Opinion: No, heat pumps won’t break CT’s grid

recent CT Mirror op-ed presents a misleading picture of the impact that electric heat pumps will have on Connecticut’s electricity system.

Moving customers off fossil gas by electrifying homes and businesses with appliances such as heat pumps will be a key component of achieving Connecticut’s climate and clean energy requirements. While major investments in the grid will be necessary over the coming decades, we must move quickly to upgrade the grid while simultaneously installing heat pumps, moving to electric vehicles, and deploying other advanced clean energy technologies.

The claim that “[too] many heat pumps would bring grid failure” to Connecticut is a misleading message at a time when there is an urgent need to rapidly electrify our buildings. The grid must undoubtedly expand to facilitate the decarbonization we need across buildings, transportation, and other sectors of the economy. But there are many solutions that can make grid operations more flexible and mitigate the expected demand growth.

Battery storage and demand response, for example, can help reduce strain on the grid by shifting load to different times of the day to avoid peak periods and to match surplus, low-cost renewables. When paired with automated controls, distributed energy resources can provide flexible, behind-the-meter resources that meet customer demand while easing congestion and driving down costs. And grid-enhancing technologies (GETs) can better optimize the power flowing through transmission and distribution lines, avoiding the need for expensive upgrades.

Electric heat pumps are not just the “energy fad of the day.” They will be an essential component of the clean energy transition and are already bearing fruit. For example, in 2023, Maine exceeded its 100,000 heat pump deployment target two years early and created a new target of an additional 175,000 heat pumps by 2027. And that is in a state whose population is almost a third of Connecticut’s.

Although Connecticut is still in the process of updating its Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES), we can look to the results of recent decarbonization studies in other states to understand the critical role that rapid deployment of heat pumps plays in achieving ambitious climate targets.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan (CECP) for 2050 offers a helpful picture of the potential pathways that are available to Connecticut for meeting its emissions reduction goals. The CECP study modeled the “least-cost pathway to achieve net zero in 2050” and concluded that widespread electrification of buildings and transportation was the cheapest way to decarbonize the state’s economy.

The least-cost scenario calls for 80% of homes in Massachusetts to install a heat pump and for 97% of light-duty fleet to be electric by 2050. Despite significant anticipated electric load growth by 2050 — and the need for grid investments to support that electrification — this scenario was still found to be the most cost-effective path to achieving the state’s decarbonization goals. By electrifying buildings and transportation sectors, we can achieve the lowest cost solution to addressing climate change while also creating thousands of full-time jobs and delivering significant health benefits to Connecticut’s residents.

Biodiesel and renewable propane are not the answers to our energy challenges. Biofuels have widely varying lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions that are highly dependent on the feedstocks used to make them. The problem with biofuels as a building decarbonization solution is that the supply of climate-beneficial biofuels derived from waste feedstocks, like used cooking oil, is extremely limited. We’ll need that limited supply of beneficial waste-derived biofuels to decarbonize the most challenging industries to electrify, such as aviation and shipping.

Today, the majority of biofuels are made from energy crops like soy and corn that provide little to no climate benefit. Biodiesel derived from true waste products represents only a tiny sliver of overall biodiesel production. There is no way to scale waste-derived biofuels at anywhere near the levels necessary to function as a viable building decarbonization solution.

Moreover, the claim that “Conservation — not conversion — is the only proven method to lower emissions and costs” is misleading. Even if nothing changed in terms of the resources that provide electric power, heat pumps would help to reduce emissions. Because heat pumps move heat rather than generate heat, they are highly efficient and are more than three times as efficient as the best fossil gas units.

While the most cost-effective pathway to addressing climate change may drive increased electricity use, analysis from our grid operator, ISO-New England, highlights the critical role that energy efficiency and behind-the-meter solar will play in helping to mitigate this increase in electricity consumption. As such, both “conservation” and “conversion” will be necessary for supporting Connecticut’s energy transition.

Connecticut needs to rapidly electrify its buildings and transportation systems. By shifting away from the combustion of fossil fuels in our homes and businesses, we can unlock major financial and health benefits for families, businesses, and the grid overall. Delaying this transition is not an option.

