A group of clean-energy proponents are calling on state utility regulators to make sure plans for modernizing the state’s power grid include the necessary components to accommodate the expected increase in use of electric vehicles.
“EVs are a key piece of Connecticut’s clean energy future, and the state’s utilities can play a role in advancing these vehicles,” said Emily Lewis, senior policy analyst for Acadia Center, a regional environmental group with an office in Connecticut. “Through this grid modernization proceeding, PURA can set the stage for utility engagement that supports EV deployment, protects consumers, and shares the benefits of EVs more equitably.”
Read the full article from the New Haven Register here.
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.
After months of hearings and negotiations, an energy initiative called grid modernization is moving forward in Rhode Island, along with new gas and electricity rates.
On Aug. 24 the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved a new model for compensating National Grid for operating and maintaining utility poles, transmission lines, and substations. For the next three years a portion of National Grid’s revenue will also go to making the power grid more cost-efficient and accommodating to renewable power, electric vehicles, and energy storage.
States are increasingly focused on efforts to transform the power sector, but regulators need to strike a delicate balance to ensure that customers are not over-burdened by costly grid modernization investments.
The agreement puts Rhode Island “into a leadership role among New England states seeking to reform utility regulations,” according to a statement from Daniel Sosland, president of the Acadia Center.
The final settlement represents a win for low-income customer advocates, most of whom will see a significant rate reduction. The current discount for income-eligible customers will be doubled to 25% of the total bill, with another 5% for customers who qualify through income restrictive federal assistance programs.
The settlement, approved unanimously by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission in an open meeting, gives the state’s dominant utility about one-third of its original $214.8 million request made last November and less than two-thirds of a revised request of $137.5 million that factored in changes to federal taxes by the Trump administration.
The version of the settlement amended by the commission is also about $4.5 million lower than the initial iteration that was filed in June and resulted from negotiations between the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, National Grid, the state Office of Energy Resources and other stakeholders, such as nonprofit groups the George Wiley Center and Acadia Center.
Read the full article from the Providence Journal 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.
“The settlement includes several changes to the utility business model, which should begin to change the incentives for National Grid — away from traditional capital investments and towards outcomes that benefit consumers and the environment,” Mark LeBel, staff attorney for the Boston-based Acadia Center, wrote in comments to the PUC.
Read the full article from the Providence Journal here.
PROVIDENCE – Today, a comprehensive settlement was filed on behalf of all parties in two related dockets at the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission: National Grid’s rate case and the Power Sector Transformation docket. Acadia Center strongly supports the settlement because it begins to reform the utility business model, makes significant investments in a modern and efficient electricity grid and new clean energy programs, and lays out a pathway for even more ambitious and rigorous reforms. It also saves ratepayers over $40 million in base rates across three years from National Grid’s original proposal and results in a 25-30% bill discount for low income customers. This settlement follows in the footsteps of the Power Sector Transformation Initiative created 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. “With this settlement, Rhode Island jumps into a leadership role among the states on utility regulatory reform necessary to position it for further progress in coming years. Acadia Center is thrilled that Rhode Island is moving to embrace this future and remains committed to ensuring that the state and its residents see significant benefits from these reforms.”
Acadia Center participated in every phase of the Power Sector Transformation process in 2017 and filed testimony in both dockets covered by today’s settlement. Acadia Center has long advocated for states to embrace the types of reforms included in the settlement, through reports and materials such as UtilityVision. This includes reforms to the utility business model that place less emphasis on capital investments and more on results, improvements to the efficiency, intelligence and flexibility of the electric grid, and planning improvements to efficiently use local energy resources and provide customers with better incentives.
“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.”
The settlement also includes new clean energy programs to facilitate increased adoption of efficient electric heating technologies, new investments in electric vehicle charging stations, and competitive procurements for advanced energy storage. It creates a pathway for critical next steps such as a study of advanced metering functionality and time-varying rates and further utility business model reforms.
“Electrification of heating and transportation are crucial pieces of a long-term greenhouse gas reduction strategy. New programs and investments should help push Rhode Island forward in the coming years.” said Mark LeBel, staff attorney at Acadia Center. “In addition, Acadia Center looks forward to next steps and further reforms in Rhode Island. Providing Rhode Island ratepayers with more efficient electricity rates that reflect the costs of electricity usage and help lower peak demand will be key to a smarter electricity system and integrating electric vehicles and heating.”
