Initially, there was an incentive for customers to build DER at locations where congestion was anticipated, LeBel added. But setting that locational value “has proved to be more administratively complicated than expected and commission staff has proposed eliminating it.”
The utilities did “guesstimates and concluded congested locations should get 50% more than other locations,” he said. “They are not coming to terms with the details.”
Lebel agreed. Getting to that vision “would be a massive change for the utilities,” he said. “But it has happened. It took decades to get from PURPA to restructuring. Maybe, in the 2030s, we will look back at the 2014 start of the New York REV and see a similar transformation. And maybe things will still be changing.”
With the sweltering days of summer behind us and New Englanders reluctantly turning their minds to winter storm season, it is worth asking how we can keep our electric grid running affordably and efficiently during both heat waves and cold snaps. Behind-the-meter energy storage is one solution that is showing increasing promise.
In-Home Energy Storage
Behind-the meter energy storage refers to when customers store electric power purchased from the grid or power generated themselves (such as from rooftop solar panels) in batteries installed in their homes. The market for behind-the-meter storage is growing rapidly due to decreasing costs and growing awareness. In addition to providing backup power to homeowners during outages, like a traditional generator, this storage can provide backup power for the grid itself.
Battery storage can also be combined with innovative electric rates. For example, time-varying rates could encourage customers to purchase power from the grid during periods of low demand and use energy stored in their battery during periods of high demand. This would lower storage users’ bills directly while reducing the use of expensive and polluting backup plants typically needed during times when temperatures surge or plunge. In turn, avoiding these expensive resources will cut energy prices for all customers.
Policies and Pilots
Many states are currently experimenting with adding battery storage to the grid to help reduce prices and integrate renewable energy sources that produce power intermittently. This wide range of pilots is providing valuable lessons for putting storage to good use. For example, Vermont’s Green Mountain Power (GMP) claimed it saved customers $500K during a heat wave this summer through its pilot of in-home batteries. During the hours of highest demand, the program allows GMP to withdraw energy stored in customers’ batteries instead of paying very high prices on the wholesale market. This year, GMP also expanded its pilot program to allow customers to purchase third-party storage devices. In New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities is proposing a similar pilot that would combine storage with time-varying rates to provide customers with incentives to use electricity during times of lower demand.
To support a future electric grid where consumers are empowered to produce, store, and use their own electricity, state policies should enable residents to own and operate batteries to the largest extent possible. Utility ownership of residential batteries can stifle the development of competitive markets and reduce customers’ flexibility in deciding how and when to deploy their power. Acadia Center will continue to advocate for programs that prioritize a customer-centered model, helping states pursue and expand programs like those detailed above.
The agencies spent eight months engaging with more than 200 people and 65 organizations in the process, including local residents, national experts, clean energy companies, nonprofits, and Rhode Island’s utility, National Grid. The aim was a blueprint outlining how the state can achieve a cleaner, more affordable, and more reliable energy system—one that adapts and evolves as consumer demand and technology does.
The decision received overwhelming support from stakeholders, including customer advocates and environmental advocacy organizations.
“It’s a big first step,” said Mark LeBel, a staff attorney with the clean energy nonprofit Acadia Center, which was a stakeholder in the project. “We can’t do it all at once, and I think Rhode Island has taken a big first step here.”
Read the full article from Energy News Network here.
PROVIDENCE — Acadia Center applauds the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) approval today of an amended comprehensive settlement in National Grid’s distribution rate case and Power Sector Transformation proceeding. The PUC’s order represents the first steps toward utility business model reforms and power sector transformation activities that will further Rhode Island’s ability to achieve a clean energy future.
“Approval of the revised National Grid settlement will greatly benefit ratepayers and the state by putting Rhode Island firmly on a path toward expanding local clean energy resources and bolstering energy system reliability,” said Daniel Sosland, Acadia Center President. “Rhode Island has jumped into a leadership role among New England states seeking to reform utility regulations. Embracing the changes needed to modernize the energy system will deliver large economic, public health, consumer and environmental benefits to all Rhode Islanders.”
The agreement lowers National Grid’s return on equity and reduces the utility’s original base rate proposal by over $40 million. The agreement also provides more meaningful bill relief for low-income customers, up to a maximum discount of 30% for some qualifying customers. Importantly, the agreement also approves initial investments in a modern grid, electric vehicle charging, and energy storage as well as a study of Advanced Metering Functionality (AMF) and further grid modernization investment.
“Acadia Center commends the Public Utilities Commission, Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, National Grid, the Office of Energy Resources and other intervenors for the commitment and collaboration throughout this process,” said Erika Niedowski, Rhode Island Director for Acadia Center. “We look forward to working with our colleagues through the newly established Power Sector Transformation Advisory Group to advance further reforms including new utility performance mechanisms, grid flexibility and resiliency, and expansion of clean energy resources that benefit customers.”
Acadia Center engaged in every stage of Rhode Island’s Power Sector Transformation stakeholder process and provided expert testimony to the PUC on a variety of components in today’s settlement. Acadia Center has long recommended the types of reforms included in the settlement through reports and materials such as UtilityVision.
“Rhode Island is now leading the way in New England utility business model reforms,” said Mark LeBel, staff attorney at Acadia Center. “In the future, Rhode Island must do even more to shift investments away from expensive capacity building projects that primarily benefit the utility and toward projects that benefit the customer by maximizing energy efficiency, expanding distributed energy resources, and bolstering system reliability.”
Acadia Center will release a more detailed summary of the approved settlement in the coming days.
Last week, the Northeast Clean Energy Council and the Acadia Center — organizations that co-chair the Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions — sent a letter to Golden, Sanchez and other members of House leadership, calling it “essential” that the House approve four bills: H 4575 to increase renewable energy and reduce high-cost peak hours; H 4576 to increase grid resiliency through energy storage; H 4577 relative to net metering; and H 1724 relative to energy efficiency.
“These four bills would greatly advance Massachusetts’ clean energy leadership and deliver economic, energy, environmental, and health benefits to residents, businesses and industries across the Commonwealth,” the coalition’s letter said. “Prompt action by the House is needed to ensure final passage of legislation on these topics this session.”
Read the full article from the Taunton Gazette here.
Some entities and stakeholders have raised concerns about the environmental performance of New England’s electricity system during a particularly cold multi-week period in December 2017 and January 2018. Specifically, they have called attention to emissions due to the amount of oil and coal used for electricity generation during that time. Acadia Center takes these concerns very seriously and advocates strongly for reducing pollution that hurts public health and the climate in order to meet the region’s science-based requirements.
In addition, some of these stakeholders are advancing a specific proposal that they argue would solve the region’s emissions issues, a multi-billion-dollar electric ratepayer-funded investment in new natural gas pipeline capacity. Public investments in natural gas pipelines would have significant consequences for the region and the claimed benefits of such an investment should be scrutinized closely.
To provide perspective on the grid’s environmental performance this past winter and the impacts of a proposed major expansion of natural gas pipeline capacity, Acadia Center has developed a fact sheet which takes a comprehensive look at several different regional trends for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, electricity generation, and fuel consumption across all sectors. The results demonstrate that the selective statistics used by pipeline advocates are incomplete at best and significantly misleading at worst.
Policymakers in the region should not be misled by pipeline advocates and must consider a full set of options to ensure that New England continues to progress toward a clean, reliable, and affordable electricity system in the coming years. Eight charts on relevant issues are presented in the fact sheet, but the most important points are included here.
New England is making significant progress reducing GHG emissions from the electric sector over the long-term. New England GHG emissions from electricity generation from March 2017 through February 2018 were 53% lower than in 2001-02, 26% lower than in 2012-13, and 8% lower than in 2016-17. Progress reducing GHG emissions in the electric sector is undeniable, even accounting for emissions related to the cold snap in December 2017 and January 2018.
Figure 1 – Annual GHG Emissions (Mar. to Feb.) from Electricity
Generation in New England
The region has historically seen significant monthly variation in GHG emissions from electricity generation. While GHG emissions from electricity generation in New England were higher in December 2017 and January 2018 than some other months, seasonal and monthly variation in GHG emissions is normal. Monthly GHG emissions from electricity generation in New England are typically higher in hot summers and cold winters. January 2018 was the 10th highest month of GHG emissions dating back to the beginning of 2014, while February 2018 was the lowest in the 21st century.
Figure 2 – Monthly GHG Emissions from Electricity Generation
in New England
GHG emissions from electricity generation are falling in New England because of several drivers, including energy efficiency, increased renewables investment, and a major decrease in the amount of electricity generation from coal and oil. Annual electricity generated by coal and oil from March 2017 through February 2018 was 91% lower than the levels in 2001-02 and 49% lower than just five years ago in 2012-13.
Figure 3 – Annual Electricity Generation from Coal and Oil (Mar. to Feb.)
in New England
New England is rapidly approaching the limit of the GHG reduction strategy of replacing electricity generation from coal and oil with natural gas. As might be expected, coal and oil generation has been reduced in part through increases in natural gas generation. However, as a long-term strategy, shifting from one fossil fuel to another will not allow for the GHG emissions reductions the region needs to meet its science-based commitments.
GHG emissions from natural gas combustion across all sectors, including those from gas delivered through two recent regional pipeline expansions, will be an increasingly significant percentage of overall regional GHG emission limits over time. Looking at combustion emissions in isolation also understates the overall impact of emissions from natural gas because it ignores the significant GHG emissions during extraction and delivery. Adding a major new regional pipeline would only exacerbate this issue, potentially increasing combustion emissions from natural gas to 49% of the overall regional GHG emissions target in 2030, and that would rise to 72% in 2040, and 135% in 2050.
