Synapse prepared a Technical Brief that provides an overview of benefit-cost analysis techniques for reviewing utility proposals for grid modernization investments. The Brief is written for regulators, consumer advocates, and other stakeholders who seek to determine whether grid modernization proposals are in the public interest; especially proposals for utility-facing technologies that help advance reliability, resilience, advanced metering, and the integration of distributed energy resources. The Technical Brief addresses some of the most challenging aspects of benefit-cost analysis for grid modernization, such as determining the appropriate cost-effectiveness test to use, accounting for interactive effects between grid modernization components, and accounting for qualitative benefits. Tim Woolf presented the material in a training course for consumer advocates at the meeting of National Association of Utility Consumer Advocates in November 2018. He also presented the material at the Mid-Atlantic Distribution Systems and Planning Training with the NARUC-NASEO Task Force on Comprehensive Electricity Planning on March 8, 2019.
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The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) conducted a study on benefits of residential heat pumps for space heating and water heating in five major cities in the Southwest. Kenji Takahashi of Synapse Energy Economics played a key advisory role assisting SWEEP with conducting the first major analysis of heat pumps against natural gas heating in the region. More specifically, he reviewed, advised, and offered recommendations on key assumptions and methodologies for evaluating energy, economic, and emissions impacts of heat pumps.
You can read the report on SWEEP's website.
Electric vehicles (EVs) have the potential to provide substantial benefits to society by reducing emissions while lowering both transportation fuel costs and electricity rates. Effective EV rate design is critical for ensuring that these benefits are realized. Through rate design, electric utilities are in a unique position to ensure that EVs charge in a manner that minimizes costs to the grid, while providing customers with fuel savings relative to gasoline, which helps to drive EV adoption.
On behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Synapse evaluated EV rate design at both the state and national levels. In June 2018, Synapse released Driving Transportation Electrification Forward in New York, a report examining New York utilities’ electric vehicle rate design proposals. NRDC filed this report along with comments in Docket 18-E-0206. The Synapse team then released a similar report for Pennsylvania. A national report currently in the works will provide utilities, regulators, and other stakeholders with an overview of key issues and best practices from a national perspective.
Driving Transportation Electrification Forward in Pennsylvania
Tampa Electric Company (TECO) filed an application to construct a new 1090 MW gas-fired power plant at a cost of $895 million. This so called “modernization” project sought to repower an existing steam turbine at the site of the coal- and gas-fired power plant at the Big Bend Power Station in Tampa, Florida. Synapse provided analysis and expert testimony on behalf of the Sierra Club to evaluate the need for, and impact of, the proposed plant.
Synapse found that TECO's application did not demonstrate a need for the electricity generated by this new gas plant, and made numerous dubious claims about the project’s environmental and economic benefits. Witness Bruce Biewald submitted testimony on the climate damages that will result from the construction of the gas plant. Witness Devi Glick submitted testimony assessing the electrical energy needs of TECO’s customers, and identifying ways to meet those needs through better system planning and cleaner, lower cost alternative resources.
The Proposed Plant at Big Bend: A Review of Climate Impacts
In 2018 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a proposal to roll back existing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and tailpipe greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for light-duty vehicles to model year 2020 levels. Under the existing CAFE and GHG standards, requirements grow increasingly stringent through model year 2025. On behalf of the California Department of Justice, Synapse evaluated the macroeconomic impacts of the proposed rollback. We found that (1) the agencies' own analysis indicated that the proposed rollback would result in job losses; (2) the proposed rollback would result in reduced vehicle sales; (3) when accounting for broader economic impacts, the proposed rollback would result in greater job losses than those predicted under the agencies' analysis; and (4) the proposed rollback would negatively impact U.S. gross domestic product.
In order to fulfill its ambitious greenhouse gas emission goals, California will need to decarbonize its buildings, which are responsible for 25 percent of the state's climate emissions. California's legislature recently passed a law requiring that the state have 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045.In October, Synapse released a report (prepared on behalf of NRDC) examining the technology available for clean and efficient electric heating, the customer benefits of decarbonizing buildings, the electric grid impacts of doing so, and policy recommendations for getting there. The report particularly illuminates the importance of electric rate design to the customer economics and grid impacts of building decarbonization. California has been leading on developing electric vehicle rate designs and now has the opportunity to develop rates that work for low-emission buildings as well.
On Thursday, November 15, 2018, Synapse hosted a Third Thursday webinar discussion of these issues with Asa S. Hopkins, PhD, lead author of Decarbonization of Heating Energy Use in California Buildings, and Synapse Principal Associate Melissa Whited.
California often leads the nation in its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by decreasing the use of fossil fuels. Also important—but often overlooked—is California’s role as an oil producer. While this role has declined, the state still produces about 5 percent of U.S. crude oil, or 0.5 percent of world production.
