Energy production is one of the leading contributors to climate change. Meanwhile, the potential for additional renewable energy in the region is enormous – both for larger generating stations like wind farms to small, distributed systems like rooftop solar. The costs of renewable energy are dropping rapidly, making renewables more affordable and viable for the consumer market.
Acadia Center advances policies that level the playing field so renewable power can fairly compete and flourish. Distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar produce clean energy while enhancing customer control over energy bills and reducing the need for polluting power plants and grid infrastructure. Acadia Center’s Next Generation Solar Framework provides a sustainable policy approach that compensates solar based on demonstrated value, while ensure equitable payment for maintenance of the grid.
More broadly, policies like renewable portfolio standards (RPS) provide incentives for clean energy options, allowing competition with fossil fuel-based energy that has the incumbent market advantage. Large-scale purchases can also help to promote deployment of renewable energy by achieving economies of scale and facilitating project financing and construction of transmission needed to transport renewable energy from remote locations to consumers.
Acadia Center also advocates market-based solutions that account for the climate impacts of burning fuels by charging a fee for releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. In the Northeast, this model has been successfully applied in the power sector through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI has helped Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states reduce power plant emissions significantly while generating economic and health benefits in the region, and this effective model can and should be exported to other states, and to cover additional sectors such as transportation and heating fuels. Emissions reductions can also be achieved by placing a direct price on pollution through a carbon fee that promotes changes in behavior and levels the playing field for cleaner energy supplies.
Throughout the energy system, from large-scale generating facilities to small-scale, customer-sited power sources, policies need to account for the full value of different types of energy resources. Using this information, leaders need to commit to using the cleanest affordable options. That means considering all of our energy options rather than defaulting to large, supply-side infrastructure. It also means fully accounting for lifecycle emissions, and assessing how efficiency can reduce demand. In homes and businesses, increasing access to advanced renewable thermal technologies through energy efficiency retrofits and building codes will make it easier for consumers to adopt clean fuels and save on their energy bills. Advanced cold-climate heat pumps, solar thermal, and low-emission, sustainably sourced biomass can reduce GHG emissions and decrease our reliance on imported fossil fuels.
Cutting emissions from vehicles, travel, and freight is closely related to clean energy supply strategies. See our Transportation initiative for more.
Energy efficiency is a cornerstone of good state and regional energy policy. Investments in efficient equipment like lighting, appliances, and industrial motors reduce consumer energy bills and also reduce the need for expensive energy infrastructure like transmission lines and power plants. Acadia Center works to ensure that programs are effective, well-funded and reach a wide spectrum of customers with the deepest possible energy and cost savings for each participant.
Efficiency investments in leading states have deferred the need for nearly half a billion dollars in new energy infrastructure projects, produced $19.5 billion in economic benefits, cut electric use by 124,000 GWh, and avoided 51.3 million metric tons of CO2 pollution. Acadia Center’s macroeconomic studies show that efficiency investments create jobs, keep energy dollars at home, and help to grow local economies.
The challenge is to build from this strong foundation to reach for even greater savings and aid the transformation to a cleaner electric grid. These goals can be achieved by maximizing efficiency investments that are available and cost effective and focusing on ways efficiency can minimize infrastructure investments and integrate renewables. Acadia Center helped create the policies that have led states to top-in-the-nation investments in energy efficiency. Acadia Center pioneered the stakeholder council model as a means of ensuring consistent implementation, evaluation and diverse representation in the energy efficiency procurement process. Staff members currently hold appointed seats on these councils in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Acadia Center works with businesses, utilities, regulators and others to make sure that programs meet their goals and reach all customers.
The traditional utility and power grid model of a one-way power flow from central generating stations to consumers is rapidly giving way to an exciting, consumer-friendly energy future. The system can be more cost-effective, cleaner, offer greater consumer control over energy costs and help clear the pathway to very low carbon emissions.
In Acadia Center’s vision of a modern grid, homes and businesses become the centerpiece of the energy system. Consumers will have greater control over energy use through technologies such as rooftop solar water heating and photovoltaic systems, advanced meters that help consumers control and monitor power usage, and technologies such as smart appliances and heat pumps. Community energy systems- local wind power, solar arrays, and combined heat and power- will also play an important role in the modern power grid. UtilityVision, an Acadia Center publication, presents this comprehensive vision with illustrations and recommendations. Acadia Center is also participating in grid modernization dockets and related state and regional proceedings and forums.
