Democratizing the Grid: New Citizen Initiatives Challenge Monopoly Electric Utilities

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 20 Jan 2022 18:00:00 GMT

Many Americans have grown concerned about the monopoly power that Big Tech corporations wield. But few people realize that the problem of concentrated private power also infects the electricity sector. In most regions, electricity is controlled by a single investor-owned utility with a government-granted monopoly. Across the country, powerful utilities are actively blocking decentralized solar energy, degrading the reliability of the power lines even as they raise prices, and failing to make the grid investments needed for a clean, carbon-free future.

Join the Institute for Local Self-Reliance for an inspiring conversation with advocates who are taking on electric utility monopolies with the aim of accelerating the shift to clean energy and winning democratic community control.

What the Winter Storm in Texas Tells Us About Rural Climate Justice

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 30 Mar 2021 19:00:00 GMT

Register now to join our panelists and submit your own questions as they discuss what the winter storm in Texas and the southeastern United States revealed about public health, housing, energy, and economic and climate justice.

Roundtable participants include:
  • Amal Ahmed, journalist with Texas Observer and author of this piece on Texas climate change for Southerly. Ahmed will moderate the discussion.
  • John Cooper, Assistant Vice President for Public Partnership & Outreach and the Director of Texas Target Communities at Texas A&M University
  • Tim Callaghan, evaluation director for the Southwest Rural Health Research Center, Texas A&M University
  • Lyndsey Gilpin, founder and editor of Southerly Magazine
  • Mary Annette Pember, independent journalist focusing on Native American issues, including environmental issues on Native lands.

Sen. Whitehouse & Rep. Quigley Introduce Grid Services and Efficiency Act

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 29 Sep 2020 20:02:00 GMT

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Congressman Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) have introduced legislation to prepare the nation’s power grids to affordably and reliably deliver clean energy. Many of the provisions of the Grid Services and Efficiency Act were included in Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, which the House of Representatives passed last week.

“The Grid Services and Efficiency Act instructs a cross-section of federal and regional agencies to work together to pinpoint gaps in grid services and operator platforms that may hamper the introduction of clean energy sources to the power grid. The legislation authorizes funding to upgrade electricity delivery infrastructure to better accommodate clean energy sources. The bill would also help determine whether federal regulators have the proper authorities to oversee the siting of interregional transmission lines necessary for expanding clean energy.”

The Grid Services and Efficiency Act takes steps to accelerate the transition by improving power system modeling and grid operator planning, commissioning studies of grid efficiency, and improving the connectivity of the electricity transmission system.

This legislation is supported by Advanced Energy Economy, Sunrun, National Grid, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Exelon, and the WATT Coalition.

Further summary:

The Grid Services and Efficiency Act aims to foster cross-agency collaboration to identify gaps in grid services and operator platforms, and to provide funding opportunities for entities to upgrade their energy infrastructure to ensure that our clean energy transition is done in a cost-effective manner that ensures reliability and reasonable rates for consumers.

This Act would:

Improve Power System Modeling and Grid Operator Planning:
  • FERC, in coordination with DOE, would provide recommendations on how to improve existing modeling, operational, and long-term planning practices used by grid operators across the energy system and the power market.
  • DOE, in coordination with FERC, would develop an Advanced Technology and Grid Services financial assistance program to provide funding to grid operators, utilities, and state energy offices to update energy planning documents and operational energy market platforms.
Study Grid Efficiency:
  • DOE, in coordination with FERC, would study the barriers and opportunities for advanced energy technologies that could make the transmission network more efficient at effectively delivering electricity.
Improve Transmission System Interconnection:
  • FERC would commission an outside report on whether regulators have the authority and tools to regulate the planning and siting of interregional transmission lines. The study would also report on potential deficiencies in interregional and regional transmission planning, and which transmission upgrades are needed between grid operator regions.
  • DOE would prioritize grant funding through the Office of Electricity and establish additional funding opportunities to help integrate new energy technologies in the bulk electric system.

The National Clean Energy Project

Posted by Wonk Room Mon, 23 Feb 2009 17:20:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

National Clean Energy ProjectAn all-star cast of the leading voices in the new Obama era is convening at the Newseum in Washington DC to discuss the future of U.S. energy policy. The National Clean Energy Project follows a similar meeting convened by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) last summer in Nevada. But much has changed in the past few months. The new administration – including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and White House energy adviser Carol Browner – have committed to a multibillion investment in a new clean energy grid with the economic recovery act signed into law last week by President Obama.

The webcast of the event can be seen at

Former senator Tim Wirth of Colorado introduces the meeting.

