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Houston — Policy actions regarding distributed energy, capacity markets, carbon pricing and tax credits likely will interact with market and technical phenomena such as hydrogen, natural gas and offshore wind to make 2020 eventful for power markets, industry observers say.

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Commodities 2020 | S&P Global Platts

Lorraine Akiba, president of LHA Ventures, an energy consultancy, and a former Hawaii Public Utilities Commission member, said Friday a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission "ruling on aggregated distributed energy ... will again raise the issues of where the lines are going to be drawn between state jurisdiction and federal jurisdiction."

Dan Esposito, a PA Consulting energy markets expert, said implementation of new market rules for energy storage "may not move power markets significantly in 2020, but will set the stage for the next decade."

"New York's carbon pricing proposal - if approved - could legitimize the concept of incorporating externalities in wholesale power markets, leading other states or markets to consider similar programs," Esposito said Thursday, describing carbon pricing as a "dark horse" that could cause "a stir ... since its success could lead to similar programs in other, larger markets."

Todd Snitchler, Electric Power Supply Association president and CEO, said Friday, "Efforts to develop legislation in Congress or elsewhere to reduce carbon emissions in the wholesale power sector must be done in a competitive, technology-neutral manner so that all resources are recognized for their contribution to emissions reductions."

Extending energy tax credits in 2020 could have a big impact, Esposito said, but no comprehensive energy policy change is likely in a presidential election year. An extension might be more palatable during a lame-duck session, as happened with two previous extensions, Esposito said.

FERC CAPACITY MARKET RULING

Manan Ahuja, senior director of North American power at S&P Global Platts Analytics, expects potential market changes resulting from FERC's December order expanding the application of the PJM Interconnection's minimum offer price rule to counteract state subsidy programs' potential price-suppressing effects in capacity markets.

"Maybe we could see the breaking down of some of the established markets (like PJM) due to continued state intervention (subsidies for nuclear etc.)," Ahuja said in an email Thursday. "It will be interesting to see if any of the constituting state(s) decide to split from the markets and go back to the more regulated route."

PA Consulting's Esposito said, "PJM's new capacity rules could impact individual state policies supporting renewables and nuclear generation -- which could make states rethink their long-term participation in the PJM wholesale market."

EPSA's Snitchler said FERC's PJM capacity market decision "will certainly have significant impact on wholesale markets in 2020."

"EPSA will continue to seek opportunities to expand competition in the wholesale power sector, such as regional energy markets in the West or reforms to make [the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act] more competitive," Snitchler said Friday.

Enacted by Congress in 1978, PURPA established a new class of electric generating facilities, known as "qualifying facilities," and a new market for power from these non-utility power producers.

NATURAL GAS MARKET EFFECTS

Matthew Cordaro, a former Midcontinent Independent System Operator CEO who now resides in New York, described how natural gas prices could interact with policy decisions in 2020.

"With low cost, abundant natural gas, regulators are more inclined to move forward with renewable projects, which have more uncertainties in cost and reliability," Cordaro said Thursday. "Low cost natural gas also accelerates the closure of coal plants and makes it more difficult to justify subsidies for nuclear power generation."

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's pending decision on whether to permit the 804-MW Vineyard Wind offshore project to move forward could also have power market consequences, PA Consulting's Esposito said.

But Campbell Faulkner, senior vice president and chief data analyst at OTC Global Holdings, an interdealer commodities broker, said the negative reliability and price volatility consequences of the shift toward more renewables will be one of "the biggest under-the-radar issues in 2020."

"The electric power sector is largely ignored by the public (as compared to gasoline prices) since power is relatively inexpensive and continuous in its delivery," Faulkner said in an email Friday. "Hence when outages or price increases occur, the public always appears to be blindsided."

CANADA AND CLIMATE CHANGE

In Canada, climate change policies "will drive ... decisions" on how the power sector adjusts its generation portfolio in 2020, said Ganesh Doluweerawata Gamage, research director of the Canadian Energy Research Institute and an instructor at the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering.

"Primarily due to stakeholder push, [utility actions] will be driven by climate policies, I think," Gamage said Friday. "Storage will again be a significant development in 2020. ... This year, it will be driven mostly by behind-the-meter ... commercial storage to deal with peak demand management."

Transportation electrification is also likely to affect Canada's grid, through efforts to expand charging stations and improve load pattern management, Gamage said.

Another tech development may arise with the use of electricity to derive hydrogen from raw materials such as fossil fuels in such a way as it leaves carbon in the ground, Gamage said.

British Columbia has a hydrogen vehicle pilot project in which "there is a lot of interest," Gamage said.

LHA Ventures' Akiba said hydrogen from water may also gain ground, as "renewable hydrogen or green hydrogen is becoming a larger market for both the power and transportation sectors, given the growing abundance of excess solar and wind energy on many grids."

Commodities 2020 | S&P Global Platts

-- Mark Watson, markham.watson@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Rocco Canonica, newsdesk@spglobal.com