ELPC Turns 30

Brad Klein

ELPC Turns 30: Energy Programs Look to Local Opportunities

As new technologies offer local clean energy solutions, ELPC is adapting for the future.

ELPC has a long track record of advancing renewable energy through state-level and regional advocacy.

Just in the past few months, we’ve secured major wins in the DTE and Consumer’s Energy rate cases in Michigan, to keep energy bills more affordable and ensure smarter long-term investments. We’re pushing MidAmerican to close its massive coal fleet in Iowa, fighting rubber-stamp commissions in Ohio, helping approve new ways to finance solar in Wisconsin, and demanding Xcel incorporate energy justice into its planning in Minnesota.

Our commitment to renewable energy has not changed over the last 30 years. Technology has. And, because of that, ELPC is adapting to new opportunities. We’re expanding our Grid Transformation Program in ways that will accelerate deployment of community-based solar and storage, local microgrids, and other distributed energy resources to create a cleaner, more resilient, more equitable – and more participatory – electricity system for all.

Technology Changing the Game

The birth of local battery storage, electric vehicles, microgrids, and other distributed energy resources (DERs) are creating new opportunities for people to make and manage their own electricity, helping build resilience and economic opportunity for local communities. While these technologies are typically connected to the local grid, when DERs are aggregated together they can actually provide services that are relevant to how the wholesale markets operate. This blurs the lines between work that falls to state utility regulators and work that’s handled by the regional planning groups created by the Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Through projects like our Beyond Wires campaign, ELPC urges FERC to require regional planners to fully and fairly consider DERs and other Grid Enhancing Technologies (GETs) in the transmission planning process. Distributed energy resources are rarely considered for solving transmission needs. But, considered together with advanced conductors and other GETs, they can have an impact that gets more clean power on the grid faster and cheaper than an approach that sees power lines as the only solution.

It’s a “yes, and…” approach, one that considers both DERs and traditional transmission lines, allowing FERC to pick the best solution for a problem while squeezing more performance out of the transmission system that we already have. This way FERC can get more renewable power on the grid as fast as possible while “right-sizing” the transmission system to avoid unnecessary costs and environmental impact.

The Evolution of Efficiency

Energy efficiency is a catchall term for anything that reduces energy waste. Whether it’s a program that helps low-income families better insulate their homes or cutting-edge smart thermostats that can adjust your house’s temperature by fractions of a degree to reduce expensive “peak” power demand, these programs and technologies make sure we’re not building or maintaining dirty fossil-fueled power plants that we don’t actually need.

The benefits extend beyond the individual home or business that invested in efficiency. They are helping to create a more efficient electricity system with less waste and unnecessary expense – expense that the utility will recoup from all ratepayers. Efficiency benefits everyone, not just the customers who participate in these programs.

Building decarbonization and beneficial electrification are the next evolution of ELPC’s traditional energy efficiency work. Decarbonization simply means cutting a building’s carbon dioxide emissions, for example by switching from gas heating to a less carbon-intensive fuel source like renewable electricity. Beneficial electrification means replacing things that burn fossil fuels like gasoline, heating oil or propane with cleaner electric power. An electric vehicle instead of combustion engines. Heat pumps or geothermal systems instead of boilers.

Eventually, these measures may help homeowners cut the cord entirely from the gas companies. Thinking about such a big transition in an industry as large as the gas industry has a whole suite of both business model and also social impacts. But this is where we’re heading as the electric system becomes more renewable and less carbon-intensive. ELPC is committed to ensuring this transition happens quickly, fairly, safely, and equitably, with access for everyone regardless of income.

Participatory Energy

With these new technologies, people no longer have to be passive customers of electricity. DERs empower you to do more than just flip the switch to have some power plant miles away pump electricity into your home.

These technologies provide more opportunity for people to directly participate in the energy system, which promotes equity and energy justice. People plugged into the network can generate their own power, can have choice more choice around where they get their energy, and can generate more local wealth and resilience in their communities through local DERs and community microgrids.

ELPC has fought for renewable power since we started, but as energy has changed so have we. We will continue to grow, adapt, and fight for solutions for the next 30 years and beyond.

Brad Klein,

Managing Attorney

Brad Klein is a Senior Attorney working on accelerating renewable energy policies and development across the Midwest.

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