Communities and Clean Grid
Why does Electric Grid Planning and Management Matter to Local Communities?
The primary concern of local governments is the delivery of services to residents. There is a broad category of services that is delivered to residents, however, that is not delivered by the city or town in which they live. Grid services—the planning and development of power plants and the transmission system that delivers power to local utilities, the management of markets that ensure adequate supplies of energy, and the daily operation of the electric grid—are delivered universally to every city and town resident but are entirely independent of local government control. The fact that most local governments consider the electric grid, and the entities that manage it, as “givens”—unalterable or impossible to influence because they are beyond their control—is not surprising. There are, however, many compelling reasons why communities should be concerned about the grid services delivered to their residents. Grid services have a direct impact on the fulfillment of local communities’ policy goals and the success of community-implemented programs, and they have a direct bearing on the quality of life of their residents. Unfortunately, the planning and delivery of grid services are often misaligned with the interests of cities and towns, and the people who live and work in them.
How does the Planning and Management of the Regional Electric Grid Impact Communities?
Energy System Planning and Resource Decisions. The New England Power Pool (NEPOOL) and the Independent System Operator of New England (ISO New England) are responsible for estimating the region’s future demand for electricity, and for planning new sources of electricity to meet it. They also plan the transmission system needed to deliver electricity from where it is generated to the electric utilities that serve local communities. NEPOOL and ISO New England thus determine how quickly fossil fuel power plants are replaced with non-emitting sources of electricity: decisions that have direct bearing on the fulfillment of local communities’ climate and decarbonization goals.
Planning and Siting of Energy Infrastructure. NEPOOL and ISO New England are responsible for determining where and how many new electricity generating resources will be built, and where transmission lines will be located—decisions that have a direct bearing on residents whose communities are selected for construction.
Electricity Market Design. Because they are responsible for the design of electricity markets, NEPOOL and ISO New England also directly influence the costs that residents will ultimately pay for grid services. Over 20% of the total of each electric bill represents costs related to the planning and operation of the New England power grid— one of the largest cost component costs on customer electricity bills.
ISO New England Governance. Despite the outsized impact ISO-New England decision-making has on residents in local communities, its internal deliberations remain largely inaccessible to the public. This lack of transparency and the inadequacy of ISO New England stakeholder processes necessarily undervalues the interests of local communities and their residents.
The principal ISO-New England stakeholder process is conducted at NEPOOL. NEPOOL is a private, membership-based organization. It functions as a gatekeeper by approving—or disapproving—candidate members, and by requiring the payment of annual dues to join and participate. Under NEPOOL rules, members of the public are permitted to attend meetings by invitation only, provided that their attendance has been pre-approved. NEPOOL meetings are also considered non-public and confidential.
NEPOOL restrictions on public access and press coverage discourage broader public participation and make it more difficult for members of the public to remain informed about ISO-New England planning and initiatives: decisions that affect local economies, and residents’ quality of life. By comparison, the stakeholder meetings of other Independent System Operators—the California ISO, the New York ISO, the Midcontinent ISO, the mid-Atlantic ISO (PJM), and the Southwest Power Pool—are all open to the public.
What Topics are of the Highest Potential Interest to Communities?
- Locally adopted clean energy, climate, and environmental justice goals cannot be achieved unless ISO New England increases the number of clean energy electricity generating resources like solar and wind, yet ISO New England has demonstrated a consistent preference for carbon-emitting fossil fuel powered resources.
- As a consequence of ISO New England’s reliance on fossil fuels-powered generating resources, residents are exposed to fossil fuel markets that are too often volatile and expensive, increasing the cost of electricity for all residents, and keeping energy burdens (the percentage of income needed to pay utility bills) intolerably high for the one-in-ten New Englanders who live at or below the poverty line.
- ISO New England is responsible for approving the location, in addition to the size and type, of transmission equipment and power plants, and that energy infrastructure has too often been sited in lower-income communities and communities of color, overburdening them with health and economic impacts, and a diminished quality of life.
