This article is the third in a series on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) work at the state, local, and national level to facilitate the transition to a 100% clean electricity system.

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Electric utilities and the regulators who oversee them face new challenges in building our clean energy future. New technologies, emerging roles in grid operations and planning, and considerations about climate change, equity, affordability, and security raise questions. The answers vary based on geography, population density, local regulatory conditions, and other factors.

    "PNNL's technical assistance provided us with an important foundation. Other PUCs should take advantage of this resource."

    DOE’s State Technical Assistance to Public Utility Commissions program helps regulators and their staff answer questions and think through options in their jurisdictions. The program connects state regulators with experts from DOE’s national laboratories, who provide in-depth technical assistance to address challenges facing the electricity industry.

    Here are some examples of utility regulatory agencies that have benefitted from assistance:

    Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC)

    After the Oregon legislature enacted a standard calling for 100% clean electricity by 2040, the OPUC needed to oversee utility planning. Oregon utilities needed guidelines, which required risk-based examinations of resiliency that considered costs, consequences, outcomes, and benefits.

    Staff at three national laboratories researched resilience definitions and metrics, related issues and approaches, and best practices. Their August 2022 report narrowed the OPUC’s focus.

    “They did a great job understanding our needs and knowledge gaps,” said Caroline Moore, administrator of the OPUC’s strategy and integration division. “The report hit the mark between well-researched technical findings and accessible information.”

    This work can serve as a foundation for other states interested in addressing resilience and equity in their planning and operation efforts.

    Public Service Commission of the State of Missouri (MoPSC)

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 2222 requires regional grid operators to develop a market that allows aggregations of consumer-owned distributed energy resources (DER), like solar panels and battery storage, and demand response to be compensated for providing electricity to the regional grid. MoPSC commissioners asked for help to understand what to consider when allowing aggregators to participate in organized wholesale markets—and how utilities can comply.

    MoPSC connected with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to understand how other states had incorporated DER while ensuring grid and customer protections.

    “The lab team took our input and developed a menu of options to address our questions and concerns. When the literature review came up short, they quickly pivoted to performing one-on-one interviews,” said Alexander Antal, advisor to MoPSC’s chairman. “The end result was a thorough and insightful report that has been praised by numerous industry stakeholders.” 

    In March 2023, the lab team presented MoPSC with a report highlighting relevant states’ experiences with DER aggregators, covering topics such as jurisdiction, resolving disputes, licensing, and protecting data. MoPSC used the report in stakeholder discussions and to prioritize topics it must address as it considers integrating third-party aggregators into its markets.

    Washington State Utility and Transportation Commission (UTC)

    In Washington, utilities must file Clean Energy Implementation Plans (CEIPs) with the UTC, illustrating a move to a 100% carbon-free electricity supply by 2045, equitable distribution of energy benefits, and reduced burdens to underserved populations.

    Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) examined CEIPs from three utilities, as well as rate case filings, to understand how the definitions of energy equity and customer benefit indicators differed. With UTC, the lab created a resource guide the UTC could use to track equity and resilience issues in rate case testimonies. This resource guide identifies performance areas, categories, and metrics, which other regulators can adapt to compare utility plans, processes, and policy objectives.

    “PNNL’s technical assistance provided us with an important foundation,” said Washington UTC Deputy Director of Planning and Energy Kathi Scanlan. “Other PUCs should take advantage of this resource.”

    Learn more about DOE’s efforts to facilitate planning for 100% clean energy through our funding and technical assistance programs: