As David Roberts at Vox once said, “Electrify Everything.” States are tackling different electrification problems from different angles, and Zpryme Director of Research Programs Erin Autin sat down at gridCONNEXT 2019 with Sue Gander, the Director of Energy Infrastructure at the National Governor’s Association Center for Best Practices. The full video can be found   (Editor’s note: As of this publishing, Ms. Gander is now the Managing Director of EV Policy at the Electrification Coalition, though the interview was recorded while she was still at the NGA). Sue was eager to explain that leadership in electrification has emerged in two areas at the state level, housing and transportation. “We do have 25 governors who are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, but beyond that, they’re looking at different segments and how the actions that they can promote at the state level are going to be meaningful and contribute” she said, indicating that electrification in these sectors are not only priorities in these communities, but intended to both improve quality of life and address environmental concerns.

Building electrification refers to replacing appliances that run on natural gas or propane with electric, usually energy-efficient appliances. Sue noted “right now it’s concentrated in states like California and New York kind of on the coastal level but we’ve got Colorado that’s active, Minnesota, and others taking a look at it.” Likely, she is referencing California’s new building code that requires all new single-family low-rise apartment homes to have access to renewable energy, and which goes into effect this year along with a bunch of incentives for low-emission heating and utilizing carbon-free electricity, though she also could have been referencing Stanford’s green changes to their self-owned generation. In New York, the Climate Mobilization Act “sets emissions caps for buildings larger than 25,000 square feet beginning in 2024 which will cut carbon emissions at least 40 percent by 2030 and over 80 percent by 2050 from affected buildings.” Sprinkle that with the New York Times running a piece written by environmental reporter Justin Gillis and Rocky Mountain Institute Managing Director Bruce Nilles arguing for the replacement of gas stoves, and Sues’ point about those coastal states being the de-facto examples of building electrification is apparent.

Sue mentioned that city leaders are helping to drive electrification, which is what seems to be happening in Colorado. The city and county of Boulder have sponsored a program called Comfort 365 that emphasizes quality of life as a reason to adopt electrification. “Why ‘Comfort 365 as opposed to ‘Carbon Reduction 365’ or ‘Save the World 365?’ We want to convey that the technology can result in a much more comfortable home and, all things considered, a safer home in that you don’t have the air quality issues associated with carbon monoxide and other contaminants that come from natural gas use” according to David Hatchimonji,  manager of Boulder County’s EnergySmart Residential Program. Minnesota has found itself in a trickier position. The state has a goal of reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2050, and they are looking for alternatives to gas heating that can handle the cold Minnesota winters.

One item proposed by Centerpoint Energy is the use of Renewable Natural Gas, naturally created methane, and I think the photo of cows at the top of the article gives you all the information you need on that. It looks like the PUC isn’t going that route, but how this debate ends is going to be very important for building electrification in Northern states with harsher climates. Sue also brings up Rhode Island; “we are working with the state of Rhode Island where Governor Raimondo has an executive order to look at the heating sector. They are fuel neutral, they want to look at what can be done on the efficiency side with natural gas.” It is interesting to see how states are tackling the same issues from different angles, appropriate for their communities and styles of governance.

The electrification of transportation came up in Erin’s interview with Sue as well. Now it’s no secret that we at Zpryme love talking about d mobility, especially when it involves electrifying transportation, but most of the material we’ve focused on has been from a utility standpoint. Sue had interesting insights from a state policy perspective. “You have to think about 34 or 35 states that took advantage of or opted to utilize provision within the VW settlement that allows them to use 15% of the money that they receive towards electrification equipment.” The settlement she refers to was a civil enforcement case for violations of the Clean Air Act by Volkswagen along with an attempted cover-up. As part of the settlement, Volkswagen had to pay a $1.45 billion civil penalty which is likely the money that Sue is referring to. Now we don’t have time to get into every instance of that money being used to electrify transportation, but just as an example the state of Washington used $9.4 million from the Volkswagen settlement to add 50 electric buses to state transit agencies.  What’s great about these projects is that it can be an answer to what happens when bad actors don’t meet climate goals; you can fine them and turn that money into more public green projects.

Towards the end of the interview Sue says “I think governors are really trying to be thoughtful about the opportunity to lead in this space and to move things forward.” While there are obviously ups and downs to decentralizing energy legislation and policy, what the gridCONNEXT interview showed me was that states are leveraging their local knowledge and enforcement abilities to move forward with electrification projects suitable to their regions. Decarbonization and energy efficiency are of course utility problems but they are also community problems, global problems even, and state leaders are stepping up to, as the man said, electrify everything.