Oliver Tully is Director, Utility Innovation and Accountability; and Jayson Velazquez is a Climate and Energy Justice Policy Associate at the Acadia Center.

To read the article from CT Mirror, click here.

Tackling Building Emissions at the Rhode Island Legislature in 2024

The Act on Climate requires statewide emissions reductions of 45% below 1990 levels by 2030, 80% by 2040, and net-zero emissions by 2050. While Rhode Island has seen recent policy wins in the electric and transportation sectors, the state is not on track to meet the mandated targets in the Act on Climate and lacks a plan to reduce emissions from buildings. Buildings in Rhode Island, specifically accounting for residential and commercial heating, are responsible for nearly 30% of our state’s greenhouse gas emissions. To meet the Act on Climate mandates, we must tackle the transition of our building sector away from fossil fuels. This requires meaningful investments in energy efficiency in tandem with the rapid electrification of our heating and other appliances.

That’s why, in Rhode Island, Acadia Center’s top legislative priority is the Building Decarbonization Act of 2024 (H7617/S2952), which will begin to tackle carbon emissions in both existing and new buildings. Acadia Center partnered with Green Energy Consumers Alliance, the Institute for Market Transformation and the U.S. Green Buildings Council, along with legislative sponsors Senator Meghan Kallman and Representative Rebecca Kislak, to develop and advance the content of the act. In 2024, the Building Decarbonization Act merges previous benchmarking and all-electric new construction bills, and incorporates modifications suggested by the Office of Energy Resources (OER) and other stakeholders.

Acadia Center’s advocacy has centered on strengthening relationships and identifying solutions to address housing and electricity affordability, both in the Building Decarbonization Act and more broadly throughout its work.

How does the bill tackle building emissions?

First, the bill proposes benchmarking for large existing buildings, requiring the tracking and reporting of energy usage in large public buildings and then private buildings in two phases. Equipped with a better understanding of their utility bills and energy consumption, building owners can then leverage data to make cost-effective investments that will save them money and reduce their energy usage and thus emissions. Following three years of collecting baseline data, the bill proposes that OER create a building performance standard to guide these large building owners through setting long-term energy reduction and emissions targets. The act targets the largest buildings to gain the greatest impact when it comes to potential for energy and emissions reductions.

Second, the bill proposes multiple tiers of all-electric new construction, from electric-ready requirements to requirements for public buildings, followed by enabling the local approval of all-electric requirements, and ultimately requiring that all new construction statewide be all-electric, with some exceptions for commercial and industrial uses. While only a small proportion of Rhode Island’s building stock is new construction, the act ensures that new buildings take advantage of the most energy efficient technologies, avoid stranded infrastructure ‘lock-ins,’ and lead the way to a fossil fuel free future. For public projects, the bill includes provisions for apprenticeship programs and project labor agreements above a certain threshold.

What is the status of the Building Decarbonization Act?

House Bill No. 7617 was introduced and referred to the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee on 02/15/2024. The House Environment and Natural Resources Committee heard the Building Decarbonization Act on the evening of Thursday, March 21st, alongside the Clean Heat Standard and a wide range of other bills related to resilience, chemical reduction, and other topics. Acadia Center’s Emily Koo introduced the content of the bill alongside the sponsor, Representative Kislak, prior to offering verbal testimony. A wide range of local and national advocacy groups and residents expressed strong support for the Building Decarbonization Act with written and verbal testimony.

In partnership with Green Energy Consumers Alliance, Acadia Center has lobbied members of the House and Senate and garnered support for the Building Decarbonization Act among diverse stakeholders, from housing nonprofits to construction companies. Key goals have been demystifying myths about the bill and discerning the unique benefits and hurdles of benchmarking and building all-electric in Rhode Island.

Senate Bill No. 2952 was introduced and referred to the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee on April 5th, 2024. The Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee will hear the Building Decarbonization Act on Wednesday, May 1st, beginning at 4:30 PM, alongside the Clean Heat Standard and many other environmental and energy-related bills. The Senate hearing is another important opportunity to demonstrate to legislators the importance of tackling building emissions this session.

How can you help?