- Over the next three years the region’s electricity customers will pay almost $1.3 billion for planned transmission system upgrades, and while those expenditures may reduce some costs associated with transmission congestion, it is difficult to judge the value those upgrades deliver to residents relative to their significant cost.
What are the Purpose and Goals of the Communities and Clean Grid Project?
The purpose of the Communities and Clean Grid Project is to equip and empower local communities to engage in and influence ISO New England grid planning and management. The Project will provide local communities with information they need to remain up-to-date on issues affecting their residents, and to help them to determine when, at their discretion, the interests of their residents require them to intercede in ISO New England and other stakeholder processes.. The goal of the Communities and Clean Grid Project is to place local communities on an equal footing with other stakeholders seeking to influence ISO New England grid planning and management, and to include them in the region-wide effort to implement equitable, affordable clean energy solutions.
How to Find Out More, and Ways to Get Involved
Are you a municipal official that might benefit from this program? To get involved, we encourage you to check out the resources below and become an active participant:
- Newsletter: sign-up here to receive CrossCurrents, the Communities and Clean Grid newsletter
- Program meetings: become an active participant to be invited to and attend, or schedule meetings or presentations for your community.
- Contact us directly for more information: email Joe LaRusso at email@example.com
RESPECT (Reforming Energy System Planning for Equity and Climate Transformation)
Planning processes for the electric and gas distribution systems are insufficient to meet the climate challenge. Today, distribution utilities hold three powerful roles: long-term planning, owning and operating grid infrastructure, and serving customers. This dynamic results in three key problems: (1) planning silos cause overspending, reduced reliability and resilience, and more climate pollution; (2) current planning processes ignore equity and environmental justice; and (3) utility planning suffers from significant conflicts of interest.
To address these issues, Acadia Center proposes a modernized framework for state utility regulation called RESPECT: Reforming Energy System Planning for Equity and Climate Transformation.
RESPECT offers two overarching solutions:
- Conduct comprehensive, independent planning: Comprehensive energy system planning should consider supply and demand-side resources; customers’ energy, capacity, and thermal needs; and climate requirements and environmental justice impacts for all fuels across the state.
- Separate Planners and Owners: States should create statewide planning entities that look for solutions beyond utility boundaries and across fuels, leaving traditional utilities free to focus their efforts on business development in alignment with climate and equity mandates.
RESPECT proposes a modernized framework for how utilities make investments and decisions, so that we can build the energy systems necessary at the speed required to address the climate crisis. RESPECT imagines a world where investments in our energy systems are aligned with state goals to address climate pollution, further environmental justice, and lower consumer costs. RESPECT focuses on the fact that utilities plan the electric and gas distribution systems they own and operate and have strong financial stakes in the outcomes of their planning decisions – resulting in a significant conflict of interest.
The RESPECT reforms to distribution system planning will 1) help to align system planning with state climate, equity, environmental justice, and clean energy requirements; 2) clarify the role of utilities and reduce risk for their investments; and 3) maximize benefits to consumers and the grid by enabling non-biased planning and reduced conflicts of interest.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounced “Reggie”) was the nation’s first cap-and-invest program, capping emissions and forcing power plants to pay for pollution. Through RGGI, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states participating in the program have achieved significant reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and lowered other dangerous air pollutants from the electric power sector. When RGGI was implemented, it was the first program in the world to require polluters to pay for emissions allowances (permits to emit pollution).
Since the program went into effect in 2008, CO2 emissions from power plants in RGGI states have fallen by 50%, outpacing the rest of the country by 10%. Meanwhile, RGGI states have generated $6.2 billion from the sale of emissions allowances, the majority of which has been invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. Consumers also benefit: electricity prices in RGGI states have fallen by 3.2%, as prices have increased in the rest of the country by 7.7%. Following RGGI’s lead, there are 57 national or subnational carbon pricing programs in place, many of them drawing on lessons learned from RGGI.
