In an unprecedented time of change and uncertainty, the suspension of many functions of government and imposition of social distancing has resulted in a surprising amount of creative and effective interactions among stakeholders, government agencies, and coalitions. Moving to online, virtual meetings has presented opportunities to interact with new audiences and deepen relationships with stakeholders.
Acadia Center’s experience with online collaboration across its offices has prepared the organization well for this transition to virtual public hearings and stakeholder processes. The crisis has reinforced our commitment to advance effective, equitable reform solutions across the region and has prompted our staff to generate new ideas for innovative virtual engagement opportunities where physical barriers may have previously been limiting.
In Connecticut, just as the historic health and safety directives were put in place in March to cancel all in person events, Acadia Center and allies shifted a long-planned forum on the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) to an online webinar format. The result was excellent: the forum was attended by over 80 diverse participants, including business, community leaders, legislators, and administration officials. The event focused on how the TCI program structure could work, how to extend its benefits to all people in the state, and emphasized economic and employment benefits, exceeding its goal to move the discussion forward on implementing a sound transportation and climate policy for the state.
Official government work also shifted to online formats. In Rhode Island, Acadia Center RI Director Hank Webster participated in an “Energy 101” panel for members of the recessed General Assembly and spoke to Leadership Rhode Island’s first ever virtual “Government Day” about the legislative process and climate/energy issues. Hank also commented during the first-ever video conference meeting of the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Committee. An important state stakeholder process designed make recommendations to Governor Raimondo on ways to transform building heating in the state to cleaner resources also moved online, allowing stakeholders including Acadia Center the opportunity to provide verbal and written comments ahead of a final report. And in Maine, the Governor’s Climate Council process – an ambitious effort to engage numerous stakeholders to recommend an effective climate plan for the state –shifted rapidly online as the state phased in social distancing requirements, allowing the tight schedule for the process to remain in place. Acadia Center responded by working remotely with coalition partners on policy development, outreach, and communications strategies related to buildings, energy, forestry, and transportation.
In Massachusetts, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Katie Theoharides hosted an online briefing and coalition communications have continued without significant interruption. Acadia Center steered advocacy within coalitions such as the Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions (ACES), the Global Warming Solutions Project (GWSP), and the Massachusetts Offshore Wind Power Coalition. Acadia Center continued to lead input in shaping the Baker Administration’s approaches to offshore wind and state carbon targets. Acadia Center and a broad coalition have been focused on ways to strengthen the Global Warming Solutions Act, leading to passage of a strong Senate bill and a commitment from the Baker Administration in January of 2020 to a net-zero carbon target in 2050. Acadia Center will closely track and comment on the forecasts and roadmap development that continues to progress as stakeholder engagement uses remote formats.
The New England Power Pool (NEPOOL), the governance body engaged in overseeing the region’s electricity grid, maintained its regular schedule using virtual tools. As a member of NEPOOL, Acadia Center is engaged in the upcoming Transition to the Future Grid analysis being undertaken to address the barriers faced by clean energy resources in the current electricity grid design. Acadia Center’s Deborah Donovan coordinated with other clean energy advocates to ensure NEPOOL’s rejection of a flawed proposal to modify energy markets in ways that would harm consumers and further bias clean energy.
Acadia Center also raised its voice to address directly ways the crisis was affecting key programs. For example, all residential energy efficiency and weatherization work was ordered to be stopped early in March in Connecticut, causing a wide range of impacts including on the vendor community performing the efficiency installations. No resources were being offered to assist the contractors or workers but as chair of the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Board (CEEB), Acadia Center Connecticut Director Amy McLean was able to raise questions about ways to relieve the burden of the contractors and keep them from going under during the pandemic. As a result of action at the CEEB, the state issued a formal ruling on April 24, 2020 outlining compensation eligibility for energy efficiency vendors.
State Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) regulate the rates and services of public utilities that provide electricity, gas, sewage, or water. These governing bodies formed to provide oversight to utilities to whom they have granted monopoly markets. Generally, the mission of PUCs is to approximate the prices of a competitive market, which requires balancing the needs of consumers and the utility. Traditionally, PUCs are charged to keep rates low, ensure reliable supply, and allow utilities the opportunity to earn a profit on their business.
