On May 23rd, the AEE Institute held its first Public Utility Commission (PUC) Forum. These gatherings are part of our PUC Engagement Program, and for this first time out we partnered with the New England Conference of Public Utilities Commissioners (NECPUC) and AEE’s regional partner, the New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC), to bring together regulators and senior staff from around the region to talk about how advanced energy technologies could – and should – reshape the utility landscape. With six commissioners and 12 senior staff from five New England States (MA, NH, VT, RI and ME) participating, it was a big success.
It was also unique. Over the course of the day-long forum, held in Portsmouth, NH, participants examined how the utility model of yesteryear, with centralized power plants pushing electrons to consumers, is moving toward a more dynamic model, made possible – and necessary – by advanced energy technologies. Those technologies range from energy storage to distributed generation to more intelligent grids and beyond. Together, participants sought to understand the new energy landscape and explore what regulatory frameworks could deliver the most benefits to consumers.
Moderated by former U.S. DOE official and state utility commissioner Sue Tierney of Analysis Group, the forum was driven by discussions led by commissioners themselves. Massachusetts Commissioner David Cash led a session on the growth of solar PV in his state, while New Hampshire Chairperson Amy Ignatius led a discussion on storm management. But advanced energy industry leaders were heard from as well. A panel on grid-resiliency technologies addressed how states can adopt advanced energy technologies to keep the grid running and the lights on under difficult weather conditions. Speakers consisted of Matt Futch from IBM on grid integration, Paul Marks of Lockheed Martin on microgrids, Charlie Fox from BloomEnergy on fuel cells, Ambri CEO Phil Giudice on energy storage, and Herb Healy of EnerNOC on demand response.
Later in the day, a visioning exercise put participants in the year 2023, where energy has become one more area for which “there is an app for that” and customers enjoy their options and a sense of control. Solar PV has achieved grid price parity while other technologies like fuel cells and microturbines have begun to penetrate the market. Between distributed generation and continued investment in energy efficiency, retail electricity sales have steadily fallen. Grid operators have had to adapt to variable power sources and electric vehicle charging requirements. But this complex energy system is more reliable than ever. How did we get there?
Working in teams, participants thought through the steps needed to reach that future in terms of technology, policy and regulations. As one commissioner put it, it was refreshing to step out of reactive mode, with commissions focused on the case before them, and instead think through how their states can move toward a future of secure, clean, affordable energy.
It was a good first outing, and we learned a lot that we will be taking to future forums for commissioners around the country.