When Policy Direction Changes
Evaluation & Policy: Origins and Change
PPBS is similar, but not exactly the same, as the current federal bipartisan evidence-based programs approach. In both approaches, government (or parallel corporate implementation) is conceptualized as a set policy goals operationalized as a set of programs, each with specific, measurable program objectives, for which relevant metrics are defined. Programs are evaluated on an ongoing or periodic basis, and future budgetary decisions depend, in part, on evaluation results.
For corporations, overall goals are set by the officer group, and lower-level goals by different divisions. For government, funded goals are set by the legislature. Evaluation is used as a tool to facilitate technical solutions to social problems and provide relevant feedback for improving policy development, program design, and implementation. Implicit here is the Darwinist model, developing information from practice and environment to orient for continued improvement, either continuously or in a repeating cycle. Of course, Swedish and Norwegian readers will catch a bit of exaggeration in the paragraphs above, and European readers will know that elements of this approach developed in Europe over several hundred years, and that the approach was particularly useful in military work. Elements and systematizations of PPBS were engaged in the Nordic countries for many years before it expanded in the US, and parts of the model were developed in Germany, France, and England. In fact, anyone, all over the planet, who is oriented towards empirical measurement of program or project results to improve practice uses a form of this approach. It is at the heart of applied science and technology development.
But, it remains true that evaluation, as we know it today, became a major practice in the US during the War on Poverty and the Great Society in the 1960's and, from there, spread around the planet. This is a major change in direction for both public and corporate programs. It grounds programs in policy, requires goals and objectives with measurable indicators, a process for accepting and improving methods and free speech (what Habermas calls "communicative competence"); and as a Darwinist approach it has the potential to increase government and corporate success. For a useful read on the recent history of evaluation, see Jan-Eric Furubo & Nicoletta Stame, The Evaluation Enterprise, A Critical View. New York & London: Routledge 2019. There are many guides to evaluation practice that are useful in policy settings. Here are two: Richard D. Biogham & Claire L. Felbinger, Evaluation in Practice, A Methodological Approach; Huey-Tsyh Chen, Practical Program Evaluation, Assessing and Improving Planning, Implementation and Effectiveness. Thousand Oaks California, London & New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2005.
Then and Now: Changes in Policy Directions for Energy and Water
Energy Efficiency was First experienced by Utilities as a Major Change in Direction
Energy Sufficiency: An Integrative Policy Change beyond Energy Efficiency
The basic ideas of energy sufficiency are: (1) There is enough energy and water to use, but not enough to waste; every household should have access (at a rate and with bills they can comfortably afford) to the energy and water they need, but not much more. Historically, this represents the re-emergence in secular form of taking seriously the middle ages Christian religious sin of gluttony as something to seriously try to avoid. As a refresher, gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, and the sinful part is that someone takes too much (more than necessary for a good life) while others have to go without. Though originally defined in terms of food, gluttony can apply to anything consumed in excess of need while others have to go without, importantly including energy and water. Energy and water sufficiency is focused on rough equality of results - it inherently incorporates the move to low-income payment assistance and low-income rates, designed to make necessary energy and water comfortably affordable for every household. Energy and water sufficiency embodies inclusion, bringing everyone through. Accomplishing the technical goal of energy and water sufficiency requires social justice - overcoming the concrete realities embedded in our socioeconomic systems due to the history of oppression based on economic and social class, race, religion, and gender orientation. (For a deep dive, see Princen, Thomas, The Logic of Sufficiency. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2005 and Princen, Thomas, Treading Softly, Paths to an Ecological Order. Cambridge Mass. & London, 2010. To review how energy sufficiency reconceptualizes efficiency programs see program approaches at the ECEEE website for energy sufficiency: https://www.energysufficiency.org/. For a brief introduction and overview, see Mitchell, John and H. Gil Peach, Powerpoint, "Moving Towards Energy Sufficiency and Transitioning from EE to Carbon Reduction Targets."
This changes energy efficiency to emphasize ensuring that every household gets access to the energy and clean water it needs at a price it can comfortably pay while reducing the excess energy use of households that are not sensitive to anti-community-survival nature of squander because they have the wealth and continuing income that permit the ability to waste, often without thinking about it.
Whether public or privately organized, energy and water are inherently social resources, essential for survival, and limited in availability. In an energy sufficiency perspective, “Doing without” is once again a positive alternative, though not the only alternative. This is a major change in policy direction and fits well within self-discipline and social discipline necessary for survival through climate change mitigation and through climate adaptation, another change in policy direction (see below). Though not fully imported into energy and water sufficiency work, Princen's perspective is rooted in ecology - living within our means, exercising restraint, long-term thinking. In the first place, consumption cannot consume the biophysical systems that produce what we need. Yet, right now, we are doing that. Obviously, it does not work, except from the perspective of fruit flies in a bottle. This is the reality of need to operate within biophysical limits.
