Kallman, Kislak introduce bill to begin reducing carbon emissions from buildings

STATE HOUSE – When Rhode Island enacted the Act on Climate in 2021, the state committed to reducing its carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050. About 30% of those carbon emissions come from buildings, and Sen. Meghan E. Kallman and Rep. Rebecca Kislak have introduced legislation to transition the building sector toward meeting that commitment.

Emily Koo, senior policy advocate and Rhode Island program director of Acadia Center said, “The Building Decarbonization Act is an essential first step to transitioning our buildings away from fossil fuels in order to meet our state’s climate mandates. We cannot allow new buildings to lock in fossil fuel systems for decades to come. And by tracking energy usage and building performance, large public and private building owners can lower energy costs and chart a path toward investing in energy efficiency and electrification.”

To read the full press release from the State of Rhode Island General Assembly, click here.

RIDOT Establishes New Freeway Connection from I-95 to Quonset Business Park

Last month, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation received $81 million in federal funding to establish a new freeway connection between I-95 highway and Quonset Business Park, which will allow RIDOT to “complete the ‘missing move’ at the interchange of I-95 and Route 4,” according to the organization’s website.

Emily Koo ’13, the senior policy advocate and R.I. program director at the Acadia Center, believes that increasing public transportation within R.I. is one solution to carbon emissions and expressed disappointment that Route Qx is going to be eliminated.

She added, “fully connecting the entire state to the employment center of the Quonset Business Park must be tackled not only through a more direct connection to I-95, but also through frequent, reliable public transportation.”

“Rhode Island’s transportation sector is not on track to meeting its proportionate Act on Climate mandates to reduce emissions 45% by 2030 and to reach net zero emissions by 2050,” Koo said.

To read the full article from the Brown Daily Herald, click here.

Mass. drivers will save money charging EVs at night — but when and how much?

Charging electric vehicles in Massachusetts could get less expensive under a pair of utility proposals now under consideration, but advocates are arguing for tweaks they say would make the transition faster and more fair.

A 2022 state climate law requires the state’s two major electric companies, Eversource and National Grid, to submit proposals for so-called time-of-use rates offering lower prices to electric vehicle owners who charge their cars during times of lower demand hours. The utilities did so in August 2023, proposing off-peak rates they say could save users hundreds of dollars a year compared to basic service rates.

“We are very supportive of time-of-use rates, broadly speaking,” said Oliver Tully, director of utility innovation and reform at climate nonprofit the Acadia Center. “We want to make sure these initial plans are as strong as possible.”

Swing-state fights escalate over regional carbon trading program

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Virginia are fighting an increasingly intense battle over their states’ potential participation in a regional carbon trading market, putting the two swing states on the sidelines of a critical review that will shape the program’ s future.

New legislation in both states aims to determine whether they are in or out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, marking yet another round of volatility for a program that has already been the subject of court battles.

RGGI released an updated timeline for the review, which kicked off in 2021, extending it by nearly a year from its original estimated completion in January 2023 to December 2023 — yet it continues in 2024.

The delays are largely attributable to the uncertainties in the two states’ participation, said Paola Tamayo, policy analyst at Acadia Center, a climate advocacy nonprofit.

“It’s an indication of the sort of state versus regional tension that has persisted for a long time,” said Jamie Dickerson, senior director of climate and clean energy programs at Acadia Center. “But for all the frustrations of a little bit of a stop and start program review process, I think the RGGI states are still in it to win it. They’re seeing the benefits of the program.”

To read the full article from Politico, click here.

Getting Off Fossil Fuels Requires Transportation Makeover

Drastically and rapidly reducing the amount of fossil fuels we burn requires an all-out effort, from individuals and households to businesses and governments. For example, the state of Rhode Island is largely focused on implementable small projects that nibble around the emergency’s edges when what is needed is building big-impact efforts.

Those efforts need to start with the transportation sector, which accounts for nearly 40% of Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emissions — the state’s largest percentage of climate-changing pollution. Until we get serious about building an efficient and reliable public transit system and significantly reducing vehicle miles traveled, any progress we make with smaller but important efforts will be negated.

Jamie Dickerson, senior director of clean energy and climate programs for the Acadia Center, noted the complexity of my question.

“There are a number of instructive ways to break this question down. One could approach it by economic sector, from a societal or governmental perspective, or from an individual’s or household’s viewpoint,” he wrote. “In our answer, we’ve opted to interpret ‘we’ broadly, meaning we’ve highlighted universal pillars of action that all actors in our society — from policymakers to corporations and households — will need to pursue swiftly to transition us off our reliance on fossil fuels and drive down our emissions, both here in Rhode Island and across the region, nation, and globe.”

