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Managing the Future of the Electricity Grid: Modernizing Rate Design

This article, published in the Harvard Environmental Law Review, explains how current electricity rate designs hamper economic efficiency because they break the link between price signals and underlying costs, especially the costs related to environmental externalities. Based on an economic framework, we highlight how better rate designs would improve economic efficiency, provide accurate price signals for distributed energy resources, and advance the seemingly conflicting interests of the relevant stakeholders. We provide a historical context to show that for almost 140 years of electricity rate design discussions, economic efficiency principles have mostly been ignored; yet, problems that stem from inefficient rate designs have continued to be salient. We then argue that the electricity sector is at a critical juncture, and that a shift to a paradigm with a long-term vision that includes better, economically efficient rate designs is necessary if we want to realize the clean energy future that the modern grid promises us.