A Possible New Market
Government regulation is often portrayed as the bane of free markets, but in the case of new rules governing electrical power generation in the Northeast and Midwest, regulation is actually creating a new and specialized insurance market.
After a series of electricity shortfalls over the past few years, two regional power wholesale organizations in the eastern U.S. now have federal approval to institute a system under which generators that fail to provide the power they have promised at peak times will pay for the cost of replacement power. In one interesting twist, it is not so much the risk that is emerging, but rather the risk-transfer market itself.
Last year, ISO-New England (ISO-NE) got approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to institute a system of charges and payments. In July of this year, PJM, the regional transmission operator for a wide swath of the Middle Atlantic and eastern Midwest, also got FERC approval for a similar system.
The United States and Canada are divided into regional independent system operators (ISOs) and regional transmission organizations (RTOs), which differ only in a few legal senses.
It is straight cost of replacement for non-delivered goods, in this case, electricity.” — Matthew White, chief economist at ISO-NE
At present, ISO-NE and PJM are mandatory markets, where all power providers must participate and mandatory charges are in place. Others are voluntary.
Utility industry organizations note that pending federal legislation could recognize the preferability of mandatory participation and payment systems, but that is a long way from being passed and signed into law.
Even though the ISO-NE and PJM regimes were approved at different times, they both go into effect with the delivery contracts starting in June 2018. Those contracts have already been bid and accepted, and in most cases power generators have already figured the costs into their rates.
The purpose for the new rules is to ensure sufficient power at peak demand, especially during hot summer days and winter storms. The charge-and-payment system is a double-settlement contract, standard in commodity markets.
If a supplier fails to provide the commodity — grain, oil, power — in the agreed amount at the agreed time, the supplier has to pay a set compensation, which the buyer then uses to fill the gap on the spot market. It is a straight transfer to ensure delivery.
“These are fully insurable risks,” said Matthew White, chief economist at ISO-NE.
“It is straight cost of replacement for non-delivered goods, in this case, electricity. Insurance is a critical part of our ability to deliver power, and we considered the insurability of the risk in market design whenever we make significant changes.”
It is also important to note that the core purpose of the new regimes is to encourage generators to invest in their infrastructure, operations and reliability.
Seeking a Just System
Both ISO-NE and PJM have said that they would much prefer that all their generators provide every watt they have contracted to supply. But realistically that won’t happen, so the new arrangement, they hope, will enable timely, transparent and fair replacement power.
“There are no penalties in our design,” White said. “This is a true two-settlement obligation, just like any other commodity contract.
“We know that penalties are not insurable, so we were careful not to structure the market that way. This is covering a short position where every party knows the terms.
“The risk can be indexed to a transparent development outside the control of the insured, so there is no moral hazard. Insurers can model the system.”
Insurers are doing exactly that. Manfred Schneider, head of engineering in North America for Allianz, confirmed that fines or penalties would not be covered under standard business interruption (BI) coverage.
“We are working with our alternative risk transfer group looking for financial solutions to this non-typical exposure. We have to find the framework, the limits, the exposures. This is not just something you can lift out of the drawer.”
Schneider said that it could take another six to 12 months for Allianz and other carriers to work through the full underwriting, including assessing the needs, costs and potential size of the market.
A History of Coverage Ambivalence
One important concern for underwriters is that owners may choose not to buy policies after they invest time and effort into developing coverage for generators’ exposure under the new rules.
That would not be unprecedented.
One carrier recalled that BI coverage was not triggered when an ash cloud from a volcano in Iceland essentially locked down all transport in Europe for more than a week in 2010 because there was no physical damage.
Raw materials, inventory and parts could not be delivered, and many operations were halted. Insurers developed new policies, but owners deemed them too expensive and did not buy them.
“This is very new and we are being very careful.” — anonymous electricity industry source.
The same thing happened after Hurricane Ike swept over the Gulf Coast in 2008.
Cities were evacuated and refineries and chemical plants had to close for lack of workers. The storm did relatively little damage, but plants incurred the costs of shutdown, idleness and restart.
Again, at least one carrier developed “spin-down” insurance to cover such non-damage costs, but owners did not buy it.
