Institute for Energy and the Environment
Ongoing Research Projects
Current Research Areas & Projects
Agriculture Energy Outreach
Team: Sophia Kruszewski (Lead), Elena Mihaly, Katherine Johnson
This project researches and promotes energy self-reliance through agricultural energy efficency and renewable energy generation. The Ag Team is publishing a "Resource Guide for Financing On-Farm Energy Investments" and presenting this information at regional agriculture conferences and trade shows throughout the nation. The Resource Guide focuses on the availability of federal and state assistance for various efficiency and renewable projects. Past publications include "The Farmer's Handbook for Energy Self-Reliance: A Guide to Using Energy Efficiency, Biomass and Renewable Energy on the Farm," and "A Farmer's Guide to Energy Self-Reliance," which contain detailed information on various efficiency and renewable projects, and the investments each type of project requires. The Ag team additionally maintains a website dedicated to advancing sustainable agricultural energy practices: http://www.agenergysolutions.org/.
Energy Security & Justice Program
The Energy Security and Justice Program investigates how to provide ethical access to energy services and minimize the injustice of current patterns of energy production and use. It explores how to equitably provide available, affordable, reliable, efficient, environmentally benign, proactively governed and socially acceptable energy services to households and consumers. One track of the program focuses on lack of access to electricity and reliance on traditional biomass fuels for cooking in the developing world. Another track analyzes the moral implications of existing energy policies and proposals in the United States. Click here to learn more about this project.
Graham Jesmer and Danielle Changala (Team Leaders), Owen McClain, Jim Cunningham, and Elena Mihaly
Working as a subcontractor with Carnegie Mellon University under a grant from the Doris Duke Foundation to develop regulations and incentives to integrate the variable and intermittent renewable electricity sources to the grid in a cost-effective, reliable, environmentally benign and socially equitable manner. The team has produced an issue paper addressing the current decommissioning regulations for renewable energy facilities and one which compares and analyzes state renewable portfolio standards. Over the course of the 3-year contract, the team will continue to author papers concerning the many legal and regulatory considerations of integrating renewables into the grid.
The resource extraction team researches how the extraction of natural resources (predominantly oil and gas) impacts the environment. Specifically, the team has examined several existing reports pertaining to post-Deepwater Horizon analyses of offshore oil and gas extraction and Arctic offshore drilling. We are examining these reports in an effort to reccomend potential areas of harmonization between U.S. and Canadian regulators. In addition, the team is contributing to the oil and gas section of the 2011-2013 Phase II of the Arctic Ocean Review Project.
Team: Kevin Jones (Project Leader), Graham Jesmer, Katie Thomas, Chris Casey, Karen White, Chris Supino, Becky Fu and David Zoppo
The US electric transmission and distribution system is on the verge of a transformation to a smart grid. At the center of the evolution of the smart electric grid is the introduction of new technology at the customer meter, as well as the distribution and transmission system level. This technological innovation has required that the road map to a smart electric grid become a partnership of electric utilities and technology companies. Unsurprisingly, the introduction of this new technology, has presented legal, policy and regulatory challenges for state and federal utility regulators. The federal government has added additional momentum to this technological evolution by awarding $3.4 billion in smart grid investment grants to utilities and other entities as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The Smart Grid Research Project is utilizing case study research to examine: What legal, regulatory and other policy changes can best ensure that Smart Grid implementation in the US improves reliability, enhances consumer value, and meets our clean energy goals? More information is available here.
Energy Training & Education
The Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School, with its team of more than 20 faculty members, researchers, graduate and post-graduate students, oversees a comprehensive agenda that distributes scholarly, technical and practical publications and provides forums and conferences for professional education and issue development. The Energy Education Project area focuses on developing programs which highlight legal issues impacting utility executives, through its Legal Essentials for Utility Executives seminar (see www.vermontlaw.edu/legalessentials ) and working with international legal firms to present US regulatory and policy practices. Within its focus of developing cutting edge energy courses while considering environmental concerns, the Institute annually holds "Teaching Energy with an Environmental Twist" which draws professors from nationally recognized law schools for a two-day workshop for developing and integrating both energy and environmental topics into legal curriculum. Additionally, the Energy Education project area is inaugurating a Vermont Energy Forum which will facilitate the discussion of leading energy policy issues facing Vermont and the surrounding region, not as an advocate, but as an informed, professional resource that facilitates a balanced policy debate on relevant energy policy issues.
