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EEI, NRDC find 'common ground' in new plan for clean energy development

Utility trade group the Edison Electric Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council issued a joint statement Feb. 14 calling for increased grid efficiency and heavier reliance on renewable energy "to accelerate America's transition to a clean energy future."

The groups said the document reinforces trends that are already underway in U.S. power markets, which are shifting away from higher-emitting coal-based power and increasingly incorporating renewable energy, efficiency, demand-side management and distributed energy such as rooftop solar into the generating mix.

"[Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC] and [Edison Electric Institute, or EEI] have not always agreed on energy issues [but] today's joint statement reflects common ground on the progress of the nation's clean energy momentum and the role that utilities and others can play in supporting it," NRDC energy program co-director Ralph Cavanagh said.

EEI represents investor-owned utilities, including generators that produce a substantial amount of power from coal and natural gas. Some of EEI's member companies have fought to overturn environmental regulations supported by the NRDC, including the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that aimed to slash carbon emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired plants.

But in their Feb. 14 statement, the two groups laid out common goals for modernizing the U.S. bulk power system and making electricity generation cleaner.

The four-page document emphasized the "continuing importance" of state and federal efficiency standards for buildings and equipment, voluntary efficiency initiatives such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's EnergyStar Program, and electric company investment in efficiency and distributed energy resources, including for low-income customers.

The second set of recommendations focused on "smarter energy infrastructure." The EEI and NRDC called for "more strategic use" of distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar to enhance grid flexibility and efficiency. They also advocated "new approaches" to grid planning, pricing and cost allocation and encouraged state and local utility regulators to authorize higher levels of investment in "smarter, cleaner, and more resilient grids."

Other infrastructure-focused recommendations included electric company engagement with the Smart Communities movement, which promotes more efficient buildings and appliances and the increased electrification of the the transportation sector; industry-wide support for spare equipment programs to aid in recovery from natural disasters; and better coordination of natural gas pipeline planning, markets and operations, including gas-electric market coordination.

The third part of the statement declared that regulated electric utilities "will remain essential" in resource portfolio management and investment.

The groups called for regulated utilities and independent power producers to partner on clean energy development and reaffirmed their commitment to "review the linkage" between power companies retail energy sales and financial health as electric generation becomes more efficient and overall energy demand grows at a slow pace. The groups also recommended reducing barriers to "environmentally responsible" permitting and siting of new electricity infrastructure.

The last portion of the document sought rate design reforms, with an "increased emphasis on performance-based regulation and a transition to more flexible rate structures."

The document was the fourth such statement the two groups have formed together in the past 15 years. The recommendations were submitted to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners on the last day of the association's winter policy summit in Washington, D.C.