Maine Legislative Update

Maine policymakers wrapped up its two-year 130th Legislature in May 2022, completing one of the “most productive environmental and energy legislatures in more than 30 years,” according to one environmental advocate.

During the first year, Acadia Center wrote and championed legislation requiring the Maine Public Utilities Commission to include achieving the state greenhouse gas reduction targets as a primary mission. The bill opened the door for state agencies to take actions that consider equity and environmental justice goals in all state policy, programmatic, and regulatory decisions. Maine implemented key Climate Action Plan goals like eliminating HFCs, promoting offshore wind, setting appliance standards, and increasing weatherization funding; expanded electrification for building heating and transportation; and bills to incentive renewables, energy storage, microgrids, and other non-wires alternatives in Maine’s electricity grid.

With such a successful 2021, we expected 2022 to involve smaller-scale wins – but we had some big ones, too. Legislators passed bills to protect and conserve natural lands and waters and carbon storage opportunities. They enacted legislation to ensure renewable energy project siting is streamlined and transparent and avoids negative impacts to natural resources, including agricultural lands and forests. Policymakers funded climate education for schools, students; and teachers; established a Climate Corp for workforce development and energy projects; mandated carbon neutrality in Maine by 2045; made zoning and land use changes to increase affordable, efficient housing opportunities; set targets for electric vehicle fleet procurement in schools and towns; and provided tax incentives for clean energy projects, such as energy storage and energy-efficient buildings.

Acadia Center and its partners also took the lead on two substantial steps forward toward a clean energy future that benefits everyone.

  1. LD 1959 – An Act Regarding Utility Accountability and Grid Planning for Maine’s Clean Energy Future. Governor Mills introduced this bill in early 2022 to hold Maine’s electric utilities accountable to ratepayers for their performance. For months, Acadia Center worked with the Governor’s Office, legislators, the Public Advocate, environmental groups, and others to improve the bill. Acadia Center introduced language that implements the first half of our RESPECT plan – conducting comprehensive, all-fuels planning through a process involving stakeholder review and transparency. In the end, LD 1959 represents considerable progress in holding utilities accountable and initiating serious integrated grid planning for a reliable, clean, and affordable electricity grid, whether its investor or consumer owned utilities who are distributing the electrons through the wires. In an era of sky-high electricity prices and climate pollution, legislators chose not to leave Augusta without holding the state’s two utility-owned investors, Central Maine Power and Versant, accountable for their future performance and impacts on ratepayers. Instead, they embraced an all-encompassing, long-term, strategic grid planning process to modernize Maine’s electricity and engaging all stakeholders in designing, building, and operating a clean energy grid of the future. This was one of the most significant climate accomplishments of this legislative session.
  2. LD 2018 – An Act to Implement Recommendations Regarding the Incorporation of Equity Considerations in Regulatory Decision Making. This bill was a direct result of Acadia Center’s 2021 bill requiring the Governor’s Office to evaluate equity considerations in state-government decision making. It makes PUC proceedings more accessible to Maine people and requires the PUC to develop an environmental justice plan; requires the DEP to adopt rules establishing procedures to ensure that persons in environmental justice populations and frontline communities are provided with fair and equitable access to the department’s decision-making processes; and establishes definitions for “environmental justice,” “frontline communities” and related terminology. LD 2018 moves Maine forward in its commitment to environmental justice and a clean and safe carbon-neutral economy that benefits all people.

Acadia Center is already looking forward to 2023 and hopes to keep pushing to make this decade count for utility business model innovation, clean transportation, clean heating and next generation energy efficiency, grid modernization and transmission, offshore wind, and more.

D.P.U. 20-80 (Future of Gas)

Back in June of 2020, Attorney General Maura Healey posed the question to the Department of Public Utilities – how does the business model of natural gas distribution utilities (or LDCs, as they’re called in industry parlance) need to change in order to allow the state to meet its climate goals of net zero by 2050?  The resulting proceeding, D.P.U. Docket 20-80, Investigation by the Department of Public Utilities on its own Motion into the role of gas local distribution companies as the Commonwealth achieves its target 2050 climate goals, is also known as the Future of Gas. In the last year, there have been several developments in the docket, including stakeholder input on scenarios and models produced by hired consultants, the LDCs developing Net Zero Enablement Plans based upon those models, and a comment period opened by the D.P.U. on alternative regulatory proposals. Acadia Center has been actively involved since the stakeholder process began in May 2021, and recently submitted comments in response to this request from the Department.