Supported by the 11th Hour Project, Synapse Energy Economics analyzed the GHG and economic impacts of reducing oil output in California. Compared with a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, the study considers a policy scenario that would end all new oil drilling in the state and ban oil production within 2500 feet of homes, schools, and hospitals to mitigate the slew of local environmental and human health impacts associated with oil extraction. Under this policy scenario, the oil cutbacks (assuming they were all gasoline) are replaced by enough new solar power to fuel an equivalent number of vehicle miles travelled using electric vehicles.
The Synapse analysis finds that the state as a whole gains about 5,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs per year under the policy scenario. Cutbacks in oil jobs are almost exactly replaced by new solar energy jobs. In addition, because electric vehicles are much cheaper to operate per mile, consumer respending of fuel savings generates about 5,000 new jobs. The policy scenario also avoids 48.4 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually by 2030, worth $2.8 billion per year using the Obama administration’s estimates of the social cost of carbon.
The Los Angeles City Council has mandated that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the largest municipally-run utility in the United States, analyze powering 100 percent of demand with renewable energy. To date, LADWP's efforts have been insufficient, as the utility has only published an analysis of a slight increase over current renewable energy targets and is not planning to finalize their 100 percent renewable study until 2020 at the earliest.
Food & Water Watch engaged Synapse to analyze a potential pathway to 100 percent clean energy in Los Angeles by 2030. In our study, we found that it is possible for LADWP to exclusively use renewable resources to power its system in every hour of the year. What's more, we found that under one of the clean energy pathways analyzed, the transition to 100 percent renewable energy in every hour of the year can occur at no net cost to the system. The resulting report, Clean Energy for Los Angeles, provides a roadmap for how to achieve 100 percent renewables by integrating and harnessing renewable energy more efficiently and investing in additional efficiency, storage, and demand response.
Although the report only focuses on a single city, the results are important and applicable to many other parts of the country. Los Angeles's 4 million residents make the city larger than 22 entire states, while the annual energy served by LADWP is greater than sales in 13 individual states, indicating that if this transition is possible in Los Angeles, it is feasible in other parts of the country as well.
Synapse analyzed the macroeconomic impacts of federal fuel economy standards and state zero-emission vehicle standards on the U.S. economy. Our team compared the impacts of vehicle standards set for 2017-2025 to the impacts of keeping standards at 2016 levels. Our analysis indicated that federal and state vehicle standards will result in positive employment impacts and GDP growth in both the short term and long term. Synapse released Cleaner Cars and Job Creation, a report prepared for Union of Concerned Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council, and American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, in March 2018.
In a follow-up report entitled Giving Back Half the Gains, we extended our Cleaner Cars Analysis to explore the macroeconomic impacts of the proposed rollback of the standards (henceforth called the flat-lined standards), relative to the same 2016-technology baseline. We then compared the employment and GDP impacts of the proposed flat-lined standards with the employment and GDP impacts of the existing clean vehicle standards. We found that the proposed flat-lined standards will generate 60,000 fewer job-years in 2025 and over 120,000 fewer job-years in 2035 than the existing clean vehicle standards. Furthermore, the proposed flat-lined standards will reduce GDP by $8 billion in both 2025 and 2035 when compared to the existing clean vehicle standards. We concluded that the proposed flat-lined standards are expected to reduce the positive impacts on the U.S. economy that would be generated under the existing clean vehicle standards compared to the 2016-technology baseline.
Giving Back Half the Gains
In 2018, the South Africa Department of Energy published a draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). On behalf of the Centre for Environmental Rights, Synapse evaluated the extent to which the draft complies with IRP best practices. Synapse identified a number of key flaws in the IRP, including (1) an unreasonably high load forecast, (2) unreasonably high cost projections for renewable and battery storage resources, (3) inadequate evaluation of the economic value provided by existing generating units and planned unit additions, (4) poorly supported fuel price assumptions, and (5) a disconnect between the IRP modeling findings and the selected resource plan. Synapse submitted a report identifying these deficiencies and recommending that the Department promptly correct them.
In 2018 and 2019, Synapse surveyed 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico on energy efficiency cost-effectiveness practices and created a public database to summarize and compare state results. The purpose of the Database of State Efficiency Screening Practices (DSESP) is to provide information regarding state cost-effectiveness screening practices for ratepayer-funded electric efficiency programs. States can use the DSESP to learn from other state’s practices and to readily access and better understand policies, processes, and studies that support assumptions used by states in benefit-cost analyses.
Synapse launched a report in the fall of 2018 examining the technology options and impacts for building decarbonization in California, with a primary focus on air source heat pumps for space and water heating. The report examines electric grid impacts as well as the impact on customer economics. This included a detailed comparison of customer economics under different existing and near future rate structures. The report concludes with a set of recommended actions, including policy changes, to accelerate market transformation in the building sector.
