Generation and grid policies should lead to local renewable energy and ownership

In order to achieve a successful 100% regenerative policy that is justice-centered, the policy should ensure that both the generation and the grid are equitable and community owned.

In order to achieve a successful 100% regenerative policy that is justice-centered, the policy must ensure that both the generation and the grid are equitable and community owned.

Who currently controls and operates the grid? For many states, a critical factor that plays into 100% regenerative energy policies is the role of Independent System Operators (ISOs) and the grid. ISOs are organizations that control, monitor, and operate the electrical power system in a defined region, which can range from a single state (New York) to parts of a few states (California and Texas ISOs) to several states and regions (PJM for instance, includes entire states and portions of some states). An ISO complicates 100% regenerative energy policies namely, the “market” often determines what energy comes into the grid and what energy is prioritized in the mix. For example, PJM (which covers territory in 14 states) requires three-year contracts with generators for capacity to plan and develop out energy stability and the grid. Advocates will need to take into account these contract negotiations with policies. PJM will respond to renewables if renewables are more “cost-effective,” so advocates will need state policies to stop subsidizing coal and gas, and prevent the bailing out of nuclear energy to create a more real cost scenario.

Policy recommendations

Advance and incentivize community ownership and procurement among BIPOC and frontline communities. Policy mechanisms and financial incentives are needed to internalize the societal values of community ownership to incentivize it. These policy mechanisms may include:

  • Community choice aggregation for BIPOC and frontline communities.
  • Required procurement of “minority”- or women-owned business controlled assets.
  • Required procurement of community-owned projects.

Ensure actual purchase of renewable energy. Advocates also need to ensure that state RPS policies actually involve purchase of renewable energy, and not just the electronic certificates representing renewable energy. The latter permits continued purchase of fossil fuel electricity but creates the legal fiction that allows utilities to say they have purchased renewable energy. Generally, once wind and solar facilities have been built, they have the lowest operating cost; they can therefore sell into grids, such as those operated by PJM, on a daily or spot market basis. Among the main issues even in deregulated markets are:

  • Ensuring that renewable distribution utilities’ purchases of renewable energy on wholesale markets is not just electronic certificates but the certificates and the renewable electricity;
  • Creating large and specific mandates for distributed renewable energy, especially distributed solar energy, with separate targets for the residential and commercial sector within the distributed generation sector. When distributed generation takes place in the low-voltage distribution portion of the grid, it does not involve getting into the grid operator’s queue for permits; rather, below a certain size, only local permits are required. Yet, very often RPSs do not specify significant carve outs for local small-scale distributed renewable generation.

Shift to community ownership and control of generation and grid. A 100% policy should include forward-thinking policy elements to get new grid infrastructure ready for distributed generation, microgrids, and other infrastructure to ensure BIPOC and frontline communities are set up for and have access to that infrastructure. Policies around the grid must tie back to principles of local choice and control. Policies need to ensure the interconnection is equitable and accessible. Policies should avoid new transmission lines that the community does not want running through their community. Each community must address the following in their 100% policy:

  • Define what an equitable distribution of the grid looks like.
  • Determine if the grid should be “broken up” and if the community envisions a transition to an entirely microgrid system.
  • Determine local planning processes where the community can engage to insert microgrids.
  • Decide what happens to surplus energy produced on the grid, pushing for the surplus energy go back into BIPOC and frontline communities.

Ensure BIPOC and frontline communities benefit from regionalization. In California, 100% regenerative energy policies are linked to regionalization, an effort pushed by California ISO (CAISO) that “would allow entities from outside California to join the ISO power grid as full Participating Transmission Owners (PTOs). The market would create a coordinated electricity system across the West, using the ISO’s infrastructure to develop one clean, reliable and efficient western states grid.”[1] California already has the ability to purchase electricity, including renewable electricity, from other states in the West and gets much of its supply from these states. So regionalization is not necessary for implementing renewable energy policy even when it involves such purchases. Regionalization could result in a significant loss of autonomy for California’s energy policy.

Critics of regionalization, including EJ organizations, claim that the state would fast-track a policy without extensive research about the impacts, particularly on EJ communities. In particular, regionalization could result in the ramping up of gas plants, especially in EJ communities, and could result in fewer local job opportunities. Advocates for a 100% regenerative energy policy will need to determine their position if this issue is applicable. Advocates should ensure that false solutions, such as trading, are not part of regionalization.

Grid should link to disaster preparedness. In the context of extreme weather events and disasters, 100% policies should link the future of the grid to disaster preparedness. In the event of an earthquake, or in anticipation of more frequent and intense hurricanes, storms, and wildfires, 100% policies should prepare communities for blackouts and loss of electricity, and plan the grid accordingly. However, linking the grid to disaster preparedness should be done equitably, creating resilience hubs with an equity focus.

Create a BIPOC- and frontline-led body. Grid policies are typically controlled by the fossil fuel industry, or agencies such as the ISO. Advocates should develop a Task Force that includes BIPOC and frontline groups, labor, and environmental organizations to design the policies around generation and the grid. This Task Force should not only address the issues outlined above, but also transparency and accountability of grid and renewables policies.

Examples

Solar Co-Ops: Indigenous communities, such as the Navajo and the Hopi, are both developing community and rooftop solar, and there is a movement to replace exported electricity with renewables. An example of a successful woman run Native solar business from Native Sun News:

Deb Tewa [member of Hopi tribe in Arizona], who runs her own business, Tewa Energy Services, offers workshops on how to use solar energy and she educates young people about solar electricity...There are two types of solar energy systems for residences, she explained. One is called ‘grid tied’ which is tied into the existing grid power. It is operated without batteries. The other is called stand-alone or “off-grid” where there is no grid power or electrical lines. It includes the use of batteries to store energy. Typically in areas where there is not grid power or electrical lines has a battery bank to store the energy. When she sets these up, she teaches people how to use them.[2]

Tewa Energy Services: An example of an initiative that attempts to address the issues of ownership and renewable energy is the Solar Co-Ops in Washington D.C.: “Solar United Neighbors (SUN) has been building more than a couple good policy ideas in D.C. The organizer of solar buying cooperatives has now served over 3,000 customers that have installed a collective 20 megawatts of solar.”[3]

References

  1. Regional Energy Market Fast Facts.” California ISO.
  2. Saltzstein, Katherine. “Native Sun News: Hopi woman brings solar power to the people.” Native Sun News, 9 Oct. 2014.
  3. Solar Co-ops Support Clean Energy Advances in D.C. — Episode 64 of Local Energy Rules Podcast.” Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 13 Nov. 2018. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.