“Swiss Re has seen a sharp increase from risk managers, CFOs and the heads of power trading inquiring about coverage options for generators participating in binding capacity performance markets,” said Brian Beebe, head of origination in North America for environmental and commodity markets with SwissRe Corporate Solutions.
“Since the magnitude of potential penalties for generator non-performance is extraordinary — millions of dollars an hour for a 500 Mw plant — the risk mitigation topic has been elevated within generation company senior management, including boards of directors.
“In response, generator risk managers and insurance brokers are seeking a variety of forward starting coverage options for key generation capacity.
“Clearly, the evolution of increased transparency and client knowledge of generator capacity prices is underway in deregulated markets. However, in traditional regulated utility markets, I do not see evidence that these areas are adopting any type of market-based mechanism to encourage generator availability.”
The high penalty charges have indeed caught the attention of corporate boards at generators, and they are pressing their risk managers for answers.
None that Risk & Insurance® contacted were willing to speak publicly, given that the situation is in flux and that they have to report first to their boards.
A significant concern among risk managers is not the availability of risk-transfer options, but the price, terms and conditions.
Several large generating companies serve both ISO-NE and PJM. Those contacted did not reply or declined to comment citing “competitive issues.”
One official observed, “This is very new and we are being very careful.”
It is expected that some of the larger corporations will retain the risk posed by the charges. That expectation in turn is making some risk managers anxious that lack of demand will limit participation by carriers and keep rates high.
Only time will tell how broad and deep this risk-transfer market becomes, and where capacity and rates settle. But one other concern raised about the new charge-and-payment scheme can be addressed. There has been a thought that small generators, especially those in renewable power, are essentially shut out, because they cannot commit to large delivery contracts.
That is not the case, said ISO-NE’s White.
“We know the status of every generator, updated every few seconds. If a wind generator cannot make a commitment to deliver, they don’t get the up-front payment, but they can be on standby.
“If the wind is blowing and they can supply during a delivery event, we will pay them the rate same as anyone else.”
Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.
Buckets of Money
Maxine DaGuerre, the risk manager for the Middle Atlantic power generation company Corsair Corp. was decidedly uncomfortable.
Along with the rest of the Corsair Corp. management team, she was waiting to hear the latest decision from PJM, the regional electricity wholesale market. Under guidance from federal regulators, PJM was establishing incentives and penalties for power generators willing to guarantee delivery of electricity to the grid at times of crisis or peak demand, otherwise known as Emergency Load Response events.
The Northeast saw a near blackout in the frigid winter of 2014. Demand during several days of intensely cold weather almost knocked off the grid and generators reported a number of problems trying to feed the beast.
The regulators did not want to risk that scenario again.
The incentives were lucrative, game changers, and despite the protests of large buyers of electricity, the incentive plan was moving forward. Now, in mid-August of 2015, Corsair executives were awaiting word from PJM on what the incentives would be for the energy auctions for June 2018 to May 2019. Word was that they were going to be even more than they had been for the corresponding period for 2017-2018.
The questions included what to do with the increased revenues? Plow them into plant upgrades, purchase insurance to cover the cost of any penalties for non-delivery, lock in natural gas delivery for the year to guarantee price and supply?
It was a complicated set of questions. DaGuerre knew which way she was leaning.
The incentives were one thing, but the penalties were staggering. The regulators were ready to fine power generators that failed to deliver electricity on emergency demand at more than $3,000 per megawatt hour in some cases.
For a 1,000 megawatt plant that was a penalty that could run into millions of dollars per hour.
“Where was the backstop against that?” she thought to herself.
DaGuerre’s internal monologue was interrupted by the ringing of her desk phone. It was the company CFO, Eric Petruzzi. He sounded excited.
“Hey Maxine, can you join us upstairs? The announcement from the market is just in for the 2018-2019 incentives and we want to look at our options.”
“Sure thing, I’ll be right up,” DaGuerre told Petruzzi.
The exuberance in Petruzzi’s voice was off-putting.
In DaGuerre’s mind this was not a time for celebration, it was a time for careful consideration.
When she got upstairs there were three men at the table, Petruzzi, the operations chief Ben Ochstein and the CEO, Bill “Red” Miller.
“It’s what we thought Maxine,” Petruzzi began.