Acadia Center has been deeply engaged in RGGI’s development, strengthening, and expansion over the last 15 years. From the program’s initial design process to periodic RGGI Program Reviews, Acadia Center has been a voice for climate ambition, has provided analysis to influence policy decisions, and has convened a regional network of RGGI advocates. Now, through the Third RGGI Program Review, Acadia Center is working with our partners across the region to ensure that the program is reformed to deliver equitable outcomes and is strengthened to help participating states meet their climate targets. To read our latest report, Findings and Recommendations for the Third RGGI Program Review, click here.
Transportation and Climate Initiative
The Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) is a coordinated effort by a group of U.S. states to reduce transportation pollution, which accounts for over 40% of CO2 emissions in the Northeast. Since 2017 this group of 13 states—stretching from Maine to North Carolina—and Washington, D.C. have been working together to develop a cap-and-invest program that would reduce pollution from transportation fuels while generating funds to invest in clean, modern, and equitable transportation solutions. In December 2020, four TCI members (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington DC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), outlining key program details and committing them to action. While the governors of Connecticut and Massachusetts announced in November 2021 that they were pausing their TCI efforts, Acadia Center and our partners remain committed to advancing the goals of the program.
The TCI cap-and-invest program (TCI-P) is part of a broader effort to address interconnected challenges of climate change, toxic tailpipe emissions, lack of funding for necessary transportation investments, and inequitable access to affordable, reliable mobility options. As part of this ongoing campaign, Acadia Center is working with partners to build support for wide-ranging policies aligned with reducing transportation pollution and delivering equitable outcomes. Both the campaign and the policy outcome must elevate climate ambition while delivering improved outcomes and decision-making power for communities suffering from environmental injustice and underinvestment.
Regional Coordination. Since the spring of 2017, Acadia Center has helped convene and organize the regional network of TCI advocates, a growing group that now includes over 200 organizations representing a broad array of perspectives across all the TCI states. We have worked closely with regional partners to develop advocacy workplans, calls to action, detailed policy recommendations, a campaign website (Our Transportation Future), and educational conferences and webinars. This network of advocates remains committed to advancing the goals of the TCI program.
Key State Coalitions and Actions. Acadia Center has been active in establishing and co-convening state “tables” that can shape TCI outcomes through collaborative, well-organized advocacy in key states that are members of the TCI effort. Working in partnership with Transportation for Massachusetts and the Green Justice Coalition, Acadia Center launched the MA TCI Table in early 2019. This effort has created a space for unlikely partners to work together to advance an equitable TCI design and advance a broader vision for a just and sustainable transportation future. The MA TCI Table conveners have partnered with MA state agencies to host “Transportation and Climate Community Engagement Workshops” and launched an Equitable Investment Subcommittee to facilitate deep-dive discussions and strategy and policy to ensure equitable outcomes. The MA TCI Table has been serving as a model for advocacy and inclusive engagement in other TCI states. Similar efforts have taken root across the region, including in Connecticut, Maine and Rhode Island, where Acadia Center state-leads serve in leadership roles.
These state-focused tables provide the necessary forums for TCI advocates to work closely with community-based organizations to discuss state-specific transportation challenges and solutions. Through these discussions, Acadia Center and our partners can craft policy recommendations designed to meet local needs. Most recently, the advocates in Connecticut secured commitments from Governor Lamont to launch community air quality monitoring programs and create the Connecticut Equity and Environmental Justice Advisory Council, two of our long-held recommendations.
Shaping the Public Narrative. Throughout the TCI process, Acadia Center has helped frame the developments in articles from Scientific American, Inside Climate News, The New York Times, and more, making it clear that the TCI initiative program offers a major opportunity for climate action and transportation investment, and that the states must commit to an inclusive process and equitable policy to realize that potential. Acadia Center’s economic and research reports have been featured in the media, spreading helpful data points about TCI’s potential to improve the transportation sector and strengthen the economy.