Another State Rebuilding Its Electricity System the Right Way

Massachusetts has now joined New York in developing a comprehensive plan to rebuild its electrical system and its economy.  Here’s the story.

The state is “remaking the electric grid as it might have been designed by Steve Jobs:  elegant, customer-friendly, and with functionality that was previously unimaginable,” said Paul Gromer, CEO of Peregrine Energy Group and former Massachusetts state energy commissioner.

The Department of Public Utilities began investigating grid modernization in 2012 out of concern that technology was changing and the grid wasn’t keeping up. Clearly, the electric grid of the last century wasn’t built for homes acting as power plants, appliances keyed to energy prices, and cars fueling up from an electric plug. After months of meetings with key players, expert input, hearings and a mulling of ideas, the regulatory agency in mid-June ordered a course of action to ready the grid for the new world.

What Will This New Grid Be Like?

The state isn’t pushing a particular kind of future grid.  (“We cannot know today all the advances and technological breakthroughs that will occur in the electricity sector over the next decades,” said the DPU in the order.) Instead, it is laying out a new way for utilities to plan their future, one increasingly inclined toward greener operations.

“The grid modernization order requires utilities to really think differently about the way they operate their businesses,” said Ann Berwick, chair of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in an interview.

The order calls for utilities to submit plans to the state to show how they will achieve four modernization objectives: reduce power outages; reduce peak demand; integrate distributed resources, and improve workforce and asset management.

The plans must receive DPU approval before they are put in place. And the DPU will monitor progress over the years based on a series of metrics, including the number and output of distributed generation systems installed.

“What gets measured, gets done. With this order, in Massachusetts renewables will get done,” Gromer said.

Those who follow Massachusetts energy policy expect solar, in particular, to benefit from grid modernization.

“We are really big in Massachusetts on solar,” Berwick said. So big that the state met a goal to install 250 MW of solar four years early. Now, with more than 500 MW installed, Governor Deval Patrick has set a new goal of 1,600 MW of solar by 2020.

Massachusetts is pushing wind power, too. But given the state’s dense population, it has little room for land-based wind and is relying more on the still nascent U.S. offshore industry to help it meet its 2,000 MW wind power goal by 2020.

WV politicians and PSC take note – this is what leadership looks like.

The coal industry whiners should pay close attention as well:

The state is home to what soon may be the first major offshore U.S. wind farm — the 420-MW Cape Wind. And the state has been selected three years running as number one for energy efficiency by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Its clean tech industry saw 11.8 percent job growth in the last year. [emphasis mine]

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