Figure 4 – Natural Gas Combustion Emissions in New England from All Sectors Versus Overall Regional GHG Emissions Requirements
Of course, emissions are not the only important policy consideration for the successful operation of New England’s grid. Other serious considerations are reliability and consumer costs. Some stakeholders have argued that there is a medium-term reliability risk, which could lead to rolling blackouts or other harms. However, a recent report from Synapse Energy Economics demonstrates that, with reasonable expectations for growth in demand for electricity and natural gas and accounting for planned investments in renewables and transmission for clean energy, the risk of major reliability issues is close to zero. Keeping on this path will take some effort but should be achievable.
On the consumer costs side, using hard-earned ratepayer dollars for major new natural gas pipelines would not have any impact on electricity prices until construction is finished, which could be in 2022 or even later. Furthermore, there are good reasons to think that purported consumer benefits would not outweigh the guaranteed costs that ratepayers would have to pay. Major investments are currently being planned for offshore wind and new transmission lines for clean energy that would come online in the same timeframe as a pipeline, and these investments undercut many of the alleged benefits of a pipeline. Additional pipeline capacity would also increase the chances of exporting natural gas out of New England, which would drive up natural gas prices.
In the shorter term, many other available policy options can help improve the reliability of New England’s grid and reduce costs, while simultaneously lowering emissions. This year, ISO-NE is implementing “pay-for-performance” market reforms, which provide additional incentives to generators to respond during times of high demand and high prices. Additional investments in energy efficiency for natural gas and electricity, fixing leaks in the natural gas distribution system, advanced energy storage, local renewables, and grid modernization will start to help right away with energy prices and reliability, while simultaneously advancing the region’s long-term emissions requirements.
The usefulness of using natural gas as a “bridge” over the last two decades is at an end and the region needs to avoid further long-term public investments in fossil fuels. New England’s economic and environmental future depends upon building a clean, reliable, and affordable modern energy system. Acadia Center’s EnergyVision 2030 shows a path to meet economy-wide GHG emissions reductions of 45% from 1990 levels by 2030 using market-ready technologies, with no additional natural gas pipeline capacity needed. It’s time to move forward with a smart portfolio of investments to benefit consumers, create well-paying local jobs, improve public health, and lower the risks of climate change.
PROVIDENCE—Acadia Center applauds the state of Rhode Island for its blueprint to create a modern electric grid that is cleaner, more efficient and more reliable. The Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, the Office of Energy Resources, and the Public Utilities Commission initiated the Power Sector Transformation Initiative in March 2017 at the direction of Governor Gina Raimondo.
“New clean energy technologies at lower costs offer an historic opportunity to build a modern, more equitable energy system that benefits consumers, reduces pollution and improves economic productivity,” said Daniel Sosland, president of Acadia Center. “To achieve that future, states need to reform outdated rules that govern the energy system. With the release of the Power Sector Transformation Phase One report, Rhode Island is embracing that future and has taken a leadership position regionally and nationally.”
The Power Transformation Initiative’s goals are to control long-term electric system costs, to give customers more energy choices, and to build a flexible grid that incorporates more clean energy resources. The agencies jointly released the Rhode Island Power Sector Transformation Phase One report, with accompanying recommendations, earlier this month. Today, National Grid will file a new rate case at the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission, which is the first opportunity to implement these proposed reforms.
“The Power Sector Transformation Initiative has laid out an ambitious path forward to benefit Rhode Island residents, businesses, communities and the environment,” said Erika Niedowski, policy advocate in Acadia Center’s Providence office. “Acadia Center would like to thank the agencies for running a thorough stakeholder process, which has led to a thoughtful and innovative set of recommendations. Acadia Center also looks forward to reviewing National Grid’s soon-to-be filed rate case proposal for its consistency with the recommendations from Power Sector Transformation.”
Acadia Center, which participated extensively in the Power Sector Transformation’s seven-month public stakeholder process, has long advocated for states to embrace these reforms through materials such as UtilityVision and supports the key reforms recommended in the report:
Reforming the utility business model with less emphasis on capital investments and more emphasis on achieving key goals for system efficiency, integration of distributed energy resources, and customer engagement and network support services.
Developing new revenue streams from third parties to improve services for Rhode Island residents and lower ratepayer costs.
Investing in the intelligence and flexibility of the electric grid.
Improving distribution system planning to lower costs, efficiently integrate distributed energy resources, and provide more information and better incentives to customers.
“Rhode Island is poised to be the first state in New England to implement serious reforms to the utility business model,” said Amy Boyd, senior attorney at Acadia Center. “This is a key step to incentivizing utilities to act in the public interest, instead of merely advancing their own bottom line.”
“Acadia Center looks forward to the implementation phase of the Power Sector Transformation Initiative and finding the best path forward on cutting edge issues,” said Mark LeBel, staff attorney at Acadia Center. “Rhode Island should work with New York and Massachusetts to lower the cost to Rhode Island ratepayers of back office investments that can be shared across jurisdictions and define a reasonable role for the utility to advance electric vehicle charging.”