The Energy Consumer's Bulletin- a New England energy news blog

The Energy Consumer's Bulletin

Labs of Democracy: the State's Role in Energy Policy

Posted by Larry Chretien on Monday, February 06, 2017 @ 02:28 PM

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In a 1932 Supreme Court decision Judge Louis Brandeis famously wrote in a dissenting opinion, “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

That statement is as relevant now as ever. Today we are observing a national administration in denial of climate change and hell bent on reversing policies that would favor clean energy over fossil fuels. But policies in many states are favorable towards renewable energy and energy efficiency, both through short-term measures and long-term market transformation policies. And some are explicitly making carbon reduction a priority.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy tracks state efficiency policies and ranks Massachusetts (#1, tied with California) and Rhode Island (#4) as leaders. Overall, other states can look to ours for ideas and inspiration. But no state is perfect. There are features in one state that can be studied and brought into another. For example, Massachusetts saves more heating oil through its program than Rhode Island. We’re encouraging Rhode Island to replicate that. A great feature of the ACEEE scorecard is that it looks at various types of energy efficiency programs, so the states can see where they need to improve. We can use this information to guide a race to the top rather than to the bottom.

States also “compete” in the area of renewable energy. The most important policy has been a mandate on electricity suppliers to include increasing amounts of green power each year – 29 states have such laws. In Massachusetts, it’s called the Renewable Portfolio Standard and in Rhode Island the Renewable Energy Standard. Massachusetts law increases the standard by 1% per year in perpetuity. Right now it’s 12% and will be 30% by 2035. Thanks to legislation passed in 2016, Rhode Island will continue to increase by 1.5% per year until it reaches 38.5% by 2035. The comparison is interesting. Clearly, Massachusetts needs to increase by more than 1% per year and Rhode Island needs to lift the cap and keep going after 2035.

deepwater wind ri.jpgRhode Island, of course, deserves praise for installing America’s first off-shore wind farm. Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm is a 30-megawatt project. It establishes Rhode Island as a first mover in the field of off-shore wind power.

This will becoming increasingly important as the country looks at the incredible wind resource up and down the east coast of the United States. But 30 megawatts is not enough. That’s why it’s exciting that Massachusetts passed legislation last summer committing National Grid and Eversource to signing contracts for up to 1600 megawatts of off-shore wind power. And recently, New York Governor Cuomo announced plans to build up to 2400 megawatts of wind power off-shore by 2030.

On the electric vehicle front, we see California as the nation’s leader by far. But Massachusetts is also doing well, thanks to a steady commitment of funds for rebates. The Baker administration recently pledged another $12 million for rebates and that sends a good signal to consumers, car dealers, and manufacturers. This is welcome because for two months in a row (December and January) Massachusetts sales of EVs were more than double the same month in the prior year. Even with that kind of growth, the $12 million will last a while. Rhode Island offers rebates at the same level as Massachusetts, up to $2500 per car, but the funding commitment is not as steady. This year, Governor Raimondo’s budget includes $250,000, which is only enough for 100 cars. EV sales in Rhode Island are not as strong as Massachusetts and if more rebate money is not found soon, the market will stall altogether.

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Around the country, electric utilities are seeing the wisdom of promoting electric cars. After all, it’s a new market for their product. Last month, both Eversource and National Grid proposed to the Department of Public Utilities plans to install more public charging stations for electric vehicles. We think their proposals need some fine-tuning, but are generally of the type that we need right now. We will be intervening in those dockets to advocate for an expeditious review and final approval of what we hope will be in the public interest. Note that National Grid serves both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. We’ll be encouraging National Grid to make a similar proposal in the Ocean State.

gerry brown.jpgWe could go on and on talking about how states are able to affect the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. But we will end with this. If California was a nation, it would be one of the world’s largest economies. Fortunately, it’s a state that is more committed than any other to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I’ve admired Governor Jerry Brown. He has been an environmental leader for a long time and he’s prepared now to use the influence of his great state to take actions that should be undertaken in Washington. At the least, we hope, other states will work in their own laboratories to find solutions to our energy and climate problems.

To stay up-to-date on our priority state energy issues, check out our advocacy page today!

Tags: renewable energy, environmental policy, electric vehicles, energy efficiency

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