Global Energy Justice Book Project
Energy sustainability and access is one of the central justice issues of our time, with profound implications for notions of distributive and intergenerational justice. In this path-breaking discussion, a global team of experts in law, regulation, and policy has come together to identify the risks and dangers in our current energy trajectory, as well as the principles and opportunities by which that path may be altered. The book will identify key challenges and opportunities for policy makers to develop policy instruments that accord with expansive notions of justice, providing an adequate and effective framework to make ethical, responsible decisions about energy choices, demand management, and energy infrastructure. Energy sustainability is posited as a "trilemma" wherein economic, security, and environmental considerations must be reconciled to each other—and across jurisdictions. The book will demonstrate that sustainable development principles, notions of justice and legal pluralism can enrich the conceptual frameworks to guide policy makers through the mazelike considerations that arise from the energy trilemma.
Previous Research Project Areas & Completed Projects
ADR and Energy
Although there are numerous benefits to wind energy, siting of wind facilities can be controversial. There is an opportunity for the federal government to promote a consensus building process at the state level for siting renewable energy projects. We will write a law review article about this topic, which will discuss topics including NIMBY issues and deliberative polling/other process to ensure citizen involvement in siting decisions during planning stage of wind energy project siting.
Arctic Resources Access
Team: Professor Betsy Baker (Lead), Lisa Campion, Benjamin Jones, Roma Sidortsov and Zhen Zhang
This project determines how states can access "marine scientific research" in the Arctic. In addition, the team is continuing the white paper series to discuss how to make U.S. offshore arctic oil and gas development as environmentally sound as possible by drawing upon compatible Greenland and Russian practices and the Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines. The team has already completed a white paper series with a focus on U.S. and Canada comparisons.
Carbon Capture and Sequestration
Team: Jessica Reiss (Lead), Colin Hagan and Kari Twaite
This project collaborates with Carnegie Mellon University to analyze and recommend a statute that balance incentives for private developers, protection of health, safety, and environment, and competing economic interests. Currently, the team is preparing for a congressional briefing in October and combining all publications into book form.
CMU Decision Making
Team: Carey Rosser
The National Science Foundation is funding Carnegie Mellon University to conduct in-depth research into approaches on decision making that can be applied to climate-change related challenges. As a sub-contractor to Carnegie Mellon, the IEE will provide the Center on Climate Decision Making a legal perspective on improving the understanding of decision-making, both as a matter of general methodology and in specific reference to climate change. CMU’s team established the Center on Climate Decision Making as a core for this project. The Center’s goal is to analyze decision-making methodology and improve the understanding of decision-making theory among professionals, students and the general population. Over the course of the next five years, the Center will host various workshops and delve deeply into various approaches to decision-making. With the goal of developing tools to support decision makers who face climate-related challenges, the IEE will analyze and report on topics such as: intellectual property issues concerning geo-engineering; liability and legal risks of hurricane modification; history of legal decision-making and legal tools developed to address conflicts that must be resolved in the face of incomplete information and limited time; and legal standards in prudence reviews for utility rate-making.
Team: Benjamin Jones (Lead) and Laura Colangelo
The goal of this project was to analyze how coal projects are financed and the impact of that financing on the environment.
Community Energy Efficiency Campaign
Team: Danielle Changala and Allie Silverman
The goal is to promote energy efficiency in the VLS community and to encourage partnerships between local property owners and students. By making energy efficiency a preferred feature on the VLS housing website, students can choose their apartments and pressure local homeowners to have more energy efficient housing stock. Local homeowners will be encouraged to make changes through support from their fellow landlords and their tenants and through competition. They will be offered certain financial incentives for hosting an energy audit with Efficiency Vermont. Also, we will develop educational information regarding energy efficiency resources and connect homeowners with already-existing organizations. This initiative is supported by Efficiency Vermont, the VLS Housing coordinating office, the VLS-DEC, Campus Greening Committee, Barrister's Bookstore, and the Schweitzer Fellowship program. Barrister's Bookstore is now stocked with CFLs for students and the greater SoRo community to take advantage of. In addition, we have an informational brochure, efficiency resources guide, and scorecard set up on the VLS website.
