuttled by Texas regulatory concerns.

Des Moines, Iowa-based Berkshire Hathaway Energy holds $85 billion in assets that provide power to more than 11 million customers, including utility MidAmerican Energy, PacifiCorp, NV Energy and Northern Powergrid.

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Enel signs tax equity agreement for Oklahoma wind power project

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Enel Green Power North America, the Enel Group’s US renewable energy company, acting through its unit Red Dirt Wind Holdings, has signed a tax equity agreement worth about $340 million with MUFG and Allianz Renewable Energy Partners of America for the Red Dirt wind project located in Oklahoma, which has a total installed capacity of around 300 MW.

Under the agreement, which is common for the development of renewable energy projects in the United States, MUFG and Allianz will pay the above amount to the wind farm owner, Red Dirt Holdings, purchasing 100 percent of Class B equity interests in the project.

This interest will allow the two investors to obtain, under certain conditions set by U.S. tax laws, a percentage of the fiscal benefits of the Red Dirt wind project. In turn, EGPNA, through Red Dirt Holdings, will retain 100 percent ownership of the Class A interests and therefore management control of the project.

The agreement secures the funding commitment by the two investors, while the closing of the funding is expected upon start of commercial operation of the Red Dirt wind farm. The tax equity partnership will be supported by a parent company guarantee from Enel.

The Red Dirt wind power project, whose construction started in April, is expected to begin operations by the end of 2017. The investment in Red Dirt amounts to nearly $420 million, which is part of the investment outlined in Enel’s current strategic plan.

Once fully up and running, Red Dirt will be able to generate nearly 1,200 GWh of renewable energy annually, which is equivalent to the energy consumption needs of more than 97,000 U.S. households, while avoiding the emission of about 860,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

The energy and renewable energy credits generated from Red Dirt will be sold under two long-term agreements, with T-Mobile USA, Inc. for 160 MW and with the Grand River Dam Authority for 140 MW of the wind facility.

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Wind farm developers must show endangered bat won't be harmed

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HONOLULU (AP) — An endangered native bat is at the center of a fight over a proposed wind farm in Hawaii.

Residents attended a contested case hearing Monday for the Na Pua Makani project in Kahuku.

The developer, Na Pua Makani Power Partners, is seeking a permit that would allow the project to harm or kill certain threatened and endangered species, including 51 Hawaiian hoary bats over a 21-year period, the Hawaii News Now reports.

“We do not support something that will harm or kill, especially something of cultural significance to us, and we do not support the desecration of our community and our way of life,” said Kahuku resident Charlotte Kamauoha.

The facility would include eight or nine wind turbines. A company spokesman said the wind turbine generators used in the project will be 500 to 600 feet tall.

The developer also needs approval of its Habitat Conservation Plan, which must show a net recovery benefit to the affected species. The company has created mitigation plans for the bat and other endangered species.

“The $4.6 million that’s been budgeted for mitigation includes habitat restoration, research, and the ongoing physical monitoring at the project,” said Mike Cutbirth, a Na Pua Makani Power Partners spokesman.

Critics, however, aren’t convinced the steps will make any difference.

“Currently, all major wind farms in Hawaii have exceeded their amount of take that they’ve been approved for,” said Maxx Phillips, an attorney for Keep the North Shore Country. “In fact, the two existing wind farms on Oahu have already killed over 70 bats in just a few years of operation.”

The company said the wind project will stabilize electricity rates and create new jobs. There is also a $2 million benefit fund for the Kahuku community.

“I think that the residents can actually sleep well at night in that the agencies have really done their job to make sure that there’s no significant adverse impact from this project,” Cutbirth said.

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