Long-Term Climate Planning
Acadia Center’s Climate Planning work provides a roadmap between the present and the zero-emissions future our climate requires. Engaging in long-term climate planning informs our other initiatives and is the impetus for our world-class analysis of the solutions most effective in addressing the climate crisis, increasing equity, and sustaining economic viability.
Our priority work areas include:
- Participate and Influence State, Regional and Private Sector Climate Plans. Several states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and others are engaging in state climate plans, establishing goals and identifying policies to pursue. Acadia Center is participating in these processes to recommend and influence action and seek to ensure that ambitious effective plans are adopted. Private sector plans developed by utilities and energy companies are also areas where Acadia Center is engaged in commenting and influencing outcomes.
- Specific Consumer, Equity and Technology Assessments. Acadia Center researches emissions, cost and other information surrounding a specific technology or issue. These can include how to improve energy efficiency treatment of sub-standard housing, to ways to price and support solar power, to the emissions profiles of biomass, renewable natural gas and other fuels.
- Rapid Rebuttal of Inaccurate and Regressive Information. When influential entities seek to support continued reliance on natural gas or make climate claims about technologies, Acadia Center’s data and analysis team prepares accurate materials that rebut and correct information.
Long-Term Climate Planning
Acadia Center prepares reports on long-term climate plans at the state, city and regional levels. These reports have provided ambitious but pragmatic visions of how to attain deep reduction targets through policies and reforms in energy, transportation, buildings and land use. As the first organization to prepare a state roadmap (Climate Change Roadmap for Connecticut) and a regional climate roadmap (Climate Change Roadmap for New England and Eastern Canada), Acadia Center builds on that tradition by maintaining an on-going list of climate planning reports that are intended to fill gaps and demonstrate how specific policies can achieve deep reductions in climate pollution while building a stronger, more consumer friendly and fairer economic future. Acadia Center’s EnergyVision 2030 charts a path for Northeast states to reduce emissions by 50% compared to 1990 levels using market-ready technologies – and Acadia Center works with colleagues to advance policy practices that put the region on that path.
Acadia Center’s long-term climate planning analysis explores questions at the interfaces of energy production and consumption, providing a systemic view that is complementary to the analysis in our other initiatives. We evaluate how policies in one realm, like electrifying transport, affect other areas, like the need for new electricity storage or renewable capacity. This approach facilitates a long-term focus that helps us look beyond most state or agency planning horizons, asking “what if?” questions that will help us avoid making decisions now that lock us into a more polluting future.
Participation in State, Regional and Private Sector Climate Plans
Acadia Center participates or comments on leading state, regional and private sector climate planning. Currently, multiple climate plans are being formulated in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and Connecticut. Other important climate studies are being produced by utilities, ISO-New England and non-profit organizations. Acadia Center uses its regional perspective to compare policies across states and bring best practices surrounding modeling, assumptions, and scenarios to the states and decision-making processes at ISO-NE. Acadia Center is an active participant in public comment processes, advisory and stakeholder committees, and informal reviews of our peers’ work. We bring internal analytical and modeling capacity, long a core part of our mission and our theory of change. Our team provides an independent, credible critique of climate plans developed by utilities and energy companies which often have a financial stake in the outcome of the studies, and in doing so, provides more accurate information for decisionmakers to rely on in making policy. Acadia Center’s analysts examine the health, economic, and equity impacts of proposed state and regional action and ensures that we are advocating for the right policies to move us towards a zero-carbon future.
Data-Based Assessments of Climate Impacts of Specific Policies and Programs
Acadia Center applies data based arguments for bold, effective and equitable clean energy solutions through channels that go beyond traditional structured stakeholder comments and expert testimony, blogs and editorials. Acadia Center’s analytical capacity allows it to conduct studies such as our June 2020 analysis, “The Declining Role of Natural Gas Power in New England”, which demonstrates how the need for gas-fired electricity is already winding down, and shows that there are benefits to adding more renewables instead. Acadia Center’s capacities allow us to prepare “rapid response” rebuttals when needed to claims that Acadia Center works with partners and frontline advocates to get studies into the hands of those who need to see them, and translates work that is often complex and numerical into audience-accessible formats.
Acadia Center’s Building Electrification Program couples regional coalition-building with reliable modeling and analysis to create momentum for innovative policies to make every building a zero-emissions building.
Buildings are the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast. In order to reach our climate goals, 12.7 million housing units and more than 10 billion square feet of commercial real estate must be completely electrified in the next two decades or sooner. The barriers are more logistical than technical: there are millions of individual decision-makers to coordinate, long equipment lifetimes and idiosyncratic building stock to account for, and safety hazards like asbestos to remediate. Acadia Center’s policy analysis and building energy modeling help to sort through these barriers and arrive at innovative policy proposals that will eliminate emissions from buildings.
Energy efficiency has been, and will continue to be, the lowest cost greenhouse gas mitigation strategy for the Northeast—and every other region. Read more about Acadia Center’s history as a leading energy efficiency advocate and its plans for the next generation of energy efficiency here.
About Building Electrification
To eliminate emissions from buildings, all of the equipment that currently burns fossil fuels in our homes and businesses must be replaced with an efficient, electric alternative. Modern electric equipment like heat pumps and induction stoves have the potential to be straightforwardly, verifiably, fully zero-emissions when powered by the sun or the wind. But even with the current electric grid, heat pumps can reduce emissions by about 60% or more compared to the cleanest fossil fuel system.
