Center for Climate, Energy, Environment and Economics Newsletter

Center for Climate, Energy, Environment and Economics Newsletter: Friday, May 26, 2017

Message From The Directors

Jonas Monast Victor Flatt

Dear CE3 Friends and Supporters:

CE3 has had an eventful first year. We launched a full scholarship for an outstanding incoming student, expanded our energy and environmental law course offerings, and provided opportunities for students to participate in CE3 stakeholder workshops. We are also thrilled to announce that Carolina Law’s energy law moot court team won the Energy and Sustainability Moot Court Competition, hosted by the West Virginia University College of Law Virginia. (See below for more details on the moot court competitions.).

During the fall, CE3 released a white paper on financing solar energy (coauthored by UNC’s Center for Banking and Finance and Environmental Finance Center) and launched a new project analyzing strategies for valuing distributed energy resources. We also partnered with Hannah Wiseman at Florida State University’s College of Law to explore the opportunities and challenges facing municipal utilities and electric membership co-ops as they move toward a lower carbon future and joined an ongoing collaboration between Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Harvard University’s Environmental Policy Initiative. The UNC-Duke-Harvard partnership released a report in October identifying six electricity policy issues facing the next president—issues that are currently before the Trump Administration. The partnership also led to two workshops—one in June and another in February—that brought together state and federal government officials, private sector attorneys, and legal scholars to explore questions facing the sector, including the future of nuclear energy, the evolving line between federal and state jurisdiction over electricity markets, and impacts of the shift from the Obama to the Trump Administrations. The CE3 team is now planning a workshop on the future of North Carolina’s electricity sector that will provide an overview of the state’s electricity planning process and identify key decision points that will affect North Carolina’s energy future.

Along with these accomplishments, we also have bittersweet news to share—CE3’s founder and co-director Victor Flatt will leave UNC this summer to rejoin the faculty at the University of Houston. We are happy to report that Victor will remain involved with CE3 despite his upcoming move. He has agreed the join the CE3 board of advisors and we look forward to partnering with him in his new role.

Jonas Monast
C. Boyden Gray Distinguished Fellow, Assistant Professor
Co-Director, Center for Climate, Energy, Environment and Economics

Featured Article

Kristin Athens

Hearing About CE3 Projects from the UNC Student Participants

My name is Kristin Athens, and I am a third year law student at UNC. This past March, I had the pleasure of attending the Municipal Utilities & Cooperatives: Transitioning to a Lower Carbon Future conference with Professors Monast and Payne, along with another student, Ms. Shannon O’Neil. UNC Law co-hosted the conference along with Florida State University College of Law on FSU’s law school campus in Tallahassee, Florida. The conference’s focus was on the benefits, challenges, and techniques that municipal utilities and cooperatives implement when transitioning their energy portfolios to lower-carbon sources.

In all, there were four panels, each with a general focus. Panel 1 illustrated the differences between large and small cooperatives and municipal utilities serving rural, low-density populations versus those serving concentrated consumer populations; Panel 2 focused on transitioning from utility-scale coal-fired generation to other options; Panel 3 focused on expanding purchasing options for consumers, specific to renewable energy; and Panel 4 focused on expanding self-supply and renewable generation amongst municipal utilities and cooperatives. Each panel had three to four guest speakers, all of who were from different U.S. locations and had different energy backgrounds. For example, one speaker, Khalil Shalabi, was the Vice President of Energy Market Operations and Resource Planning for the city of Austin, Texas. Another speaker, Arlen Orchard, was the CEO of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California, and speaker Dalia Patino-Echeverri, was a Gendell Assistant Professor of Energy Systems and Public Policy at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Thus, the conference presented a wide range of viewpoints from various actors within the energy sector.

One of the most interesting things I learned about was the increased interaction between municipal utilities and cooperatives with their customers. Firstly, as municipals and cooperatives—as opposed to investment-owned, regulated utilities—there is much more flexibility as to general governance and energy generation decision-making. Moreover, due to this more localized, central governance, there is much more, and sometimes even face-to-face—i.e. in Aspen, CO—customer interaction. As such, municipal utilities and cooperatives’ generation portfolios are very much subject to customer demand, as opposed to only economic forces. For example, when a large business in Wilson, NC, approached its local municipal because it wanted rooftop solar (in order to market itself as a “green” business), the utility was forced to implement a solar tariff backstand rate into its schedule, which incidentally lowered the utility’s carbon emissions. Similarly, Aspen, Colorado’s 100% “green” energy portfolio is singlehandedly attributed to its customers’ demand for low-emission generation.

However, being more localized also has its issues; for one, these utilities are more susceptible to political pressures. As can be exemplified by NC, municipals and cooperatives located in more conservative or “red” regions, tend to largely support coal-fired generation as opposed to renewable generation, with the opposite being the case for “bluer” regions. Despite politics, customers in general still tend to accept, if not demand, lower-carbon generation sources. In fact, customers sometimes, despite political differences, support renewable generation, albeit for different reasons. For example, in Texas, conservatives support solar energy as it is viewed as “freedom” from reliance on the government; other Texans view it as a “green” solution to climate change. Whatever the reasons, and despite politics, municipal utilities can more easily transition to lower-carbon generation portfolios, especially when customers demand it.