Every time before in the last thirty years when I started this … every time oil dropped people said give my Hummer back. They’re not saying that any more. I want to thank everybody this economic recovery bill has good things in it and I’m grateful as a citizen. We have to maximize the value of this economic recovery. The big short-term gains in jobs and greenhouse gas reductions are in energy efficiency advances.
We really do have a planetary emergency. This sounds shrill to many ears. We’re still not used to thinking in those terms. We’ve seen the oil price roller coaster. This roller coaster’s headed for a crash and we’re in the front car.
We have to hold together or we will all regret the missed opportunity.
Geothermal does not operate an eighteen-wheeler. Get realistic… I’m running out of time. But we are going to have an energy policy in America.
We have to recognize we’re living through a terrible recession, a dependence on fossil fuels, and the almost existential threat of global warming.
will come out of the Energy Committee.
The challenge of clean energy and global warming provide a unique opportunity to achieve two things at once. A new U.S. energy strategy can be the foundation of rebuilding the middle class.
People are afraid the government is going to be involved. If we’re going to succeed, we’re going to have to accept that. Everyone should get off the kick that this won’t work unless the government is involved in it.
Let’s get our young people to put down hand guns and pick up caulking guns. Let’s make sure all young people can be on a pathway not just to a green job but a green career.


Transmission is the key problem. Speed is of the essence. We’ve got to move very, very rapidly.

We didn’t get electricity out to our place in rural Colorado until 1981. I think, based on my work with Sen. Bingaman, Sen. Dorgan, we can do a lot more than what we’re doing with renewable energy. Unless we are able to solve the juggernaut of transmission we are going to be standing in place five to ten years from now.
We’re the Saudi Arabia of wind, but we also have stranded capability. There is an absolute requirement that we connect America. The keys are planning, siting, and pricing.
Siting problems are not technology problem, though it’s the biggest bottleneck. There is the technology of high-voltage DC transmission that the US is just starting to use, that can be much more efficient. We need to develop better mechanisms for stepping up the voltage and stepping down the voltage. We talk about the great wind resources and solar resources of the United States. But we have to recognize they are transient. Imagine a world of 35% renewable, going up and down. That’s a bigger problem. Somewhere in the United States, the wind will be blowing. We don’t have large-scale energy storage yet. We should look at hydro, compressed air storage.

The distribution system: We have photovoltaics on rooftops on buildings, warehouses, homes. We’re going to need a two-way distribution system. Our system today is roughly analogous to the water system. We now have the technology than can switch the electricity. The biggest bottleneck is that the industry has not developed a standard. It’s been stalled. I’ve begun to look into this. What we really need to do is lock these people in a room until they come out with a standard.

The Department of Energy has been entrusted with a lot of loan authority, and I’ve been looking very hard how to accelerate this loan authority, to reduce years down to months. I’m beginning to look at the details.

We need to move with a sense of urgency. All the news on climate in the past few years has been bad news. If we don’t act now our children and grandchildren will ask, what were these people thinking?

Transmission siting is a major problem. I think the federal government has to get involved. We need a federal permitting process. If it’s left to a state-by-state process, it’s going to come to nothing. This worked with natural gas pipelines.
As an environmental advocate, this is the most heartening morning I’ve ever seen.
We jumpstarted the broadband revolution. I think this year will be seen as when we started the smart grid revolution. We have to make sure we’re not building the bridges out to coal country. With the REA, we took electricity out to rural America. Now we have to figure out how to take energy from the prairies, the deserts, and the rooftops back to the grid. I agree with everything Boone Pickens said, and I never thought I’d say that.
Just remember that there are people for whom $5 more a week means they might not purchase some medicine, some food, something else.
We need to make sure we’re creating American jobs. Eighty percent of the jobs provided by the federal government are low-wage jobs. Twenty percent are powerty-wage jobs. We need to build on the Green Jobs Act. We need to not go for one-off solutions. We need a system. We need meaningful job standards. If we are not purposeful and intentional, we’re not going to necessarily be creating good jobs.
Prior to 2006, those of us who talked about this issue were relegated to the free speech zone of the national conventions. This fall, I went to northeastern Ohio in an area where steel jobs had gone away twenty years earlier. They thought something finally was going to happen. We can either build this interconnected green world, or we can build it the way we built the railroads. We got a big system, but it took a very long time and wasted a lot of effort.
The greatest near-term opportunity is in energy efficiency.
Most of us don’t get to make decisions for China. The rest of us should focus on what we can do right here right now. I don’t see how we get what we want without decoupling.
12:40 REID
We are not a secure nation when we import 70 percent of our oil.
This has been a really optimistic session about what we can do if we empower consumers and train workers. Thanks to all for coming here.

Press conference.