Dickerson noted that all five of the Acadia Center’s steps are “underway in some sense, but they all must be accelerated and expanded to avert the worst impacts of climate change.”

Maximize efficiency. Reduce energy consumption and vehicle miles traveled through vital investments in an energy-efficient building stock and a robust public transit system.

Deploy renewables. Build wind, solar, other renewables, and energy storage rapidly to green our electricity supply, aided by significant new transmission line capacity and grid-enhancing technologies to help even more green electrons flow through our power lines, existing and new.

Electrify our end uses. Decarbonize our buildings and vehicles, primarily by converting from combustion technologies — e.g., boilers and furnaces, internal combustion engine vehicles — to efficient, electric technologies such as air- and ground-source heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, thermal energy networks, electric vehicles, and zero-emission buses and trucks.

Build a flexible, dynamic grid. Revamp our utility regulatory system and our grid to be more intelligent and dynamic and to better harness the abundant new flexibility provided by distributed energy resources, from EV charging and heat pump hot water heaters to smart thermostats, solar+storage systems, and other grid-interactive technologies.

Invest and innovate. Invest in deploying cleaner energy in every sector of the economy via both the public and private sectors, and for the most challenging remaining sectors to decarbonize — heavy industry, shipping, aviation — we must support research and development for breakthrough technologies, pursue first-of-their-kind green procurements, and be a laboratory for piloting and demonstrating new solutions.

To read the full article from ecoRI, click here.

Where do all those Amazon EV delivery vans recharge?

Tucked away in the woods off I-495 at a warehouse in Bellingham, dozens of gray Amazon delivery vans spend the night side by side, plugged in to recharge.

The e-commerce giant is far in the lead in electrifying its commercial delivery fleet, and 67 of the new vans stationed in Bellingham make their rounds daily within a 30-mile radius. The electric vans, quieter than their gas-powered counterparts, arrived starting at the end of 2022. They were made by EV upstart Rivian and feature that California company’s recognizably cartoonish headlight design.

Electrifying delivery fleets, and commercial vehicles in general, should bring several benefits, including lowering greenhouse gas emissions, Kyle Murray, Massachusetts Program Director at the nonprofit Acadia Center in Boston. The state’s climate plans call for 25,000 electric trucks and buses on the roads by 2030.

“The commercial transportation sector is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,” Murray said. “It is critical that they transition to electric fleets as quickly as possible.”

To read the full article from the Boston Globe, click here.

Will NJ’s new goal mean homes need to replace boilers, furnaces with electric heat pumps?

New Jersey officials are tired of your old furnavce and boiler.

This month, they joined those from eight other states in setting a shared goal to have electric heat pumps provide roughly two-thirds of all residential-scale heating, air conditioning and water heating by 2030. By 2040, the goal is 90%.

The aim is to “reduce the carbon footprint of buildings,” which generate tens of millions of metric tons of CO2e greenhouse gases a year, said New Jersey Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette.

A 2022 report from Acadia Center found that electrification of heating systems could bring reductions of 20% or more to the average New Jersey homeowner’s utility bills. The report, commissioned by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, found that adding electric appliances and winterization strategies along with heat pumps could cut bills in half.

To read the full article from NorthJersey.com, click here.

Opinion: Performance-based regulation of utilities is key for CT’s energy future

At the direction of the General Assembly, Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority has been at the forefront of innovation, overseeing a comprehensive analysis of a Performance-Based Regulation (PBR) framework for our electric utilities.

PBR 一 a modern approach to regulating utilities that moves beyond outdated policies一 is designed to ensure utilities are responsive to public policy priorities and are operating most efficiently on behalf of customers.

This approach makes the utilities partners in reducing costs and can accelerate the achievement of Connecticut’s environmental and climate goals by supporting a clean and affordable energy system. Connecticut is not unique in examining the potential of PBR to improve utility performance. Several jurisdictions around the country have adopted this model, and others are looking to Connecticut’s proceeding as a potential model for their own efforts. We commend PURA for its leadership in moving PBR forward in Connecticut.

Under traditional utility regulation, utilities make money by getting a guaranteed rate of return (as high as 10% in the Northeast) on capital expenses such as poles, wires, and substations. This made sense when the electric grid was brand new and needed to expand rapidly in order to bring electricity to millions of homes. Today, with a mature and technologically sophisticated electricity grid, this approach no longer serves customers.

More efficient solutions like non-wires alternatives such as energy storage, demand response, and distributed solar generation, do not provide an additional rate of return (i.e. earn extra money), so utilities have a clear incentive to continue building and upgrading their infrastructure in a traditional way 一which can end up more financially attractive for the utility but more expensive for customers. Simply put, under traditional regulation, utilities need to spend money in order to earn money.

