California’s utility-driven, centralized energy model is dysfunctional and failing our communities. Utility-caused wildfires, power shutoffs, and steadily increasing rates have proven time and again that the current energy system is unsafe, unreliable, non-resilient, expensive, and inequitable. Let’s make the bold decision to invest in a new decentralized energy model that better serves our current and future energy needs while saving ratepayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has opened a pivotal proceeding regarding distributed energy resources (DERs) that will shape California’s energy future. This proceeding (R.21-06-017), known as the “High DER Future” proceeding, poses a number of central and critical questions:
- Who will operate the electrical distribution grid, and to whose benefit, if California’s energy system were to include lots of interconnected DERs?
- What should be the roles of key parties in operating the distribution system?
- Will the distribution system promote the decentralized energy model needed by our communities, or cement the current centralized energy model of California’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs)?
Who Owns the Sun?
It’s no joke that the IOUs currently own and control the gateway to the distribution grid through the interconnection process and a host of other management and pricing policies. Any new generation – solar, storage, wind, etc. – can wait years in the “interconnection queue” for an opportunity to send energy into the distribution grid. The IOUs impose strict interconnection standards and requirements, including interconnection fees, study fees, and grid upgrade fees, which discourage new projects. The main exception to this onerous process is on-site solar systems that qualify as “net-energy-metered” (NEM) generation (although NEM too is under IOU attack).
Nevertheless, DERs continue to grow and transform our electricity system. Energy efficiency, demand response, rooftop solar and storage, microgrids, and electric vehicles – can improve grid reliability, empower communities, help the environment, promote social equity, and address climate change. California must promote DERs, not suppress them, to build the energy system we need and deserve.
The “High DER Future” Proceeding Thus Far
In July 2021, The CPUC opened Rulemaking 21-06-017, “to modernize the electric grid for a high distributed energy resources future.” This proceeding has three main tracks:
- Track 1 focuses on technical topics like data transparency and the IOUs’ distribution planning process.
- Track 2 focuses on the “Distribution System Operator (DSO)” model and the roles of all players in this “High DER Future” – arguably the core of the proceeding.
- Track 3 focuses on “smart inverters” and other issues of interconnection.
Track 2 defines the DSO as “the entity responsible for planning and operational functions associated with a distribution system … modernized for high levels of DERs.”
- Track 2 started off poorly – with a prohibitively complicated “white paper” and a process proposal that essentially excluded any meaningful community participation.
- In the first workshop, the Alliance and allies made a strong counter case in a proposed alternative approach that was supported by 11 organizations.
- We believe that since DERs by nature are located within communities, they require meaningful community engagement and a comprehensive community engagement plan.
Track 2 has very high stakes in shaping a DSO model that meets community needs rather than only those of the incumbent IOUs – as explained by our Coordinator, Al Weinrub, and Operations Director, Erika Morgan in a recent Utility Drive article.
The Alliance continues to be actively engaged in Track 2 of this proceeding. In partnership with the Wild Tree Foundation, we have:
- Initiated a discussion at the Track 2 kickoff workshop, arguing that community engagement must be a central theme in this proceeding.
- Published a take-away summary of this May 3, 2022, kickoff workshop.
- Met with the CPUC Energy Division staff on May 23, 2022, to continue the discussion with staff and Commissioner Houck on the issues raised in the kickoff workshop.
- Convened the Local Energy Equity Coalition (with 11 aligned organizations) to participate in the proceeding and call on the CPUC to take community engagement seriously.
This proceeding is emerging as a key battleground for the future of community energy resources. Please check back for updates and actions you can take to support a grid that works for our communities – not the profit-driven IOUs.
- Local Energy Equity Coalition, June 28, 2022, “Follow-up from Local Energy Equity Coalition to R.21-06-017 May 23 Meeting of Stakeholder Organizations and Commission Energy Division Staff”
- California Alliance for Community Energy, Wild Tree Foundation, and allies, May 18, 2022, “Summary and Key Take-aways: CPUC Kick-off Workshop re: Evaluating Alternative DSO Models (R.21-06-017)”
- California Alliance for Community Energy, Wild Tree Foundation, and allies, May 3, 2022, “Toward a High DER Future: A Community Stakeholder-Focused Alternate Proposal” presentation to the CPUC Track 2 kickoff Workshop, May 3, 2022
- California Alliance for Community Energy, Wild Tree Foundation, and allies, May 3, 2022, “California Alliance for Community Energy and Wild Tree Foundation Joint Proposal: CPUC Proceeding R.21-06-017 Track 2 Distribution System Operator Roles and Responsibilities Community Stakeholder Engagement Process”
- The Climate Center, Sierra Club, Vote Solar, 350 Bay Area, GRID Alternatives, Center for Biological Diversity, and Wild Tree Foundation, October 7, 2021, “Joint Reply Comments on Engaging Environmental and Social Justice and Other Vulnerable Communities”
- Utility Dive, June 2022, “Rethinking California distribution system operations and grid services markets for a high-DER future”
- Gridworks, March 2022, “Evaluating Alternative Distribution System Operator Models for California”
- Utility Dive, August 2021, “California Brainstorms Approaches to a High-DER Grid of the Future”
- Vibrant Clean Energy, July 2021, “Role of Distributed Generation in Decarbonizing California by 2045”
- The Climate Center, October 2019, “Energy Resilient Communities through Distributed, Clean, Smart and Local Microgrids (Advanced Community Energy or ACE)”