George Washington University Law School’s Journal of Energy and Environmental Law recently published an article by Adrienne Thompson titled, Preparing for the Energy Future by Creating It: What State Public Utility Commissions Can do to Promote Sustainable Energy Policies. The article appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of JEEL, but was recently made available online.
Safe, abundant, and reliable electricity is the bedrock upon which the United States has built its modern economy. Our national security, commercial activity, and day-to-day living depend on the stability of the nation’s electric system—a system facing a set of challenges unmatched by any other in the grid’s century-long history. Stringent environmental regulations, climate change concerns, waves of older generator retirements, protracted natural gas market dominance, third-party competition, as well as increasing renewables and demand-side technology integration are just some of the realities coalescing into the perfect storm for electric utilities and regulators. Although intimidating, these challenges must be addressed. With their experience and duty to regulate in the public interest, state public utility commissions (“PUCs”), also called public service commissions, are well-positioned to help solve these problems and guide our transitioning electric system toward a low-carbon future.
To that end, this Article explores how PUCs can influence this evolution and promote sustainable energy goals, especially in the realm of generator selection. Part I discusses the changes happening in the electric industry today and why state-level regulation is necessary in the absence of effective federal action. Part II briefy summarizes the development of the electric system, as well as federal and state regulatory schemes. With that background information as context, Part III sets out various options for state PUCs to pursue in advancing a sustainable energy agenda.
The difculties facing electric utilities and regulators today bring with them a host of uncertainties about how our electric system can cope in the near-term and thrive in the longterm. However, by embracing the opportunities inherent in this transition to a twenty-frst century grid, state regulators can prepare for tomorrow’s energy future by helping to create it today.