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updates

Beating the Utility Holding Company Shell Game

We’re excited to be part of the Mozilla Technology Fund’s 2024 cohort, which is focusing on open source AI for environmental justice!

We’re going to use Mozilla’s support to link US Securities and Exchange Commission data about utility ownership to financial and operational information in the EIA forms 860/861/923, and through our previous record linkage work involving the EIA data, to FERC Form 1 respondents and the EPA’s continuous emissions monitoring system data.

The SEC Form 10-K is published through EDGAR as structured XBRL data, but the Exhibit 21 attachment that describes which companies own and are owned by other companies is unfortunately just a PDF blob that gets stapled to the XBRL, and so ownership relationships end up being unstructured, or at best, semi-structured data.

We’re going to apply document modeling tools that we’ve developed in some of our client work (to extract structured data from PUC and other regulatory filings) to extract the ownership information from Exhibit 21. This will hopefully include the ownership percentages when they are reported.

Then we’re going to use the generalized entity matching / record linkage tooling that we developed under our previous Climate Change AI Innovation Grant to connect the parent / subsidiary companies named in the SEC data to the financial and operational data reported by the same utility companies in FERC Form 1, as well as EIA and EPA data.

The record linkage / entity matching system that we’ve ultimately settled on is based on the excellent (and publicly funded!) Splink library, which relies on DuckDB to enable local linkages on datasets of up to tens of millions of records. Robin Linacre (one of the Splink maintainers) has a tutorial explaining the probabilistic model of record linkage used by Splink, if you’re interested in the internals.

Why is this work important? Being able to make effective energy policy often requires an understanding of the political economy of utilities, and utilities are often composed of Russian doll-like nested holding companies. It can be hard to see where one utility ends and another begins. Understanding which entities share ownership and thus political and economic interests is key to being able to grapple with and influence them.

We’ll be learning from prior work on this problem done by the folks at CorpWatch, and we hope to make the outputs of our work easy to visualize and explore through the Oligrapher interface that LittleSis has developed.

If this work is interesting or useful to you, we’d love to hear more about your use case! You can track our work through this GitHub Project. Also, while we are explicitly focused on and familiar with utilities, the SEC’s Form 10-K covers all publicly traded companies, so we may be producing additional data outputs that aren’t useful to us but which could be useful to others. If that’s you, please let us know.

Categories
updates

Summer 2023 Goals

We’ve been working on our goal-setting process at Catalyst, and want to share our high-level goals for the summer – these take us through September 2023.

Publish all data products as SQL tables

In the past, we’ve published data products in two ways: a large portion of our data was published in SQLite/Parquet files; the rest, including many of our analysis outputs, were calculated directly in the PudlTabl Python class. You could interact with the SQLite and Parquet data any way you wanted. However, to access the latter, you’d need to install the latest version of PUDL and all its dependencies. Maintaining that environment and managing the dependencies was an unnecessary barrier to data analysis.

You may have noticed, from our nightly builds, that more and more of the outputs from PudlTabl are stored directly in pudl.sqlite. We’ve been working on this transition for a few months, since the Dagster migration, and finally have just a few data products remaining: the MCOE outputs (heat_rate_by_unit, heat_rate_by-generator, fuel_cost_by_generator, capacity_factor_by_generator, and mcoe) and the plant parts list (mega_generators, plant_parts_eia). Soon, you’ll be able to access all of our data without installing the PUDL Python package!

This also means PudlTabl will soon be deprecated, and the preferred way to access our data will be through conventional SQL and Parquet tooling such as Datasette, SQLAlchemy, or RSQLite.

Integrate new datasets into PUDL

We also plan to integrate some shiny new datasets, starting with PHMSA data. This contains operational data about methane gas gathering, transmission, and distribution in the US. After a stretch of infrastructure investment, we’re excited to focus on the “integrate new datasets” part of our partnership with Sloan! We’re doubly excited to expand into the methane gas aspect of US energy system data.

Integrate 2022 data for existing datasets

We’re working with RMI to integrate the 2022 data from our existing datasets, such as FERC forms 1/2/6/60/714 and EIA forms 860/860m/861/923. Each year, new data brings new challenges, but this quarter we plan to build automation tooling to help us detect issues as they arise and reduce the manual work required each year. This will be especially important as the annual data reconciliation requirements will increase when we integrate new datasets. This year, we’re especially interested to see how the FERC XBRL data has changed since its debut in 2021. 

Support RMI’s financial modeling efforts

We are also pleased to provide development and architectural support for RMI’s Optimus financial modeling tool. Optimus can show utilities how IRA incentives make cleaner portfolios better long-term investments, aid commercial partners in quantifying the distributional impact of their electrification plans, and support advocates by showing how ratemaking can evolve to minimize the burden of the transition on LMI customers. We’re helping RMI revamp the engineering side of their system to support faster, more confident development of the model.

Apply automated entity matching techniques

We’ve been working with CCAI on entity-matching problems in the energy data space. So far, we’ve been experimenting with using Splink to match EIA and FERC plant IDs. This summer,  we’re hoping to bring that process into PUDL and generalize it to other problems such as inter-year FERC to FERC plant ID matching.

Meet new people and organizations!

Of course, we’re also looking to connect with exciting new people! We’re looking for new contributors, grant funders that are interested in PUDL development and maintenance, and organizations that could benefit from our blend of energy policy domain knowledge and data engineering/data science expertise. If that sparks any connections in your mind, please drop us a line at hello@catalyst.coop.