At the same time, utility performance is traditionally measured using a limited set of metrics around safety and reliability, with little consideration of customer satisfaction or how well the utility is planning for the inevitable clean energy transition. This incentivizes utilities to play it safe when planning for the future, erring on the side of overestimating demand growth, underestimating distributed energy resources, and underutilizing non-capital solutions 一 all of which leads to customers footing the bill for an overbuilt energy system.

Very little progress in innovation in utility compensation has been made. Utilities are still operating under a framework that was established at the turn of the 20th century.

Utilities in Connecticut need to be encouraged financially to align their actions and business decisions with the state’s policy goals 一 such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting customers, and promoting environmental justice. Performance-Based Regulation ties utility earnings more directly to their performance, such as reducing ratepayer costs and emissions or supporting the deployment of distributed energy resources. By advancing a PBR framework, PURA is helping to realize these goals and is establishing Connecticut as a leader.

By allowing regulators to better align utility revenues with improved performance, PBR can help overcome outdated incentives and reorient utilities towards solutions that can save customers money and deliver additional benefits compared to traditional investments, including electric system resilience in the wake of recent post-storm power restoration challenges.

PURA has expressed a commitment to exploring a broad set of potential regulatory tools to support the PBR goals that stakeholders agreed to as part of the proceeding: improving utility operational performance; supporting public policy goals; empowering customers; and enabling reasonable, equitable, and affordable rates.

Throughout the proceeding, however, the utilities have consistently expressed skepticism and raised fears that PBR will jeopardize their businesses. These concerns are unsupported and are a distraction from the overdue effort of modernizing utility regulation for a meaningful and positive impact for customers. Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York have already employed performance incentive mechanisms and other PBR tools. Now, Connecticut has the opportunity to go beyond those states and demonstrate the full potential of PBR to the rest of the country.

Since taking the reins at PURA in 2019, Chair Marissa Gillett has overseen an impressive suite of regulatory dockets designed to improve the utilities’ distribution system planning and establish greater responsiveness and public transparency. PURA’s Equitable Modern Grid proceedings have established a framework to advance energy affordability, improve grid resilience and reliability, and support the cost-effective transition to a decarbonized future. PBR is important for establishing a firm foundation upon which these transformative initiatives can continue to flourish. Rather than stick to the status quo, Chair Gillet has embraced the challenge of evolving the regulatory space to meet the needs of today. Her leadership is helping Connecticut succeed in achieving the ambitious and imperative energy goals that will take us to a cleaner, more just future.

Utility shareholders cannot continue to dominate the conversation about Connecticut’s climate and clean energy future. The role that utilities play in advancing the public policy goals established by the legislature must evolve so that they no longer create barriers to a clean energy transition, but act as true partners in enabling a healthier and more affordable future. We applaud PURA for its efforts in making this vision a reality.

Oliver Tully is Director of Utility Innovation and Accountability at the Acadia Center. Charles Rothenberger is a climate and energy attorney at Save the Sound.

Op-Ed: Don’t give gas utilities a blank check to pursue dubious ‘alternative fuels’

The gas industry is trying to take New Jersey in the wrong direction on climate action. While other states are preparing consumers and workers to reduce reliance on natural gas, politicians in Trenton are considering legislation that would give gas utilities a blank check to pursue dubious, harmful “alternative fuels” that would only entrench our aging fossil fuel system further. 

The fact is, residents across the Northeast are increasingly turning to the health, economic and climate benefits of highly efficient electric equipment such as heat pumps and ditching their gas service. Research from Acadia Center shows that amid rising gas rates, New Jerseyans can save money when they swap out their gas HVACs for electric heat pumps. On the high end, New Jersey Natural Gas customers can save 41% of their annual energy bill by making the switch, while South Jersey Gas customers would save 32%. And soon, New Jersey residents will be able to access thousands of dollars in rebates and incentives to adopt the latest clean-energy technologies, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act and new state incentive programs. 

To read the full article from NJ Spotlight News, click here.

Utility Innovation: 2023 Highlights and 2024 Look-Ahead

2023 was a noteworthy year for transformative utility policies in the Northeast. Acadia Center was actively involved across the region, participating in regulatory proceedings, submitting testimony on legislation, and building support among policymakers and other partners on key reforms.