If you’re a Rhode Island resident, we encourage you to contact your state representative and state senator to highlight your support for the Building Decarbonization Act of 2024 (H7617/S2952) and the importance of tackling carbon emissions in both existing and new buildings. The Building Decarbonization Act has also emerged as a top priority of the Environment Council of Rhode Island.

Supporters are also strongly encouraged to submit written testimony to the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee and to attend the hearing in-person on Wednesday, May 1st to show support. The Committee agenda is available here. Written testimony must be submitted prior to 3:00 PM on Wednesday, May 1st to SLegislation@rilegislature.gov. Be sure to include your name, organization (if relevant), and your support for S2952. Green Energy Consumers Alliance offered these helpful resources for the Housing hearing, with templates for written testimony and tips for coming to the State House. Contact Acadia Center’s Rhode Island Program Director, Emily Koo, ekoo@acadiacenter.org, for any questions about showing your support for the Building Decarbonization Act at Wednesday’s Senate Environment hearing or beyond. 

Resources

Building Decarbonization Act Summary

Facts and Myths about the Building Decarbonization Act in RI

NESEA’s 2024 Building Energy Boston Conference – Echoing the Importance of Resilience in Climate Solutions

The impacts of climate change have become dramatically more adverse in recent years. From extreme heat and disastrous wildfires to severe flooding and melting ice sheets – the list goes on. A recent collaborative study by Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Michigan supports the idea that these extreme conditions will continue to worsen as time passes. Increasingly, and despite inroads being seen on decarbonization nationally and internationally, the built environment will not be spared by the harmful impacts of the changing climate.

A timely conversation to address climate impacts and prepare communities to be more resilient was recently put together by the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA). With the theme, Climate Resilience, NESEA convened policymakers, design and construction workers, representatives from government agencies, and others from the climate and energy sector to brainstorm solutions to the dire and urgent demands of climate in the building sector.

As Acadia Center’s Environmental Justice & Outreach Manager, I attended the two-day Building Energy Conference from March 19 through March 20. I was part of the 26-member content committee that curated and supported almost 50 seminars presented during the conference. Two keynote addresses on Climate Change: What Will You Do when Your Project Floods? and The Power of Systems Thinking: Designing Equitable and Resilient Infrastructure were presented on the two consecutive days of the conference, ensuring that solutions brainstormed resonated with the theme of the conference. I supported two seminar sessions on Virtual Microgrids in Low-Income Communities and Tools for Inclusion in the Workplace, leveraging my understanding of equity and environmental justice policy and her experience in workplace diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice practice.

As recent as two years ago, Acadia Center developed a thorough report to summarize carbon emissions resulting from uninsulated low-quality housing in the Northeast. Overall, direct building sector emissions make up a significant portion of emissions in the northeast – a close second behind transportation sector emissions. Aside from the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, buildings also contribute significantly to indoor air quality, making it a climate change concern and a public health issue. As a result, NESEA’s conference on Climate Resiliency in the building sector has brought this much-needed conversation to light.

Acadia Center is proud to work with our partners and other stakeholders in the building sector. We will ensure that our work strives for rapid emissions reductions from this sector in the coming years and decades ahead.

The Planning Process for NESEA’s 2024 Building Energy Conference in NYC is ongoing with calls for proposals. Visit https://nesea.org/conference/buildingenergy-nyc-2024 for more information to participate and support.

Restructuring for Net Zero – A More Unified Future Vision Emerges

Acadia Center’s President, Dan Sosland, was pleased to participate in the March 2024 Restructuring Roundtable event in Boston. The now decades-old convening that brings together key energy thought-leaders and stakeholders for timely discussions on the evolving market, technology, and policy landscape in New England. Borne out of the electricity industry restructuring of the late 1990s, it is fitting that the ‘restructuring’ title is still being used for these gatherings, as the ‘i-n-g’ ending connotes a process that is still actively unfolding today – nearly 30 years later. This convening focused specifically on wholesale electricity markets and the bulk power system in the region.

