- The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) released a survey of its U.S. members on Nov. 19 during its annual meeting, showing that many state regulators expect an accelerated growth in large-scale solar over the next five years.
- The analysis, in partnership with Utilligent, also showed members view fossil-fuel generation continuing to play a key role in the nation's energy mix over the next ten years. "You can go look at proceedings across the country, where utilities and others have said, 'No, we still need these resources to keep the lights on,'" former NARUC president Nick Wagner told Utility Dive.
- The survey is meant to connect the similar themes and dockets that are top-of-mind for utility commissioners across the country. According to the aggregated responses, state regulators are looking to "central station generation" and utility-owned renewables for the next decade.
The survey showed a "realistic" dichotomy between the interest in clean energy resources and resiliency concern, according to Wagner, the Iowa Utilities Board commissioner who served as NARUC president until the election of Mississippi Commissioner Brandon Presley at the annual meeting last week.
"The amount of renewables that our participants expected [in the next decade] are, I think, probably a little bit higher than what some others are projecting. And also the fact that there was a pretty high number that said, 'We're going to have to continue to rely on the fossil fuel side of generation to continue to have a resilient grid,'" he said, which environmental and clean energy advocates say can instead be accomplished through grid planning and storage integration.
"That heightened desire for more renewables and cleaner energy has been out there for several years and will continue to move in that direction. And I think, you know, we'll be flexible like we have been and then be able to handle it," said Wagner.
The survey also highlighted anticipated hurdles with the integration of distributed energy resources (DER). The extended answers from participants showed regulatory and policy gaps in properly valuing and effectively integrating DERs. State regulators also viewed central station generation as a dominant part of the grid across the nation for the next decade, meaning utility-owned or, in deregulated states, large-scale generation, "regardless of fuel."
"What this suggests to us is that the generation utility or any large supplier of electricity will remain a central component of the evolving market for now," the survey said.
Almost 90% of the respondents believe customers do not understand the correlation between "DER penetration rates and the need for grid investments."
"That system is largely invisible to users," Wagner said. "I think there's always more education we can do to help consumers."
But customers recognize the need for investments to support more distributed resources following a steep learning curve, according to the survey. Some commissioners remain hopeful about closing the knowledge gap on DER integration, asking for utilities to better addrress DER growth in their planning.
Washington state enacted a law in 2019 "that encourages utilities to look at the impacts of DERs on their system to try to make sure that ... [it's] not an ad hoc piece," Commissioner Jay Balasbas, of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), told Utility Dive.
Transportation electrification and battery storage are also, according to regulators, among the next big policy and regulatory challenges.