Heat pumps reduce emissions so substantially because they are super-efficient: rather than generating heat, they move it from one place to another. Taking advantage of the tendency of warm air to move to cold areas, a heat pump uses a refrigerant to gather heat from the outside air or the ground and deposit it within a living space. By contrast, a furnace or boiler works by burning a fossil fuel to heat a medium—water or metal—which is then used to heat the living space. That extra step is costly: while heat pumps have an average annual efficiency of nearly 300%, most boilers and furnaces sold today are 85% to 90% efficient.
Heat pumps might sound like a strange new technology, but most people in the Northeast already own one: central and window air conditioners use the same process, but in reverse. Indeed, many of the cold climate heat pumps which will heat our buildings in the future even look similar to a central air conditioner. Heat pump technology can provide a building with space heating, air conditioning, and water heating—the three end uses that account for the lion’s share of energy use and emissions in most buildings.
Induction cooking appliances round out the clean, all-electric building of the future. While this equipment is super-efficient—it can boil a quart of water in ninety seconds—its most important feature is that it provides a superior cooking experience with none of the dangerous fumes that gas stoves generate. One of these fumes—nitrogen dioxide—has even been linked to the development of asthma in children. Induction stoves are yet another example of the many health benefits of electrification in buildings.
Policy & Coalitions
Heat pumps are commercially available, prevalent in other parts of the world, and a crucial part of achieving state climate goals. Despite that, public awareness of the technology is limited in the Northeast. As a result, meaningful state policies remain sparse. Acadia Center’s clean heating work is focused on working with policymakers, advocates, and the public to spread awareness about the benefits of this technology.
Working for justice. Building electrification is desirable not just for its potential to reduce emissions, but because it means cleaner indoor air, less heat stress illness, and a significant reduction in energy bills for many homes. Specifically, electrification can eliminate some of the negative impacts that fossil fuels have on low-income households, people of color, and English-isolated families. These communities bear the brunt of fossil fuels’ health and safety impacts. Acadia Center’s advocacy focuses on the need to invest materially in the buildings in which these communities live and work, reducing these threats to their well-being.
Spreading awareness. Heat pump equipment can save money, increase comfort, improve health and safety, and reduce emissions. Yet because cold-climate heat pump models are relatively new to the Northeast, the benefits of the technology are not well understood. Acadia Center’s informative reports—like Clean Heating Pathways—use plain language and clear data to demonstrate that clean heating will improve people’s lives in concrete ways.
Energetic advocacy. State policies that offer financial assistance for electrification measures, set statewide electrification targets, ensure that every state resident can benefit from electrification regardless of income, and provide support for the contractor community are critical for expanding the marketplace for clean heating equipment. Acadia Center uses its role on energy efficiency advisory councils and works in coalition with its partners to make the case for ambitious and innovative policy approaches that will lead to widespread adoption of heat pumps across the region.
Policy development. Acadia Center brings deep subject matter expertise about building science and HVAC technology to state climate policy discussions. Working with stakeholder bodies, agency decision-makers, trade associations, and a variety of other industry actors, Acadia Center brings its research to bear in the regulatory arena, ensuring that state policies and regulations reflect sound science and respond effectively to the needs of state residents.
Acadia Center’s advocacy for building electrification spans the Northeast. And because weather, fuel prices, cost of living, and building stock characteristics vary widely from place to place, research and analysis must be closely calibrated to local conditions to provide policymakers with the most relevant possible information.
The PowerHouse home energy model provides this hyper-local analysis. Leveraging trusted data sources, the model generates a detailed assessment of the energy, emissions, and bill impacts of whole-home electrification on an hourly basis. A series of Power House reports is scheduled for release starting in early 2021. These will answer a variety of questions significant to policymakers, including:
- How much money will electrification save for building occupants relative to fossil fuel business-as-usual?
- How much greenhouse gas emissions can electrification reduce?
- Precisely how will the growth of solar and wind on the electric grid impact the emissions impacts of electrification?
- What will the winter peak impacts of building electrification be, and what are the best ways to manage them?
- How much do heat pumps cost to install, and how will capital costs change with supportive policies?
Building electrification represents one of the great steps forward that states in the Northeast must make to meet climate commitments. Armed with analytical, regulatory, legal, and policy expertise, Acadia Center staff are working to transform the built environment for a zero-carbon economy.
Acadia Center’s research and advocacy is helping to advance policies such as:
- Better consumer incentives for home and business owners who choose to electrify
- All-electric building codes that avoid locking in fossil fuel heating in new buildings
- Workforce development programs that support contractors who install heat pump technologies
- Pairing weatherization and electrification measures to maximize health and emissions benefits
- Flexible electric rate designs that allow building occupants to capture bill savings with their heat pump
Attaining the Northeast region’s climate goals requires continued shift in electricity generation away from fossil fuels like natural gas to low and no-carbon power generation. As the buildings and transportation sectors, which are currently the largest emissions sources, become increasingly powered by clean electricity, climate pollution in these two areas will fall. Acadia Center works to increase clean electricity by pressing for policies including renewable portfolio standards, solar incentive programs, and competitive procurements from offshore wind generators, as well as staying at the table to ensure that these policies are well-designed and achieve their goals. Acadia Center’s engagement in the electric power sector focuses on three main priorities:
- Advancing clean large-scale electricity generation;
- Advancing local, distributed clean energy; and
- Aligning the regional electricity system with clean energy and climate goals.
In advocating for the transformation of electric generation, Acadia Center promotes change that:
- Brings about rapid decarbonization of the grid and end the region’s dangerous and costly dependence on natural gas, by removing barriers to greater clean energy deployment;
- Addresses equity and health disparities and end the detrimental effects of fossil fuel infrastructure on frontline communities;
- Reshapes the regional electricity system to fully recognize the benefits of state climate and clean energy commitments; and
- Is supported by forward-looking analyses of decarbonization pathways, clean power scenarios, and policy advances.
Advancing Clean Large-Scale Electricity Generation
Acadia Center advocates for Northeast states continuing to set and achieve clean energy goals through well-designed and implemented market-based policies such as renewable portfolio standards (RPS’s) and competitively procured large-scale renewable generation such as offshore wind. Given the region’s opportunity to reach significant levels of offshore wind, Acadia Center works to raise state commitments, continuously improve the procurement processes, and ensure that existing commitments are fulfilled. As these clean energy resources continue to expand, Acadia Center promotes regional solutions that will achieve the region’s offshore wind targets in the most rapid, cost-effective, and environmentally responsible way. In 2019, Northeast states more than doubled Acadia Center’s 2030 minimum OSW (off-shore wind) recommendations, and made commitments to 14,600MW by 2035.
Advancing Local, Distributed Clean Energy
Throughout the region, Acadia Center strives to increase opportunities for all distributed energy resources to play a role in the clean energy future. Acadia Center advocates for state policies that will grow our region’s reliance on local resources such as renewable energy storage and distributed generation like solar. Acadia Center plays a leading role in ensuring states look first to local energy resources that improve the reliability of the distribution grid and provide direct benefits to residents.
Solar power is one of the cleanest, most affordable sources of renewable, zero-carbon energy available and an essential tool for reaching state carbon reduction goals. Acadia Center has successfully preserved or improved state net metering programs, making solar more beneficial to customers. Expanding solar power needs to be balanced against the need to preserve and protect the region’s best farm and forest land. Through engagement in stakeholder processes, Acadia Center advances responsible siting policies that overcome deployment barriers and protect precious resources like farms and forests.
Aligning the Regional Electricity System with Clean Energy and Climate Goals
Regional electricity markets serving New England (ISO-NE) operate under policies and rules that are increasingly at odds with state climate goals and commitments to clean energy. Serious flaws in regional electricity market rules lead to shortsighted, expensive decisions that are costly for all consumers. The market rules give natural gas (better termed “fossil gas”) power plants a significant advantage over viable clean energy resources, delaying the retirement of fossil power plants and jeopardizing the region’s clean energy future. These biased rules are leading to continued investments in and support for fossil gas, disproportionately impacting people that live near the plants and suffer negative health impacts as a result.
For the Northeast to achieve its climate goals and capture the many benefits of clean energy resources, the rules and priorities that govern the regional electricity system must change. The conditions are ripe for transformation. Through analysis, public education, and coalition engagement, Acadia Center is driving efforts to press for needed reforms to realign the regional electricity system to support clean energy, environmental justice, and climate progress.
Acadia Center has long worked to raise awareness of the need to reform outdated and biased ISO-NE rules and financial incentives and to align the regional electricity system with climate goals and consumer benefits. This work includes advocating for the inclusion of energy efficiency as a resource into long-term forecasting. Energy efficiency is now an accepted part of ISO-NE’s long-range load forecast, which led to the suspension of over $400 million of unnecessary transmission projects. Acadia Center has created public engagement materials that highlight this issue, such as Incentives For Change, which shows how the current process selects higher-priced and dirtier solutions by ignoring clean energy technologies.
As a member of the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL), Acadia Center advocates within “insider” forums traditionally dominated by well-funded, entrenched interests at ISO and NEPOOL seeking a system that favors natural gas infrastructure that will burden the region for decades. Acadia Center uses its analytical capacity and fifteen years of experience to engage with a range of coalition partners and to steer these highly technical discussions. This engagement informs stakeholders’ regional and state advocacy on clean energy goals, and also informs Acadia Center’s advocacy for meaningful outcomes at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), ISO-NE, and NEPOOL.
Reframe and Amplify
The benefits of a clean energy future are countless: better health, cleaner air, safer homes, jobs and economic vitality, to name a few. Yet oftentimes these core benefits for people of the Northeast gets lost in the din of technical requirements, detailed regulations, and legislative jargon. These are all extremely important, but they can cloud the human value of lower emissions, and greater electrification of our homes, cars and businesses. Perhaps most disturbing, the voices of our neighbors who are most directly and negatively impacted by the climate crisis fueled by extractions and use of fossil fuels, have been simply drowned out.
To fully live Acadia Center’s mission, we must continue to strongly encourage diverse voices to be heard. For example, the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) must be equitable and include strong safeguards and guarantees that directly and tangibly benefit over-burdened and underserved communities, including significant program investments for these communities. In addition, TCI insists that representatives from these neighborhoods have a majority presence in state’s Equity Advisory Bodies and have clear decision-making roles.
We know that building heating, cooling and lighting still produce over a third of all emissions in the Northeast – and most poorer quality housing remains untreated in energy efficient updates, damaging the health of residents, often those who live in low income communities. Acadia Center’s Next Generation Energy Efficiency Initiative is intended to improve the level of energy efficiency investments in our most vulnerable areas. How? By refocusing our work with state energy efficiency programs on substandard buildings that leak greenhouse gases and pose serious indoor air quality and safety risks to their residents.