Modeling Issues

Acadia Center found multiple troubling flaws in the Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) analysis that underpinned the LDCs’ regulatory proposals. Ultimately, the LDCs asked the Department to adopt a lot of regulatory changes in line with the Efficient Gas and Hybrid Electrification scenarios that rely heavily on using “renewable” natural gas, hydrogen, and synthetic natural gas in LDC pipelines. But these scenarios that rely heavily on alternative gases are likely to emit far more GHG emissions, cost ratepayers billions more, and be far more difficult to implement than assumed in E3’s study. The difference between E3’s modeling assumptions and the expert consensus on topics including the GHG intensity of RNG, future availability of alternative fuel supplies, and the future cost of alternative fuels is so significant that it calls into question many of the conclusions – and the LDCs’ regulatory proposals to use these fuels in their pipes. Finally, even if RNG, SNG, and hydrogen can feasibly be used to perpetuate use of the LDCs’ systems into the future, as a policy matter, they should not be.

Fundamentally, the transition should center on technologies that we know are safe, effective, and available – in other words, electrification through air- and ground-source heat pumps and geothermal technologies. The Department should not begin to introduce gas alternatives into pipelines that serve consumers’ homes and businesses without substantial additional research into safety and health impacts. This docket is not just about scenarios, regulations, costs, and carbon. It’s also about how the people of the Commonwealth will be kept warm and safe by their government and trusted utilities in 2050 and beyond. We know that the use of methane (either natural gas or RNG) in homes, especially in cooking, is far more harmful to occupants’ health than previously understood. We know that hydrogen is a highly combustible fuel that poses a significant safety risk in the context of residential and commercial buildings. The Department must, as one of its first obligations, keep consumers and the Commonwealth safe. Pursuant to the precautionary principle, it is better to wait until RNG, SNG, and hydrogen technologies’ use indoors are firmly understood before we begin even pilots that allow them to be introduced in pipelines at the concentrations contemplated by the LDCs.

Acadia Center Proposal

As an overarching theme to Acadia Center’s comments, decarbonizing the economy of Massachusetts, and particularly our buildings, is not optional. We cannot fail. Nor can we afford to wait and put off decisions to future generations, especially given the rapid pace of climate change already observable in Massachusetts.  The transition may be expensive – but the cost is insignificant compared to the cost of the climate crisis itself.

This transition will require all players – utilities, regulators, government, businesses, advocates, and customers – to pull together and work towards a common purpose. It requires a strong central authority to keep everyone working together, and not at cross purposes. Acadia Center’s regulatory proposal follows our RESPECT concepts. RESPECT is an idea for utility planning reform that rests upon the idea that states should:

  • 1) conduct independent and comprehensive distribution system planning that incorporates meaningful stakeholder input, including voices that have been ignored to date; and
  • 2) separate “planners” and “owners” by creating a separate, neutral planning entity that is designed to look for solutions beyond utility boundaries and across fuels.

Acadia Center believes that an independent planning authority, responsible for coordinated planning to electrify and decarbonize, would be the best option for the Commonwealth to achieve its ambitious net zero greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements, and would avoid the problems seen thus far in letting the LDCs propose their own future.

For more information:

Kyle Murray, Senior Policy Advocate-Massachusetts, kmurray@acadiacenter.org 617-742-0054 x106

What’s the state of climate change legislation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?

Where we are now

Massachusetts has long positioned itself as a leader in the fight against climate change, with country-leading programs in energy efficiency and ambitious net-zero greenhouse gas reduction targets set in landmark legislation that passed in 2021. But with the climate crisis accelerating, Massachusetts can’t just rest on its laurels. The Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives have each passed climate bills with differing proposals to tackle the crisis, ranging from large investments in offshore wind to enhanced rebates for electric vehicles. This blog will highlight what was in both packages and what steps need to happen before July 31st, the end of formal sessions for the legislature.