From all the presentations that were featured at the event, it is clear that the region is entering a new chapter in that restructuring journey – a future 2050 state coming into greater clarity, significant market changes currently in the works, and new challenges emerging that must be overcome together. Refreshingly, the conversation reflected a growing consensus about the future 2050 grid that the region must plan for and seek to achieve:

  • Abundant clean energy resources like solar and wind delivering the majority of energy on an annual basis and dominating annual capacity additions onto the grid;
  • Increased transmission to deliver new resources, such as offshore wind, better interconnect neighboring regions, and further unbottle/optimize contributions from resources already shaping daily and seasonal load profiles, such as distributed solar;
  • Greater utilization of new solutions such as grid enhancing technologies (GETs) to help meet the imperative of consumer affordability and squeeze as much out of our existing grid as possible

Acadia Center has been examining leading economy-wide analyses for decarbonization in New England, and it has assembled the following comparison to demonstrate just how significant these changes will be to the mix of generation resources serving the New England grid – and how glaring the gap is between where the region is today and where it needs to be in less than three short decades.

 

On the left above, you see the 2023 generation mix for ISO-NE in the inner circle, compared to how this generation mix must evolve by 2050, according to the MA CECP. (Neither of these includes imports). The takeaway? The region must move from 55% natural gas today to 85% solar and wind by 2050, in terms of annual MWh. On the right, Acadia Center compared findings on 2050 installed capacity (MW) from five prominent studies of deep decarbonization in the New England region, from Princeton, Brattle, and Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) to two studies from state processes – the MA Clean Energy and Climate Plan, and the DPU 20-80 modeling. Across these, Acadia Center has taken a look at their high electrification scenarios for an apples-to-apples comparison, although you see nonetheless some notable differences in projections for in-region build-out. Regardless of these differences, all these studies find a need for a substantial growth in installed capacity, growing from roughly 30 GW today to at least 120 GW by 2050, possibly up to 160 GW or higher. This is the glaring gap the region faces. As a region, we must build more than 30 GW of solar and more than 20 GW of offshore wind across all studies, likely more. The studies do foresee notable amounts of fuel combustion capacity remaining online, despite very low production from those resources.

To realize this future state, the region’s wholesale electricity markets must be reformed to accommodate such major influxes of new clean resources at the scale and timeframe needed. ISO-NE presented on the proposed shifts to a prompt and seasonal capacity market from the current Forward Capacity Market construct, and other presenters focused on the parallel resource capacity accreditation (RCA) process underway. Both are major capacity market design reforms, and we argued that these processes must fully value clean energy resources for the benefits they provide (including, e.g., fuel saving during peak periods) and allow for swift and reliable market entry – which also ties into interconnection reform. We highlighted the recently finalized Gulf of Maine wind energy area (WEA) from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to underscore that these volumes of new clean resources – 30 GW in this case – are eminently feasible from a technical potential standpoint, so the region’s markets must adapt and evolve as a result.

The discussion turned next from the electrons to the poles and wires – the state of the future grid the region will need to match growing influxes of clean supply with growing electric demand from buildings and transportation. Dan went on to emphasize the importance of GETs, underscoring that consumers are currently missing out on big benefits and cost saving opportunities by failing to adopt GETs at scale. The figure below from an Idaho National Lab study on GETs in ISO-NE shows the costs and benefits associated with each of the technology strategies, with the GETs toward the bottom and the traditional upgrades in the longer red bars. Each of the GETs options has a payback period in months (not years) regardless of the metric used to assess. The study found that Power Flow Controls (PFC) and Dynamic Line Ratings (DLR) together can be better than each individually. The bottom line: GETs are a cheaper, quicker, and higher value option to traditional upgrades.

Dan also highlighted transmission asset condition projects (ACPs) as another major low-hanging fruit, with a need for tariff reform. Acadia Center strongly agrees with the spirit of the NESCOE letter to transmission owners on these ill-governed projects:

“…the process by which Asset Condition Projects are developed by NETOs, reviewed by ISO-NE, states and the public, approved for rate recovery, and considered in overall transmission system needs and planning is antiquated and ultimately, inadequate. It is the right time to implement planning process improvements to protect consumers from excessive costs and to maximize the use of all transmission assets by moving Asset Condition Projects from the current siloed, notice-based method into meaningful and holistic transmission system planning.”