“PJM raised the incentive for 2018-2019.” He glanced briefly at the electronic pad in front of him.
“It’s raised the incentive by almost one third,” Petruzzi said with enthusiasm in his eyes. DaGuerre could swear she saw dollar signs there.
From $120 Mw-Day the incentive had been raised to almost $160 Mw-Day for 2018-2019. One 1,000 Mw plant could bring in more than $60 million in annual revenue.
Margaret watched as Ochstein and Miller exchanged glances. It seemed like some key decisions had already been made.
“We know how you feel about the penalties, Maxine,” Miller said.
“But you also know the importance of risk mitigation,” Ochstein said.
“We’re thinking we’ve got a real good opportunity here to upgrade some of the facilities, particularly Peachtree and Susquehanna,” Ochstein said.
DaGuerre cleared her throat and tried to steady herself.
“I’m all for risk mitigation, as you know. And I think we should upgrade some of the plants, particularly Susquehanna,” she said, giving Ben Ochstein a look that she hoped communicated solidarity with his idea.
“But I can’t help thinking that some risk transfer is in order here,” she said.
Petruzzi started to say something but DaGuerre felt compelled to just plow ahead.
“One, this is the first time we’ve been in this situation. The incentives are compelling, but the penalties are severe if we have a breakdown. Four of our plants are coal-fired and let’s face it, could really use some upgrades. It’s not just Peachtree and Susquehanna,” she said, giving Ochstein a meaningful look.
“I’m not asking for a lot but I think 5 percent of the three years’ auction revenue should be invested in some sort of risk transfer,” she said.
“That’s too much Maxine,” Miller said. From his tone, DaGuerre knew she’d be lucky to get a fraction of that.
The meeting ended with DaGuerre making her own odds that the company would be investing 2 percent of any emergency load auction funds into risk transfer mechanisms.
She flat-out doubted that was enough.
While she did her best to partner with Ben Ochstein and the company’s engineering team to make the best use of the company’s capital in plant upgrades, Maxine DaGuerre couldn’t stop doing the numbers in her head.
For power generators that had agreed to supply electricity to the grid during Emergency Load Response events, the penalties from PJM and the regulators could be staggering. They were looking at $3,000 per megawatt hour. For a 1,000 MW plant, that was $3 million per hour.
The variables were driving DaGuerre crazy. She’d only been able to purchase $15 million in coverage for any fines Corsair might face. That might seem like a lot of coverage but she’d have been much happier with five times that.
She studied the preventative maintenance plans and upgrades for Corsair’s 18 power generation plants until her eyes hurt. Ben Ochstein and the company’s engineering team weren’t slouches. They were top-notch professionals. But nobody was perfect.
As fall moved to winter, the upgrades at the Corsair plants, at Susquehanna, Peachtree and others carried on apace. Ochstein and Petruzzi were also congratulating themselves that they had locked in reasonably priced natural gas supplies for the company’s plants that relied on natural gas to produce electricity.
DaGuerre struggled to share their enthusiasm.
DaGuerre hated to be a stick-in-the-mud. She wanted the company to thrive. She certainly wasn’t hoping for a blackout in the Northeast or anything like it.
Then the cold came, just like it did in the winter of 2014, only this time much earlier. Three days of intense cold in the week between Christmas and New Year’s provoked the region’s first Emergency Load Response event, on Dec. 28.
Corsair didn’t miss a beat, while the word got out that one of its competitors had failed to deliver for three hours due to a natural gas pipeline problem near Philadelphia and been fined.
2016 broke with reasonable temperatures, but a polar vortex gripped the Northeast in the second week of January. This time Corsair wasn’t so lucky. Boiler problems at the coal-fired Susquehanna plant caused the 1,200 megawatt plant to go offline for five hours during an Emergency Load Response event. The fine was $15 million.
The formerly sanguine Eric Petruzzi went into full panic mode.
“Can you get us more coverage?” he asked DaGuerre during a late-night phone call on Dec. 29.
DaGuerre could hear laughter and clinking glasses in the background.
“Where are you?” she asked him.
“I’m … at a party. At my mother’s place in Annapolis,” he said somewhat sheepishly.
“I’ll … see what I can do,” DaGuerre said.