Community Net Metering
Team: Carey Roser (Lead), Jonathan Voegele and Ayodeji Adebola
In 2009, the Vermont legislature established rules that allow individual electric account holders to band together within one utility district to construct and operate a community-scale renewable power project. As the groups feed electricity into the grid, their utility offsets their utility bills with the credits, which the group then distributes to individual members. This type of group net metering project is advantageous because it helps minimize interconnection agreements, it brings economy of scale to project pricing, and it allows individuals who do not have optimum sites to engage in the process of generating their own power. To promote these projects, Vermont’s Clean Energy Development Fund has funded the development of a technical, legal and operational blueprint for communities and other groups seeking to launch their own net metering projects. The Vermont Group Net Metering team, led by Powersmith Farm, Inc, in collaboration with the Marlboro College MBA in Managing for Sustainability, and the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment has begun the development of this document, slated for submission to the Clean Energy Development Fund and Vermont Public Service Board at the end of year 2010. The team is developing a conceptual plan for two example solar electricity projects, one at 100 kW and the other at 250 kW. The final document will include legal and operational structure options that will be effective for Vermont Communities, and will address issues ranging from technological choices to participant contracts. The Public Service Board will make the final document available after completion and approval.
Electric Coop Project
Team: Don Kreis (Lead), Allie Silverman and Jonathan Voegele
The purpose is to promote the benefits of electric coops through writing a series of white papers designed to establish IEE as a center of legal research/analysis in the field of rural electric coops and public power.
Energy Efficiency Workforce Training (“Charlotte” Project)
Team: Allie Silverman (Lead), Laura Colangelo, Carey Roser and Rebecca Wigg
The purpose is to establish a plan to reduce carbon emissions by building an energy efficiency workforce in VT. We have already hosted focus groups that identify the current understanding of energy efficiency and how it is prioritized. We will next look into how these results affect the types of jobs that could further promote energy efficiency.
Energy Transmission Chapter in Michael Gerrard´s Book
The project consists in writing a chapter about energy transmission, highlighting current issues such as smart grid, energy storage and dispatch. The chapter also includes an overview of the transmission line’s citing process and its new developments.
Ethanol, Market Power and Politics: Finding Alternatives to America's Subsidization of Corn Based Ethanol
Team: Zhen Zhang (Lead) and Danielle Changala
The culmination of this project was the report "Addicted to Crystal Eth", which analyzes the level of subsidies given to the ethanol industry and how those subsidies have actually been distributed to the industry. The report also asesses alternatives to corn ethanol.
European/U.S. Smart Grid Comparative Analysis Paper
This paper will evaluate the Smart Grid report and compare with U.S experiences and developments.
Evaluation of EPRI's PRISM Analysis
Team: Matthew Stern (Lead) and Allie Silverman
A review of EPRI's PRISM analysis, finding that the EPRI project had a number of faults. This project also made suggestions to EPRI for future analyses, some of which are likely to be included in a newly revised version of the PRISM Analysis.
Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership
Matt Stern (lead)
The Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) is a non-profit promoting energy efficiency across the Northeast. NEEP’s Building Energy Performance and Rating Standard project recommends policies to inform building purchasers about building energy performance. The Institute for Energy and the Environment is drafting sample legislation which will require mandatory disclosure of building energy ratings at the time of sale, and require mandatory upgrades of inefficient buildings. The team is also researching applicable legal barriers facing this legislation.
Transportation Planning Project
There is potential to collaborate with Berkeley Law and the Center for Resource Efficient Communities to design and regulate a major (city) street with an eye toward reducing related greenhouse gas emissions. We are in the process of finding funding and will further develop the project thereafter.
Best Available Technology for Control of Vegetation on Transmission Lines
Unmonitored growth of vegetation surrounding transmission lines poses a major risk to the reliability of the bulk power system. Vegetation interference was a contributing cause to the 2003 Northeast power blackout and is therefore a focal point of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) standards. IEE is monitoring the development of NERC vegetation management standards to evaluate their impact on interested parties and the utilization of new vegetation management technology.
The Farmer's Guide to Energy Self-Reliance
The Farmer's Guide, and the accompanying pocket guide and website, explain how independent farmers can incorporate energy efficient technology into their farming practices. Once the farm is more energy efficient, renewable energy sources can be integrated as well to further reduce the farmers' dependence on fossil fuels. This allows farmers to continue their role as stewards of the land by showing them the resources currently available to help improve the environment while simultaneously improving their bottom line. The handbook is a 54 page guide on how to use energy efficiency, biomass and renewable energy on America’s farms to decrease energy costs. The handbook is available at www.agenergysolutions.org. Both the handbook and the website are part of a national effort by the Institute to educate the agricultural community on the business and conservation potentials available through energy self-reliance. The website is designed to help farmers save money and reduce environmental externalities from their farms. The website is focused on helping family farms and what we call “independent farms,” or small to medium sized farms that are not vertically integrated into a corporate structure.
