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California Explores Local Energy to Benefit Customers, the Grid

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California continues to be on the leading edge of climate action and sustainability – and equity, too – as its Public Utilities Commission (PUC) explores a range of incentives to encourage local energy that will increase choices for customers and help address climate change.

A blog post by Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Scientist Merrian Borgeson reports that the PUC recently voted unanimously to look into “how to better integrate local energy resources like onsite solar generation and energy efficiency into the state’s energy mix, with the bold goal of deploying ‘distributed energy resources that provide optimal customer and grid benefits, while enabling California to reach its climate objectives.’”

According to Borgeson, the PUC will look into distributed energy resources, or DERs, including energy efficiency, energy storage, electric vehicles, demand response and distributed renewable energy generation such as small-scale solar and hydro power. She notes that if harnessed strategically, smaller and more local energy resources can help meet climate goals, improve service reliability and lower costs, benefitting both the grid and customers.

The U.S. Department of Energy explains that distributed energy offers solutions to many of the nation's most pressing energy and electric power problems, including blackouts and brownouts, energy security concerns, power quality issues, tighter emissions standards, transmission bottlenecks and the desire for greater control over energy costs.

Community-owned energy is good for consumers, including low-income communities, as explained by this post about Nebraska’s electric utilities on the community-wealth.org website. It states that “121 publicly-owned utilities, 10 cooperatives, and 30 public power districts provide electricity to a population of around 1.8 million people. Public and cooperative ownership keep costs low for the state’s consumers,” whose electricity rates are among the nation’s lowest. The post continues: “’There are no stockholders, and thus no profit motive,’ the Nebraska Power Association proudly proclaims. ‘Our customers, not big investors in New York and Chicago, own Nebraska’s utilities.’” It adds, “Payments (in lieu of taxes) from the state’s publicly-owned utilities exceed $30 million a year and support a variety of social services throughout the state.”

In her blog post, NRDC’s Borgeson also observes that clean-energy technology is causing an evolution in how “we make and use energy,” and that the California PUC’s vote shows it is “thinking more broadly about the policy framework and incentives needed to encourage a wide portfolio of DERs that can help meet our goals to reduce the pollution fueling climate change.” She attributes these changes to stakeholders who sought “the commission’s leadership in determining how to best tap into the growing wealth of distributed energy resources in California.”

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