Finally, Dan touched on a big missing piece of the puzzle, long overdue for incorporation: improved interregional grid planning and coordination. This requires broadening the discussion beyond the six New England states to reach into New York and into Eastern Canada, the other jurisdictions that compose the Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC) region. Specifically, we took the opportunity to highlight our Northeast Grid Planning Forum (NGPF) project, which is seeking to bring not only these states and provinces together but also the community stakeholders and clean energy market participants who must necessarily have prominent voices in this collaboration. To us, the benefits of this interregional opportunity make it a highly logical priority:

If you missed the Roundtable discussion, slides and recordings from the presentations are available online here. Acadia Center thanks both Raab Associates and our fellow presenters at NPCC, ISO-NE, Connecticut DEEP, the Massachusetts AGO, LS Power, and Vineyard Offshore for an engaging and lively discussion. It’s time to get to work to make this future vision a reality for New England the northeast.

Unaddressed Energy Burdens Are Threatening the Clean Energy Transition

In addition to being an incredible burden upon residents, heavy energy burdens, defined as the percentage of a household’s income spent on home energy bills, also threaten the clean energy transition. Generally speaking, the operational costs of an air-source heat pump end up being less than many existing alternatives, such as fuel oil, propane, or electric resistance heating. However, in cases where electricity prices are high and fossil gas prices are low, and without supplemental relief, it can be difficult to ask an already energy burdened household to switch to a heat pump, even if the swap were to happen at no cost. Therefore, in order to meet our climate goals, it is absolutely crucial to equitably address energy burden as well.

Thankfully, we are starting to see a number of jurisdictions take steps to combat this issue. For example, several states, such as New York, California, and Ohio, have implemented forms of Percentage of Income Payment Plans (PIPP) for certain residents or established policy goals around what constitutes an acceptable/unacceptable energy burden. A PIPP can directly alleviate energy burden by limiting a monthly payment to a certain percentage of income, often between 4-6%. Other states, such as Massachusetts, are looking at things even more comprehensively.

On January 4, 2024, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) opened an inquiry into energy burden with a focus on energy affordability for residential ratepayers, DPU 24-15. In this docket, the DPU is soliciting input from stakeholders, including members of the public, advocates, and DPU-regulated entities to allow the DPU to “consider improvements to the programs currently offered to address energy affordability, to ensure maximum participation in each of these programs, and to determine whether additional programs may further benefit residential ratepayers of the Commonwealth’s electric and gas distribution companies.”1 As part of this effort, the DPU released a broad list of questions and sought comment by March 1, 2024.

Acadia Center’s comments focused primarily on utilizing a PIPP approach versus potentially using a tiered discount approach. As outlined above, utilizing a PIPP focuses directly on limiting utility bill payments to a specific percentage of household income (with additional provisions). A tiered approach, which some jurisdictions utilize, essentially creates income brackets for which a ratepayer can qualify. At each different bracket, there are different levels of benefits/rate relief. Unfortunately, this approach to benefits has a potential drawback known as the “cliff effect.” Put simply, if a household in a particular bracket but close to the limit rises even a single dollar over the limit, they potentially could lose out on significant benefits. As such, Acadia Center also advised the DPU to avoid the “cliff effect” in any of its policies. Additionally, as part of its recommendations regarding PIPP, Acadia Center also specifically recommended utilizing a 6% income cap, a benchmark that is emerging as a commonly accepted standard for energy burden. In addition, we underscored PIPP program design elements – such as caps in consumption – that can preserve the incentive to conserve energy and the benefits of energy efficiency. Beyond PIPP, Acadia Center also advocated for auto-enrollment in the discount rate, energy affordability programs reflecting seasonal fluctuations in energy use, and placing the costs of the discounted rates upon high energy-use and higher-income households.

Acadia Center also worked with a broad array of stakeholders, including housing advocates, environmental organizations, and environmental justice advocates, to produce a set of coalition comments as well. These comments did not specifically address the questions raised by the DPU and instead focused on broad issues surrounding energy affordability. For example, it notes that existing structural inequities aggravate energy burden amongst certain customers. It also highlights that race is a major factor in determining the likelihood that a household will experience energy insecurity. The coalition letter further emphasizes that this cannot be the end of this process, and additional in-depth analysis will be required.

The steps after this point in DPU 24-15 are not currently clear. However, Acadia Center is confident that the DPU will ensure a robust and transparent process that incorporates a broad swath of stakeholder input and prioritizes environmental justice and equity. We look forward to bringing further analytical review to this important proceeding as it progresses.