Climate Adaptation: A Major Change in Direction
Technical regret is the concrete infrastructure that continues to speed climate change. Money was and is continually put to the wrong ends in order to create built infrastructure to which we are substantially “locked in,” having invested. Social regret refers to all of the social and socioeconomic decisions that have been made that suppress fully informed and democratic participation in society, such as the history of suppression of people into poverty and such as strucutural racism. Every bad social decision comes back as a barrier to human survival.
As we try to stop creating climate change and adapt to the disasters already "baked-in", these are the barriers (technical regret and social regret) that prevent quick, intelligent, cooperative action and lower our chances of survival. While the era of climate change we are in was forseen by several of the industries that caused it, these industries prevented social response by a combination of strategic silence and deliberate defense of their continuing practices. (See Naomi Oreskes,The Merchants of Doubt. New York, Bloomsbury Press, 2010; also Oreskes & Conway, The Big Myth, New York, Bloomsbury Press, 2022). Currently, this process of blocking truth and proliferating false information continues.
We have to adapt. However, our current adaptation efforts are only a beginning and we are ruinning very late. The climate problems are a major change in direction and unexpected at a public level. The climate problems change everything. Two current responses are electrification and decarbonation.
Electrification is Part of Climate Adaptation, and Essential for Survival
So, if you are in Minnesota, you can still get a heat pump that will work most of the year, including pretty wonderful summer cooling. But in the winter, when it gets really cold, households will need to rely on a gas or electric furnace. Also, if you are in Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) territory, you are likely already electrified and do not have to think much about electrification because your co-op has been providing good service at comparatively very low rates for years, and other fuel forms do not amount to much where you live. (The primary fuel used for heating in Washington and Oregon is already electricity, thanks to the Roosevelt federal electrification projects, which, as it turns out, are excellent for climate adaptation.)
Consider Your Needs Before Choosing What to Use
This problem of reliability of service is important for community resources. For example, if you are putting together a plan for a new police headquarters to replace the old one, and you decide to heat and cool with electricity, be sure to include a dedicated natural gas police microgrid for local backup. If you are planning for a city, have an isolable microgrid for each essential service, like water, sewage, food supply, schools and universities, and medical centers. It makes sense for water utilities to electrify more of their internal operations. But in a crisis (and crisis after crisis is already “baked-in” and coming), you will want one or more dedicated water microgrids, likely using natural (methane) gas. Batteries cannot cut it, wind power goes up and down, and solar dies at night. Each of these (batteries, wind, solar) will likely be added in to your microgrid project, but service reliability will depend on a steady reliable source with high energy density like natural gas. Also, to be real, for any kind of government project, you will need long-term back-up for when the grid is down for months, rather than back-up for 12 or 16 hours, although that is useful as far as it goes.
Natural gas utilities can promote electric or natural gas heat pump water heaters in most areas, particularly if your public utility commission will find a way to provide credits. Electric companies should look at the promotion of electric heat pump clothes dryers. Ground-source heat pumps should be a key planning focus for both. The programmatic emphasis on electrification is another major change in direction. It is not simple. While Princen provides useful insight and framework with the sufficiency model, there are practical problems in Princen's wider philosophy. While, by itself, energy and water sufficiency makes practical sense, Princen's framework includes four positive principles - intermittency, sufficiency, capping, and the source principle. Capping refers to putting limits "on all that tends to increase throughput, all that disguises full cost in time and space..."; anything that is non-ecological. The source principle is that no process should destroy the source, or, in other words, that the only acceptable processes to employ are processes that preserve the source (you don't eat the seed corn, poisoning an aquifer is a crime against humanity, squander is a climate crime). This priniciple links back to work by Odum & Odum and by Georgecu-Roegen cited ealier: as Princen puts it: "biophysical ultimates require social absolutes". Or, economics, successfully practiced is subordinate to physics and biophysics (though a philospher, Princen's undergrad degree was in biology). For the "intermittency principle", Princen give the example of drying home laundry on a line rather than use of a household gas or electric dryer. Others have put forward the design of apartments with a central coin operated laundry room rather than provision for a washer and dryer in each apartment (we have overpopulation and a housing shortage; such a design allows apartments to be smaller and more can be built; or a residential neighborhood with central laundry building and no laundry hookups in the houses. Both ideas are plausable and useful in some applications, and are being built. Using these kinds of examples, Princen distinguishes between "economic demand" as understood today by utilities and commissions (energy and water are used as customers desire, though work can be done to lower energy use while improving amentity; economic demand must be met by utililty supply) vs. "true demand" which is what energy demand would be if we were to "do well by doing less". So, in this perspective, we could replace peakers and reliable generation from carbon and nuclear plants with intermittent energy from wind and solar. According to Princen, we do not need access to energy all the time. Princen says that those in need would somehow be supplied energy (using his definition of "true demand"). However, clearly, the intermittancy principle does not work for water, and if we were to operationalize the intermittency principle for energy utilities or water utilities, we would be building into physical systems ever more technical regret. Fundamentally, though sufficiency, capping, and preserving the source make practical sense, the intermittency principle violates the obligation to serve. We can see the contradiction in situations in which utiity customers experience a heat dome while the utility limits their abilty to cool or to charge electric vehicles. It is in the situation in which strong AC is important to preserve health that utilties try to limit AC and in which the disaster preparedness risk of uncritical adopton of electrification of transport is clearly defined. In the summer of 2022 there were heat emergencies in China and California (in China largely due to sustained heat energy causing evaporation from hydro systems, so that they cannot produce enough electricity - this is an increasing problem with hydro-based electricity going forward); in California due to a generation mix that cannot perform well during heat emergencies). In these emergencies, government and utilities resticted air conditioning and charging of electric cars (more heat is expected year by year, with no end to the process). Electrification implies the need for many more generation sources, both central stations and a multitude of local microgrids. We are heading into climate disaster, with no clear way to return to the previous structure. When systems are operated at the edge of failure and cannot perform adequately during heat domes at this early stage of climate change, the promotion of electrification becomes a complex problem. What is clear is this: disaster preparedness has to be included as a high level planning focus. Neither electrification nor decarbonation are simple.