To make swift progress on climate goals, we must change the way PUCs respond to clean energy and climate efforts.
With a vast array of effective clean energy technologies existing today, regulatory changes can revolutionize how energy is delivered and consumed in the time of this climate crisis. Currently, PUCs operate in ways that fail to treat clean energy resources on a level playing field, often furthering the region’s dependence on fossil fuels. These regulatory bodies have the potential to advance a low-carbon future, but outdated mandates keep them from doing so.
For example, National Grid, Rhode Island’s only electric and gas utility, filed a stakeholder-supported plan in 2019 with the state’s PUC. The plan recommended using the state energy efficiency program to install heat pumps in oil and propane heated homes. The PUC denied that provision, ruling that the benefits to electric customers —including lower rates and climate and health benefits —did not outweigh the costs. The PUC reached this conclusion in part because it could not consider the benefits to oil and propane customers – including lower bills and improved indoor air quality. In general, PUCs throughout the Northeast are required to focus on rate impacts, rather than addressing a more complete assessment of ratepayer benefits, including meeting state climate goals and utilizing clean technologies to improve indoor air quality or provide other consumer benefits that overall lower bills. As a result, the additional consumer, health, economic and equity benefits that can be achieved through climate action are often overlooked in cost comparisons.
Acadia Center advocates for regulatory changes that benefit the climate and consumer.
Too often, clean alternatives —including clean heating— are harmed by the PUC mandates, slowing down the transition to a clean energy economy. As evident in the Rhode Island example, a view that considers only the short-term rate impacts misses the potential future costs of energy investments that lean heavily on fossil fuels. These costs will accrue to utilities and ratepayers in the form of more-expensive grid hardening expenses and storm recovery from increasingly common extreme weather, and to all of us in the form of costs of disaster response and recovery. PUC enabling statutes throughout the Northeast do not appropriately account for these continued impacts and are misaligned with the states’ push for dramatic emission reductions. These statutes are overdue for reform. If we were to update the enabling statutes to clarify the PUCs’ responsibility to regulate in alignment with state policy goals, we could require consideration of the full costs of energy investments in all decisions and mandate minimizing climate impacts. This would allow utility regulators to make decisions that support greenhouse gas reduction and consider climate change impacts, and that appropriately value societal health impacts, job creation, improved reliability, and other quantifiable costs and benefits. This screen could minimize long-term costs to ratepayers from climate and other impacts that now fall outside the scope of the PUCs’ prime responsibility in just keeping the cost of energy low. Implementation of this change would require updating cost-benefit tests to utilize a consistent set of total costs and benefits, including those borne or received by society, the environment, or consumers as described above. This can ensure that PUC decisions continue to benefit today’s customers, but not at the expense of future customers.
Even as emissions have come down, electricity rates have fallen by an average of 3.4 percent in the nine states, according to the Acadia Center, an energy research and advocacy organization. And the economies of the nine states have grown faster than the economy of the rest of the country.
Read the full editorial at The New York Times here
“This is what climate leadership looks like,” said Peter Shattuck, director of the Acadia Center in Massachusetts. “Despite the misguided and irresponsible decision to pull the US out of the Paris agreement, states and regions continue to lead, and these improvements put Massachusetts and other RGGI states in the vanguard of climate action.”
In a report last year, the Acadia Center found RGGI states reduced emissions by 16 percent more than other states, while the region’s economy had grown 3.6 percent more than the rest of the country. At the same time, energy prices had fallen by an average of 3.4 percent, while electricity rates in other states rose by 7.2 percent.
Boston, MA – A bipartisan coalition of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Governors today committed to extending and strengthening their landmark climate cooperative, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The agreement places RGGI states – which collectively comprise the 6th largest economy in the world, ahead of France, India and Brazil 1 – in the vanguard of climate action following the Trump administration’s misguided decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord.
“RGGI governors today showed what real leadership looks like,” said Daniel Sosland, president of Acadia Center. “The Trump Administration has turned the federal government’s back on the historic opportunity to build a clean energy future that reduces climate pollution, and the need to safeguard consumers and the climate has shifted to the states and regions. Strengthening RGGI is critical to demonstrating the benefits of climate action and filling the void of irresponsible federal policy.”