1 DPU 24-15, at 1.

For more information:

Contact: Kyle Murray, Director, State Program Implementation, kmurray@acadiacenter.org

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.

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.

The Northeast Grid Planning Forum: Uniting North Americans for Our Net Zero Future

The power grid is the backbone of the energy system. It is how electricity gets to our homes, communities and businesses. Grid operators run systems that collect billions of dollars from consumers to support the transmission, substations, and other infrastructure needed to transmit power from electric generators through the grid to the consumer. Decisions made around the power grid impact whether a transmission line is needed, how infrastructure is paid for, and whether clean energy, efficiency and other important energy resources are fairly considered.

Currently, grids in the greater northeast largely operate and plan independently of each other. However, as the need to displace fossil fuel usage with electricity grows, and resources like extensive offshore wind are added to the system, there is an increased need for grids to coordinate more directly. Coordination can produce clear benefits such as improving reliability, balancing wind and other resources, expanding ways energy efficiency can reduce demand on the system, reducing costs, and creating a more inclusive and responsive approach for community engagement in infrastructure siting.

Acadia Center is taking on the barriers to better grid coordination with our colleague clean energy group Nergica in Quebec, and the engagement of other professionals in both the U.S. and Canada. This effort, called the Northeast Grid Planning Forum (NGPF) is meant to encourage discussion around the potential benefits of increased grid coordination. Focusing on coordination between eastern U.S. and Canadian grid, the Northeast Grid Planning Forum envisions a future where collaborative energy system planning empowers stakeholders in the northeast United States and eastern Canada. This blog will delve into the key aspects of the Forum’s approach, its goals, and the imperative need for cross-border collaboration.

An Opportunity for Collaboration and Mutual Benefit:

Currently, the lack of coordination between states and provinces hinders the potential for mutual benefits. The result is higher costs and fewer tools to meet our collective goals. The current approach to grid planning, development, and operations occurs in silos, limiting the potential to capture these substantial mutual consumer, economic and system benefits. The Northeast Grid Planning Forum seeks to overcome this barrier through a deliberative stakeholder process that formalizes collaboration among states and provinces. Roundtable processes—environmental justice and community mobilization, interregional planning, First Nation and tribal, and clean energy procurement—aim to create a shared policy, legal, regulatory, and market/tariff toolset. With the growing role power grids play in climate and consumer issues, the Northeast Grid Planning Forum aspires to set a new paradigm in how stakeholders engage and influence power grid decisions.

Why Act Now?:

Communities have expressed frustration with rising power rates, reliability concerns, and a lack of meaningful participation in planning processes. The legacy approach to energy system development creates conflicts, making a coordinated and inclusive strategy essential. With the need to address reliability, affordability, climate, and responsive siting, the Forum aims to capture economic and consumer benefits while achieving decarbonization goals.

Challenge and Opportunity:

Modernizing energy systems to meet climate goals is a critical task. Independent studies indicate that the region must increase power grid output significantly. The current dysfunction, characterized by a lack of coordination and a focus on short- and medium-term reliability, hinders the systematic effort to coordinate resources. Collaboration emerges as a better way to power the region, offering enormous mutual benefits through a cooperative approach to energy system planning.

Launching a Dialogue for Interregional Action:

To build political legitimacy for clean energy, barriers slowing progress must be addressed. This includes reforming how system balancing authorities and system operators prioritize reliable clean energy, ensuring clean energy investments benefit communities with poor health and housing, and addressing concerns with clean energy projects and infrastructure siting.

Snapshot of Interregional Issues and Opportunities:

The Northeast Power Coordinating Council reliability zone serves as the target region for the Forum’s efforts. Various projects and developments, such as offshore wind targets, tidal power, and hydroelectric exploration, present both challenges and opportunities for interregional collaboration.

Shared Benefits Abound:

Multilateral grid and energy system coordination offer numerous benefits, including dynamic two-way power flows between provinces and states. The Forum seeks to catalyze discussions among energy planners, government leaders, and community stakeholders to address policy and social concerns in energy system planning. Priorities include energy planning processes, infrastructure development, and market mechanisms that support clean energy.