1:10 REID
I want to express my appreciation to John Podesta for this event. The glue that’s been holding this together for several months is T. Boone Pickens. I can now say that Pickens and myself are friends. I’m introducing bipartisan legislation this week to implement a clean smart grid, a highway to move electricity. We’re going to do it with natural gas. We just need to give incentives for these companies to move to natural gas. We’re going to move forward and do some great things for the American people.


The coalition being built was accomplishment number one. The second is bringing the attention this issue needs. Boone Pickens has given this an edge. Now it’s our job to support Sen. Reid and to get that legislation passed.


When I started the Pickens Plan I didn’t know where it was going. We’re going to have an energy plan for America. It’s been a great honor to be associated with Sen. Wirth, Sen. Reid, and John Podesta.


We’ve moved from whether we’re going to create a clean economy with green jobs to the hard work of how it’s going to get done. This is a moment where we can move forward and pass energy legislation and pass it expeditiously. We’re at the cusp on unleashing through more efficiency and more transmission to move clean renewable power. Today’s session gave us hope that there’s going to be good news.

Q: Jeff Young, Living on Earth: Legislation?

Reid: We’re going to make a full announcement later this week.

Q: Margaret Ryan, CleanSkies.TV: Governors?

Reid: The governors have been a little busy, but of course. That’s why we had the spokesman for the state regulators.

Q: Ian Talley, Dow Jones Newswire: State v. federal?

Reid: Whatever we do at the federal level trumps all that.

Q: Burris?

Reid: Sen. Burris is a United States Senator. The Senate Ethics Committee is looking at this.

Q: Darren Samuelsohn. What’s changed since Lieberman-Warner?

Reid: We’re going to have 59 senators. We want to have it be a bipartisan bill. We’re going to work very hard that legislation that we work on will be one that will have bipartisan support.

Q: Greenwire: Who’s going to be the Republican?

Reid: Wait and see.

Q: A. Siegel: Oil dependency was discussed. Why not electricification of rail?

Reid: We’re going to work on high-speed rail.

Q: Megan Macnamara: Coupling RES and climate legislation?

Reid: I’ve made the decision for them to be separate. Efficiency, renewable portfolio standard, some smart grid

Obama Recovery Plan Invests in Smart Grid, Encourages Decoupling

Posted by Wonk Room Sat, 31 Jan 2009 19:44:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

Smart GridThe Obama economic recovery plan makes a major investment in the modernization of our electricity infrastructure, in order to transform an often-overwhelmed patchwork of balkanized regional networks into a national “smart grid” based on Internet-like technology. Repower America, Al Gore’s campaign to have America use 100% renewable electricity in ten years, argues that a national smart grid “will save money, increase reliability and protect consumers from outages, and make possible a clean electricity system.”

Building a smart grid requires both new technology and regulatory policy. In addition to a $20 billion investment in smart grid deployment, the recovery plan offers $2 billion in grants to promote a subtle but key shift in electric utility regulatory policy:
Policies that ensure that a utility’s recovery of prudent fixed costs of service is timely and independent of its retail sales, without in the process shifting prudent costs from variable to fixed charges.

Traditional electricity utility pricing discourages utilities from promoting conservation and efficiency—instead, the more wasteful their consumers are, the better. So demand goes up, utilities build new power plants, and still costs rise. Utility shareholders’ interests are pitted against the rest of society.

Therefore, several states have implemented policies that decouple profitability (“recovery of prudent fixed costs of service”) from demand (“retail sales”), by using public funds and rate adjustments to guarantee an expected annual profit for the utility company and to subsidize investment in energy efficiency.

Obama’s economic recovery package contains $2 billion in state-level block grants that will be released “only if the governor of the recipient State notifies the Secretary of Energy that the governor will seek, to the extent of his or her authority, to ensure” that decoupling and energy efficiency incentive programs will occur.

Because our electrical infrastructure is a vital public resource, the profits of utility executives and shareholders must not be put above the public good. As Public Citizen warns, decoupling for unregulated utilities can lead to “windfall profits for the industry.” The California electricity debacle exposed the great failure of the experiment of utility deregulation, and the recovery package does not go far enough to bring utilities back under control.

President Obama, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, and legislators like Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) have stated that our entire nation needs to move to a low-carbon economy as rapidly as possible, highlighting transformation of the electricity grid as a key component.