Technological advancement in the energy arena is moving so quickly that the market is ahead of the regulatory structure governing utilities. Today’s grid planning and investment policies were developed in an earlier era, when large fossil-fueled power plants were constructed to energize population centers. Longstanding policies skew decisions in favor of legacy power grid investments over newer, often less expensive and more advanced solutions. The rules need to change so that viable, often lower-cost, alternatives to transmission and distribution infrastructure projects are fully considered. New regulations should also reflect the appropriate role of the utility in an increasingly decentralized system.
Acadia Center is working to update policy models so they align utilities’ financial incentives with the public’s clean energy, carbon reduction, and economic goals.
The transportation sector is the second largest source of U.S. GHG emissions, responsible for 28% of emissions nationally, and nearly 40% in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Transportation fuels, notably gasoline and diesel, must be priced in a way that reflects the cost of these emissions, either through a carbon tax or the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which currently regulates power plant emissions.
Acadia Center is working to change policies so they account for the full lifecycle of the greenhouse gas emissions fuels produce. Gasoline refined from tar sands, for example, has very high extraction emissions. Several different policies could address these upstream emissions, such as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program in California. The LCFS sets targets for lowering the lifecycle carbon intensity of fuels and allows the market to determine the most cost-effective fuels and strategies for achieving those targets. A good initial step would be to require tracking and reporting by oil importers and wholesalers to allow states to determine how their fuel supplies are changing and what the best policy answer is.
Acadia Center is also advancing solutions to help reduce the upfront cost of electric vehicles (EVs), build out charging infrastructure and educate consumers on the benefits of EVs. It is possible to dramatically increase the adoption of EVs over the next few years.
Electrification of the vehicle fleet is one of the key pathways to cleaning up the transportation sector. Switching from a traditional car burning gasoline to a fully electric vehicle can reduce GHG emissions by 60% in the Northeast. As cleaner sources power the electric grid, these benefits will increase. In addition, vehicles running on electricity don’t emit any of the local pollutants that come from gas engines.
EVs save money, too. Switching from gasoline to electricity can cut per-mile costs significantly and allow consumers to spend more of their hard-earned dollars in local economies. Time-of-use rates will allow EV owners to save even more money by charging at night when the cost of generating electricity is low.
To seize the opportunity of EVs, the top priorities are to explore and address potential impacts on the power grid and maximize the ability of EVs to serve as a grid resource.
Acadia’s CLEAN Center maintains one of the most comprehensive collections of energy and emissions information in the region. It draws on multiple sources which are cross-referenced and updated regularly to ensure analyses are in-depth, accurate and timely. Data on economic impacts and benefits, emission trends, and comparative costs is a powerful tool to advance climate and energy initiatives.
The CLEAN Center presents data in accessible, targeted materials. Acadia Center’s staff engages with a wide range of audiences and issues, so they know what information is needed, and the most effective ways to present it. The CLEAN Center maintains up-to-date data sets on energy usage, fuel prices, weather trends, and many other critical variables. Staff are constantly improving and re-shaping the analyses and work products to meet the latest needs.
Acadia CLEAN Center materials answer questions like: How can we get to 80% emissions reductions by 2050? What are the comparative emissions and economic impacts of importing tar sands derived oil versus cleaner alternatives? How much money and fuel are saved by driving electric vehicles, both now and in the future? What will business as usual energy consumption and costs look like for the state of Rhode Island, with the current policy mix?
Modeling and analysis capabilities include: macroeconomic and econometric modeling, emissions inventory construction, energy and emissions forecasting, statistical analysis, spatial analysis, energy cost/consumption/emissions scenario analysis, and energy system optimization. The team creates visualizations, graphs, reports, trackers, analyses, maps, and more.
Acadia’s CLEAN Center fields requests from other advocates and community groups, media, state and local government, business and industry reps, and more. The organization’s materials have a strong reputation for being fair, credible and effective.