The Northeast Grid Planning Forum presents a groundbreaking effort to unite North Americans for a net-zero future. By fostering collaboration, addressing key challenges, and prioritizing shared benefits, the Forum aims to create a resilient and competitive energy future for the region. Interested stakeholders are encouraged to join this transformative interregional initiative. Acadia Center is proud to be pioneering these efforts with Nergica for the clean energy future the region deserves.

Opinion: Through EV policy, Connecticut can right its past air pollution wrongs

As the old saying goes, you can’t design your future without understanding your past. When it comes to charting the course for the future of Connecticut’s transportation system, we must look to our state’s history and learn lessons about the infrastructure that surrounds us and the vehicles that drive through our communities.

Environmental justice issues related to air pollution, including the pediatric asthma crisis in Connecticut’s Black and Latino communities, can be better understood through our state’s troubled history of redlining, urban renewal programs, highway construction, and residential segregation.

In the 1930s, the Federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) constructed “residential security” maps that color-coded neighborhoods based on the desirability and safety of capital investments. The HOLC made decisions about neighborhood classifications based on race, economic class, and ethnic composition. Neighborhoods that were deemed “riskier” were “redlined” as they were comprised of Black, immigrant, and low-income communities. Redlining set the standards for racial segregation and concentrations of urban disparities, industrial zoning, and future highway construction. Industrial zoning placed heavily polluting facilities, such as industrial plants, major trucking roadways, and shipping ports, in and around redlined neighborhoods.

The Housing Act of 1949 and the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act subsidized the construction of highway projects such as the Oak Street Connector in New Haven, where federal money was used to build a mini-highway through downtown and The Hill, destroying the Oak Street neighborhood. The destruction of the Oak Street neighborhood for the development of a mini-highway displaced around 3,000 people, or about 880 families.

The burden of displacement was placed disproportionately along the lines of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Before redevelopment, Oak Street was home to vibrant Black Americans and Jewish, Italian, and Puerto Rican immigrant enclaves. Through the destruction caused by the decisions to develop the Oak Street Connector, many of those displaced moved to The Hill neighborhood, where they continued to fight redevelopment projects.

Displacement for highway construction and industrial development across Connecticut divided communities and laid the groundwork for the entrenchment of some of the nation’s most significant wealth gaps and income inequality. In Hartford, redlining and urban renewal contributed to the deliberate placement of highway I-84 in the North End neighborhood, home to large concentrations of Black and low-income residents.

As neighborhoods were leveled for the development of highways, low-income enclaves and communities of color became subject to decades of airborne pollution from gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles that transport commuters and goods within and beyond Connecticut. Neighborhoods alongside and downwind of transportation corridors that support industrial facilities are forced to breathe exhaust from the dirtiest vehicles, driving up health disparities.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, big trucks and buses make up just 6% of all on-road vehicles in Connecticut but are responsible for more than half of all smog-forming NOx tailpipe pollution.

As attempts to remedy the injustices caused by redlining, urban renewal, and highway construction are underway, such as the City of New Haven’s Downtown Crossing Project and the Hartford 400 plan, addressing the harms to public health caused by tailpipe pollution must remain a key priority. To ensure less pollution in neighborhoods near highways and industrial transportation corridors, our legislators must adopt strong clean cars and trucks standards — Advanced Clean Cars II (ACC II)Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT), and Heavy-Duty Omnibus (HDO) — that have already been adopted by nearly every other state in the region. These clean transportation policies would ensure that sales of new vehicles increase gradually toward 100% zero-emission by 2035.

Clean cars and trucks are not a silver bullet for correcting the injustices of the past and present. Congruent efforts such as promoting reliable and fair transit access, free K-12 transit fares, rail, buses, pedestrian infrastructure, and other forms of mode-shift and mobility to reduce total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) from single occupancy and passenger vehicles, have benefits that would only be amplified by the increased availability of zero-emission and electrified light, medium, and heavy-duty vehicles that ACCII and ACT would introduce.

The ACC II and ACT regulations only affect the sale of new cars — roughly 75% of people buy used.