Government Agency Reform
Why do we need government agency reform?
States have committed to significant economy-wide cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In order to achieve these ambitious goals, government agencies should be empowered to prioritize climate change impacts and mitigation in their decisions. The latest climate science calls for decarbonization at a speed and scale well beyond what the Northeast has already achieved and will require deep emissions cuts from all sectors. The decisions that government agencies make today will create the building stock, transportation and mobility systems, and energy infrastructure of 2030, 2050, and beyond. Delay in taking significant steps to plan for such emissions reductions will only require more expensive and drastic cuts in later years.
Despite the potential to make decisions with long-range climate consequences, government agencies generally have enabling statutes that are silent on climate change or give it insufficient priority in agency decisions, relative to more conventional priorities. As a result, even if regulators want to factor benefits and costs of climate action into their decisions, their obligations to conventional priorities, such as focusing on utility rates to the exclusion of many other vital considerations, may prevent such action. ISO-NE does not consider state climate goals, which result in structures that place too much value in on-demand fuels and do not factor in climate change or states’ large-scale procurements of renewable energy like offshore wind. This regulatory climate-blindness is a major barrier to regional and state-level climate progress that must be addressed.
Government agencies play powerful roles in key carbon-intensive sectors such as electricity and natural gas, transportation, buildings, and land use. Their regulatory decisions can shape and approve major investments that lock in significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions over multi-decadal timeframes. Examples of government agency regulatory decisions with serious, long-term climate ramifications include: establishing building and energy codes, setting forestry policy for state lands, authorizing expansion of local natural gas distribution systems, setting incentive levels for utility investments and approving transportation projects such as new highways and road construction.
Everyday agency spending decisions like purchasing a new fleet of buses, funding affordable housing projects, refurbishing a building, or setting the budget for transit can either lock in fossil fuel use for decades or advance climate goals.
Acadia Center works to address these issues in three key areas:
- Strengthening state climate statutes to correspond with current science, setting targets along the way to 2050, and directing the relevant agencies to make decisions in line with those targets.
- Updating state agencies’ enabling statutes to prioritize climate alongside other more traditional aspects of their missions, such as providing affordable housing, planning efficient transportation systems, or keeping utility rates low.
- Reforming ISO-NE’s policies and procedures to include considerations of state climate goals and clean energy procurements in its markets and planning to avoid waste, duplication of efforts, and working at cross-purposes with the state governments.
The following list of examples illustrates some of the functions of government agencies and the many ways they have a role to play in achieving climate goals:
- Public Utility Commissions (PUCs): Regulate the rates, services, and investment decisions of investor-owned electric and gas utilities. With a mandate to consider climate, the PUCs could assist with the transition away from fossil fuel use by winding down the gas industry and infrastructure, and preparing the grid for electrification and renewables.
- Departments of Energy Resources/State Energy Offices: Design and administer programs to meet state energy goals, including energy efficiency programs, clean energy incentives, and state renewable energy portfolio standards.
- Departments of Housing and Urban Development: Oversee public housing development and affordability programs, including issues related to building safety and occupant health. With a mandate to consider climate, they could require electrification and high levels of efficiency, lowering energy bills for those who can least afford it.
- Departments of Transportation/Transit Authorities: Oversees transportation infrastructure and public transit systems. Without a mandate to consider climate, the DOT may not prioritize transportation electrification and zero-emissions and active mobility options.
- Energy Facility Siting Councils: Determine whether new generation facilities, pipelines, and other energy infrastructure projects are needed and where they should be located. With a mandate to consider climate, they could evaluate the climate impacts of new energy facilities and act accordingly.
- Departments of Agriculture: A clear climate mandate could help empower a Department of Agriculture to consider climate impacts of fuels, fertilizers, machinery, and land management practices, and reorient their funding to support programs that reduce emissions, sequester carbon, and make agriculture more resilient to the effects of climate change.
- Departments of Conservation, Recreation, and Environmental Protection, or Fish and Wildlife: Manage state parks and other public lands, including state forests, beaches, and watershed areas. With a mandate to consider climate, they could implement efforts to sequester additional carbon in soils and forests and expand urban tree canopies. These agencies are also intimately involved in adaptation measures on natural lands, dealing with the effects of sea level rise in natural areas on the coastal areas, and planning for how wildlife and fisheries will be affected by climate change.
- Boards of Building Regulations and Standards: Adopt and administer the state building codes. A clear climate mandate could empower these boards to stop fossil fuel usage in new buildings, require certain buildings to be solar-ready or electric vehicle-ready, and improve efficiency in existing buildings.
- Independent System Operators (ISO): ISO-New England (ISO-NE and New York ISO (NYISO) are entities that oversee real-time management of the electricity grid, facilitation of wholesale markets for the procurement of energy-related services, as well as long-term planning to meet the region’s energy needs. Their decisions have a major impact on energy infrastructure and on whether the power grids are aligned with state clean power and climate goals.
State agencies and regional operators like ISO-NE must act now to prioritize climate and stop approving investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, especially since customers will still be paying for it long after we have abandoned it to mitigate climate risks. By reforming the enabling statutes to specifically add climate and climate justice to the agencies’ responsibilities we can empower the agencies not only to make decisions that incorporate considerations of the costs and benefits of climate action, in alignment with states’ climate goals, but also give the agencies the authority to push achievement of those goals and others like climate justice, equity, and transparency forward. These long-lasting updates to the agencies’ mission will serve as a tempering force against the preferences of different administrations by integrating climate and justice considerations into law as fully as possible.
