2023 Key Opportunities Webinar Summary
In Acadia Center’s most recent webinar, we discussed the most impactful work we undertook in 2023 and some of the projects in 2023 we believe will have the greatest effect in the fight for a livable climate and a stronger, more equitable economy.
First to present was Amy Boyd, Vice President of Climate & Clean Energy Policy. She highlighted many of the ways our work in 2022 sets us up for the work we are now pursuing in 2023. She broke down the major accomplishments Acadia Center achieved in 2022 by our 3 core themes: Research, Advocate, Implement.
We produced PowerHouse, a home energy simulator that provides state specific data that allows us to tell the emissions and costs of energy in single and small multifamily housing. With this information, we are able to show the environmental, health, and cost impacts that come from electrification or continued use of fossil fuels, as well as weatherization for our buildings. This allows us to persuasively advocate for better building regulations, electrification, and health standards for consumers, and works to counter the information that fossil fuel companies rely on to assert that electrification is too expensive.
We also published “The Future Is Electric” in February of 2022, which showed that electrification and weatherization would reduce operating costs of New Jersey homes and emissions substantially in the state. We were able to advocate for better incentive programs to make electrification and weatherization more accessible for consumers.
We were able to support and pass major bills in Rhode Island that will deliver 100% clean energy in the state by 2033, the earliest target in the nation. Half of RI’s load will be met through procurements for offshore wind and other clean energy can come through partnership with other states to build more clean energy transmission. Acadia Center was able to deliver on our advocacy here by calling attention to the urgency of the climate crisis with our partners and backing up our proposals with data and analytics.
We created the Beyond Gas Coalition, which brings together advocates to combine powers and bring forth comments that push for the phasing out of fossil fuels in electrifiable sectors.
Reforming Energy System Planning for Equity and Climate Transformation (RESPECT) highlights significant barriers the utility business model creates for driving change at the speed of the climate crisis. It proposes two key reforms: creating a statewide entity charged with implementing a state’s climate and equity goals, and integrated planning across fuels, utility territories, and other unnecessary silos.
Amy spoke at the Restructuring Roundtable and New England Conference of Public Utilities Commissioners about the issues raised by RESPECT and are continuing to push for changes to the utilities business model.
Acadia Center used its expertise on renewable natural gas and alternative fuels to fight back against gas companies’ attempts to justify expansion on the Liberty RNG docket and Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board.
Part of RESPECT was passed in Maine through LD1959, and we are introducing legislation to introduce RESPECT reforms in Massachusetts in 2023.
Additional 2022 highlights include:
- Being quoted in over 90 articles
- Made 10 podcast appearances
- Featured in 4 TV news segments
- Received 15,610 visitors on Twitter
- Got 355 mentions on Twitter
- Gained 200 followers on Twitter
Oliver Tully, Director of Utility Innovation and Reform was next to present on “Changing How Government & Utilities Work.” Our Utility Innovation initiative is focused on aligning utilities and energy policy with climate, consumer, and equity problems. We do so through 5 key strategies:
- Reforming Energy System Planning for Equity and Climate Transformation (RESPECT)
- Holding Public Utility Commissions (PUC) and state agencies accountable for advancing climate and environmental justice goals
- Reforming utility business models and incentives so they benefit the public
- Advancing grid modernization to enable a flexible and consumer-friendly energy system
- Advancing gas utility reform to phase-out fossil gas
Our primary goals of RESPECT specifically are:
- Align utility planning with climate, equity, environmental justice, and clean energy requirements
- Clarify the role of utilities and reduce risk for investments
- Maximize benefits to consumers and the grid by enabling non-biased planning
The utility regulatory system gives utilities far too much power, including planning the future of the grid, owning the infrastructure that gets built, and serving customers. By having a financial stake, utilities have a conflict of interest that increases costs for consumers. The planning today is often siloed and falls short of equity and environmental justice goals.
The RESPECT proposal breaks down siloes and fully incorporates climate and environmental justice impacts through comprehensive energy system planning, as well as creating independent statewide planning entities to enforce transparency and reducing conflicts of interest.
We are currently working on Maine’s PUC’s Integrated Grid Planning proceeding, which builds on “An Act Regarding Utility Accountability and Grid Planning for Maine’s Clean Energy Future” which passed in 2022. We are also building support for bills that would implement RESPECT reforms in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Lastly, we are anticipating an Integrated Distribution System Planning proceeding sometime this year in Connecticut and will be involved in ensuring effective change.
Next to speak was Paola Moncada Tamayo, Policy Analyst for Acadia Center. She discussed Multistate Cooperation and its ability to maximize impacts, reduce costs, and expand reach. Through a multistate cap-and-trade program called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, known as RGGI, 11 states are able to cap greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. RGGI states have seen a reduction of 64 million tons of carbon emissions since the program began. The proceeds from the quarterly auctions so far have generated $1.19 billion dollars, which go towards clean energy programs. So far, RGGI has produced $1.2 billion in energy bill savings, 31.4 million MMBtu of thermal energy saved, 1,400-1,500 new jobs created, and saved 3.4 million MWh of energy.
Acadia Center has been deeply engaged in RGGI’s development over the past 15 years. We are currently updating our RGGI 10 Year Program Review, which will analyze the effectiveness of the program, as well as its impact on environmental justice communities.
Last to present was Ben Butterworth, Director of Climate, Energy, and Equity Analysis. He discussed the future of the gas distribution system. Right now, the gas distribution system delivers gas to 41% of the homes in New England. This gas is used for space heating, water heating, cooking, and drying clothes. The big question Acadia Center is asking is whether the continued existence of the gas distribution system is compatible with achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The lowest cost path to net zero emissions is to electrify almost everything. This means building space heating, water heating, cooking, cars, and smaller trucks should all be pushed toward electrification, not natural gas. However, this presents a direct threat to the continued existence of the natural gas utilities. Gas utilities have been promoting the idea of replacing natural gas with “green hydrogen” and “renewable natural gas,” allowing their continued existence while still hitting climate targets. However, these “alternative fuels” are still expensive, limited in supply, prone to leaking, not carbon neutral, incompatible with current infrastructure, present safety issues, and are inefficient. These “alternative fuels” should be reserved for hard-to-electrify sectors like aviation and chemical production.
Acadia Center has been active in this current debate. In Massachusetts we participated in the DPU 20-80 Investigation Assessing the Future of Natural Gas. In Rhode Island, we are involved in the PUC 22-01-NG Investigation into the Future of Gas, which is similar to the work happening in Massachusetts. And lastly, in Connecticut, where we are part of the Comprehensive Energy Strategy and Hydrogen Task Force. Acadia Center brings to the table our excellent analysis and data, modeling, questioning of assumptions, and we aim to highlight how those problematic assumptions impact policy recommendations. We did so in Massachusetts Future of Gas Study, which we demonstrated was flawed due to its ignoring of lifecycle emissions, underestimation of methane leaks, usage of outdated science, and underestimation of future costs of alternative fuels. For 2023, our goal is to leverage data and analysis to ensure that state-level policies utilize the best available data and science to treat RNG and hydrogen in a fair and balanced manner.