The House climate package largely focused broadly on offshore wind. The bill did not increase procurement authorization for the Commonwealth, instead aiming to develop the industry. This legislation:

  • Creates the Massachusetts Offshore Wind Industry Investment Trust Fund
  • Requires the development of a Grid Modernization Advisory Council and requires electric distribution companies to develop grid modernization plans and submit them to the council
  • Requires the Department of Energy Resources to solicit and procure proposals for offshore wind transmission and requires the state to collaborate regionally on those procurements

The House Committee proposal was strengthened through the amendment process, delivering better protections on environmental justice, a proposal on fishing mitigation, and an allowance for federal funding for transmission procurement.

The Senate proposal, passed a month later, was significantly broader than the House’s, focusing on the transportation and building sectors in addition to clean energy. The Senate legislation:

  • Transportation
    • Focuses on increasing EV adoption through increasing rebates, creating a stable trust fund, and investing in charging stations
    • Requires electrification of the MBTA bus fleet by 2040
  • Buildings
    • Limits the use of Mass Save funds for new fossil fuel equipment
    • Creates a 10-municiaplity demonstration project allowing all-electric building construction by local option
    • Requires a mandatory adjudicatory process in DPU docket 20-80 (the Future of Gas)
  • Clean power generation
    • Prevents biomass facilities from receiving state clean energy incentives
    • Creates a $100 million Clean Energy Investment Fund,
    • Updates the offshore wind procurement process,
    • Supports solar power

This legislation was also enhanced through the amendment process. Several of the most impactful amendments that were accepted were Acadia Center priorities. These amendments included policies to:

  • Set a floor of 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035
  • Require utilities to report the total amounts of natural gas and electricity used by each large building in the Commonwealth
  • Require the MBTA to develop short-term, mid-term, and long-term plans for the electrification of all commuter rail lines
  • Requires DEP to install air monitors in 8 pollution hotspots and to set baseline air quality standards in hotspots
  • Require utilities to submit proposals for rate credits or rebates for off-peak charging to supports EV

So what’s next?

Now that each house has passed a different bill, the next step will be the appointment of a Conference Committee. The goal of a Conference Committee is for the two legislative bodies to hash out their differences on policy and come to consensus on a single piece of legislation to send to the Governor to sign. Sometimes the Conference Committees essentially mash up the two disparate policies into one amalgam, resolving minor difference along the way. More often, however, the negotiators will play hardball, trading concession for concession and whittling down the original pieces of legislation. On Thursday, May 5th, the House named House TUE Chair Jeff Roy, along with Representative Tackey Chan and Minority Leader Brad Jones to the Conference Committee. The Senate followed suit quickly, appointing Senate TUE Chair Michael Barrett, along with Senator Cynthia Creem and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr.

Nothing precludes either branch from acting on additional legislation. However, given recent history, with the legislature opting for a single omnibus package over various disparate legislation, it is likely that the final climate package for the 2021-2022 legislative session will largely resemble some of the components of these bills. Therefore, Acadia Center asks that during these negotiations legislators should see these existing policies as top priorities:

  • Development of a Grid Modernization Advisory Council that would give stakeholders a say in the future of the grid
  • Procuring at least 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035
  • Enhanced Incentives for EVs and investment in charging stations
  • Investment in regional energy transmission procurement
  • Large building energy use reporting
  • Air monitoring and air quality standards

In addition to these policies that were in the original legislation, Acadia Center also believes that using ARPA funds to repair health and safety issues in buildings that stop efficiency and electrification and redirecting some EV funds towards transportation mode shifting are essential to meeting our Commonwealth’s ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets and doing our part to confront the climate crisis.

For more information:

Kyle Murray, Senior Policy Advocate-Massachusetts, kmurray@acadiacenter.org, 617-742-0054, ext. 106

Inspiring Climate Action

When the film “Don’t Look Up” was released in December 2021 it got a big reaction from a group who usually don’t do film reviews – climate scientists. The film tells the story of two astronomers attempting to warn humanity about an approaching comet that will destroy human civilization, but it felt incredibly close to home for those who had been entrenched in climate work. Here at Acadia Center the film prompted a spirited discussion including favorite lines from the film (“Keep it simple. No math.” “…but it’s all math”). But the big takeaway for the Acadia Center team, and for climate scientists at large, was a feeling of painful recognition – we know the “comet” is coming, but how can we encourage people to act?