States in the Northeast have acknowledged the urgency of the climate crisis, established nation-leading emissions reduction targets for 2030, and made great progress in reducing pollution from the electric sector. Unfortunately, transportation emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region have remained stubbornly high—now accounting for 43% of total CO2 emissions—and time is running out to establish the policies necessary to achieve the region’s 2030 targets.
Beyond the urgent need for action to address climate change, our outdated and underfunded transportation system hinders economic opportunity and has devastating public health impacts. Worst of all, those economic barriers and public health costs overwhelmingly affect our most marginalized populations: low-income communities, communities of color, and the rural communities lacking mobility options. After a century of transportation decisions that have exacerbated inequalities, leading to cities segregated by highways and the emergence of transit deserts, it is well past time for investment in a just and sustainable transportation future.
Acadia Center is working to advance a suite of policies across the region that will deliver cleaner, more accessible, and more affordable transportation options that will help all of our communities thrive.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative
The Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) has the potential to deliver substantial pollution reductions while generating funds for clean transportation investments. Through this initiative, twelve Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and Washington, D.C. have been working together to develop a regional program that will place a declining limit on carbon emissions while delivering a new funding source to help advance a more modern, equitable, low-carbon transportation future. Acadia Center is working with partners at the local and regional level to ensure that TCI lives up to its potential by crafting a program that is both ambitious on climate and designed to prioritize benefits in communities that lack access to transportation options and suffer from transportation pollution.
Acadia Center takes a collaborative approach to TCI advocacy, working closely with partners to lead state-focused TCI forums and at the regional level through Our Transportation Future. Acadia Center’s TCI analysis helps to inform stakeholders and policymakers on the opportunities presented through TCI, namely improving air quality, addressing climate change, and supporting a range of clean transportation investments to help every community thrive.
While the TCI program has the potential to deliver substantial benefits, it can’t solve all of our region’s transportation challenges. Acadia Center is working with partners to advance companion policies that will help us achieve our shared vision for a clean transportation future.
Supporting Multi-Modal Mobility
Transportation investments made to-date have largely prioritized infrastructure for cars at the expense of our communities and environment. Shifting resources from car lanes and parking lots to public transit, sidewalks, bike lanes and green spaces will improve mobility options, reduce air pollution, and create more connected communities.
Accessible, affordable, and reliable public transit serves as the connective tissue for sustainable, equitable communities. Compared to personal vehicles, efficient public transit systems move more people more quickly, reduce transportation costs, alleviate traffic, produce less pollution, and allow communities to reclaim paved roadways for things people care about, like parks, restaurant patios, and bike paths. Unfortunately, public transit systems across the region are underfunded, leaving many riders with infrequent, unreliable service while many others have no access to transit at all. That lack of sufficient transit presents a major barrier between underserved communities and jobs, healthcare services, and other basic needs, exacerbating economic and health disparities. Increased public transit funding and fare-free transit can help deliver a more equitable, sustainable future.
Active transportation—primarily walking and biking—offers pollution-free mobility and substantial health benefits, but the lack of safe and connected sidewalks and bike lanes can be a major deterrent. Rather than continuing the history of car-centric investment, we should be investing in infrastructure to support active mobility and complete streets, ensuring that everyone can get around safely and efficiently whether they are walking, biking, on the bus or in a car.
The vast majority of transportation pollution comes from vehicle tailpipes, with cars, trucks, and buses accounting for 82% of the transportation sector’s CO2 emissions. In order to meaningfully and urgently address the transportation sector’s contributions to climate change and poor air quality, a rapid transition from polluting vehicles to non-emitting electric vehicles (EVs) is necessary. Vehicles powered by electricity produce far less pollution than those running on gasoline or diesel, and as the electric grid gets cleaner, the benefits of electrification will grow. Acadia Center is working across a variety of forums to advance transportation electrification policies that are ambitious, equitable, and good for consumers.
Acadia Center uses our seats on key decision-making bodies to advocate for policies that will help consumers, companies, and public fleets transition to EVs. Through forums including the Massachusetts Zero Emission Vehicle Commission and the Connecticut CHEAPR Board, Acadia Center has worked to establish and increase rebates for EVs to help address cost barriers, while also calling for the expansion of rebate programs to include used vehicles, electric bikes, and other measures designed to expand access to electric mobility options, particularly for low- and moderate-income consumers.
Beyond vehicle incentives, Acadia Center supports electric vehicle targets and requirements as another means of shifting the market towards clean vehicles. Through the Multi-State ZEV Task Force and the recent Multi-State Medium- and Heavy-Duty ZEV agreement, states are working together to ensure that auto manufacturers and major vehicle purchasers are active participants in the transition to an electrified future. Across all of these efforts, Acadia Center advocates for the prioritized deployment of clean vehicles—like electric buses and delivery vehicles—in communities facing the worst impacts from transportation pollution.
Acadia Center also applies its expertise in electric utility rates and grid modernization in the vehicle electrification arena. Changes to electric utility rate structures can ensure that charging EVs—whether at home, at work, in town or on the highway—is good for consumers, the electric grid and the environment. For example, through time-of-use (TOU) rates utilities can offer customers electricity at lower costs when demand for electricity is low. By incentivizing EV charging when demand for electricity is low, we can ensure that EV owners save money, the grid is more balanced, and we all benefit from cleaner air and lower electricity costs because there is less need to run the oldest, dirtiest, most expensive power plants.
