Comment on Rethinking Grid Governance for the Climate Change Era

Date01 August 2022
AuthorRebecca Tepper and Kelly Caiazzo
by Rebecca Tepper and Kelly Caiazzo
Rebecca Tepper is the Chief of the Energy and Environment Bureau of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s
Office. Kelly Caiazzo is a Special Assistant Attorney General in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.
In Rethinking Grid Governance for the Climate Change
Era, Prof. Shelley Welton makes a compelling case
for why “U.S. grid governance must be redesigned
to accommodate a new era of regulatory priorities that
include responding to climate change.”1 As the operators of
regional electricity markets and managers of the tra nsmis-
sion grid, Reg ional Transmission Organizations (RTOs)2
“must play a pivotal role”3 in achieving clean electricity
goals. However, as Professor Welton details, RTO gover-
nance structures are in many ways designed to resist the
types of changes necessary to enable a transition to a clean
electric grid.
Professor Welton oers four pathways to better grid
governanc e, including increa sing public oversight a nd con-
trol by enhancing state and federal oversight capabilities.
Here, we focus on the role of states, and, in particular, the
role that state consumer advocates can play in increasing
RTO accountability, promoting cost-eective market and
grid improvements, and advancing clean energy goals. We
rst discuss three developments that may serve as building
blocks to potential reforms: the origin of state consumer
1. Shelley Welton, Rethinking Grid Governance for the Climate Change Era, 109
C. L. R. 209, 214 (2021).
2. e term Regional Transmission Organization is used here to include Inde-
pendent System Operators (ISOs).
3. Welton, supra note 1, at 240.
4. See id. at 239 (describing state clean electricity goals and decarbonization
eorts). President Joe Biden has also set a goal for the United States to reach
100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035. White House Press Release,
Fact Sheet: Creating Good-Paying Union Jobs and Securing U.S. Leadership
on Clean Energy Technologies (Apr. 22, 2021),
5. As Professor Welton describes, governance structures vary from RTO to
RTO; in particular, the structure of the California ISO is distinct from the
membership-driven RTOs/ISOs such as PJM. See Welton, supra note 1,
at 226-30, Appendix A. Here, we focus on RTOs that fall under the PJM
model described by Professor Welton, and, in particular, RTOs whose terri-
tory covers more than one state. See id. at 227-29.
6. See generally id. at 241-64.
7. Id. at 210, 267-70.
advocate oces, the formation of regional state commit-
tees, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s
(FERC’s) eort to increase RTOs’ accountability to con-
sumers. en, we review enduring barriers to part icipation
in RTO stakeholder processes and oer recommendations.
I. State Consumer Advocates
Utility consumer advocates trace t heir origin to the 1970s
when a conuence of factors, including the energy crisis
of the early 1970s, caused sharp and more frequent util-
ity retail rate increases. ese increases heightened con-
sumer interest in energy prices and prompted calls from
consumer groups for increased utility regu lation. State leg-
islatures responded by creating consumer advocacy oces
to represent the interests of consumers before state public
utility commissions (PUCs) in an eort to level the playing
eld against well-represented and well-resourced utilities.¹
Today, 44 states and the District of Columbia have con-
sumer advocates.¹¹
While the structure of state consumer advocate oces
varies,¹² three core attributes dene legislatively created
consumer advocates: (1)an explicit mandate to represent
consumers, (2)structural separation from the state util-
ity regulatory commission; and (3)standing in cases and
the power to appeal decisions.¹³ us, consumer advocates
8. Elin Swanson Katz & Tim Schneider, e Increasingly Complex Role of the
Utility Consumer Advocate, 41 E L.J. 1, 6 (2020) (citation omitted).
9. Id. (citations omitted).
10. Id. at 7 (citations omitted).
11. Jake Duncan & Julia Eagles, Institute for Market Transformation, Public
Utilities Commissions and Consumer Advocates: Protecting the Public Interest,
prepared for the National Council on Electricity Policy, administered by the
National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Center for Part-
nerships & Innovation, at 2 (Dec. 2021),
12. Id. (“Consumer advocates fall into four general categories: independent
state agencies, divisions of state attorneys general .. . nonprot organiza-
tions, or arms of the legislature.”).
13. Id. at 3; Katz & Schneider, supra note 8, at 9.
Copyright © 2022 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®,, 1-800-433-5120.

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