Inspiring climate action and gaining support for work that is often technical and slow has been a challenge since “global warming” first came to the mainstream in the 1980s. However, as action is more urgently needed, new techniques for communicating about the crisis are emerging. In 2005 Yale founded its Program on Climate Communication and starting in 2008 that program has produced reports on “The Six Americas”, which breaks down the attitudes of Americans when it comes to climate change into six groups: “Alarmed, “Concerned,” “Cautious,” “Disengaged,” “Doubtful” and “Dismissive.”

From when the surveys began in 2008 until as recently as 2015 “Alarmed” was the second smallest group. However, over the last few years there has been a rapid growth in “Alarmed,” with that segment growing by 15% between 2017 and 2021 to 33% of the total audience. About six in ten Americans (59%) are either Alarmed or Concerned, while only about 2 in 10 (19%) are Doubtful or Dismissive.

So, how does this new awareness transform into action and financial support for climate advocacy, especially in a time of upheaval in the fundraising world? The Covid-19 pandemic completely changed the fundraising world in 2020, with many people giving to new organizations for the first time. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s (FEP) quarterly fundraising report for 2021 Q4 found that although major donors are being retained from 2020, recapture rates for past donors are down about 19% industry-wide, underlining the importance of keeping every donor engaged and excited about the work. On the other hand, organizations focused on “Environment and Animals” saw large year-over-year gains, reflecting Yale’s finding that more Americans are “Alarmed” about climate change and looking for a way to help.

Acadia Center is an organization that thrives on data, and we are excited to use these findings from Yale and FEP in our 2022 communication and individual giving strategy. Currently, we are working on a new newsletter that will give supporters an in-the-weeds and behind-the-scenes look at the work Acadia Center staffers are doing to advance bold and equitable climate solutions on the local, state, and regional level. Keep an eye out in the next year for more webinars with Acadia Center staff, more blogs and resources on our website, and more opportunities to learn about exciting climate change solutions.

Every individual’s support matters in the fight for a sustainable world, and together we can make the change that seems so impossible in films like “Don’t Look Up.” As the star of that film, Leonardo DiCaprio said, “It is incumbent upon all of us, all of you, activists, young and old, to please get involved…The planet can no longer wait, the underprivileged can no longer be ignored. This is truly our moment for action. Please take action.”

 

SOURCES:

Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, Global Warming’s Six Americas, September 2021

Fundraising Effectiveness Project, Fourth Quarter Fundraising Report, 2021

The Climate Minute Podcast: Demystifying FERC, ISO-NE, NESCOE and NEPOOL

Melissa Birchard, Senior Regulatory Attorney with Acadia Center participates in a Climate Minute podcast interview for Mass Climate Action Network. Listen to the episode here.

LWVMA Climate and Energy Solutions Series- Barriers to Regional Decarbonization Webinar

Regional cooperation is essential to meeting our clean energy goals. The road to decarbonization faces challenges from long-established regional rules that favor fossil fuel interests and stand in the way of clean energy.

Acadia Center’s Melissa Birchard, Senior Regulatory Attorney, delivered a webinar on behalf of the League of Women Voters- MA and Elder’s Climate Alliance-MA on the basics of regional energy issues.

Form more information about this series please visit the League of Women Voters-MA website. A recording of the webinar is available for viewing here.

401Gives Day 2022

Acadia Center is pleased to announce that it will be participating in 401Gives Day 2022. Powered by United Way of Rhode Island and presenting sponsor, Papitto Opportunity Connection, 401Gives brings people together to make a difference for local nonprofits that deliver vital services to communities throughout Rhode Island. We are excited to join for the first time and highlight some of the work we’ve been doing in Rhode Island.  

Working at the intersection of government, industry, grassroots organizations, advocates, and communities, Acadia Center develops courageous solutions for our region’s systemic energy challenges. In Rhode Island specifically, Acadia Center was a lead organization supporting the landmark Act on Climate law signed in 2021 and has been a leading advocate for the Transportation Emissions and Mobile (TEAM) Community Act and 100% Renewable Electricity by 2030 bills. When signed into law, the 100% Renewable Electricity bill will put Rhode Island on track to be the first in the nation to meet all of its electricity needs with clean, renewable resources. We were also instrumental in stopping the building of a new, expensive, and unnecessary gas pipeline on Aquidneck Island and will continue to demonstrate how investments in energy efficiency, decarbonized heating, and equitable, clean mobility will better serve all Rhode Islanders for generations to come.  

