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.

Click here to read the RESPECT report and watch a Q&A discussion video, as well as a recording of a recent webinar on RESPECT.

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 2009, CO2 emissions from power plants in RGGI states have fallen by 47%, outpacing the rest of the country by 90%. Meanwhile, RGGI states have generated $4.7 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 5.7%, as prices have increased in the rest of the country by 8.6%. 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.

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.

TCI Transportation Climate Initiative

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.