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Plugging in to Opportunities for a Resilient Grid

This week marks the begin­ning of sum­mer and a like­ly con­tin­u­a­tion of the extreme heat and oth­er dan­ger­ous weath­er that has been front and cen­ter for some time. These weath­er events can threat­en and tax the pow­er grid, tak­ing down pow­er lines and leav­ing cus­tomers with­out elec­tric­i­ty when they are par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble due to weath­er con­di­tions. Recent­ly, util­i­ties in Ohio cut pow­er to some cus­tomers to pre­vent more wide­spread grid dam­age after threats from thun­der­storms and heat, rais­ing seri­ous ques­tions about equi­ty as low­er-income city areas had their pow­er cut rather than white sub­ur­ban areas.

Reduc­ing emis­sions from pow­er gen­er­a­tion is a key step in mit­i­gat­ing these harms of cli­mate change. At the state lev­el, there is sig­nif­i­cant news on that front. Rhode Island’s leg­is­la­ture recent­ly passed new leg­is­la­tion to require 100% renew­able ener­gy in the state by 2033, a mea­sure sup­port­ed by labor and envi­ron­men­tal advo­cates. And a New York court just upheld the state’s rejec­tion of a per­mit for a gas-fired pow­er plant under New York’s Cli­mate Lead­er­ship and Com­mu­ni­ty Pro­tec­tion Act.

But increas­ing sys­tem resilience and address­ing inequities in how the grid is designed and built are also nec­es­sary. The Fed­er­al Ener­gy Reg­u­la­to­ry Com­mis­sion (FERC), the agency respon­si­ble for inter­state elec­tric­i­ty sales with over­sight over region­al grid oper­a­tors, has been tak­ing a hard­er look at these issues. Last week, FERC issued two pro­posed rules on trans­mis­sion and extreme weath­er. FERC has oth­er pro­pos­als cur­rent­ly out for com­ment to reform the grid, includ­ing a pro­pos­al on trans­mis­sion plan­ning and who should pay for upgrades (known as cost allo­ca­tion) and a pro­pos­al on how to con­nect new ener­gy sources to the grid. As FERC Com­mis­sion­er Alli­son Clements said recent­ly, the role of FERC is to facil­i­tate what is going on in the world reli­ably and afford­ably.”

There are sev­er­al events and resources that advo­cates can check out to get up to speed. The State Impact Center’s upcom­ing event about trans­mis­sion reform, cospon­sored with WE ACT for Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice, will focus on how changes to trans­mis­sion pol­i­cy can pro­mote equi­ty and decar­boniza­tion.

Beyond trans­mis­sion, ear­li­er this month, Mass­a­chu­setts Attor­ney Gen­er­al Mau­ra Healey host­ed a webi­nar on capac­i­ty accred­i­ta­tion. This top­ic seems wonky, but it is impor­tant to get right. Capac­i­ty accred­i­ta­tion looks at the impact of a par­tic­u­lar resource on the reli­able oper­a­tion of the grid, con­sid­er­ing the fea­tures of each type of gen­er­a­tion — renew­ables, stor­age, demand response, gas-fired, and oth­er­wise. This allows grid oper­a­tors to man­age risks and invest­ment to keep up with the mod­ern ener­gy mix. A recent report pre­pared by the Brat­tle Group for the Mass­a­chu­setts AGO pro­vides an overview of dif­fer­ent region­al approach­es.

The Mass­a­chu­setts AGO also host­ed a teach-in to make elec­tric­i­ty mar­ket con­cepts more acces­si­ble to the pub­lic. There will be more oppor­tu­ni­ties in states and fed­er­al­ly, as FERC’s Office of Pub­lic Par­tic­i­pa­tion grows, for pub­lic engage­ment on grid afford­abil­i­ty, reli­a­bil­i­ty, and equi­ty. Trans­lat­ing and demys­ti­fy­ing FERC and elec­tric­i­ty mar­ket issues is key to build­ing a clean, reli­able, afford­able grid.

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