In Acadia Center’s vision of a modern grid, homes and businesses are the centerpiece of the energy system. Consumers have greater control over their energy use through technologies such as rooftop solar, community energy systems, advanced meters to control and monitor power usage, and technologies such as smart appliances, localized energy storage, and heat pumps. Acadia Center’s UtilityVision presents this comprehensive vision and lays out a plan to better align utility decision-making with policy and societal goals. Acadia Center works at the state and regional level to make this vision a reality, pushing for regulatory and statutory change to enable better decisions, a more resilient grid, and more participation from voices that are routinely shut out of energy decision-making.
Building a modern, consumer-oriented energy grid
While consumer-oriented technology has raced forward in recent years, the energy grid that underpins the Northeast’s economy has not. The aging infrastructure, the regulatory structure that governs utilities, the planning and investment policies, and a focus on increasing supply (rather than decreasing demand) all date from an era when energy came only from large fossil-fueled power plants, and customers had little choice about their energy. But with the right reforms, investments, upgrades, and focus on the needs of people and the environment, the energy grid can transform from last century’s leftovers to the resilient backbone of the modern, electrified, and low-carbon economy.
Yet a major obstacle stands in the way: utility business models are increasingly incompatible with climate and clean energy goals.
With traditional cost-of-service regulation, utilities recoup their expenses and earn a return based on spending more capital. However, this incentivizes utilities to invest in large infrastructure projects, rather than in energy efficiency, clean energy resources, and third-party ownership structures that could save consumers money. These traditional incentives do not motivate utilities to be full partners in the effort to transform the energy system to meet state climate targets. Acadia Center is working to remove these barriers and reimagine a modern utility system response to climate and consumer needs.
One indicator of Acadia Center’s success in this area is the proliferation of state regulatory proceedings addressing portions of the issues that Acadia Center has raised, which include: grid modernization, non-wires alternatives, transparency in integration of distributed energy resources, utility business model reforms, distribution system planning reforms, and even fossil gas distribution system planning reforms and planning for the future of the gas utility business model. Acadia Center is an active participant in these proceedings, and, when states are not moving quickly or comprehensively enough, creating thought leadership documents for the public arena to raise the profile of these issues.
Acadia Center’s priorities include:
- Intervening in targeted regulatory proceedings where our voice can have the most impact. Many of the most important decisions guiding the actions that utilities take to meet energy demand and plan for the future are made at public utility commissions (PUCs). Acadia Center provides expert testimony and analysis to inform the decisions that regulators make to ensure that they protect ratepayers and help to meet state climate and clean energy goals.
- Creating coalitions to support legislation for reforming agency mandates and missions, especially at public utility commissions, to put climate and energy justice front and center, and ensure that all agencies are committed to helping the states reach their emissions reduction targets.
- Raising awareness through media, blogs, and outreach to other organizations about how the outdated business models and incentives which pay utilities to build and own more infrastructure work against clean energy, climate goals, and the best value for the ratepayer.
- Harnessing the utility profit motive to drive environmental benefits by letting utilities earn returns when they achieve performance incentive targets (rather than simply building more infrastructure), as well as allowing investment where it supports the environment, such as “make-ready” electric vehicle charging infrastructure that can jump-start states’ electric vehicle commitments.
- Advocating for consumer control of their energy through reforms to rate design that keep fixed charges low, reflect the real cost drivers of energy, pay consumers the right value for generating renewable energy, and empower people to save money and protect the grid by conserving energy when it matters most.
- Advocating for responsive and flexible demand through the use of time-varying rates and other price signals, energy storage, active demand management, and lighting with controls, as well as strategic efforts to charge electric vehicles and run heat pumps at the right times of day when renewable energy is most plentiful. Advanced technologies and controls can enable better optimization of the electric grid, reducing both costs and emissions.
Educate and Activate
One of the main goals of the Communications and Public Engagement program is to create educational resources for people at different levels of familiarity with the climate and energy system. We write blogs that cover new developments in the energy world, social media for quick updates and event information, and formal technical reports, for those who want to dive deeply into the data on one particular area. In 2021, we will roll out a series of primers on key concepts and players in the energy system here in the Northeast. We aim to create materials for a broad audience, including energy professionals, community activists, students, and engaged citizens.
Creating a wide range of materials provides lots of entry points into our work. Energy and climate reports can be full of jargon and acronyms, which can be useful shorthand for those familiar with them but create major barriers to understanding for the wider public who also has a stake in this work. In addition, this jargon creates the illusion that a topic is too complicated for the average person to understand. We aim to provide context and foundational knowledge for these more complex themes, so that you can understand the fundamental dynamics at play.
When people imagine “the energy system”, they often think of the wires, power plants poles, oil refineries – all the infrastructure. But this system did not simply appear: it was built piece by piece through people making decisions. New decisions are being made every day that will shape our future energy system which can lead to either catastrophic climate change or create a clean energy economy. We want you to be able to be involved in these decisions, and we hope that our educational materials give you some of the tools that you need to be engaged. Our goal is to help people understand the complex energy system that we live in, and the levers for change within it.