RGGI governors announced a number of improvements that will reduce carbon pollution by over 132 million tons through 2030, the equivalent of taking over 28 million cars off the road for a year:
Extending the pollution cap to 2030, when it would decline 30% from 2020 levels
Conducting a further downward cap adjustment of approximately 25 million tons to account for surplus banked emissions allowances
Higher ceiling prices for emissions allowances
Creation of an innovative Emissions Containment Reserve to soak up extra allowances that go unsold at regional auctions
“Strengthening RGGI is one of the most effective and important steps to tackle climate pollution,” said Peter Shattuck, Director of Acadia Center’s Clean Energy Initiative. “Market based policies unleash the innovation and investment needed to achieve state climate targets and the goals of the Paris Agreement, and RGGI has shown just how well smart climate policy works.”
Since its inception, RGGI has been an unparalleled success.
Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the region have dropped 40%, while participating states’ economies have grown by 25%. 2
Electricity prices have declined 3.4% in RGGI states since the program launched, compared with a 7.2% increase in electricity prices for states yet to act on climate. 3
RGGI has added over 30,000 jobs to the regional workforce. 4
Declining emissions from CO2 have been accompanied by reductions in other hazardous pollutants, making the air cleaner and avoiding $5.7 billion in healthcare impacts. 5
Op-ed by Daniel Sosland and Peter Rothstein in Mass Live.
Since President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, business leaders, environmental organizations and public officials across the nation have expressed concern for the impact on our climate and economy. The momentum we’ve achieved in building our nation’s renewable and clean energy sector must now be picked up by forward-looking states, cities and businesses around the country. Massachusetts is in a unique position to be a leader in this effort.
Massachusetts has a long history of using policy to bolster renewable and advanced clean energy deployment and innovation. Massachusetts was one of the first states in the nation to enact a comprehensive regulatory program to address climate change with 2008’s Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). Last year, the Commonwealth built upon this leadership with the Energy Diversity Act, supporting offshore wind and other clean energy generation.
These progressive policies and investments in the state’s growing clean energy hub have paid off with strong economic results. A report from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center found that the Commonwealth’s clean energy economy currently employs more than 105,000 people at over 6,700 companies, representing $11.8 billion in investment.
We know the policy tools and technologies needed to reduce climate pollution and accelerate clean energy adoption. Acadia Center’s EnergyVision 2030 shows that deploying a range of market-ready consumer technologies such as electric vehicles and efficient heat pumps to warm and cool buildings can deliver deep emissions reductions over the next 13 years when paired with policies to clean up the power grid.
A report from NECEC found that strengthening one of these policies – a requirement for utilities to purchase clean energy under the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) – would create thousands of jobs across the region, lower wholesale electricity prices and put us on track to meet our ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Boosting the RPS will also provide long-term market stability and position the Commonwealth to build on its strengths in innovation and advanced manufacturing to capture a significant part of the trillion-dollar global clean energy market.
Massachusetts also needs to modernize its energy grid to support the growth of renewables and empower consumers and communities to control energy usage and costs by adopting clean technologies. Customers need to be provided with information on building energy usage to inform decisions. Barriers to electric vehicles, clean heating technologies and solar energy (in the form of net metering caps) must be removed. And policies must make the benefits of these technologies accessible to all consumers, including low-income families. Pricing carbon will unleash the power of the market to reduce emissions, particularly in the transportation sector, which is now Massachusetts’ largest source of climate pollution. For new and promising technologies such as energy storage, meaningful targets must be paired with enforcement mechanisms and tax incentives to speed deployment.
Policymakers are not solely responsible for driving the clean energy economy. The private sector recognizes that renewable energy is not only good for the planet – it’s good for a company’s bottom line. Renewable energy saved Boston-area hospitals $15 million in just a four-year period – enough to pay for 1,357 of the state’s Medicare enrollees. Big energy consumers like Cambridge-based cloud computing service Akamai are choosing renewables, which will power half the company’s global network operations by 2030.