401Gives presents an opportunity for Rhode Islanders to magnify their efforts combatting the climate crisis and unlocking funds for Acadia Center. By giving on Friday, April 1 (4-01) starting at 6am your gift will make Acadia Center eligible for additional funds from 401Gives and it’s sponsors, and will help spread the message about Acadia Center’s work and the importance of bold climate solutions. 

To participate, supporters can visit our Acadia Center 401Gives Page and support starting at 6am on 4-01, or keep an eye on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and share our posts on 4-01 to spread the word. Every bit helps, and we are so grateful for the support of our community on this special day and throughout the year.  

The clean energy future has the potential to improve quality of life and human and environmental health while lowering greenhouse gas emissions that are pushing the climate towards an unstable and dangerous state. Acadia Center is working now to build the energy system of the future in Rhode Island and throughout the region, and we are grateful the 401Gives community is working with us towards this worthy goal. 

Acadia Center Raises Concerns over Proposed Sale of Narragansett Electric

Background

In Spring 2021, National Grid petitioned regulators to approve a proposed sale of its Rhode Island electric and gas utilities to PPL, a Pennsylvania-headquartered corporation. Acadia Center intervened as a party in the regulatory proceedings case to ensure the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) properly evaluated the proposed transaction’s impacts on climate change, energy justice, and public safety. Throughout the hearings, Acadia Center built an evidentiary record that demonstrates the transaction could set back efforts to meet Rhode Island’s climate mandates. In particular, PPL lacks National Grid’s experience with regard to climate-forward regulatory environments, energy efficiency programs, decarbonized heating approaches, and remediation of hazardous fossil gas leaks. Click here to read Acadia Center’s full closing brief in the regulatory proceedings .

Despite this, in late February, the DPUC approved the transaction, disregarding application of Rhode Island’s Act on Climate to the regulatory proceeding. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha immediately appealed the decision, asserting the DPUC applied the incorrect legal standard in not considering climate impacts as required by the Act on Climate. Acadia Center applauds the AG’s swift action in working to ensure the Act on Climate is not overlooked, and is working to ensure that, regardless of the corporate ownership structure, the Narragansett Electric Company is on track to achieve the GHG emissions reductions mandated by the Act on Climate.

PPL Currently Lacks Experience in Climate-Focused Jurisdictions

PPL Lacks Experience in Climate-Focused Jurisdictions

Acadia Center is a lead advocate supporting Rhode Island’s 2021 Act on Climate law, championed by Senator Environment Committee Chair Dawn Euer and Representative Lauren Carson. The Act on Climate requires greenhouse gas emissions reductions across the economy, and includes new mandates that explicitly require state agencies, instrumentalities, and other state bodies to address the impacts of climate change. Utilities are also affected by these mandates insofar as they require regulatory approval for various system operation plans. . National Grid, as a corporation, has far more experience than PPL operating in jurisdictions like Rhode Island that have legally-binding climate laws and is better prepared to leverage that expertise to develop plans that ultimately strive to comply the Act on Climate.

In fact, under Acadia Center’s cross-examination at the DPUC hearings, key PPL witnesses testified they were not familiar with the specifics of PPL’s own climate strategy, updated just weeks before the start of these proceedings. Meanwhile, National Grid has established a corporate wide Net-Zero by 2050 climate commitment consistent with laws in each of its current operating jurisdictions, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, including specific commitments to decarbonize its natural gas distribution system. While Acadia Center may disagree with specific elements of National Grid’s Net-Zero strategy, having a utility with experience developing Net-Zero approaches in conjunction with state laws is a significant value to Rhode Islanders.

In thousands of pages filed in the proceeding, PPL did not offer any proposals or plans for helping Rhode Island meet its climate mandates, only promising to offer such ideas within a year of the transaction’s approval. Rhode Island needs climate action immediately to meet its 2030 requirement to reduce greenhouse gases by 45 percent below 1990 levels.

