IEE Past Projects


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


The resource extraction team studies ways to improve how regulatory regimes for the extraction of natural resources (predominantly oil and gas, and predominantly in the Arctic) can reduce impacts to the environment. Past work has drawn on post-Deepwater Horizon regulatory reviews around the Arctic and recommended potential areas of harmonization between U.S. and Canadian regulatory systems. The team contributed to the oil and gas chapter of Arctic Ocean Review Final Report produced by the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) working group and adopted by the Arctic Council ministers at their 2013 summit in Kiruna. Current projects include recommending ways to improve regulator and public access to environmental studies and information relevant to the leasing and licensing of offshore oil and gas activity in the U.S. Arctic.


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.


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 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.


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.