Congress Can Empower Energy Innovation Far and Wide. Here’s How.

, Senior energy analyst | May 14, 2015, 3:38 pm EDT
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Today there is much attention to new energy supplies, and the policies that can best guide their adoption. As part of that discussion, it’s important to note that most of the new technology and market-based behavior by users and suppliers of electricity stems from Congress passing the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) and its amendments.


Congress poised for resilience and grid reforms

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is guiding hearings on energy delivery. The range of bills from both parties in Congress illustrates that energy topics reach far and wide. Keeping the lights on in isolated communities with micro-grids helps advance the resilience of any community that seeks to build micro-grids. Providing the tools and demonstrations for making the grid run with renewable energy and storage allow for better service, even if storms disrupt the delivery of fuel.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) has made a great contribution to Congressional energy bill efforts. CAP points to how Congress has helped advance energy policy adaptations to changes in the economy, and national needs for reform in the energy sector. Congress has used legislation under PURPA and its amendments over the years to start discussions and still provide that states maintain the jurisdiction to decide on the policies.

PURPA allowed literally a new generation of power plant entrepreneurship by introducing competition from new power supplies. This included small, customer-owned generation, which has blossomed with rooftop solar. Projections of how much solar is likely are hard to make, as actual installations have surpassed most every prediction. Business innovation allows solar on rooftops with no money down, demonstrating that solar is for everyone, and entrepreneurship in clean energy can be as aggressive and clever as in any other field. Enter “solar no money down” in an internet search and see for yourself!


“The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act has repeatedly proven itself as a modest but useful tool for Congress to encourage smart standards for utilities at the state level,” explains CAP. PURPA has encouraged states to examine rates and energy supply decision-making in response to rising costs. Congress has used PURPA to promote better understanding of energy use and supply diversity, topics ripe for today’s needs.

CAP today urges Congress to continue this work by using PURPA to advance:

  • Energy-efficiency incentives and affordability;
  • Integrating clean energy and energy storage into the grid; and
  • Increasing resilience of utilities.

Falling costs and grid adaptation

With the quickly falling costs of renewable energy, and the promise of low-cost storage, even greater changes are looming in the marketplace.

The bill from Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) urges storage industry transparency and standards that can speed adoption and customer confidence. As many of the bills proposed in Congress suggest, we can learn how to adapt to the technological and business changes through science, demonstration, and deliberation of the merits.

The electric utility industry has said it wants to provide an “integrated grid.” Debating how to pay for the grid needs time and thought, as energy use changes with distributed generation reducing utility sales, and electric vehicles increasing utility sales. The utility industry needs to give a clear signal that it has the capability to measure the true costs and benefits of these changes.

The time is ripe for Congress to provide an updated policy platform for the energy business. Congress has the opportunity to encourage modernization of the power system. Competition, customer choice, and new technology have been the legacy of past Congressional guidance on electricity policy. The business community is ready to offer a new generation of technology. Let’s keep working on this in a balanced manner.


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