FERC and ISO-NE: Help or Hindrance to Reaching State Clean Energy Goals?
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the federal agency that regulates energy markets and electric transmission lines, has a big impact on whether New England can effectively fight climate change. FERC’s control over energy markets and transmission influences New England’s ability to eliminate dirty power plants from communities that have suffered the health impacts of pollution for too long, and to replace those dirty plants with climate-safe energy and green jobs. That’s why Acadia Center is recommending that FERC adopt new rules for transmission planning that will help support New England’s climate and equity goals instead of standing in the way.
FERC can empower New England by helping to create a strong inter-state transmission grid that brings clean, affordable energy to homes and businesses, along with good-paying green energy jobs for New England’s communities. The transmission grid is the central artery for transmitting electric power, determining where energy comes from, how much that energy costs, and to whom it can be delivered. The region needs transmission lines that bring clean energy to homes and businesses to replace the energy from dirty fossil fuel-fired power plants that now pollute population centers across the region. Because transmission lines link multiple states, FERC has federal authority over planning and regulating these lines, though the states retain control over siting.
Given the significant role FERC plays, Acadia Center is encouraged that FERC has launched a new forum to reconsider how it plans electric transmission, including the role that states should play in determining what transmission is needed for the clean energy transition. In this new proceeding, entitled “Building for the Future Through Electric Regional Transmission Planning and Cost Allocation and Generator Interconnection,” FERC is taking input on what policies it can adopt to help states and regions better integrate important public policy – including decarbonization laws and environmental equity – into transmission planning. With input from Acadia Center and others, FERC can help change the course of history across the country and here in the northeast.
Bringing new large-scale clean energy to homes and businesses across New England isn’t the only benefit of better planning. Planning improved transmission will help communities across New England withstand the increasingly frequent storms and volatile weather patterns the climate crisis is already bringing, while integrating flexible and lower-cost solutions like rooftop solar and battery storage into the energy system.
Acadia Center is working with partners across New England and around the country to help FERC develop new rules governing what the transmission grid of the future should look like. On October 12, Acadia Center and its partners submitted opening comments outlining what’s going wrong, what’s going right, and what needs to be improved.
Part of what needs to change is ISO-New England (ISO-NE). ISO-NE is the regional organization that FERC has designated to manage New England’s energy markets and transmission system. Right now, ISO-NE doesn’t consider state climate goals in its energy markets or its transmission planning, and that’s a huge obstacle to the clean energy transition. It is critical that ISO-NE take input early and often from both states and stakeholders in all regional planning, otherwise the region will fail to meet its critical clean energy goals.
Acadia Center has cried foul on ISO-NE before, New England Governors’ Energy Vision: Shifting Power on the Regional Electricity Grid arguing that ISO-NE is hanging onto the dirty fuels of the past. To their credit, the New England Governors have also started to object to ISO-NE’s backward-looking practices, demanding that ISO-NE conduct a study that shows what the energy system will look like in 2050 with state decarbonization goals as a guiding factor.
Acadia Center strongly supports the New England states in their efforts to press ISO-NE for policy accountability, including incorporating state decarbonization goals into transmission planning and regional energy markets. Without these changes, ISO-NE will continue to support dirty gas plants and entrenched interests over the new wind, solar, and storage solutions that should be leading the way. So far, ISO-NE continues to make its decisions behind closed doors, relying mostly on input from entrenched interests including the dirty fuel companies themselves. ISO-NE gives short shrift to the communities that are impacted by its decisions. As Acadia Center has argued before, this needs to change.
Acadia Center is asking FERC to implement reforms that cement the requirement to take state input early on in all regional energy planning, and to help states meet their policy goals, not hinder them. Acadia Center is also asking FERC to instruct ISO-NE to weigh community input and environmental justice, so that New England’s energy systems start to serve the people who rely on them.
The bottom line is that regional energy planning must reflect the policy of the states that make up the region and must protect the interests of the people who live there. Regional energy planners can’t do an end run around democratically determined state policies by hiding behind FERC-delegated federal authorities. FERC should unambiguously direct all its planning organizations across the country, including ISO-NE, to work with the states for the benefit of our communities.
Another benefit of the changes Acadia Center recommends is that through increased coordination and improved planning of both the energy markets and transmission systems, the region can avoid wasting time and money on projects like Northern Pass or NECEC, only for those projects to be canceled. The region should be working toward energy solutions that benefit everyone. This should include energy markets that let clean energy compete on a level playing field, so that states can rely on the markets instead of going it alone when they’re in search of clean energy. It should also include a transmission infrastructure that meets multiple states’ needs and provides benefits for communities across the region, not just in one area.
Acadia Center looks forward to providing more feedback to FERC on what needs to change and working with state leaders to ensure that clean energy and equity no longer take a back seat in New England’s energy planning, including on the transmission grid and in energy markets. As the states work hard to address the climate crisis, it’s time for ISO-NE and FERC to stop standing in the way and start treating the states like real partners.