Acadia Center works with partners across the region to establish and strengthen programs that reduce pollution and invest in a clean energy future. Acadia Center’s Carbon Markets Program focuses on policies that hold polluters financially accountable for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and generate funding for programs and projects that reduce harmful pollution, create jobs, and deliver a better quality of life in every community. Our advocacy on carbon programs is focused on three opportunities:
- Strengthening the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to reduce pollution from power plants and make investments in clean energy and energy efficiency.
- Launching an ambitious, equitable program through the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) to reduce pollution from vehicles and fund transportation investments that will give more people access to clean, affordable mobility options.
- Passing legislation to establish an economy-wide price on carbon, accelerating our transition to a clean energy future.
Why Carbon Programs?
Currently, the price of fossil fuels is not grounded in the reality of their health impacts: the price neither reflects the current impacts of local air pollution, nor the devastating effects of current and future climate change. To transition our economy as quickly as possible away from fossil fuels and to level the playing field for clean alternatives, we need to begin by making the price reflect the “true cost” of fossil fuel use. Charging for CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions helps hold polluters accountable and ensures that the price of fossil-fuel fired power reflects some of the costs imposed on society (sometimes referred to as the “social cost of carbon”). With a more accurate price on greenhouse gas-spewing activities, the markets we already rely on will deliver better, cleaner options. Putting a price on carbon allows individual firms to find their own creative solutions to reducing emissions and could achieve emissions cuts more quickly, cheaply, and efficiently than with regulation alone.
These carbon pricing policies take the form of either cap-and-invest programs or flat fees (often referred to as “carbon taxes”) applied to greenhouse gas emissions. Acadia Center’s work has been instrumental in establishing and strengthening the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first regional cap-and-invest program in the nation, and Acadia Center is currently working to ensure that the region improves on that model in the transportation sector through the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). Cap-and-invest programs set a declining limit (“cap”) on emissions, hold auctions through which polluters can buy emissions allowances, and use the proceeds from those auctions to invest in projects that achieve strategic decarbonization goals. Both the price of allowances and the investment of allowance proceeds help to reduce pollution.
Guiding Considerations for Acadia Center’s Carbon Markets Program
Acadia Center’s work to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions focuses on two key considerations:
- Cap-and-invest programs alone are insufficient; additional, complementary policies are necessary at the federal, state, and local level to deliver CO2 reductions with the urgency required to address the climate crisis. For example, robust energy efficiency programs are critical for cutting pollution in the electric sector while helping consumers save on their energy bills. In the transportation sector, sufficiently funded public transit (made affordable for all riders) is a critical complementary measure to TCI. Both examples above are necessary under any circumstances, but cap-and-invest programs can provide an important source of funding to help make them possible.
- Market-based solutions have the potential to exacerbate environmental and social injustices if they are not designed with equity as a top priority and meaningful input from frontline communities. While economists favor carbon pricing for its ability to deliver CO2 reductions at the lowest possible cost, relying on price signals alone does not ensure that emission reductions will occur in the communities most in need of cleaner air. People living in low-income communities and communities of color which bear the brunt of environmental injustices are rightfully concerned that a continued reliance on market forces will maintain the inequitable factors that have left them breathing dirtier air. Acadia Center is committed in its advocacy on market-based policies to ensuring that these concerns are heard and addressed with solutions that deliver cleaner air in communities overburdened by pollution and greater investment in underserved communities.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: Reducing Power Plant Pollution and Investing in the Clean Energy Future
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounced “Reggie”) is a cap-and-invest program that was launched as a first-in-the-nation program designed to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants. Since RGGI’s launch the participating states have experienced substantial benefits and demonstrated that climate action can be a boon for the economy. The states and stakeholders have also learned valuable lessons through the RGGI experience, both in terms of what has worked and what must be improved on to deliver a truly ambitious and equitable program.
As detailed in Acadia Center’s RGGI: 10 Years in Review Report, since 2008, the RGGI program has helped participating states outperform the rest of the country:
- CO2 emissions from RGGI power plants have fallen by 47%, outpacing the rest of the country by 90%;
- Electricity prices in RGGI states have fallen by 5.7%, while prices have increased in the rest of the country by 8.6%;
- GDP of the RGGI states has grown by 47%, outpacing growth in rest of the country by 31%;
- RGGI states have generated $3.2 billion in allowance auction proceeds, the majority of which have been invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs; and
- RGGI-driven reductions in co-pollutant emissions have resulted in over $5.7 billion in health and productivity benefits.
While RGGI has been a proven success at the regional level, Acadia Center is working hard to make it stronger and to ensure that the program delivers benefits in overburdened and underserved communities. Through the 2021 RGGI Program Review, Acadia Center and our allies will be advocating for key improvements—including a more ambitious emissions cap—to help participating states cut power plant pollution faster. Acadia Center will also be working at the state and regional level to include protections for communities suffering from disproportionate pollution, to guarantee a larger share of RGGI proceeds reach underserved communities, and to ensure that RGGI-funded programs are designed to meet the needs of all residents. For example, Acadia Center uses its seat on state energy efficiency councils to deliver next-generation energy efficiency programs that will give low-income consumers and renters greater access to RGGI-supported energy savings.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative: Reducing Vehicle Pollution and Investing in Clean, Modern, Equitable Transportation Options
The Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) has the potential to deliver substantial pollution reductions while generating funds for clean transportation investments. Through this initiative, twelve Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and Washington, D.C. have been working together to develop a regional program that will place a declining limit on carbon emissions from transportation while delivering a new funding source to help advance a more modern, equitable, low-carbon transportation future. Acadia Center is leading efforts at the local and regional level to ensure that TCI lives up to its potential by crafting a program that is both ambitious on climate and designed to prioritize benefits in communities that lack access to transportation options and suffer from transportation pollution.
