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Capacity vs. Peak Demand in New EnglandThe Brayton Point coal-fired power plant will shut down for good in June 2017. Like coal plants across the country, its operators can no longer make enough money to keep it running. Now, the town of Somerset has an opportunity to influence the reuse of this sizable waterfront site.

Today’s electric system looks remarkably different than it looked 10—or even five—years ago. Coal generation is retiring at an unprecedented rate and being replaced by natural gas and renewables. The United States’ wind, solar, and geothermal electric generating capacity now equals capacities from hydroelectric and from nuclear resources. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are at their lowest levels in 20 years, and both total generation and electric sales have remained essentially unchanged for 10 years.

New England’s growing dependence on natural gas has had some in the region worrying about supply constraints. In fact, concerns about natural gas supply and the impacts of proposed new pipelines prompted no fewer than three separate studies on the issue last year. In 2015, three consulting firms released separate reports for different clients analyzing the need for incremental natural gas pipeline in New England through 2030. The three distinctly different approaches to the studies have the potential to create uncertainty for those trying to compare the results.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s surprising and controversial decision to stay implementation of the Clean Power Plan—which limits the emission of carbon dioxide from existing power plants—here’s a bit of global context (see figure below).

On Tuesday, February 9, 2016, the Supreme Court issued a stay on EPA’s Clean Power Plan (click here to learn more about the Clean Power Plan, and click here to learn more about the expected timeline of the stay). This stay calls into question whether some states will continue to implement policies associated with the Clean Power Plan, such as increased renewables and energy efficiency.

Last night, the Supreme Court shocked many of us when it took the unprecedented step of granting a stay of the EPA’s carbon-reducing Clean Power Plan before litigation against the rule has even been heard by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. A stay is essentially a judicial pause button that halts the implementation of a regulation while challenges to it work their way through the court system. In doing so, the Supreme Court overruled the D.C.

Environmental justice advocates have a new role to play in their states’ electric-sector planning. In its new rule on carbon emissions from power plants, called the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires states to involve community stakeholders in their compliance planning processes. Underlying this requirement are the often disproportional health and environmental impacts that power plants can have on vulnerable communities.

Recently, there has been a sharp increase in the number of utilities proposing to increase mandatory monthly fixed charges for electricity. Utilities prefer fixed charges over usage charges, because fixed charges ensure a set amount of revenue each month, regardless of sales. However, higher fixed charges are an inequitable and inefficient means to address utility revenue concerns: they reduce customer control, disproportionately impact low-usage and low-income customers, dilute incentives for energy efficiency and distributed generation, and increase electric system costs.

Next Tuesday (February 2) the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) participating states and regional stakeholders will meet to begin their second in-depth review of the RGGI program. This meeting will solicit stakeholder input on RGGI program design elements, including considerations for compliance under EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The last program review in 2012 led to a 45 percent reduction in the regional CO2 cap, among other changes.

The past year has brought plenty of changes in the energy regulatory landscape, particularly in relation to climate change and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Accounting for the resulting costs of these and other policies by incorporating a CO2 price is now firmly in the realm of best practice for utilities and system operators engaged in long-term energy planning. To assist with such planning and to provide a resource for other stakeholders, Synapse’s CO2 price forecasts simplify the complex process of determining effective CO2 prices by combining our own modeling results with comprehensive analysis of other CO2 prices in use throughout the electricity sector.

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