Full decoupling language in the House-passed economic recovery package (HR 1):


(a) In General- Amounts appropriated in paragraph (6) under the heading ‘Department of Energy-Energy Programs-Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’ in title V of division A of this Act shall be available to the Secretary of Energy for making additional grants under part D of title III of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. 6321 et seq.). The Secretary shall make grants under this section in excess of the base allocation established for a State under regulations issued pursuant to the authorization provided in section 365(f) of such Act only if the governor of the recipient State notifies the Secretary of Energy that the governor will seek, to the extent of his or her authority, to ensure that each of the following will occur:

(1) The applicable State regulatory authority will implement the following regulatory policies for each electric and gas utility with respect to which the State regulatory authority has ratemaking authority:

(A) Policies that ensure that a utility’s recovery of prudent fixed costs of service is timely and independent of its retail sales, without in the process shifting prudent costs from variable to fixed charges. This cost shifting constraint shall not apply to rate designs adopted prior to the date of enactment of this Act.

(B) Cost recovery for prudent investments by utilities in energy efficiency.

(C) An earnings opportunity for utilities associated with cost-effective energy efficiency savings.

Electric Transmission 101: How the Grid Works

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 15 Jan 2009 19:00:00 GMT

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the Working Group for Investment in Reliable and Economic Electric Systems (WIRES) invite you to the first of two briefings designed to explore key issues associated with the planning, construction, operation, and regulation of the nation’s high voltage interstate electric transmission network. Transmission issues have emerged as a major concern to policymakers and a broad variety of stakeholders over the past few years. As the new Congress and Administration prepare to take action on matters involving clean energy development, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, energy independence, and the reliability and security of electricity supplies, the investment in the “grid” has become an increasingly important matter of national energy policy. The physics and evolution of modern transmission systems are complex. An understanding of grid operations, planning, facilities siting, finance, and regulation nevertheless starts with these basics.

The first session (January 15) will provide a basic explanation of how the high-voltage “grid” actually works, what it accomplishes, and how it is regulated. A panel of experts on electric transmission operations and regulation will address the history and basic components of the grid, how electric power flows are controlled, the basics of grid interconnection and operations, the limitations of the system, and how operators address those limitations. This briefing also will survey the fundamentals of rate regulation and cost allocation, organized (Regional Transmission Organizations, or RTO) and bilateral (non-RTO) markets, regional transmission planning, siting, and reliability concerns. Although this briefing is for the uninitiated, the panel will invite questions at any technical level.

Speakers for this event include:

  • James Hoecker, former Chairman, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and Counsel to WIRES
  • Kevin Kelly, Director, Policy Analysis and Rulemaking, FERC
  • Wayne Galli, PhD, Director, Transmission Development, NextEra Energy Resources (formerly FP&L Energy)
  • Gregory Ioanidis, Vice President, Business Strategy, ITC Holdings

This briefing is free and open to the public. No RSVP required. For more information, contact Laura Parsons at (202) 662-1884 or [email protected].

A second session will follow in February, with details posted at as they become available. This briefing will tackle the major high-visibility policy challenges facing policy makers as they balance the need for investment in transmission with other energy-related objectives.

Gore's Audacious Goal: Clean-Energy Grid In Ten Years

Posted by Wonk Room Thu, 17 Jul 2008 14:56:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

Al GoreFormer Vice President Al Gore is set to give a major energy policy speech today, in which he will challenge “the nation to produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, sun and other Earth-friendly energy sources within 10 years, an audacious goal he hopes the next president will embrace.” Gore is speaking at noon at the Daughter of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington D.C.

The electricity sector is the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the United States, with its fossil-fired power plants and an obsolete power grid generating one-third of all our global warming emissions. Gore’s “unprecedented challenge” is a “moonshot” goal, but it is also on the scale of what is needed to avoid climate catastrophe. To stabilize the climate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that industrialized nations need to cut emissions to 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels. For the United States, whose emissions have risen 15 percent since 1990, that goal translates to 34 to 48 percent below today’s pollution. Transforming the grid would cut global warming pollution by 33 percent from current levels by 2018—what we need for an even shot to halt our global fever.

Emissions by sector

Moving to all clean electricity would likely spur related reductions in the transportation sector, as the new “smart grid” of electricity distribution designed for renewable sources such as solar and wind power would be able to use plug-in hybrid vehicles for distributed electricity storage. Instead of everyone reliant on a few massive power plants controlled by large utilities, the system would allow both large and small-scale electricity production and storage. The giant wind farms of T. Boone Pickens would be complemented by millions of solar roofs, all feeding into the same dynamic electricity network.

Climate Change and Security Implications of Electricity Networks Resources

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 01 Jul 2008 14:00:00 GMT

Dr. Lawrence Jones, Account Executive for Automation Information System Business Unit, Areva T&D, will discuss smart transmission and distribution technologies for a clean environment and secure electricity infrastructure.

4th Floor Conference Room
1800 K Street, NW