At a conference put on by the Connecticut Power and Energy Society (CPES) on October 30, a panel of energy suppliers discussed and debated the best way to advance renewable energy in the state of Connecticut and the entire U.S.
States, cities, towns and companies across America are setting aggressive clean energy and/or zero-carbon emission goals. New York hopes to be sourcing 70 percent of its energy from renewables by 2030; Hawaii wants to be 100 percent renewable by 2045. Eight other states have made similar commitments. The Sierra Club found 140 cites that have set clean energy goals.
Indeed, Americans in general want clean energy, according to a survey conducted by Consumer Reports, which found that 76% of Americans agree that increasing renewable energy is a worthwhile goal.
The tricky part is that utilities are, for the most part, tasked with delivering that energy and they are burdened with a 100-plus-year history of processes and procedures for how to efficiently, safely and affordably deliver energy. The process involves regulators that must approve new power plants or business models and lawmakers who must pass laws to ensure that utilities deliver on those goals.
And all of that takes a very long time.
“A lot of laws and other antiquated regulatory models are outdated,” said panel participant Kandi Terry, Director of Government Affairs for the North East at NRG Energy, a company that provides retail electricity to consumers in markets where that is allowed.
Terry was a participant on the CPES panel along with Ian Diamond, Senior Development Manager at Con Edison Clean Energy Businesses, and Tom Guerra, Director of Products & Services at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. Ritchie Hudson of Hudson Energy Consulting served as the moderator for the panel.
Hudson explained that in Switzerland where he lives, the country has struggled with how to meet its energy needs without nuclear energy, which it will be phasing out by 2050.
“They [the Swedish government] recognized that moving to a competitive market model was an essential ingredient that needed to be pursued to meet their broader energy strategy goals to decarbonize,” he said.
He then posed the question to the panel: “Do you think policymakers in the U.S. are adequately looking at the competitive market model in particular retail competition?”
Terry said she thinks many times lawmakers are just giving lip service to competition.
“When you go to conferences such as these, you hear lawmakers and regulators talking about how it’s all options on the table,” she said, adding “then when I sit down with them in meetings and I talk about the benefits of retail competition and how the voluntary market is driving their policy goals now and how it should be a consideration as they move forward, I’m getting a different answer,” she explained.
“So I am literally hearing ‘no, we are not considering retail competition as part of our solution’ and so that’s very troubling to me and NRG and it should be troubling to our market,” she said.
Diamond acknowledged that moving quicker would be better. “I think we’d all like to see things happen more quickly,” he said, “but we need to understand that these are very important complex issues.”
Diamond said it takes a long time because it needs to be done right. He referred to the presentation prior to the panel — which was given by CT Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) Chair, Marissa Paslick Gillett in which she discussed PURA’s Equitable Modern Grid Framework — and said that those objectives do fit his corporation’s goals of delivering more renewable energy. He said meeting those objectives will lead to benefits to residential and C&I customers.
He added that it’s “a public/private partnership and we need that together.”
Terry challenged that assertion saying that it’s easier for regulators and lawmakers to direct utilities to do things because they regulate them. “So it sometimes can be the path of least resistance,” she said.
“The days are gone when it is the legislator, regulator, and utility at the table. We don’t have that grid anymore, so all solutions need to be at the table and all the voices need to be sitting around the table,” she said. “I don’t necessarily know if that is happening,” she said.
“We have a job to do as an industry to educate policymakers so that they are not only standing up at conferences and talking about their process and the benefits of competition, but they are also doing it when they are not in front of us,” she said.
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