She didn’t bother calling her United Kingdom-based broker until very early the following morning.
An Endless Slog
Sorry, the carriers said.
“Not at this point,” DaGuerre’s broker Martin Rule told her the following morning.
“Your best bet for the remainder of the winter is to go full bore on plant inspections and preventative maintenance and hope you can ride it out,” he told her.
“Ride it out.” Those were words that Maxine DaGuerre hated. That wasn’t risk management, it was like playing roulette.
Sleep-deprived from meetings with Corsair Corp. engineers and operations personnel throughout the Atlantic seaboard through January, DaGuerre was trying to catch a nap in a drafty hotel in Wilmington, Del., on Feb. 10 when her phone buzzed.
It was Ochstein. He was a humbled man.
“We were out six hours at Leedsville from 6 a.m. to about an hour ago,” he told her. It almost sounded like his voice was cracking. He sounded exhausted.
An $18 million fine. No cover. Not for this.
“Another boiler problem?” DaGuerre asked him.
As Ochstein droned on, dispirited, with the technical details, DaGuerre started tuning him out.
She rolled over and stared at the framed print in her room as Ochstein’s words seeped in. She didn’t even feel sick, she felt numb.
She knew what Miller and Petruzzi would tell her and maybe they were right. Corsair had the resources to keep its plants up-to-speed and perhaps even profit greatly from the incentives it could earn from this Emergency Load Response arrangement with PJM.
But she knew one thing for sure.
She never again wanted to feel what she felt that early afternoon in that drafty hotel room in Wilmington.
These multimillion dollar hits had to stop. They couldn’t afford to fumble again.
Risk & Insurance® partnered with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions to produce this scenario. Below are Swiss Re Corporate Solutions’ recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.
The cold snap during the Polar Vortex of January 2014 brought the northeast United States dangerously close to blackout conditions. As temperatures plunged, many of the region’s key power plants performed poorly, and the region came dangerously close to rotating blackouts and a loss of electric heat. Had the power gone out, a large segment of the population would have been exposed to the severe cold with dire consequences.
Recently, the PJM Interconnection, which manages the electric grid for 13 states (plus Washington DC) and nearly 61 million people, implemented a new electric generator incentive scheme that aims to prevent a repeat of the poor generator performance during January 2014. The new program, called PJM Capacity Performance, will provide increased revenue for power generation companies that participated in capacity auctions. However, while generation companies will receive additional revenues for offering firm capacity, there is also considerable risk for non-performance. An unplanned outage or derate at a power plant during an emergency event could have significant financial costs (a million dollars an hour or more, depending on plant size).
Swiss Re Corporate Solutions understands the risks facing your business. Our electricity price and power plant outage solutions are designed to help you take advantage of the new capacity incentives, and offer protection for unseen mechanical issues impacting power generation.
Power producers can manage that risk through Swiss Re Corporate Solutions’ Electricity Price & Outage (ELPRO) and Capacity Performance coverages, which compensates generators for output lost from unplanned outages based on market conditions at the time of loss. We also offer weather and commodity price risk solutions to help you manage risk. To learn more, visit http://www.swissre.com/corporate_solutions/solutions/weather/
When the Going Gets Rough, the Smart Come to Aspen Insurance
Sometimes, renewals don’t go as expected.
Perhaps your company experienced a particularly costly claim last year. Or maybe it was just one too many smaller incidents that added to a long claims history.
No matter the cause, few words are scarier to hear this time of year than, “Renewal denied.”
But new options are now emerging for companies that are willing to tackle their product liability challenges head-on.
Aspen Insurance’s products liability team – underwriters, loss control engineers and claims professionals – welcome clients who have been denied coverage from other, more traditional carriers.
“For our team, we view our best opportunities to be with clients who have specific problems to solve. In these cases, we leverage our deep expertise and integrated team approach to help the client identify root causes and fix issues,” said Roxanne Mitchell, Aspen U.S. Insurance’s executive vice president and chief casualty officer.
“The result is a much improved product or manufacturing process and the start of a new business relationship that we can grow for many years to come.”
“We want to work with insureds as partners, long after a problem has been resolved. We seek clients who are going to stick with us, just as we will with them. As the insured’s experience improves over time, pricing will improve with it.”