Acadia Center takes a collaborative approach to TCI advocacy, working closely with partners to lead state-focused TCI forums and at the regional level through Our Transportation Future. Acadia Center’s TCI analysis helps to inform stakeholders and policymakers on the opportunities presented through TCI, namely improving air quality, addressing climate change, and supporting a range of clean transportation investments to help every community thrive.
Carbon Pricing Legislation
Working through coalitions in states across the region, Acadia Center has been working to pass first-in-the-nation carbon pricing legislation. Acadia Center supports bills like An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions in Massachusetts, which would establish a price on carbon across the economy, invest in clean energy through a Green Infrastructure Fund that Acadia Center helped design, and provide income-based rebates to ensure progressive impacts.
Over the past 10 years, the Northeast has greatly expanded its investment in energy efficiency as a “first fuel.” This period has seen a dramatic escalation in energy efficiency primarily as the result of two steps: the adoption of state requirements for electric and gas utilities to purchase all cost-effective energy efficiency resources when cheaper than new power plants; and the creation of stakeholder-driven energy efficiency advisory boards to negotiate and design programs, budgets, and savings goals. The result has been a five-fold increase in efficiency funding, the most aggressive savings goals in the nation, and the highest per capita spending on energy efficiency in the country. Most importantly for consumers, since 2012, the New England energy efficiency programs have resulted in $26 billion in lifetime benefits, and 800 billion BTUs of lifetime energy saved, equivalent to over 12 years of electricity generated at New England’s two nuclear energy facilities. These programs are highly cost effective – on average, every $1 invested returns $3 in benefits. Acadia Center is proud to have been a key advocate and catalyst over the past decade for the policies that have boosted energy efficiency, and to have made the commitment to stay at the table.
Acadia Center advocates for forward-looking efficiency policies in state legislatures across the region and through its seats on state energy efficiency stakeholder bodies such as the:
- Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council
- Connecticut Energy Efficiency Board
- Rhode Island Energy Efficiency Technical Working Group, and for many years as a leading member of its Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council
- Maine Climate Council’s Buildings, Housing, and Infrastructure Working Group, and previously, as the proponent of the creation of Efficiency Maine
- New Hampshire Energy Efficiency Resource Standard Committee
While the efficiency programs of the Northeast have produced enormous benefits, savings for consumers, and public health improvements, as well as delivering the largest reductions in greenhouse gas across the region, Acadia Center works to ensure that they can do much more. Building heating, cooling, and lighting continue to produce over a third of emissions in the Northeast. Acadia Center is evaluating how the laws, rules, and stakeholder systems we helped create should evolve to more directly embrace climate mitigation; remove barriers to better connect programs with underserved building stock in historically disadvantaged communities; and grow efficiency as a regional energy resource.
Energy efficiency will play a big role in Make the Next Decade Count TM. Acadia Center believes that by putting climate, equity and technology at the center of the efficiency programs, a redoubled effort can do over the for the next 10 years can build from and greatly expand what the all-cost effective energy efficiency policies have achieved over the past 10 years. We call this evolution the Next Generation Energy Efficiency framework. Acadia Center will seek to work with coalitions and many partners to:
- Prioritize Climate Mitigation. Efficiency programs should be more directly aligned to address climate mitigation – not only reduce consumption. This will require (i) updating and changing energy efficiency statutes and regulations, including benefit-cost tests that currently emphasize energy savings, not climate savings; (ii) ensuring that Public Utilities Commissions consider climate and health impacts when evaluating energy efficiency program spending; and (iii) ensuring that laws, regulations, and planning processes allow fuel-switching from fossil fuels to clean electrification (“strategic electrification”).
- Prioritize Poorer Quality Housing. Because efficiency treatment of poorer building stock is more expensive and entails longer payback periods, current benefit-cost tests have slowed retrofits, particularly for older building stock. The Next Generation Energy Efficiency project will identify the reforms needed to find more value in retrofits and electrification and seek a fundamental shift to enable longer-term payback periods, more in line with the life of equipment and buildings. Such reforms will allow programs to refocus on poorer quality housing in buildings that leak climate pollution and burden inhabitants with poor air quality and comfort. Acadia Center’s analyses on retrofits, all-electric homes, multifamily housing, and the potential for weatherized buildings to be a grid resource will enable and inform this transition.
- Prioritize Clean Heating and Whole-House Electrification. All-electric homes are cheaper to run, healthier to live in, and, when combined with distributed renewable energy, better for the grid and climate. Acadia Center will use its expertise in energy efficiency stakeholder proceedings to push for whole-building electrification, clean heating resources, integration with distributed renewable generation, and demand response as a grid resource.
- Sustain Investments in Efficiency as the Leading Energy Resource in the Power Grid. Our nation-leading energy efficiency funding levels and savings goals must be sustained and increased to capture more savings, treat more homes and businesses, and avoid backsliding by states. It is essential that regional and state energy planning continues to embrace efficiency as a first fuel – offsetting dirtier energy resources and reducing the need for power plants and infrastructure, while supporting the growth of renewables on the grid. Acadia Center will work to ensure that decision-makers at all levels – including the regional grid operator ISO-New England – recognize the value of the efficiency efforts in reducing system costs.