A regulator, an environmentalist, and a utility executive walk into a bar…and come out with an agreement “to plan, build, and operate the electric grid that is needed to meet Maine’s climate and energy requirements.”

A bad joke, but a good result! After six months of deliberations, a high-level stakeholder group of investor-owned utilities, current and former PUC Commissioners, environmental groups, renewable energy companies, municipalities, and state agency officials coalesced around a set of strategies, that if implemented, could change Maine’s electricity grid for the benefit of energy consumers.

The Maine Utility/Regulatory Reform and Decarbonization Initiative (MURRDI) was convened in the fall of 2020 by The Nature Conservancy and the Great Plains Institute and charged with developing strategies to:

  1. plan, build, and operate an electricity grid, that
  2. meets the State’s aggressive climate and energy requirements, while
  3. maintaining a safe, reliable, secure, and affordable grid.

In the spring of 2021, the participants emerged with a verdict that could set Maine on a course to modernize the grid while achieving major climate, energy, economic, and equity benefits for everyone.

Acadia Center was honored to be chosen for a seat at this table, joining experts from Efficiency Maine Trust, Governor’s Energy Office, Public Utilities Commission, the Public Advocate, Maine’s two investor-owned utilities (CMP & Versant), representatives of the state’s biggest cities, and a handful of our environmental and renewable partners. Together, MURRDI advanced discussion and strategies designed to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050;
  • Increased renewable resources to account for 80 percent of electric sales by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050;
  • Accelerated deployment of electrified transportation and buildings, distributed generation, load flexibility, and renewable electricity supply resources, including grid-scale wind and solar;
  • Regional electricity market integration that harnesses innovation and emerging technologies;
  • Enhanced focus on consumer needs related to climate requirements, equity and environmental justice, safety, reliability, resiliency, and other quantifiable benefits.
  • Siting of distributed and grid-scale renewables and storage where they bring the greatest benefits to the grid and least adverse impacts to Maine’s natural resources; and
  • Much, much more.

Acadia Center is especially excited about two of the nine recommendations it helped develop:

  1. To investigate, adopt, and implement an all-encompassing, long-term, strategic grid planning process, with an eye toward phasing out fossil fuels and separating utility planning from ownership.
  2. To expand the PUC’s decision-making framework to consider Maine’s climate requirements, equity implications, and impacts on environmental justice communities to enable consideration of the full costs and benefits of energy investments in all decisions.

Acadia Center supports the entire report, including the seven other recommendations to:

  1. Endorse the New England States’ Vision for a Clean Affordable, and Reliable 21st Century Regional Electric Grid and extend it with regard to distributed energy resources and demand participation, comprehensive integrated system planning, and state policy objectives.
  2. Move toward a more dynamic grid with more granular load flexibility capabilities in a concerted manner, including time of use rates and/or other dynamic rate structures that more accurately reflect the cost of producing and delivering power, and take into account how time-varying rate designs could help to meet the state’s climate and energy requirements.
  3. Explore the opportunities, challenges, benefits, and drawbacks of establishing a market framework at the distribution level, including through pilot projects.
  4. Identify and implement temporary measures to advance new EV fast charger (including DC fast charging and clustered Level 2 charging) deployment in the near term.
  5. Provide useful, accessible, transparent, and dynamic hosting capacity information to developers and customers, including enabling greater understanding of the data, tools, and processes required.
  6. Explore opportunities to enable using ratepayer dollars to pay for innovation investments in return for PUC oversight.
  7. Support development of transmission that is carefully sited to avoid and minimize environmental impacts.

Acadia Center is deeply engaged in this topic with a wide array of allies and stakeholders and will be moving forward to help implement plans to reform rates, incentives, and resource planning to create a reliable, affordable, and clean energy system in Maine. For example, in 2021-22 Acadia Center will monitor Power Sector Transformation Stakeholder group to explore the transformation and planning of Maine’s electric sector to help achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions. Acadia Center will use, complete, and apply recommendations from its UtilityVision and Next Generation Energy Efficiency frameworks to inform policymakers and stakeholders on energy efficiency; electrification; GHG reductions; utility structure; load management; non-wires alternatives; distributed energy resources; and other solutions necessary to change existing statutes and regulations to achieve climate, energy, and equity objectives. Finally, Acadia Center will continue to push a bill in the 130th Legislature to add climate and equity to the PUC’s responsibilities, empowering it to value emissions reductions and environmental justice in all policy, programmatic, and regulatory decisions.

The MURRDI report deserves a standing ovation clean energy, zero carbon, and equity for all. Who knew?