Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, One Utility at a Time

January 27, 2020 | Rita Perez

Last September, more than four million people across all seven continents went on strike to demand immediate, substantial action to address the devastating impacts of climate change.

IMT’s staff are dedicated to unleashing the potential of energy-efficient, high-performing buildings. From utilities to the real estate community, our work spans a diverse group of stakeholders ready to improve building energy performance, and as a result, lower the building sector’s carbon emissions.

As IMT’s new Associate Director of Utility and Regulatory Strategy, Julia Eagles plays a key role in helping IMT engage more effectively with utilities at the local, state, and national level. In this staff profile, Julia shares her path to IMT and what she’s excited to accomplish this year.

What is one defining moment in your life when the reality of climate change became personal to you? How does your new role at IMT address the climate challenges that the world is currently facing?

In elementary school, I remember having Weekly Readers on acid rain, pollution, etc., which was my earliest education on environmental issues. But, it wasn’t until my junior semester in college that my courses began focusing on climate change and the science behind it—we studied its various impacts and even then, it felt very impersonal to me. Around that same time, Hurricane Katrina hit. That was a very eye-opening event for me on the direct, frontline community impacts of climate change and the devastation to coastal communities. Watching that coverage from the other end of the Mississippi River in Minnesota made the issue much more real for me in terms of the human toll these extreme weather events can take.

I’ve also always been an avid outdoors person. I grew up doing lots of canoeing, hiking, and backpacking in Maine and love to cross country ski as a way to get through our long winters. Now that I live in Minnesota, we take annual trips to the Boundary Waters, which is a wilderness area up by the Canadian border that is near and dear to many of us. These natural areas I have so enjoyed exploring are projected to change significantly in the next 10 to 15 years in terms of habitat loss and a changing forest landscape. To me, that highlights the urgency of taking action to protect those natural places and limit the most destructive impacts of climate change. I am excited to be joining an organization that recognizes the urgency and complexity of this challenge, in the midst of broader industry changes, and is designing pragmatic solutions to tackle it. My role supports IMT’s overall work to reduce carbon emissions from buildings by addressing barriers in our existing utility operations and regulations to advancing deep and widespread building energy efficiency.

As the new Associate Director of Utility and Regulatory Strategy, how do you see your role being the most impactful? 

There’s a recognition at IMT that engaging utilities and their regulators is critical for local governments and businesses to achieve their ambitious energy and carbon reduction goals. This role can provide an important link between those entities – building capacity among our public and private sector partners to engage with their utilities and the regulatory process to advance their climate goals, and bringing that important customer perspective to utility decision-makers and regulators. We have a unique opportunity through this work to incorporate customer and community priorities around climate, resilience, equity, health, and economic development into regulatory decision-making.

What roles and responsibilities do utilities have in 2020 to advance the country towards a carbon-free future? 

Prior to joining IMT, I worked for Xcel Energy where I was part of developing the utility’s nation-leading carbon reduction vision. As someone who’s worked in the energy industry for over a decade, it has been really exciting to see the wave of public commitments and associated generation resource decisions from utilities recently to support decarbonization, which reflects a major cultural shift within utilities to be more open to talking about their role in addressing climate change. I look forward to seeing more utilities follow this trend in 2020.

“As someone who’s worked in the energy industry for over a decade, it has been really exciting to see the wave of public commitments and associated generation resource decisions from utilities recently to support decarbonization, which reflects a major cultural shift within utilities…”

While those long-term decisions related to electricity generation and the shift to renewable energy sources are a huge part of the solution, in the near-term there’s a lot more that utilities can do on the demand side to reduce carbon emissions. I’d like to see more examples from utilities in 2020 of the ways they are deploying energy efficiency and demand response to achieve carbon emissions reductions today.

What do you see as the primary barrier for utilities and their collaboration with cities on the development of high-performing buildings?

A lot of it is lack of information and understanding. Cities aren’t necessarily aware of relevant utility regulatory issues that may impact or relate to their building energy and carbon goals, and utilities generally are not planning or designing programs that take into account local building policies.

There is a huge potential for high-performing buildings to provide value to utilities as flexible resources on the grid – helping to reduce energy use during peak times or shift demand to align with renewable generation – but current utility planning tools and processes, grid technologies, and rates design aren’t yet capable of capturing that value. There are also some inherent disincentives in the current utility business model to supporting high-performance buildings, as they are likely to consume less of the utility’s core product, but that can be addressed by aligning regulation and rate-making with energy efficiency. Bringing cities to the table as stakeholders in those conversations about how buildings fit into the evolving utility regulatory landscape will be critical to addressing the barriers and identifying solutions.

How do you see yourself or IMT making city and utility relationships more collaborative? 

Having worked for both a city and a regulated utility, I know from personal experience that those relationships can be contentious, but are also critical partnerships for achieving comprehensive clean energy goals. I think IMT is uniquely positioned to bridge those relationships, operating as a translator between utilities and cities to understand one another’s roles and requirements and modeling ways in which these dynamic partnerships can be mutually beneficial. Climate leadership from cities and businesses has been a major driver for influencing utility carbon commitments, and those utility commitments are in turn helping local governments to meet their clean energy and climate goals. Ongoing collaboration between cities and utilities can help ensure that plans are put in place to achieve those goals efficiently and cost-effectively. IMT has collected examples of city-utility partnerships for accelerating climate action, which is a model I hope to continue to encourage and replicate through IMT’s work.   

What is one project or issue that you’re excited about tackling in 2020? Are there any resources you’re interested in creating that you would like people to keep an eye out for?

IMT has been a thought leader on issues of energy data access, specifically related to building benchmarking policies, so I’m excited to think about the next generation of data access for cities. As utilities have access to more data through investments in grid modernization and advanced meters, what possibilities does that open up? What can be done with that data to target deployment of energy efficiency and more precisely measure the carbon reduction impacts? How will that impact utility rate design? What data might cities provide to influence utility resource and distribution planning processes?

I’m also interested in continuing to share examples of city and company coalitions that are leveraging their collective goals to influence utility and regulatory decisions, showcasing what effective collaboration strategies look like.

I look forward to building on IMT’s expertise around utility regulation (and continuing to learn a whole lot myself!) and leveraging our resources to drive more action on climate change.

To meet more IMT experts, visit www.IMT.org/staff.

For more resources on city-utility partnerships visit our resource library.

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Communications Associate

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