DERs are a growing part of the U.S. electric system and many state electric utility regulators are looking to more accurately compensate them by paying for a variety of the benefits that these resources provide. Most states are currently focusing on energy and distribution-level benefits, but this approach overlooks the environmental and public health impacts of DERs. Even though some states like California and New York have been working on analyses that include environmental attributes of DERs, few regulators have attempted a thorough evaluation of the environmental and public health benefits. Our report, Valuing Pollution Reduction, lays out a practical methodology for calculating the E value, the highlights of which are captured here. Specifically, this issue brief describes how to appropriately value environmental and public health benefits by monetizing the economic, health, and climate damages avoided emissions would have caused. State utility regulators can use the steps described here, weighing tradeoffs between accuracy and administrability, to implement their own program to holistically compensate DERs.
Avoiding Unnecessary and Problematic Reforms
Many states are taking action on climate change by paying zero- and low-emitting electricity generators for avoiding the emissions that fossil-fuel-fired resources would otherwise emit. These “externality payments” help level the playing field between emitting and non-emitting generators. Critics of these policies argue that these payments might negatively affect the efficiency of wholesale electricity markets by reducing capacity prices, which heavily affect how generators enter and exit the market. Our report shows why the premises underlying recent reforms, which seek to shield capacity markets from the potential price impact of pollution externality payments, are flawed.
Implications for Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Many policymakers assume that increasing deployment of energy storage will automatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in part by helping to integrate renewable energy resources with intermittent and variable generation. This report, published in the Harvard Environmental Law Review, explores situations in which energy storage systems can in fact lead to increased emissions, and offers reforms to correct for poor incentives while ensuring that energy storage can provide the maximum benefit possible to the grid.
How to Monetize Greenhouse Gas and Local Air Pollutant Reductions from Distributed Energy Resources
Distributed energy resources (DERs)—grid-connected, small-scale electric generators such as rooftop solar installations, micro-turbines, combined heat and power systems, customer backup generators, and distributed energy storage systems—are a growing part of the U.S. electric system. They can help avoid the high levels of greenhouse gases and local air pollution produced by traditional energy sources. As their use grows, state electric utility regulators are seeking to compensate DERs accurately for the benefits they offer, including reductions in pollution that contributes to climate change and harms human health. This report shows how regulators can calculate the types and amount of pollution avoided, and then monetize these benefits for use in policy.
Recent advances in technology and the consequent decline in manufacturing costs are making energy storage systems a central element of energy and climate change policy debates across the nation. Energy storage systems have the potential to provide many benefits such as lower electricity prices at peak demand times, deferred or avoided new capacity investments, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, both federal and state policymakers are enthusiastically encouraging more energy storage deployment with the belief that energy storage systems will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector by making intermittent and variable renewable energy resources such as solar and wind more attractive. This article, published in the Harvard Environmental Law Review, challenges this common assumption that increased energy storage will necessarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The article was selected by Environmental Law Reporter as one of the five best environmental law articles published during the 2018-2019 academic year. An adapted version, The Future of Energy Storage: Adopting Policies for a Cleaner Grid, was included in the August 2019 Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review issue of Environmental Law Reporter’s News & Analysis.
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