Electricity infrastructure is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In recent years, electricity generation, transmission, and distribution assets across the U.S. have been affected by heat waves, extreme cold, storms, and wildfires. Climate change is already increasing the severity of these extreme events and leading to other, more gradual changes in baseline weather and environmental conditions (e.g., higher average temperatures and sea levels), which will place added stress on electricity systems. Unless electric utilities plan accordingly, their customers are likely to experience more frequent and longer lasting outages and other service disruptions, and face higher costs.

To prepare for the risks posed by climate change, electric utilities must engage in a process of climate resilience planning. Through such planning, utilities identify climate-related vulnerabilities within their systems, and explore options to enhance system resilience. Some state public utility commissions / public service commissions have recently issued orders mandating climate resilience planning by electric utilities. Most have not, however. Many electric utilities are yet to integrate consideration of climate risks into system planning, design, operation, and other decisions.

This toolkit is a joint project of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Initiative on Climate Risk and Resilience Law. This toolkit provides information on ways to enhance climate resilience planning by electric utilities. This toolkit is divided into four sections. The toolkit complements sections one through three of the report, Climate Risk in the Electricity Sector: Legal Obligations to Advance Climate Resilience Planning by Electric Utilities, jointly issued by Environmental Defense Fund and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law in December 2020 and published by the Environmental Law Review in 2021.

The electricity sector is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Electricity generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure is designed to operate reliably under historic weather and environmental conditions. As those conditions change, assets are exposed to new risk profiles, which threaten electric utilities’ ability to provide reliable service at just and reasonable rates. This supplement explains how various climate impacts will affect different parts of the electricity system and the implications for utilities and their customers. The tab below includes a list of reports that further elaborate on climate-related risks to the energy sector.

Climate resilience planning is a two-stage process, involving the development of (1) climate vulnerability assessments and (2) climate resilience plans. Vulnerability assessments are intended to identify where and under what conditions electric utility assets are at risk from the impacts of climate change. Based on vulnerability assessments, electric utilities can then develop resilience plans, which evaluate options to reduce vulnerabilities and enhance system resilience. This supplement  elaborates on the climate resilience planning process.  In addition, the Resilience Planning Checklist and other guidance documents, linked below, provide further advice on effective climate resilience planning, as well as example plans prepared by utilities.

Most electric utility planning is based on historic weather data. However, in the age of climate change, historic trends are no longer a good predictor of future conditions. As a result, in order to properly plan for climate-related risks and develop resilience measures, electric utilities must use forward-looking projections from climate models. This supplement explains the state of current climate modeling, the process of downscaling, and how the resulting data can inform electric system planning

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This toolkit is a joint project of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Initiative on Climate Risk and Resilience Law. This toolkit and its contents is the responsibility of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and the Environmental Defense Fund and does not reflect the views of Columbia Law School, Columbia University, or any Initiative on Climate Risk and Resilience Law partner organization. This paper is an academic study provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. No party should act or rely on any information contained in this paper without first seeking the advice of an attorney.

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