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Presented by William Boyd, Visiting Professor, University of Colorado Boulder School of Law
Substantial reductions in global power sector emissions will be needed by midcentury to avoid significant disruption of the climate system. Achieving these reductions will require greatly increased levels of financing, technological innovation, and policy reform. In the United States, the scale and complexity of the overall challenge have raised important questions regarding prevailing regulatory and business models, with much scrutiny directed at the traditional practice of public utility regulation. Recognizing the many valid criticisms leveled against public utility regulation and the important questions raised about the viability of traditional utility business models, particularly in the face of substantial growth in distributed energy resources, this talk argues that a revitalized and expanded notion of public utility has a critical role to play in efforts to decarbonize the power sector in the United States. The talk will trace the history of public utility (in concept and practice) over the last century, the problems embedded in current regulatory and business models, and the prospects for reforming such models in the face of rapid technological change and growing decarbonization imperatives. The central claim is that the overall scale, complexity, and sequencing of investments needed to decarbonize the power sector over the coming decades (however it comes to be organized) calls for a broad notion of public utility that draws from earlier understandings of the concept and provides an important foundation for efforts to govern a power system that is increasingly complex, participatory, and intelligent, and for managing the sustained, collective effort to channel investment and behavior in ways necessary to realize a low-carbon future.
The talk will draw from a recent paper and some ongoing work. The paper is here if people are interested: Public Utility and the Low Carbon Future, 61 UCLA L. Rev.1614 (2014).