August 22, 2018

Workshops Help Decision Makers Navigate Complex Electricity Sector Landscape

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Workshops Help Decision Makers Navigate Complex Electricity Sector Landscape

As the U.S. electricity sector continues to undergo market shifts, grid operators in the competitive wholesale electricity markets are responding to those changes in a variety of ways.  Their decisions have far-reaching impacts for states, utilities, merchant generators, new energy technologies, and consumers. Many of these interests have found help navigating the uncharted territory with Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

For several years, Nicholas Institute staff have produced analyses of the sector’s evolving dynamics and convened decision makers and stakeholders to discuss options for accomplishing a range of goals within the PJM region, which includes the District of Columbia and all or part of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

In particular, the workshops that the Nicholas Institute has co-hosted with the Great Plains Institute (GPI) since 2015 have become increasingly important learning opportunities—ones that strike a “good balance” between presentation of “high-level information” and “closed-door regulator-only discussion,” according to one participant at the latest workshop, in Washington, D.C.

That workshop brought together some 150 air and energy regulators—including then Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Commissioner Robert Powelson—utilities, other power providers, and investors to consider the increasingly complex task of responding to the changing power generation mix. Participants heard directly from the PJM about its proposed market rule changes as well as from state officials and power generators, who shared perspectives on those proposals and other energy generation trends.

“Our May 2018 event was fortuitous in its timing in that it provided a forum to discuss the contentious capacity repricing proposals that PJM had just submitted to FERC,” said Nicholas Institute Climate and Energy Program director Kate Konschnik. “At their most basic level, the workshops are designed to help people with differing objectives understand one another’s positions and, we hope, identify strategies to manage the fundamental shifts afoot on the grid.”

Each workshop and research project is designed to cater to the evolving information and analytical needs of stakeholders and decision makers.

“We learn what’s on our participants’ minds and that helps us shape our agendas for upcoming events as well as think about where we want to put our research efforts in the short and long term,” said Nicholas Institute senior policy associate Jennifer Weiss.

Last year, she noted, there was interest in a carbon pricing framework that could apply to the entire market or a sub-region of PJM states. In response, the Nicholas Institute and GPI hosted a 2017 workshop that highlighted some of the thinking about the framework.

“The overarching topic that we’re trying to help participants get their heads around is how to harmonize RTO markets and state policies,” said Weiss. “That task is complicated by the varying goals of states, a rapidly changing grid, new consumer demands, and a host of other factors. Our workshops keep participants abreast of the latest regulatory developments and analysis so they can better understand their options for achieving their aims.”

--by Melissa Edeburn

Work on this project is supported by the Energy Foundation. Images courtesy of Jen Weiss.