Here in Massachusetts, we’ve already shown the rest of the country and the world what we can do when city and state governments work hand-in-hand with the business community and the support of the public to pursue clean and cost-effective energy solutions. Given the diminishing support from the federal government to advance a clean energy future, we must work even harder to implement smart energy policies at the state and regional level that grow jobs, drive regional competitiveness and build on the Northeast’s reputation as a clean energy and climate leader. With the leadership void left by our federal government, this work is more important than ever.
Peter Rothstein is president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council.
“All the evidence points to the fact that RGGI’s working well, it’s been a great success since its inception,” says Peter Shattuck, director of the Clean Energy Initiative at the Acadia Center, an an environmental policy group with offices in Maine and around the northeast.
“[Since RGGI’s 2009 startup] carbon pollution is down 40 percent, electricity prices are down 3 percent, and at the same time [the participating] states’ economies have grown by 25 percent,” he says.
“This is an opportunity and a necessity to fill that void. And this is not uncharted territory for RGGI itself,” Shattuck says. “It was conceived during the 2000’s when the Bush administration was not acting on climate and a bipartisan group of governors came together and formed the program.”
Listen to the whole interview from Maine Things Considered on Maine Public Radio here.
Boston – Low emissions and a growing surplus of allowances kept prices modest in the latest Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) auction. All 15,089,652 available allowances were sold at a clearing price of $4.53, which is 14% lower than the previous auction and 18% lower than the clearing price from one year ago. The RGGI states raised $68,356,124 dollars from Auction 32, and have now raised $2.52 billion for reinvestment since the program began, the majority of which has been used to fund energy efficiency and other consumer benefit programs. As energy ministers from around the globe gather to discuss means of implementing the Paris Agreement, RGGI provides a successful model for reducing power sector emissions. With forward-looking improvements through the 2016 Program Review, RGGI will help member states makes progress toward achieving their long-term emissions reduction commitments.
The Auction 32 results show a continuation of the decline of RGGI allowance prices that began following the Supreme Court’s stay of the Clean Power Plan in February. In the absence of a ruling on the Clean Power Plan’s merits or an indication from the RGGI states about the program’s future, the Auction 32 clearing price was primarily determined by market fundamentals. Emissions reductions have outpaced the trajectory of the RGGI cap, while surplus allowances purchased from the cost containment reserve have inflated supply. Considering the substantial allowance surplus that exists (130 million allowances through 2015), the modest price of $4.53/ton suggests an expectation of a sustained oversupply of allowances. Whether the RGGI states take further action to address this oversupply going forward will be determined in the coming months through the 2016 RGGI Program Review.
“The RGGI states used the previous program review to address the oversupplied market, and this time should be no different” said Acadia Center President, Daniel Sosland.
“Reducing the cap and adjusting for banked allowances were major improvements, but the market remains oversupplied due to a story that is beginning to sound repetitive” said Jordan Stutt, Policy Analyst with Acadia Center. “Emissions continue to decline more quickly than expected, with emissions reductions occurring at lower costs than projected. Accurately accounting for these trends during the program review will result in a stronger program for the future.”
“Despite this relatively low clearing price, RGGI auctions continue to generate significant revenue for investment in energy efficiency and clean energy programs,” said Peter Shattuck, Director of Acadia Center’s Clean Energy Initiative. “By establishing ambitious cap levels through 2030 the RGGI states will encourage a meaningful price on carbon emissions, supporting auction revenue for local energy improvements.”
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is the first mandatory, market-based effort in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states reduce CO2 emissions by setting an overall limit on emissions “allowances” which permit power plants to dispose of CO2 in the atmosphere. States sell allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in consumer benefit programs: energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other programs.
Acadia Center is a non-profit, data-driven research and advocacy organization committed to advancing the clean energy future. Acadia Center is at the forefront of efforts to build clean, low-carbon and consumer-friendly economies. Acadia Center provides accurate and reliable information, and offers a real-world and comprehensive approach to problem solving through innovation and collaboration.
