State Attorneys General: Empowering the Clean Energy Future

Solar panels.

Exec­u­tive Summary

As their states’ chief legal offi­cers, attor­neys gen­er­al play a major role in clear­ing the path for increased clean ener­gy in the elec­tric­i­ty sec­tor. This report focus­es, in par­tic­u­lar, on how state attor­neys gen­er­al are uti­liz­ing fed­er­al and state ener­gy law prin­ci­ples across dif­fer­ent forums to ensure that clean ener­gy inno­va­tors have expand­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties to par­tic­i­pate ful­ly and fair­ly in elec­tric­i­ty markets. 

States have always been pri­ma­ry play­ers in direct­ing and reg­u­lat­ing how elec­tric­i­ty is pro­duced and sup­plied to their res­i­dents, busi­ness­es, and indus­try. States have embraced their lead­er­ship role in the ener­gy field and have been at the fore­front of dynam­ic changes in the indus­try, par­tic­u­lar­ly in ways rel­e­vant to the expan­sion of clean energy.

Many states have adopt­ed laws, poli­cies, and prac­tices that have increased com­pe­ti­tion and opened up mar­kets for clean ener­gy by lim­it­ing util­i­ties’ monop­oly own­er­ship of ener­gy pro­duc­tion facil­i­ties, enact­ing renew­able port­fo­lio stan­dards, and encour­ag­ing inno­v­a­tive behind-the-meter” tech­nolo­gies such as rooftop solar, demand response, and ener­gy stor­age. Mass­a­chu­setts and oth­er New Eng­land states are lead­ing U.S. off­shore wind devel­op­ment efforts. States also are mov­ing for­ward to plan for and encour­age efforts to reduce emis­sions from the trans­porta­tion sec­tor, includ­ing by expand­ing the use of elec­tric vehi­cles. These state-led trends are help­ing to reduce the industry’s unsus­tain­ably high lev­els of cli­mate change-caus­ing green­house gas emis­sions, as well as emis­sions of con­ven­tion­al pol­lu­tants that harm pub­lic health. And, by help­ing to cre­ate mar­kets for clean ener­gy, states dri­ve tech­ni­cal inno­va­tion that, over time, has helped to sub­stan­tial­ly reduce the cost of clean energy.

Prompt­ed by the need to fur­ther reduce green­house gas emis­sions and accel­er­ate the industry’s tran­si­tion to clean ener­gy, many states have recent­ly accel­er­at­ed their clean ener­gy com­mit­ments by adopt­ing 100% renew­able or clean ener­gy goals. Exam­ples include Cal­i­for­nia, Hawaii, Maine, New Mex­i­co, New York, Neva­da, D.C. and Puer­to Rico. A total of twen­ty-nine states (along with D.C. and three ter­ri­to­ries) have some form of renew­able ener­gy mandate.

State attor­neys gen­er­al have a crit­i­cal role to play in ensur­ing that their states’ clean ener­gy laws and poli­cies are imple­ment­ed on a time­ly and effec­tive basis, and with­out inap­pro­pri­ate inter­fer­ence by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment or oth­er par­ties. Imple­ment­ing and enforc­ing state ener­gy laws aligns with tra­di­tion­al attor­ney gen­er­al func­tions of pro­tect­ing states’ rights, pro­mot­ing fair com­pe­ti­tion, pro­tect­ing the envi­ron­ment, and look­ing out for con­sumer interests.

As reviewed in this report, state attor­neys gen­er­al are active in both fed­er­al and state clean ener­gy mat­ters. Exam­ples include:

  • Defend­ing state ener­gy rights against unlaw­ful fed­er­al gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tions includ­ing, for exam­ple, Fed­er­al Ener­gy Reg­u­la­to­ry Com­mis­sion (FERC) approval of whole­sale mar­ket rules that under­mine state clean ener­gy law and poli­cies, or FERC approvals of ener­gy infra­struc­ture projects that are incon­sis­tent with state clean ener­gy or envi­ron­men­tal interests.
  • Defend­ing state ener­gy laws and poli­cies against Com­merce Clause and oth­er fed­er­al chal­lenges made by incum­bent ener­gy providers and oth­er third parties.
  • Appear­ing as an advo­cate in state leg­isla­tive and reg­u­la­to­ry pro­ceed­ings to ensure that tra­di­tion­al state util­i­ty prac­tices do not inhib­it the type of com­pe­ti­tion need­ed to achieve their states’ clean ener­gy goals and requirements.
  • Pro­tect­ing state res­i­dents from fraud­u­lent and mis­lead­ing prac­tices by ener­gy sup­pli­ers and ensur­ing that util­i­ty plan­ning con­sid­ers both short- and long-term interests.

The spe­cif­ic author­i­ty that each state pro­vides to its attor­ney gen­er­al to engage and lead on ener­gy issues varies. So too does the rela­tion­ship between a state’s attor­ney gen­er­al and its util­i­ty reg­u­la­to­ry com­mis­sion. While attor­neys gen­er­al often have a broad man­date to rep­re­sent the pub­lic inter­est, some states specif­i­cal­ly task attor­neys gen­er­al with the role of con­sumer or ratepay­er advo­cate in util­i­ty pro­ceed­ings. Oth­er states have dis­tinct ratepay­er advo­cate offices. The attor­ney gen­er­al may also rep­re­sent a vari­ety of state agen­cies that are involved in util­i­ty mat­ters, such as the state envi­ron­men­tal agency.

To cov­er these top­ics, the report is divid­ed into three sections:

  • Sec­tion I pro­vides a high-lev­el overview of roles that state attor­neys gen­er­al play in
    clean ener­gy-relat­ed mat­ters in fed­er­al and state forums.
  • Sec­tion II describes spe­cif­ic exam­ples from around the coun­try of attor­ney gen­er­al
    involve­ment in high pri­or­i­ty fed­er­al and state clean ener­gy issues.
  • Sec­tion III is a state-by-state review of the author­i­ty of attor­neys gen­er­al and con­sumer
    advo­cates to address clean ener­gy issues in util­i­ty com­mis­sion proceedings.

The vari­ety and abun­dance of exam­ples cat­a­logued in this report show the lead­er­ship role that many state attor­neys gen­er­al are tak­ing on these impor­tant matters.