PPL Lacks Experience Administering Top Tier Efficiency Programs

Acadia Center introduced evidence demonstrating National Grid has far more experience than PPL in designing and operating nation-leading Energy Efficiency programs. The American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy (ACEEE) ranks all three of National Grid’s jurisdictions—Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island in the top five nationally. Meanwhile, efficiency programs in PPL’s current jurisdictions of Pennsylvania and Kentucky rank 19th and 33rd respectively. Under Acadia Center’s cross-examination, PPL executives acknowledged that when comparing Pennsylvania efficiency investments to Rhode Island, “just the dollars invested…it appears that Rhode Island’s is pretty aggressive.” If regulators approve the transaction, PPL will face a steep learning curve with regards to energy efficiency—a cornerstone of Rhode Island’s decarbonization efforts.

PPL Has No Experience with Decarbonized Heating Approaches. National Grid is a Leader.

Acadia Center established an overwhelming weight of evidence in the record demonstrating National Grid’s experience in studying, considering, and pursuing decarbonized heating technologies would better prepare Rhode Island to decarbonize its natural gas heating network. National Grid’s geothermal networking pilot was actually approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities during the course of the Rhode Island hearings. National Grid also announced during the hearings that it will build one of the first and largest clean hydrogen blending projects in the country, to decarbonize gas heating networks in New York.

Rhode Island’s gas network has a number of distribution system challenges in Rhode Island that could be well served by similar pilots and business models. If this transaction is approved, Rhode Islanders, will lose the benefit of National Grid’s experience with this opportunity. Acadia Center’s discovery requests and cross-examination of PPL executives found PPL has no experience with geothermal networking technologies or hydrogen blending and there are no plans to pursue that in Rhode Island.

PPL Trails National Grid’s Performance on Fixing Hazardous Gas Leaks

PPL’s subsidiary gas utility in Kentucky operates a program to repair hazardous gas leaks throughout its distribution system. Based on PPL’s own data, their program has underperformed National Grid’s efforts to address these dangerous and climate damaging leaks in Rhode Island – by over 40% in some areas. Further, PPL failed to demonstrate experience coordinating addressing gas leaks with strategic electrification programs, using money that would otherwise be buried with the pipes to move away from fossil fuels entirely. Gas leaks can lead to sudden and tragic consequences for communities, including explosions and fires. Leaks also contribute significantly to climate change by venting methane, the primary component of natural gas into the atmosphere where it has a Global Warming Potential over 80 times worse than carbon dioxide. Gas leaks are prevalent in the Northeast as our region has some of the oldest gas infrastructure in the country, with portions dating back to the Civil War! Gas leaks require utilities to adopt proactive approaches of detection, categorization, remediation, and abandonment, as well as coordination with electrification.

Acadia Center Urges Conditions for Any Transaction Approval

Throughout the docket, Acadia Center established significant concerns with the proposed transfer of Rhode Island’s utility operations from the National Grid corporate family to the PPL corporate family. Acadia Center recommended the Division apply a set of additional conditions to protect Rhode Islanders, including:

  • PPL must adopt and build upon National Grid’s Net Zero by 2050 Decarbonization Strategy
  • Pause New Gas Connections Until Gas Decarbonization Strategy Filed and Approved
  • Maintenance of Effort on Rhode Island’s Energy Efficiency Plans
  • Maintenance of Effort on Rhode Island’s Hazardous Gas Leak Remediation Program
  • Accelerate Updates to National Grid’s Advanced Metering and Grid Modernization Plans Stalled by the Transaction Review
  • Protect Ratepayers from Increased Costs of New Advanced Metering and Grid Modernization Plans
  • Honor Regulatory Process for Long-Term Aquidneck Island Energy Solution

Acadia Center looks forward to continuing its work with The Narragansett Electric Company to achieve the GHG emissions reductions mandated by the Act on Climate, regardless of corporate ownership. If the transaction’s approval is ultimately upheld, Acadia Center commits to continue this work with PPL throughout the transition period and beyond and to serve as a critical connection to the communities PPL will now serve.

