Energy Procurement, Utilities, Regulation, Sourcing Renewables  -  May 10, 2019 - By Caitlin Marquis

How to Get Utilities and Regulators to Provide Renewable Energy Options that Work for Your Company

Energy procurement and sustainability teams tasked with meeting corporate renewable energy targets are all too familiar with the fact that doing so is much easier in some states than in others. Specifically, in states that lack retail choice, and especially in states that are not part of an organized wholesale market, customers rely on either policy changes or the introduction of utility programs to make progress on their renewable energy goals. That means customers can wait for change – or work to make it happen.

If you pick the latter, a pragmatic guide from the Advanced Energy Buyers Group, a business-led coalition of large energy users, provides a roadmap for action. The guide, Renewable Energy Offerings that Work for Companies: A Practical Guide to Meeting Corporate Renewable Energy Demand in Vertically Integrated Markets, is intended for states or utilities to follow as they consider new renewable energy options. But it’s vital for customers to get engaged to make sure the outcomes work for them. “You want to get...a solution that the utility will offer, one that regulators will approve, and something that customers will buy,” said Steve Chriss, Director of Energy and Strategy Analysis at Walmart, on a recent Advanced Energy Economy webinar. “A lot of times, when green tariffs get filed they’re solutions that utilities will offer and solutions that regulators will approve. We get involved to get to solutions that customers will buy.”

Here is how corporate customers can use this step-by-step process to support – or prod – regulators and utilities to give you access to renewable energy you are looking for: 

  • Step One: Seek advice and input from customers, industry, and other states. Customers don’t have to wait until they’re asked to make their feelings known. Instead, they can make the ask. This can be done through one-on-one discussions with utilities, legislative engagement, or regulatory proceedings such as utility integrated resource planning (IRP). 
  • Step Two: Determine which approaches align best with your state and utility circumstances. As customers, you can familiarize yourselves with the unique circumstances of the state and utility to understand potential opportunities and limitations and to know how to work flexibly within them. For example: How are rates structured? Is the state part of an organized wholesale market? How would new renewable energy assets fit into the state’s existing resource mix? What is the timing for important utility proceedings, such as upcoming rate cases or IRP proceedings? 
  • Step Three: Account for the needs of different customers, including nonparticipants. Customers need to clearly communicate needs and preferences, recognizing that these needs may vary across and even within customer classes. This could happen through a series of group and individual discussions, through regulatory interventions and filings, via comments or letters submitted through business associations, coalitions, or simply groups of individual companies. 
  • Step Four: Adopt replicable best practices. Customers can highlight for utilities and regulators positive examples of workable program features from other jurisdictions that meet corporate needs. The Advanced Energy Buyers Group guide offers examples from states that have enacted retail choice or direct access (a form of retail choice limited to a certain subset of customers, generally large commercial and industrial customers) and from utilities that have introduced renewable energy programs (often called “green tariffs”). It’s easier to get your needs met by pointing to existing programs that work than by making up such provisions from scratch! 
  • Step Five: Guide customers through the decision and enrollment process. As customers, you should make clear to utilities and regulators what information you need to make an informed decision about participating in a utility program or direct access offering. 
  • Step Six: Review, Iterate and improve. For utilities and regulators, the sixth and final step is continual improvement based on customer adoption and input. Customers should insist from the get-go that there be a process in place for continual re-evaluation, and then actively participate in that process, communicating clearly to utilities and regulators what can be improved – and especially anything that is not working. 

Using these steps to your advantage will take time and persistence, but the potential reward—a workable renewable energy procurement option where there formerly was none—is significant. Working together through formal and informal groupings can lessen the burden on individual companies while also promoting a solution that meets the needs of customers with differing needs and preferences. After all, what good is a renewable energy purchase program nobody wants to sign up for? 

 For more information on Advanced Energy Economy, click here.

Caitlin Marquis is a director at Advanced Energy Economy, where she manages the policy engagement of the Advanced Energy Buyers Group, a coalition of leading companies that are working to expand their use of advanced energy. She leads the Buyers Group’s efforts on both regulatory and legislative engagement at the state, federal, and regional level.

Caitlin will be part of SED's Distributed Energy Resources Forum panel on "Navigating the Regulatory Landscape." For information on the Forum, set for June 24-26 in Denver, click here.

 

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