“Acadia Center would like to thank the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, National Grid, the Office of Energy Resources and other intervenors for all of the hard work and collaboration that went into this settlement,” said Erika Niedowski, policy advocate in Acadia Center’s Providence office. “Collaboration and an open exchange of ideas is crucial to developing policy solutions that meet the needs of a wide range of stakeholders. Establishing the Power Sector Transformation Advisory Group provides a new forum to continue this dialogue on key issues in the coming years.”
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.
57 Consumer, Clean Energy, and Community Organizations Call on State Leaders to Address Counterproductive Decisions
BOSTON — Today, Acadia Center, Health Care Without Harm, MASSPIRG, Vote Solar, and 53 other organizations released a joint statement pointing to serious concerns over decisions by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) in Eversource’s recent electricity rate case. These decisions are inconsistent with the consumer-friendly clean energy future that Massachusetts is striving for. The 57 organizations bringing forward these concerns come from many different perspectives, including low-income and ratepayer advocates, environmental, health and clean energy public interest organizations, solar advocates, and clean energy businesses.
“Massachusetts is embracing many innovations on clean energy, including energy efficiency and offshore wind, that will boost the Commonwealth’s economy, benefit consumers, improve public health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” noted Daniel Sosland, President of Acadia Center. “Unfortunately, in four important ways, the DPU’s decisions in Eversource’s rate case represent a significant step away from embracing a clean energy future. Instead, these DPU decisions provide incentives for the company to invest in outdated and expensive energy infrastructure, reduce customer control, and impose significant unnecessary costs on consumers.”
Two of these decisions, unnecessarily high profit margins (known as the return on equity) and automatic annual revenue increases going forward, could collectively cost ratepayers an extra $460 million over five years. The other two decisions, unprecedented new demand charges on new residential solar customers and the elimination of optional residential on-peak/off-peak rates, would move away from electricity rates that are efficient and consumer-friendly.
“Hospitals typically have very small margins, so every unnecessary penny per kWh for Eversource means a lot less money for healing patients,” said Paul Lipke, Senior Advisor for Energy and Buildings at Health Care Without Harm. “Unless addressed, Eversource’s rate changes also increase pollution and shift costs from energy to health care. This conflicts directly with efforts to constrain the Commonwealth’s health costs, and at a time when households already spend six times on health care what they spend on energy. We can and must do better.”
“The Commission has decided to effectively raise costs, remove value and reduce customers’ understanding of and control over bills by approving Eversource’s new solar demand charge,” said Nathan Phelps, Regulatory Director for Vote Solar. “This decision is out of step with Massachusetts laws to encourage the state’s transition to a clean and reliable electricity system, and out of step with the DPU’s own prior leadership ensuring that solar customers are treated fairly for the local power they generate. We urge the Legislature and the Governor to reject this decision and reinstate Eversource customers’ right to lower their own utility bills with rooftop solar, protect the thousands of solar jobs serving our state, and deliver on the Commonwealth’s commitment to building a clean energy economy.”
“For many of us, our electricity bills are a significant monthly expense, and we rely on regulators to make sure utility companies like Eversource don’t overcharge ratepayers or adopt pricing practices that are deceptive or unfair,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s Consumer Program Director. “In this case, the DPU has approved Eversource’s new pricing schemes that will result in hundreds of millions in excessive charges; while at the same time, Eversource has made it harder for consumers to monitor their electricity use and reduce their bills.”
“Residential on-peak/off-peak rates should be used as a key tool to manage peak demand. Historically, these have been underutilized because the utilities do not publicize them and make them difficult to sign up for,” said Mark LeBel, Staff Attorney for Acadia Center. “Instead of optimizing these rates and making them easier to access, the DPU let Eversource eliminate them.”
The decision on the return on equity is currently being appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by Attorney General Maura Healey, and the decision on demand charges for new residential solar customers is being appealed by Vote Solar and other parties. The decision on demand charges is the subject of a bill recommended favorably by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy at the Massachusetts legislature, and a requirement for optional on-peak/off-peak rates is included in several different bills. The DPU recently denied the Attorney General’s motion for reconsideration on the automatic annual revenue increases.