Shannon O

My name is Shannon O’Neil and I am also a third year law student at UNC. As Kristin alluded to, we had the pleasure of not only attending the conference at FSU, but also serving as the event’s principal note-takers. I think the fact that I thought my fingers were going to fall off by the end of the day is a testament to the impressive number of topics we covered in a mere seven hours. Coming from the North Carolina, where the majority of people receive their power from a vertically-integrated, investor-owned utility (“IUO”), it was fascinating to delve into the world of municipal utilities and co-ops and to hear their perspectives on the challenges of transitioning to lower carbon sources of energy.

Similarly to Kristin, I was struck by the repeated emphasis on customer relationships and input. The Berkshire Wind Project in Massachusetts is another example of a project that came about largely due to popular demand; advocates showed up at public meetings, and turbines showed up on a mountainside. It lead me to wonder whether “green” minded consumers who purchase their energy from an IOU could achieve similar results, or if this level of reactivity and transparency is unique to municipal utilities and co-ops. Given the uncertain future of energy policy in our country, it seems that consumer activism has the potential to become an increasingly important driving force in the fight for a lower carbon future.

As a native North Carolinian, I was also intrigued by the insights offered by Diane Cherry, Strategic Director of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (“NCSEA”). Ms. Cherry spoke specifically about Raleigh, North Carolina’s attempts to move toward decarbonization, despite not owning their own utility. I was shocked and a little unnerved to realize that even such a relatively progressive and metropolitan city could be so divided, uninformed, and unorganized when it came to energy policy. Perhaps though, this realization—unsettling though it may be—is a valuable one; after all, if Raleigh has these sorts of issues, then the same is likely true for cities nationwide.

Overall, I walked away from the conference having gained a new interest in a subset of energy law that I had not previously had the opportunity to explore. Energy policy in our country is divisive and complex, and our patchwork of governance only serves to muddy the waters further. With that much turbulence going on, you would think hydropower would make up a larger percentage of our nation’s energy portfolio. All (horribly corny) joking aside, the Municipal Utilities & Cooperatives: Transitioning to a Lower Carbon Future conference provided many valuable takeaways, as well as a more informed understanding of the work municipal utilities and cooperatives are doing to increase renewable penetration in their local markets.

Recent News

CE3 Co-Hosts Two Conferences, Sponsors a Third, and Presents as a Campus Partner on a Fourth

In addition to the Municipal Utilities and Cooperatives: Transitioning to a Lower-Carbon Future Conference discussed above, CE3 co-hosted the semi-annual Power Shift: Regulating the Evolving Energy Sector meeting with Harvard Law School's Environmental Policy Initiative and Duke University's Nicholas Institute for the Environment Climate and Energy Program.  Held in Washington, D.C. on February 12th in conjunction with NARUC's winter meeting, the forum allowed energy scholars and practitioners to hear from Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur, PUC Commissioners and others on topics of current debates at PUCs around the country, nuclear, renewable deployment, and agency decision-making.   

Alex Klass

CE3 also sponsored the North Carolina Journal of Law and Technology's 2017 Symposium: The Impact of Demand Response Technology on the Electricity Sector.  The Symposium brought together an outstanding group of experts to discuss the impact of smart metering, smart solar inverters, new storage systems, and other demand response technology on the electricity sector.   The event was held on Friday, February 24th, at the Carolina Club, with Alexandra B. Klass from the University of Minnesota providing the keynote.  Additionally, CE3 participated as a Campus Partner in the University of North Carolina Clean Tech Summit, which took place at the Friday Center March 2-3, 2017, and was co-hosted by the UNC Institute for the Environment and the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School Center for Sustainable Enterprise.  The CE3 panel, Trends in Climate and Energy Policy, provided attendees with an overview of where the electricity sector currently stands and where it might be going given the 2017 political climate.  CE3 also took the opportunity to host a table at the networking lunch, providing undergraduate students the opportunity to learn more about CE3's work and Carolina Law in general.

Environmental Law Symposium Papers Available

Even if you were unable to join us for the Festival of Legal Learning's Environmental Law Symposium, the papers written by Carolina Law students on a variety of climate change, environmental justice, environmental and energy topics are available.  We hope that everyone will join us again next year for the Environmental Law Symposium and the networking reception immediately afterward. 

Environmental and Energy Moot Court Team Updates

2017 Energy Moot Court team
2017 Energy Team: Rachel, Jenica, & Amanda

Carolina Law students again participated in the Jeffrey G. Miller National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition, hosted by the Elizabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, and the National Energy and Sustainability Moot Court Competition, hosted by the West Virginia University College of Law.  The Pace/NELMCC team consisted of 3Ls Kristin Athens and Brooklyn Hildebrandt along with 2L Tas Lagoo.  The Energy and Sustainability team, who won their competition, consisted of 3L Jenica Hughes and 2Ls Amanda Aragon and Rachel Procaccini.  Additionally, Amanda Aragon received the Best Oralist Runner-Up award for the competition.  Both teams were greatly aided by the twenty-six practicing attorneys who volunteered their time to help judge practice rounds and are coached by Heather Payne.

New Scholars Profiled!

David Adelman Rebecca Bratspies Robert Fischman Lisa Grow Sun
Scholars profiled since our last newsletter include David E. Adelman, Rebecca Bratspies, Robert L. Fischman, and Lisa Grow Sun!  Keep up to date by going to our Scholars page or by liking CE3 on Facebook or following us on Twitter or Instagram (@UNCCE3), where the new profile is posted monthly.

CE3 Board of Advisors

CE3 welcomed our Board of Advisors at an inaugural meeting on Friday, February 3, at the law school.  Discussions included current CE3 projects, key energy and environmental challenges, and the role of the Board.  We sincerely appreciate this group giving of their time and talents to help CE3!

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