Decarbonization: Part of Climate Adaptation but Messy
Natural gas was put forward by environmentalists and the gas industry as a clean fuel until a couple of years ago. At that point, the environmental organizations that had been promoting natural gas reversed and started emphasizing the problems of methane and health hazards associated with natural gas.
Quality of Gas Heat vs. Electric Heat
Challenges of Decarbonization
When we get into serious decarbonization, one of the first steps will be to pair up electric and gas utilities. If you do not see this pairing, it is an indication that planning is weak. Combined utilities can move logically to restrict gas to necessary use. At the same time, the economics of a combined utility can support the change. The economics of individual gas utilities cannot.
Plans developed to date for moving an urban gas utility out of the gas business are not reasonable. For example, the concept of replacing gas lines with a chain of ground source heat pumps may work on a local basis, for new residential construction in a suburb but likely not for retrofitting in an established city. What we need is about twenty demonstration projects of this type to learn what works and what does not. Eversource has a project of this type. We need more of these to advance practical knowledge.
Planning to move well-to-do households gradually off gas leaves everyone else with the costs, and the costs of the gas system do not decrease as it loses sales. Furthermore, the full system must be maintained to service customers. This does not work without very large federal funding from outside the utility systems. And, of course, these kind of changes are onr thing for a single regional project, but another thing for many simultaneous projects with all that means for material shortages, supply constraints (many electric system parts are no longer manufactured in the US), and talent shortages. Decarbonation and electrification are closely linked. However, policy in these areas is only in initial stages of development, usually taking the form in the positions from advocacy groups and also in beginning top-down orders by state legislatures, city councils or utility commissions. Utilities and RTOs are not driving these changes, so technical knowledge and engineering concerns are not yet well articulated, engaged, or understood by the public. Regulatory mechanisms are well designed to work to gradually develop knowledge, but these processes take time and regulatory cycles. As a practical matter, the RTOs will likely limit the changes because they do not have capacity to make rapid changes. And, great care and coordination will be required to not have the changes fail. In 2022, in part of China, private electric car charging stations have been shut by governmen order and public charging stations restricted to midnight to 8:00 a.m. due to climate effect of evaporation on hydropower; and in California, people were asked to not lower temperatures below 78 degrees F during a several day heat wave, and to charge vehicles late night or pre-dawn. Both asks are the opposite of good service. We have to remember that energy service is a service - its purpose is to meet customer needs, not create situations in which customers must suffer either loss of use of transportation or air conditioning, precisely when more intensive AC is needed. California's 2022 heat dome is only the taste of what is already baked-in for the forseeable future and already the electric system is seriously strained. Much more careful coordination is needed to insure necessary carbon fuel and nuclear service are in place to provide service quality and prevent interruption of service. And, there should be a proliferation of microgrids on every electric system to ensure service reliability. We need intelligent big picture coordinated technical planning to ensure reliabilty of service and disaster preparedness (a first rule - keep energy supply options open - have alternatives when the central generating utility curtails service) as key goals or the indicted transitions will likely fail. The policy situation is much more complex than current discussions and actions take into accont, and to date the top-down actions are not sufficiently thought through and public understanding is not sufficently developed to prevent additional unnecessary disasters. What should a commission do? Expand staff, so a section of staff works primarily on on climate, maintain the traditional fuel-neutral stance of commissions and develop metrics and goals for impartially reducing carbon. What should utilities do? Develop multiple pilot projects to test approches on a practical basis. And, before closing power plants, run a test in parallel to see empirically if the equivalent service can be provided by a mix of solar, wind, and batteries. There should be many carefully planned demonstration projects. We are at the very beginning of these changes. At the very least, we need to maintain service reliability and broaden goals within climate adapation to focus on both disaster preparedness and inclusion.