While the cost of new and used EVs continues to drop year-over-year, affordability concerns are being tackled through the CHEAPR program, which provides incentives on new and used zero-emission vehicles, with additional rebates available for income-eligible individuals. Combined with the $7,500 federal tax credit, Connecticut residents can save up to $11,750 on the purchase of a typical EV.

As a state with a long history of forcing tailpipe and industrial pollution into vulnerable communities, Connecticut has a generational chance to start righting these wrongs by joining with states that are leading the global transition to zero-emission vehicles.

To read the original article from the CT Mirror, click here.

Op-Ed: Amid the climate doom, a bright spot in Mass.

I imagine the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) isn’t exactly top of mind for most Massachusetts residents. The three-member body, which is appointed by the governor, regulates our electric, natural gas and water utilities, and oversees some aspects of the state’s transportation safety guidelines.

Its proceedings are wonky and can be difficult to understand, but its decisions can have a tremendous impact, affecting everything from your monthly utility bills, to whether a new gas pipeline will be permitted, to the types of incentives offered by the Mass Save energy efficiency program.

On Dec. 6, the DPU made a historic decision — for the better. The order was the result of a three-year process, initiated by then-Attorney General Maura Healey, during which the state has been considering the future of the natural gas industry. In the most basic of terms, the order represents a pivot point in the state’s strategy for decarbonizing the buildings sector, which was responsible for 36% of Massachusetts’ carbon emissions in 2020. It puts in motion a plan to transition away from the natural gas distribution system that utilities operate today. Even more plainly: this decision by DPU is one big, important step of many to stop the use natural gas once and for all in the state, a reality that was unthinkable outside of environmental circles even five to 10 years ago.

It was the culmination of years of work, in an arena where environmental advocates like me aren’t accustomed to seeing many wins. (Historically, we’ve tried “not to lose” when appearing before DPU.)

So, how’d it happen? When the state Legislature passed the Climate Roadmap law in 2021, it updated the DPU’s mission to consider reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for the first time ever. Environmental advocates were hopeful for change, but initially, the three commissioners seemed to continue relegating greenhouse gas emissions to an afterthought. For example, just last year, the nonprofit I work for, Acadia Center and others, argued before the DPU that a proposal to provide gas service to a town that previously did not have it was at odds with Massachusetts’ climate goals and not in the public interest. We noted that the town involved did not reasonably consider reasonable alternatives, like electrification. But our arguments were rejected — and the town received approval for gas service.

Things started to change once Gov. Healey took office last January. The DPU members she appointed, including Commissioner Staci Rubin (formerly of the Conservation Law Foundation) and Jamie Van Nostrand (who spent a long time fighting the coal industry in West Virginia), promised to create a “21st century DPU.”

And what they delivered earlier this month was an unequivocal win for the commonwealth: a win for climate, a win for public health, a win for environmental justice, and a win for consumers. We hear a lot about what’s wrong with government these days — think partisan rancor and gridlock in Congress — but this is a clear example of what government can accomplish, and a decision that will put us on the right path to meet our state’s decarbonization targets. 

As an environmental advocate, you sometimes feel like the Greek myth Cassandra, cursed with the ability to see the future but never believed. You feel as though you are presenting cold, hard facts and data, but you’re told your ideas are pie-in-the-sky. Therefore, it’s incredibly gratifying to read this order, which validates those arguments and flips the traditional narrative.

The order is too long to fully summarize here (check out the summary in our press release). The most important thing to understand is that it covers concepts at the macro-level (such as preventing so-called “renewable” natural gas into the general gas supply, because of questions about its cost, availability and results, in terms of emissions reductions) and at the micro-level (like changing the way gas utilities can recover rates to disincentivize adding new gas customers).

The order also affirmed the state’s commitment to electrification, envisions the large-scale decommissioning of the natural gas system, and requires coordinated planning between gas and electric utilities (which had not previously been required).

As impressive as this decision by the DPU is, it’s only a midpoint, not the end, and will require careful and thoughtful implementation. What will result from this order is a broader process that will span many years if not decades. But the decision this month will set the other key dominos in motion. As the DPU states, for this order’s vision to be implemented, many legislative changes are required too.

I look forward to working with the House, the Senate, and the governor to deliver on those changes and deliver on the promise of a decarbonized future.

To view the original article from wbur, click here.