…The state is legally required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020. But new analysis by the Acadia Center shows the state’s total greenhouse gas pollution has increased almost 4.5 percent since 2012. Jamie Howland, director of Acadia’s Climate and Energy Analysis Center, says that follows what had been an eight-year trend of overall reductions. “2012 was the lowest year for emissions and so, in 2013 and 2014, emissions are now above that – and I think clearly above the 2020 target as well,” he says…
Later this year, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states will determine the future of the successful, first-in-the-nation climate program for the power sector, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The most important decision centers on the cap level, the primary indicator of the program’s environmental ambition. Before the RGGI states ultimately decide on a post-2020 cap level, however, they will model the impacts of a range of possible cap scenarios. It is with that range in mind that the Collaborative for RGGI Progress (“the Collaborative”) urged the RGGI states to broaden their proposed scope of modeling when they submitted comments last week.
The Collaborative is a unique coalition that includes two of the region’s largest power generators (Calpine and Exelon), one of the largest utilities (National Grid), and environmental organizations (Acadia Center and Natural Resources Defense Council). By finding common ground among diverse interests, the Collaborative seeks to propel balanced policy that advances RGGI states’ climate leadership.
At a February meeting in Delaware, the RGGI states proposed to model just two scenarios: one that reflects doing the bare minimum to comply with the requirements of the Clean Power Plan (see “Model Run #1” in the figure below), and a second that essentially continues the current RGGI cap trajectory of 2.5% per year through 2030 (see “Model Run #2” in the figure)¹. The Collaborative commends the RGGI states for modeling these two scenarios, but also requests the modeling of two more ambitious scenarios:
A 5% annual reduction per year from the 2020 cap level from the electric sector from 2021 to 2030 (the green line in the figure); and
A scenario that aligns electric industry emissions reductions with RGGI states’ shared commitment to 80% economy-wide GHG reduction targets by 2050.
The 5% annual reduction scenario would provide the states with more information on options for achieving deep, economy-wide emissions reduction commitments, and there is ample quantitative justification to model this specific scenario. As discussed in more detail in more detailed comments to RGGI, Inc. by NRDC, an annual 5% reduction from 2020-2030 would be on par with the actual emissions reductions that have occurred since RGGI began in 2009. RGGI has also generated billions of dollars in economic benefits since 2009, and modeling of a similar emissions reduction trajectory going forward will enable states to assess the impacts of continuing along a comparable glide path. RGGI modeling should also be used to evaluate the contribution that the program can make to achieve the RGGI states’ ambitious, long-term, economy-wide GHG reduction targets. A recent analysis from Synapse Energy Economics indicates that the most cost-effective pathway to achieving those targets translates to annual RGGI cap reductions of approximately 5% from 2020-2030. While the RGGI modeling will not encompass the building and transportation sectors – as Synapse’s analysis did – it affords an opportunity to evaluate how far the electric sector can go toward achieving multi-sector requirements.
This is not the first time that stakeholders have asked the RGGI states to model this 5% cap scenario; in previously submitted comments, environmental advocates, public health groups, clean energy companies and a representative of Fortune 500 businesses have all made compelling cases for the inclusion of this modeling run. However, these comments from the Collaborative represent the first time that RGGI compliance entities and electric utilities have weighed in to support this modeling.
The request is simple, the justification is clear, and the support is abundant. If the RGGI states intend to achieve their long term goals, they need to begin considering the pathways that will actually get them there. Modeling the impacts of a cap that declines by 5% of the 2020 level each year through 2030 is a key step in that process.
¹ From 2014 -2020, the cap declines annually by 2.5% of the preceding year’s cap level, while the proposed trajectory from 2020-2030 would be an annual decline of 2.5% from the 2020 level. The proposed 2.5% cap through 2030 would also eliminate the cost containment reserve and prohibit the use of offsets.
Jordan Stutt is a Policy Analyst in Acadia Center’s Boston office. He works on energy, transportation and climate change issues, with an emphasis on research and policy analysis for energy systems and carbon markets. He was an Energy Policy Analyst at Pace Energy and Climate Center, Pace University Law School in White Plains, NY, where he focused on energy efficiency and RGGI.
Peter Shattuck is Director of Acadia Center’s Massachusetts office and Clean Energy Initiative. Peter’s work at Acadia Center focuses on cleaning up the energy supply across all sectors of the economy. Driving market-based emissions reductions is at the core of this work, using cap and trade policies such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which Acadia Center has tracked since the program’s early development in the 2000s.