Geological Carbon Sequestration Project
The Institute for Energy and the Environment is working on a collaborative project with the Carnegie Mellon Department of Engineering and Public Policy, the University of Minnesota, and the law firm of Van Ness Feldman, to develop a comprehensive framework for how best to implement an appropriate regulatory environment in the U.S. for the commercialization of carbon capture and sequestration. The goal of this framework is to facilitate the rapid development and adoption of a science-based regulatory regime for the deep geological sequestration of carbon dioxide that is safe, environmentally sound, affordable, internationally compatible and socially equitable. Specifically, the Institute’s research team is examining the question of how to manage liability risk through the life cycle of a geologic sequestration project. Our approach involves the analysis of the benefits and drawback of various liability mechanisms along a spectrum of liability. Based on our work we will make final recommendations for approaching liability issues during the life cycle of a sequestration project and draft recommended statutory language for achieving the project’s goal. This collaborative effort is funded by a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Climate Legacy Initiative
In the Fall of 2007, Professors Burns Weston and Tracy Bach founded the Climate Legacy Initiative (CLI) at Vermont Law School. The CLI subsequently commissioned the IEE to produce a series of memos discussing the extent to which common law property and tort doctrines constrain the actions of current generations for the benefit of future generations. Future work includes a discussion of the extent to which philosopher John Locke anticipated limits on ownership.
Energy and Land Use: Merging the Regulatory Streams (Windham Foundation Project)
In a joint project including Vermont Law School’s Land Use Institute, the team will work under a grant from the Windham Foundation to help address Vermont's increasing energy needs and its future development in "Merging the Regulatory Streams." As the energy needs of Vermont are expected to increase, while at the same time, Vermont utilities' contracts with Vermont Yankee and Hydro-Quebec (the sources that supply two-thirds of the state's electricity) are soon to expire. The extraordinary demand for new electricity generation could result in several adverse outcomes, two of which are particularly striking. First, the demand could force the utilities to propose, and the Public Service Board to approve, projects that then seem badly needed for energy purposes, but which have financial or land-use impacts that could have been avoided by more portfolio-based consideration of alternatives. Second, the prospect of building any new facilities within Vermont could meet with such resistance that any new projects could become stuck in expensive and lengthy administrative proceedings, thus forcing unnecessary reliance upon external energy sources that might have higher financial or environmental costs. The goal of our current project is to avoid both situations by examining both Vermont's energy and land use regulations and implementations together, with a concentration on energy facility siting, in an effort to ensure that together, the two "regulatory streams" provide more efficient and effective planning.
Distributed Generation Photovoltaic
In partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute and the Solar Electric Power Association, the Institute is designing a model tariff for electric utilities to use in proposing their own tariffs to a state public service board. The report is designed to assist three groups of participants in the regulatory process: (1) utility technology personnel, (2) regulatory commissioners and (3) the general public. It breaks down the most important issues concerning the regulatory context of utility owned distributed generation photovoltaic systems and their implementation. Some of the questions we look at include whether and how a utility can garner a rate of return on its photovoltaic assets? Does photovoltaic generation offer specific social benefits? What are some of the business models a utility can use for widespread implementation? And, what would administrative documents such as a new tariff or expert testimony look like?
Work with Vermont State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding
Committed to protecting Vermont's financial future, Treasurer Spaulding recognizes that his state's economy is inexorably linked to events occurring on the national and international scene. Treasurer Spaulding is a founding member of the Investor Network on Climate Risk, an alliance of U.S. and European investors focused on addressing the risks and opportunities posed by climate change. Joining with other state treasurers nationwide, Treasurer Spaulding recently urged the SEC to require publicly-traded companies to assess and disclose impacts from climate change. Such disclosure aims to encourage companies to take mitigating steps now that protect both the individual investor and businesses from future problems related to this issue. Treasurer Spaulding has also joined leading investors and other state treasurers in urging the U.S. Congress to pass a national energy bill that includes strong measures for expanding clean energy, reducing oil dependence, and curbing global warming pollution. Each year, Treasurer Spaulding relies on the assistance of one research associate from the Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment. The associate works closely with the treasurer by researching opportunities for filing and cofiling resolutions related to Vermont's pension funds that would encourage improvement of various environmental policies, practices, and disclosures. Past researchers have presented resolutions at annual shareholder meetings. Additional work includes representing Treasurer Spaulding as a member of the Investor Network on Climate Risk, the Global Warming Shareholder Campaign, and various other investment initiatives associated with climate change and environmental liabilities. This past year, the research associate was able to play a key role in assisting Treasurer Spaulding on the issues related above and acted as his representative at the U.N. Investor Summit.