— Roxanne Mitchell, Executive Vice President, Chief Casualty Officer, Aspen Insurance
Of course, this specialized approach is not applicable to all situations and clients. Aspen Insurance only offers coverage if the team is confident the problems can be solved and that the client genuinely wants to engage in improving their business and moving forward.
“Our robust and detailed problem-solving approach quickly identifies pressing issues. Once we know what it will take to rectify the problem, it’s up to the client to make the investments and take the necessary actions,” added Mitchell. “As a specialty carrier operating within the E&S market, we have the ability to develop custom-tailored solutions to unique and complex problems.”
For clients who are eager to learn from managing through a unique, pressing issue, and apply the consequential lessons to improve, Aspen Insurance can be their best, and sometimes only, insurance friend.
The Strategy: Collaboration from Underwriting, Claims and Loss Control
Aspen offers a proven combination of experienced underwriting professionals collaborating with the company’s outstanding loss control/risk engineering and seasoned claims experts.
“We deliver experts who understand the industries in which they work, which is another critical differentiator for us,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell described the Aspen underwriting process as a team approach. In diagnosing the causes of a specific problem, the Aspen team thoroughly vets the client’s claims history, talks to the broker about the exposures and circumstances, peruses user manuals and manufacturing processes, evaluates the supply chain structure – whatever needs to be done to get to the root of a problem.
“Aspen pulls from every resource we have in our arsenal,” she said.
After the Aspen team explores the underlying reason(s) and root cause(s) producing the client’s problem in the first place, it will offer a solution along with corresponding price and coverage specifics.
“We have a very specific business appetite and approach,” Mitchell said. “We don’t treat products liability as a commodity.”
As noted, a major component of Aspen’s approach is that they seek to work with clients who are equally interested in solving their problems and put in the work required to reach that end.
Mitchell cited two recent client examples of manufacturers of expensive products that could endure large claim losses but had some serious problems that needed to be solved.
A conveyor systems manufacturer had a few unexpected large claims and lost its coverage in the traditional insurance market. The manufacturer never managed a product recall in the past, and Aspen’s loss control engineers dug into why several systems failed. Aspen also helped the company alert customers about the impending repairs.
Another company that manufactured firetrucks had three or four large losses, when telescoping ladders collapsed, resulting in serious injuries. The company’s claim history was clean until this particular product defect. When Aspen researched the issue, it found that the specific metal and welding used to make the telescoping ladders didn’t have the required torque to keep the ladders from collapsing.
Both companies worked with Aspen to correct the issues. Problem solved.
“It is so important that our clients are willing to actively engage in finding out what is causing their losses so they can learn from the experience,” Mitchell said.
Apart from the company’s problem-solving philosophy, Mitchell said, the willingness to allow qualified clients to manage their own claims is the second biggest reason companies come to Aspen.
“We are willing to work with clients who have demonstrated the expertise to handle their own claims — with our monitoring — rather than hiring a TPA,” she said. “It is a useful option that can save them money.”
Mitchell explained that customers who stay with Aspen for the long-term can be confident that Aspen will help them – whatever the challenge. For instance, if they need a coverage modification for a new product that they bring to market, Aspen can help make it happen. Mitchell noted, “We pride ourselves on the ability to develop custom-tailored solutions to address the complex and challenging risks that our clients face.”
Aspen’s desire to help solve difficult client problems comes with a caveat, but one that benefits both Aspen and the insured: It wants to move forward as a true partner – one with clear long-term relationship potential.
In a nutshell, Aspen’s products liability worldview is to partner with a manufacturer who is facing a difficult situation with claims or coverage, help them solve that problem, and then, engage in a long-term, committed relationship with the client.
“We want to work with insureds as partners, long after a problem has been resolved,” she said. “We seek clients who are going to stick with us, just as we will with them. As the insured’s experience improves over time, pricing will improve with it. This partnership approach can be a clear win-win.”
This article is provided for news and information purposes only and does not necessarily represent Aspen’s views and does constitute legal advice. This article reflects the opinion of the author at the time it was written taking into account market, regulatory and other conditions at the time of writing which may change over time. Aspen does not undertake a duty to update the article.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Aspen Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.