Here are a few highlights from the year:

  • The Future of the Gas Utility Becomes Clearer. The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) issued a groundbreaking order in its Future of Gas (DPU 20-80-B) proceeding. The Order sets a clear path forward for building electrification, more coordinated planning across gas and electric utilities, and more comprehensive consideration of solutions that avoid the need for fossil gas pipeline infrastructure. The Order also set the stage for a recently opened proceeding on energy burden and affordability (DPU 24-15). We expect this decision to serve as a model for other states as they consider the future of the gas utility.
  • Performance-Based Regulation Moves Ahead in Connecticut. Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) made significant strides in designing a Performance-Based Regulation framework for the state’s electric utilities. While a final decision won’t occur until later in 2024, PURA has led a robust stakeholder process as it considers a wide range of potential regulatory tools to better align utility performance with climate, clean energy, and equity priorities.
  • Maine and Connecticut Advance Restrictions on the Use of Ratepayer Funding for Utility Lobbying. Maine (LD 325) and Connecticut (SB 7) joined Colorado in placing restrictions on the use of ratepayer funds to support utility lobbying efforts and trade association dues, both of which can mask activities that work in direct opposition to ratepayer and consumer interests.
  • Integrated Distribution System Planning (IDSP) Picks Up Steam. Connecticut, Maine, and New York all made progress in moving forward with Integrated Distribution System Planning processes. The proliferation of distributed energy resources, the increasingly dynamic nature of the grid and energy production, and the implementation of essential laws and policies related to emissions, equity, and resiliency all mean that utilities can no longer plan for future grid investments in a siloed and uncoordinated manner. States have made some progress on integrated planning efforts that cut across silos and require utilities to consider grid needs and solutions in a much more holistic way.
  • States Push Non-Wires Alternatives Forward. Non-wires alternatives (NWA) refer to technologies and services— such as energy efficiency, demand response, energy storage, solar PV, and microgrids—that can delay or defer traditional transmission and distribution infrastructure investment. NWA can consist of individual technologies or a portfolio of resources that meet a grid need in a more cost-effective way than traditional “wires and poles” solutions. Non-wires alternatives have the potential to provide significant benefits to ratepayers and grid operators because they help to avoid the need to pay for significant infrastructure investments that may become unnecessary in the future. Connecticut’s Non-Wires Solutions program is a notable example of a state working to make NWA business-as-usual investments for utilities.
  • States Begin Testing Alternative Gas Utility Business Models. Massachusetts and New York are among several states in the country that are moving forward with pilots for thermal energy network projects, testing potential new future revenue streams for gas utilities as states accelerate progress on electrification.
  • Maine Hits Heat Pump Target Two Years Early. In 2019, Governor Janet Mills set a 100,000 by 2025 heat pump target, and the state met that goal two years early in July 2023. Governor Mills has since established a new target of another 175,000 heat pumps in Maine by 2027. Maine also recently joined Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, and several other states in committing to meet 65% of future residential HVAC needs using heat pumps by 2030.

As we look ahead to 2024, Acadia Center is gearing up for several key opportunities and challenges across the Northeast:

  • Smart rate design to support electrification and affordability will become increasingly important as the cost of necessary grid investments accelerates. Setting utility rates and allocating costs and revenues across utility customers are central, but complicated, components of utility regulation. As states electrify and DERs multiply, smart rate design is essential to ensure that customers face the right price signals and that costs and benefits are equitably distributed. Regulators and utilities will need to prioritize solutions to address energy burden and affordability as they consider how utility rates can best be utilized to support the clean energy transition.
  • As more states explore Integrated Distribution System Planning, advocates are working to ensure effective IDSP plans and transparent stakeholder processes. Maine and Connecticut are just two states undertaking integrated grid planning efforts. Advocates will work throughout 2024 to ensure that utility planning efforts are comprehensive and accurately capture DER benefits while allowing for robust stakeholder review and input. We will also push for legislation in other states such as Rhode Island to implement an IDSP process.
  • Translating the success of the Massachusetts DPU 20-80-B Order elsewhere. Acadia Center and other advocates will work to ensure a similarly successful outcome as DPU 20-80-B in other Future of Gas Proceedings (such as Rhode Island’s). We will push for other states to open their own proceedings to assess the future of the gas utility and for existing proceedings to support coordinated electric-gas planning efforts.
  • Advocates are working to ensure the successful implementation of Performance-Based Regulation in Connecticut and pushing for legislation requiring PBR in Maine. 2024 will see the conclusion of Connecticut’s comprehensive PBR proceeding, and we and others are working to ensure a successful outcome. We are also working on legislation to implement PBR in other jurisdictions, such as Maine.
  • States will continue to explore thermal energy utility models and expand pilot projects. As states consider the role of the gas utility in the clean energy transition, increasing attention will be paid to new business models that create opportunities to move from utilities that primarily sell gas to businesses that provide a range of thermal energy services. By reorienting the scope of traditional gas utilities, states can help to accelerate building electrification while continuing to utilize the expertise and skills that gas utilities bring to the effort.