Stakeholder Group Report Recommends Key Steps for Modernizing Maine's Electric Grid
A stakeholder group representing environmental nonprofits, renewable energy developers, electric utilities, consumer advocates, and other energy sector stakeholders has issued a set of nine consensus-based recommendations for steps to plan, build, and operate the electric grid that is needed to meet Maine’s recently established climate and energy requirements.
Between September 2020 and March 2021, the Maine Utility/Regulatory Reform and Decarbonization Initiative (MURRDI) gathered virtually for nine half-day meetings convened by The Nature Conservancy in Maine (TNC) and facilitated by the Great Plains Institute (GPI). The focus of these meetings was to identify common ground in charting a path for Maine to modernize its electric grid to help meet the state’s decarbonization requirements established in 2019, while maintaining safe, reliable, resilient, secure, and affordable service.
A crucial, overarching recommendation developed by this group is that Maine should investigate, adopt, and implement a holistic, long-term, strategic grid planning process. In coordination with existing proceedings and efforts, the implementation of a grid planning process would allow key electric sector actors to make more strategic system operations, planning, and investment decisions consistent with Maine’s climate and energy requirements.
Other consensus-based recommendations include:
- Building on the New England States’ Vision for a Clean Affordable, and Reliable 21st Century Regional Electric Grid (NESCOE Vision Statement).
- Enabling flexibility of electric load with more dynamic electric rate designs.
- Exploring the opportunities, challenges, benefits, and drawbacks of establishing a market framework for electricity sales at the distribution system level, including through pilot projects.
- Identifying and implementing temporary measures to advance deployment of new electric vehicle fast charging infrastructure.
- Enhancing interconnection data sharing to enable renewable energy and energy storage to be located where it can bring the greatest benefit to the grid.
- Exploring opportunities to allow investments in grid innovation (in return for oversight from the Public Utilities Commission) and creating a forum for sharing innovative approaches being tested in the state and elsewhere.
- Supporting transmission that is necessary to unlock renewable energy in Northern Maine and that is carefully sited to avoid and minimize environmental impacts.
- Expanding the Public Utilities Commission’s decision-making framework to consider Maine’s climate requirements, equity implications, and impacts on environmental justice communities.
“Our hope is that these recommendations will prove useful as Maine strives to achieve its critical climate and clean energy goals and modernize its electric grid,” said Rob Wood, Director of Government Relations and Climate Policy for The Nature Conservancy in Maine. “TNC Maine was grateful for the opportunity to bring together wide-ranging perspectives in support of this effort.”
By implementing these recommendations, Maine has an opportunity to ensure that it can plan, build, and operate the electric grid that will be needed to meet its climate and energy requirements.
Participants in the MURRDI stakeholder group included:
- Jeff Marks & Oliver Tully, Acadia Center
- David Littell, Bernstein Shur
- Jason Rauch & Eric Stinneford, Central Maine Power
- Troy Moon, City of Portland
- Julie Rosenbach, City of South Portland
- Greg Cunningham & Phelps Turner, Conservation Law Foundation
- Ian Burnes & Michael Stoddard, Efficiency Maine Trust
- Dan Burgess & Melissa Winne, Maine Governor’s Energy Office*
- Kay Aikin, Introspective Systems, LLC
- Phil Bartlett, Maine Public Utilities Commission*
- Jeremy Payne, Maine Renewable Energy Association
- David Costello & Sue Ely, Natural Resources Council of Maine
- Rob Wood, The Nature Conservancy in Maine
- Barry Hobbins, Andrew Landry, & Susan Chamberlin, Maine Office of the Public Advocate*
- Peter O’Connor, Plug In America
- Tony Buxton, Preti Flaherty
- Barry Woods & Fortunat Mueller, ReVision Energy
- Tom Welch, consultant
- Dot Kelly & Matthew Cannon, Sierra Club Maine Chapter
- Steve Weems, Solar Energy Association of Maine
- Ken Colburn, Symbiotic Strategies
- Steve Clemmer, Union of Concerned Scientists
- James Cohen, Verrill Dana LLP
- Tim Pease, Versant Power
- Dave Wilby, Wilby Public Affairs, LLC
* Participants from organizations marked with an asterisk participated as observers only.
Quotes from MURRDI participants:
“The electric grid of the future is one in which previously passive consumers of electricity can become active participants in generating, using, and selling clean energy, within or closer to their home communities, and with more of their energy needs met by smart electric vehicles, heating, and other devices. Broadband will allow these devices to be automatically managed to avoid expensive peak periods and reduce costs, and the same technologies will enable greater resilience against outages. The recommendations in the MURRDI report reflect this evolution and will support Maine’s transition to a modern, low-carbon electricity grid and achievement of the state’s urgent climate and clean energy goals.” -Ken Colburn, Principal, Symbiotic Strategies, LLC
“The economic and environmental future of Maine is tied to actions the State can take to modernize the electric grid and expand clean energy and transportation systems so that the region transitions to a healthier, more equitable clean energy future. The MURRDI report gives policymakers, utilities, and other decision-makers the basic tools necessary to ensure long-term grid planning meets Maine’s robust climate and energy requirements while minimizing burdens on overburdened and underserved communities.” -Jeff Marks, Senior Policy Advocate and Maine Director, Acadia Center
"To meet our decarbonization goals as a state and country utility regulation and the exploration of how it interacts with holistic electrical grid solutions across the energy value chain are very important. This report is an important step in providing the framework for climate change action in Maine by the legislature." -Kay Aikin, Chief Executive Officer, Introspective Systems, LLC
“Participating as a MURRDI stakeholder provided a rare opportunity to brainstorm candidly about seemingly intractable utility performance and regulatory issues, with keen minds in the field. To make it worthwhile, it is imperative to convert the best recommendations, like the need for a holistic, long-term grid planning process led by a transformed Public Utilities Commission, to real solutions on the ground. This will require thoughtful legislation, creative rulemaking, and far better utility performance.” -Steve Weems, Executive Director, Solar Energy Association of Maine
“Versant Power is fully committed to being an active partner as Maine takes on its ambitious climate goals. We are pleased to have been a part of this collaborative process and support the recommendations that will help Maine decarbonize at the lowest cost to customers.” -Tim Pease, Vice President, Legal and Regulatory Affairs, Versant Power
About The Nature Conservancy: TNC is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.
About Great Plains Institute (GPI): As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, the Great Plains Institute works with diverse interests to transform the energy system to benefit the economy and environment. We combine our unique consensus-building approach, expert knowledge, research and analysis, and local action to work on solutions that strengthen communities and provide greater economic opportunity through the creation of higher-paying jobs, expansion of the nation’s industrial base, and greater domestic energy independence while eliminating carbon emissions.
This project is made possible thanks in part to support from the Barr Foundation. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Barr Foundation.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.