Over the past 15 years, a group of power sector professionals have followed — and fostered — developments in an era of enormous change for the sector. In December, the group met in Washington DC for the 54th and final meeting of this group, the Mid-Atlantic Distributed Resources Initiative (MADRI). So MADRI’s final convening was a graduation ceremony of sorts — a celebration of what’s been done, and a consideration of what needs to be done next.

In the mid-2000s, PJM was newly organized as the nation’s first regional transmission organization and competitive wholesale electricity market operator. States in the PJM footprint were benefiting from wholesale market competition but were still struggling to introduce competition in retail energy supply. There was very little deployment of distributed energy resources (DERs), and PJM’s market rules were not especially conducive to DER participation. And outside of the formal stakeholder meetings hosted by PJM and contested cases before the state utility commissions and FERC, no forum existed to work collaboratively through these challenges.

Regulators from retail choice states in the PJM footprint — specifically New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia — created MADRI to be that forum. These regulators recognized both the challenges and the opportunities posed by distributed resources, retail competition, and wholesale markets. They wanted to learn about DERs together, and to share ideas and lessons learned. And they had witnessed the success of the New England Demand Response Initiative, an informal collaborative to their north that ran from 2002 to 2003. So in 2004 these Mid-Atlantic states launched MADRI, with support from RAP, PJM, and the Department of Energy. Regulators from Ohio and Illinois joined later.

Year after year, regional stakeholders convened for MADRI meetings (usually four times a year) to discuss the cutting-edge topics of the day: advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), wholesale market and mass market demand response programs, energy efficiency, distributed solar generation, and eventually energy storage, microgrids, and electric vehicles. Presentations by regional and national experts were followed by lengthy discussions among the attendees. This was always a hallmark of MADRI meetings that distinguished the initiative from conferences and webinars, from hearing rooms, and PJM committees: the emphasis was always on frank discussion, collegiality, exploration of new ideas, and collaboration among people who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to interact with each other in this manner.

But MADRI was not “all talk.” Through the years, MADRI participants collaborated voluntarily to produce a number of groundbreaking consensus reports and tools that informed later actions by utilities and state regulators in the region and beyond. Some of the early efforts included an AMI toolbox, model interconnection procedures for small distributed generators and a Revenue Stability Model Rate Rider — one of the first efforts anywhere to address the problem of the throughput incentive and create a practical approach to revenue decoupling. In 2016, RAP produced a report for MADRI, Designing Tariffs for Distributed Generation Customers, which was cited in a similar report later published by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. One last MADRI consensus report, providing guidance for utility commissions on integrated distribution planning, was published just prior to the final meeting.

Stepping back and looking at the big picture, we see that much of what the founders of MADRI envisioned has come to fruition. In the last 20 years, retail electric choice has been well-established in the MADRI states, with many competitive electric suppliers now participating in the market. DER deployment is growing at a remarkable pace, and some DERs are earning revenue in PJM’s capacity market. DER issues, which were largely ignored or peripheral at most power sector conferences and meetings in the early 2000s, are now a staple of every such event. They have become mainstream in less than two decades. MADRI even influenced the formation of similar groups in other regions: the MISO Demand Response Working Group and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Demand Response Advisory Committee.

Like a graduation ceremony, the last MADRI meeting represented not only the end of an era but the commencement of an even bigger, more important chapter in our transition to a clean energy economy. Collectively, we’ve mastered the basics of distributed resources and their regulation — the arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry of DERs, you might say. That is no small accomplishment. But to reach our full potential, we still need to learn the calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, probability, and statistics of DERs. The challenges will get harder as we move closer to a 100% clean electric power system.

At RAP, we believe that new thinking about the roles of energy efficiency and responsive, flexible demand are central to the decarbonization challenge. It would be unfortunate if these approaches (which provide steady and incremental contributions to a clean energy economy) were neglected in favor of an exclusive reliance on renewable energy and energy storage. Each type of DER has its place and each needs to be championed and optimized to achieve our goals of a carbon-free electric sector. Perhaps a new initiative, modeled after MADRI, will arise in pursuit of the adaptations needed to unleash the still sizable potential of efficiency and demand response? RAP would love to foster such an effort, be it in the Mid-Atlantic states or elsewhere.