Modeling Transportation Incentives
The IEE is assisting the University of Vermont in modeling transportation consumer decision-making as it varies with real-world changes, regulations and incentive programs. The model is intended to determine what factors influence the consumer shift to hybrids and plug-in hybrids and further, to determine the best and most effective ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Among other factors, the modeling will take into account requirements of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the changing prospects of carbon capping, realities of electricity supply and the grid, and fluctuations in fossil fuel prices.
National Ethanol Policy
This project is a partnership with the Network for New Energy Choices in evaluating the net social benefits and costs of wide spread ethanol production in the U.S. Our work produced the report: “The Rush to Biofuels,” which is critical of corn-based ethanol production. Currently, we are also looking at the sources for funding for ethanol projects. The ultimate goal of our research is to educate the public on the costs of industrially produced ethanol to society as compared to other forms of renewable energy.
Advocating Net-Metering Standards
In a partnership with the Network for New Energy Choices, the Institute created a model net-metering statute for legislatures in states without such laws to use as a basis to develop their own law. The model statute was part of a larger report, “Freeing the Grid,” which ranked each state’s net-metering laws and interconnection standards. Currently, the institute is working on updating the report.
The Institute is part of a U.S. Agency for International Development Grant to promote environmental and energy conservation standards in China by educating Chinese lawyers, law students, judges and government officials on environmental law and its administration. The institute has sent multiple staff members to China to discuss energy issues with Chinese professionals. Some of the topics that the institute has specifically worked on include the use of energy conservation contracts in China, the impact of the Clean Development Mechanism on Chinese renewable energy sources and energy efficiency in the Chinese electric power grid.
Global Energy Justice: Energy Ethics in a Carbon Constrained World
Michael Dworkin has been working with a number of international energy scholars drafting a book exploring the implications of energy justice in a carbon constrained world. While energy consumption is crucial for meeting the basic needs necessary for human development, increased energy production must be balanced against the financial costs, security risks, health concerns and environmental harms that it presents. This book explores this tension and attempts to strike a balance between the economic, environmental and security dimensions of energy policy, while managing the costs associated with them. Publication is expected in the winter of 2009.
American Bar Association: Restructuring the Electricity Industry (Energy Efficiency Chapter)
The Institute is contributing a chapter to an upcoming American Bar Association book discussing options for restructuring the energy industry. The chapter examines the ways in which increased focus on energy efficiency programs can help utilities to meet their rising energy demands in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly manner. The chapter draws on publications such as the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy's State Energy Efficiency Scorecard to evaluate trends in efficiency investment and resulting changes in energy consumption. The chapter makes the case for energy efficiency as a critical part of a utility's tool kit for managing rising energy demand.
Coal is known as the most abundant and dirtiest energy resources on the planet. The Institute for energy and the Environment has an ongoing commitment to addressing the developing issues with this crucial resource, especially concerning investments in new coal-fired generating facilities. This past year, Director Michael Dworkin has delivered speeches across the country concerning cost-recovery for coal plants without carbon capture technology and has written the foreword to the Synapse Energy Economics Report, Don’t Get Burned: The Risks of Investing in New Coal-Fired Generating Facilities.
Model Net Metering Statute and Interconnection Standard
The team drafted a model net metering statute and interconnection standards for incorporation in Freeing the Grid: How Effective State Net Metering Laws Can Revolutionize U.S. Energy Policy, published by the Network for New Energy Choices, NO. 01-06, in November, 2006. Net metering is the process by which utility customers can generate their own electricity from a renewable source and sell the excess energy back to the utility. The model statute and standards were provided to show legislators how to create such a statute and effectively implement net metering in their state. Although some states, such as New Jersey, have a great track record for incorporating net metering into their energy strategy, a lot of states have not tried to utilize net metering to its greatest potential. The model statute recommends allowing all utility customers to participate in net metering and promotes using a wide variety of renewable technologies to encourage increased participation.
First Annual Symposium on Disaster Studies
The team also presented Freeing the Grid at the First Annual Symposium on Disaster Studies, hosted by The Roosevelt Institution at Tulane University, April 20 - 22, 2007.
Rush to Ethanol: Not All Biofuels Are Created Equal Contribution
The team contributed to the chapter on "Ethanol Business: Dollars and Politics on the Farm" in Rush to Ethanol: Not All Biofuels Are Created Equal, Food and Water Watch and Network for New Energy Choices, July 2007. The focus of this chapter was to highlight the interaction between the government, corn subsidies, and the ethanol industry. This connection illustrates how ethanol is not the best option for a renewable fuel alternative to gasoline.