Michigan Environmental Council hired Synapse to review and provide expert testimony regarding DTE Electric's application for reconciliation of its Power Supply Cost Recovery Plan for 2017. Synapse expert Avi Allison filed testimony evaluating the operations and economic performance of DTE's coal fleet in 2017.
Michigan Environment Council and Sierra Club hired Synapse to review and provide expert testimony regarding DTE Electric's application for authority to implement a Power Supply Cost Recovery Plan for 2018. Synapse expert Avi Allison filed testimony evaluating the economic status of DTE's coal fleet.
In August of 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a proposed rule to replace existing vehicle fuel standards. Entitled, Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021–2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks, or the SAFE Vehicles Rule, the proposed rule would roll back requirements for fuel efficiency mandated in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards.
Synapse examined NHTSA’s and EPA’s vehicle sales and safety analysis, which is presented as a primary motivation for the selection of the standards in the draft rule. NHTSA and EPA estimate that lighter vehicles lead to more vehicle crash fatalities and automakers will be less inclined to reduce the mass of their vehicles if fuel economy standards are less stringent. Further, the agencies indicate that newer vehicles are safer, and more people will buy new vehicles under the draft rule instead of holding onto older vehicles because the cost to buy a new vehicle will be lower.
Our team conducted a literature review and reviewed NHTSA’s and EPA’s vehicle sales and safety modeling. Our analysis found serious flaws in the arguments and underlying analysis and assumptions used by NHTSA and EPA. After correcting these flaws, our analysis showed that increasing fuel economy and GHG standards maintains or even improves vehicle safety, consistent with peer-reviewed literature on this topic and past agency findings. Synapse released Effect of the Draft CAFE Standard Rule on Vehicle Safety, a report prepared for Consumers Union, in October 2018.
On behalf of Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP), and funded through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Synapse conducted an assessment across New York and New England of the region’s resources and needs as states seek to meet policy goals through strategic electrification. Specifically, Synapse surveyed stakeholders in the Northeast region--including state energy offices, local governments, utilities, and energy efficiency program administrators--to identify useful tools, resources, and databases that (a) are currently used to promote or assess impacts of strategic electrification or (b) the stakeholders would like to have to further their current work concerning electrification. The objective of this survey was to allow interested states to accelerate strategic electrification through fostering effective resource sharing, finding resource gaps, and identifying new research needs and areas. NEEP and Synapse presented a webinar on this survey to the public on September 20, 2018. Watch the webinar.
Earlier Synapse work on EV Rates, completed on behalf of NRDC, can be found here.
Electric Vehicles are Driving Electric Rates Down - June 2019 Update
Best Practices for Commercial and Industrial EV Rates
Synapse has a new EV tool! Our new EV-REDI (Electric Vehicle Regional Emissions and Demand Impacts) tool models multiple impacts of transportation electrification for specific states. With electric vehicles on the rise, there will be enormous opportunities for making transportation more sustainable and modernizing the electric grid. But to realize this potential, it will be necessary to plan ahead. More and more, states, cities, utilities, and regional authorities are seriously considering the impacts of futures in which electric vehicles play an increasingly important role in the transportation sector. EV-REDI can help meet the need to quantify the impacts of increased EV penetration on electricity sales, greenhouse gas emissions, and avoided gasoline consumption. Join us on October 18th to learn more about EV-REDI!
Webinar recorded on October 18, 2018. Watch it here!
Presenter: Pat Knight | Moderator: Bruce Biewald
The electrification of transportation systems can bring substantial economic and public health benefits. Synapse’s new guidebook for consumer advocates describes how to evaluate the potential impacts of EVs on customers’ electricity rates, health, and vehicle expenditures. It also describes some of the policies that can be implemented to help ensure that transportation electrification occurs in a manner that allows all customers, particularly low-income and other vulnerable groups, to share in the benefits while not unfairly bearing the costs.
Massachusetts’ Green Communities program helps the state’s 351 cities and towns find and successfully implement clean energy solutions. To receive Green Community designation, communities must develop and implement a plan to reduce energy use by 20 percent within five years and meet additional criteria including allowing for permitting and siting of renewable energy, purchasing fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles, and adopting more stringent building codes. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources engaged Synapse to review Green Community Annual Reports, verify whether municipalities have reached their 20 percent energy reduction goal, and develop a Progress Report for the program highlighting achievements to date. Synapse also identified strategies that are effective across towns and made recommendations to continue to advance and improve the program. Synapse developed the Green Communities Program 2016 Progress Report, available here, and provided updated analysis for 2017 and 2018.