For more information: Hank Webster, RI Director & Senior Policy Advocate, hwebster@acadiacenter.org, 401.276.0600 ext.402

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Media:

Providence Journal February 24, 2022
https://providencejournal-ri.newsmemory.com?selDate=20220224&goTo=A01&artid=4

Energy News Network February 24, 2022
https://energynews.us/2022/02/24/rhode-island-attorney-general-seeks-emergency-order-to-block-utility-sale/

Older coverage of case: Providence Journal February 18, 2022 https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/local/2022/02/18/what-happens-ri-storm-response-if-narragansett-electric-sold-ppl/6830486001/

Providence Journal January 18, 2022
https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/2022/01/18/implications-narragansett-electric-proposed-sale-ppl-corporation/6514373001/

Massachusetts’ Energy Efficiency Plan: Environmental Justice Implications

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has approved the state’s Three-Year Energy Efficiency Plan. Spanning 2022 through 2024, the plan intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by curbing 845,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions while providing over $9 billion in statewide benefits. In addition to meeting the twin statutory mandates of achieving all cost-effective energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with the 2030 Clean Energy and Climate Plan, the 2022-2024 efficiency plan focused on three areas: equity, electrification, and workforce development. 

Over the years, the Commonwealth has been audacious and forward-looking with its climate plans. A significant stride in the state’s commitment to an equitable and just transition was in establishing the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council (EEAC) and Mass Save in the Green Communities Act of 2008. Acadia Center strongly supported the formation of the Equity Working Group (EWG) by the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council to sharpen policies beneficial to vulnerable communities and groups but declined a spot on the EWG to make room for more representation of underserved communities. The Equity Working Group and program administrators were instrumental in listing 38 targeted environmental justice communities for particular attention during this three-year plan. Moreover, a portion of the program administrators’ performance incentives was tied to how well they served these underserved communities. In the order on the three-year plan by the DPU, however, the DPU amended the criteria for environmental justice communities agreed upon by the Equity Working Group, EEAC, and program administrators.  

Instead of the criteria being based on income criteria and race or English isolation, a requirement that the whole community has a median income of less than 100% of state median income, and the requirement that greater than 33% of the community resides in an EJ census block group, the DPU revised the criteria to admit the whole municipality (except Boston) even if only one census block has only one EJ criterion. The net result is that an estimated 60 municipalities and Boston neighborhoods will qualify – rather than the 38 deemed most in need of effective efficiency program delivery by the EWG, EEAC, and program administrators. 

The necessity of defining environmental justice communities in the context of race, socioeconomic class, indigenous status cannot be overemphasized. Historically, the impact of energy generation and transmission has been disproportionately borne by black and brown communities and low-income communities. For an equitable transition to a clean and renewable energy system to be feasible, communities and groups that have been marginalized and, in many instances, now face hindrances in accessing energy incentives and programs must be given utmost consideration. The Equity Working Group—and EEAC— exemplify a model for the smooth incorporation of equity solutions in the state’s energy policies and climate goals. But the effectiveness of their policy suggestions in sharpening the future of the state’s energy efficiency plans depends on whether their expertise is valued and their solutions undisputed. 

Equity advisory councils are needed to center equity in state policies and legislatures. But their role can be stymied by lack of agency and authority of the councils to effect relevant changes. Equity advisory forums often represent members of the communities in various capacities and have members ranging from environmental and climate advocacy organizations, environmental justice communities, and community-based groups as well as small businesses. State and regional leaders must learn to trust the expertise of equity advisory forums to yield equity-informed solutions. Acadia Center understands how policies can become even better when public agencies focus on their mandate with equity guidance. We will continue to advocate for equity and climate goals to take center stage in all policy reforms at local and state agencies, and the overall regional progress of the northeast.  

 

Climate Advocate Training: How to advocate for a strong Act on Climate plan

Acadia Center’s Rhode Island Director and Senior Policy Advocate, Hank Webster, presented an advocacy training for over 160 climate activists, sharing tips on how to inject climate concerns into a plethora of state agency decisions. Joined on the panel by Dr. Carrie Gill from the state’s Office of Energy Resources and Professor Dawn King from Brown University, Webster provided a detailed look at key provisions of the 2021 Act on Climate law and encouraged attendees to engage in a wide variety of regulatory opportunities to demonstrate how climate action is required across all levels of government, from the Department of Transportation to the Building Code Commission. Webster also issued an open invite to all attendees join the ongoing Act on Climate Implementation group convened by Acadia Center last year to help guide the development of the 2022 Climate Action Plan. You can watch a recording of training here and view Acadia Center’s slides here.