Adrienne L. Thompson, Protecting Low-Income Ratepayers as the Electricity System Evolves, 37 Energy L. J. 265 (2016).
From distributed energy resources to smart meters, we are witnessing one of the most significant economic and physical transitions in the history of our electricity sector. As utilities, regulators, and stakeholders grapple with transforming our aging grid, one under-examined issue is how these changes will impact low-income ratepayers. Specifically: as reformers begin to align utility pricing structures with true system costs, what will happen to the rate-based subsidies helping to provide electricity to these financially vulnerable consumers? With millions of Americans otherwise unable to afford utility service, the answer to that question has real-world implications. This article analyzes the intersection of grid modernization efforts and low-income ratepayer assistance programs. It discusses the unique problems facing low-income customers, and explores norms like “universal service” that underpin utility regulation in general, and ratepayer assistance in particular. Ultimately, this article proposes policy solutions to facilitate the goals of both grid modernization and low-income ratepayer assistance. Only by tackling this issue head-on can policymakers ensure that tomorrow’s energy future will look bright for all ratepayers—regardless of their income.
Adrienne L. Thompson, Preparing for the Energy Future by Creating it, 7 J. Energy & Envtl. L. 215 (Fall 2016) (recipient of the 2016 Jamie Grodsky Prize for Environmental Law Scholarship at George Washington University Law School)
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 briefly 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 difficulties 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-first century grid, state regulators can prepare for tomorrow’s energy future by helping to create it today.
Adrienne L. Thompson, Short and Long-Term Solutions for Struggling Commercial Nuclear Energy Generators in Restructured Wholesale Markets, J. Energy & Envtl. L. (2015-2016 Paper Series)
Although the U.S. nuclear power industry has struggled to regain footing in the aftermath of Three Mile Island and Fukushima, nuclear power nonetheless plays a critical role in the nation’s electricity sector and will be a necessary resource to utilize in the struggle to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. Aside from concerns over finding a permanent waste storage solution, an increasing worry for industry members is how high-cost – but emissions-free – nuclear power is being undercut by low-cost natural gas in restructured wholesale power markets. Without a long-term market- based mechanism to account for the environmental and grid-stabilizing benefits provided by nuclear power generation, America risks losing this important, carbon-free, source of base load generation. This paper concisely summarizes the challenges facing the industry and briefly discusses some potential long-term market-based solutions to put nuclear energy on a level playing field. It furthermore argues that a properly structured nuclear feed-in tariff could provide a serviceable short-term solution for states with the most financially vulnerable nuclear energy generators.
Part II of this paper provides the background information for this discussion by exploring the development of commercial nuclear power generation and the history of electricity regulation in the United States, both which inform our understanding of why nuclear energy generation is at a competitive disadvantage in restructured wholesale markets. Part III discusses a set of long-term solutions to fix this problem, as well as sets out how a short-term solution like a carefully designed nuclear feed-in tariff could be used to shore-up the nuclear energy generators that are most at risk of closure due to market conditions. Lastly, the conclusion in Part IV summarizes the highlights and core argument of this paper: if meeting our carbon emission reduction goals is truly a national and global priority – as argued by the Obama administration through the EPA and a majority of climate scientists – then it is necessary to preserve the nation’s existing fleet of emissions-free nuclear energy generation by fixing the market distortions that threaten their financial viability.
Adrienne L. Thompson, A Comparative Examination of Energy Federalism Constraints in the United States and Australia, Geo. Wash. Univ. Law School Envtl. & Energy Perspectives (Fall 2014).