Synapse reviewed the analysis conducted by Idaho Power Company (IPC) in support of its 2017 Integrated Resource Plan. In comments submitted on behalf of Sierra Club, Synapse identified concerns including a lack of rigorous modeling, the selection of an illegal resource plan, under-statement of future coal unit costs, and the lack of rigorous evaluation of the economic status of existing IPC coal units. Synapse recommended that IPC conduct optimization modeling in future IRPs, and fully assess the status of its Jim Bridger coal plant with respect to reasonable alternatives.
Sierra Club Final Comments on Idaho Power Company's 2017 IRP
Maine’s low-income residents, like those throughout the United States, face higher energy burdens (i.e., spend proportionally more of their budgets on electricity and heating fuels) than other residents. While Maine has addressed this disparity through various measures for decades, the state and other relevant entities can act more effectively by gaining a better understanding of how and where this disparity tends to strike. With this in mind, the Maine Office of the Public Advocate commissioned a study by Synapse Energy Economics (Synapse) to shed light on the energy burdens faced by Maine’s residents. The resulting report describes Synapse’s findings on energy use in homes. We relied on various publicly available federal data sources such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Low-Income Energy Affordability Data (LEAD) tool. We assessed differences in home energy expenditures by income bracket, by home ownership status, by type of heating fuel, and by county. The analysis reveals that Maine’s low-income households have a high energy burden: The average (mean) home energy burden for low-income households is 19 percent. On average, low-income households in the state far exceed the thresholds for the various definitions of energy poverty (generally starting with a minimum energy burden in the range of 6 to 10 percent of household income). In comparison, we find in our analysis that the average home energy burden for all Maine households is 6 percent.
Environmental Entrepreneurs retained Synapse to perform an analysis of the economic impacts of clean vehicle standards in Colorado. We assessed the likely employment and gross domestic product impacts from Colorado enacting aggressive greenhouse gas emission standards and pursuing increased electric vehicle penetration. Our summary report concluded that the pursuit of a lower-emitting vehicle fleet is likely to result in small but positive long-term macroeconomic impacts in Colorado.
Synapse provided technical support and analysis to the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources for the development of a Comprehensive Energy Plan for the Commonwealth. The Plan is part of a broader strategy to coordinate and make consistent new and existing efforts to mitigate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build climate change resilience. Synapse analyzed the Commonwealth’s energy use and supply in a regional context from now until 2030 under a variety of scenarios to determine optimal policies to achieve economic competitiveness and emission goals and maintain reliability.
The final version of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Energy Plan is available at https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2019/01/10/CEP%20Report-%20Final%2001102019.pdf.
Maritime Electric finalized its Open Access Transmission Tariff. Synapse provided technical support to the Prince Edward Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission to assess the tariff's compliance with FERC open access principles.
Synapse hosted special guests Jeannie Ramey from Climable and Dave Dayton from Clean Energy Solutions, Inc. (CESI) to discuss microgrids and selected distribution system topics, with a special focus on the environmental justice implications of our energy delivery systems. Our panelists described several innovative community-led microgrid projects in the Boston area that are part of Climable’s Resilient Urban Neighborhoods program. Climable is a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based and woman-run nonprofit committed to fostering energy democracy and climate resilience. CESI, a Boston-based group that has consulted within the clean energy movement for over 25 years, is a Climable project partner, along with Synapse.
Webinar recorded live on August 16, 2018.
On behalf of the World Bank, Synapse developed a transparent, user-friendly, Excel-based model that can estimate the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions resulting from changes to electric-sector policies. It attempts to produce a reliable, documented estimate of GHG savings attributable to the initiative, suitable for use in international analysis and crediting of GHG reductions. This software tool is a power sector model, designed to examine effects of policies such as price changes, subsidies, and emissions taxes on the operation of an existing electric system. The current, first implementation of the model developed with stakeholder involvement from agencies in Morocco and is based on data and policy options that are specific to Morocco. The software is designed to be easily updated as new data become available. It is also readily adaptable to other countries in future implementations. Development of the tool itself, a user manual, and an internal report demonstrating the tool’s abilities were finalized in Spring 2018.
The Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers engaged Synapse to review National Grid’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) pilot program. Tim Woolf and Melissa Whited filed testimony in support of National Grid’s advanced metering functionality pilot, concluding that the program could provide net benefits to customers, spur company-wide AMF in Rhode Island, and provide long-lasting improvements to Rhode Island’s power sector.
Synapse is providing the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers with technical support for the National Grid rate case. The project includes expert testimony and addresses issues related to performance incentive mechanisms, multi-year rate plans, advanced metering, rate designs, and electric vehicles.
Testimony of Tim Woolf and Melissa Whited on National Grid Rate Case
Direct Testimony of Tim Woolf and Melissa Whited on Power Sector Transformation Proposals
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