Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Electricity Market Outcomes and RTO Governance

Date and Time
Wednesday, June 2, 2021 - 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. EDT
Electricity Market Outcomes and RTO Governance


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RTOGov is hosting a conversation with three leading energy market scholars and a top practitioner from the clean tech industry about decisions that affect the cost and type of electricity that powers American homes and businesses.


  • Dr. Seth Blumsack, Penn State University, will discuss the Political Complexity of Regional Electricity Policy Formation. Blumsack used semi-structured interviews with participants in the nation’s largest electricity market, PJM, to study perceptions of political power on the grid and tensions between market participants and other stakeholders. Then, he compared those sentiments to voting data to identify the sectors and “swing voters” who wield the most power over market rule changes.

Then, we’ll hear about two studies exploring how markets adapt to new technologies and stakeholder interests:

  • Dr. Stephanie Lenhart, Boise State University, will discuss Market Rules for Energy Storage and the Adaptability of RTO Governance. Lenhart and Dalten Fox studied the stakeholder and governance processes shaping market opportunities for energy storage in three markets: CAISO, SPP, and ISO-NE. The market rule changes to accommodate this new technology may, in turn, lay the groundwork for significant shifts in RTO governance.
  • Mark James, Vermont Law School, will present findings on the Impact of RTO Governance Models on eNGO Participation in Stakeholder Processes. James and Kevin Jones examined how all seven RTOs have integrated environmental interests into their governance processes, and how different models of environmental interest participation impact each market’s ability to manage the transition to a low-carbon future.

Jeff Dennis, General Counsel and Managing Director for Advanced Energy Economy, will provide reactions to this research from a practitioner perspective. The conversation will be moderated by Kate Konschnik of Duke University.

What are RTOs and where did they come from?

In the 1990s, Congress directed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to implement wholesale electricity competition. To achieve this goal, FERC encouraged the creation of Regional Transmission Organizations and Independent System Operators (RTOs/ISOs) to manage electric transmission over large geographic areas and run wholesale power markets. Today, seven RTOs/ISOs manage two-thirds of U.S. bulk electricity supply, affecting billions of dollars of energy investments and facilitating or inhibiting the clean energy transition.

Each market implements its own rules, with differing levels of engagement by states and “stakeholders”—which might include large energy users, generators, emerging technology companies, residential consumer groups, traders, and environmental groups. The rules for each market, and how (or if) different technologies are able to participate, have emerged as a function of geography, regulatory context, and politics.

Two decades later, we have a wealth of data to analyze the differences in RTO/ISOs and the associated policy successes and failures. Understanding these decision-making processes and their impacts on the cost, reliability, and carbon intensity of our electricity is critical to future policy in current markets or potential market expansions.

About RTOGov

RTOGov is a research initiative to evaluate how decisions are made in U.S. electricity markets and whether these governance processes impact real-world outcomes such as price, customer choice, air quality, and innovation.

Core partners for RTOGov are:


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  • Kate Konschnik, Duke University
  • Dr. Seth Blumsack, Penn State University
  • Dr. Stephanie Lenhart, Boise State University
  • Mark James, Vermont Law School
  • Jeff Dennis, Advanced Energy Economy