Q&A with Angela Navarro, Arcadia’s new Head of State Regulatory Affairs

on June 22, 2022

Transitioning to a zero-carbon energy grid will be much faster and easier if people are connected with their own data to better manage how they use energy. States have been the ones leading the discussions on how to better utilize data, how to make clean energy accessible to everyone, and how to reach the zero-carbon future from a policy level. As states look to make those shifts, they need to pass legislation and develop regulations for the new energy landscape. Enter our Policy team, which works with state and federal legislators and regulators to pass and strengthen legislation to enhance clean energy options.

That Policy team just got a big boost — we’re thrilled to announce that Angela Navarro is joining the team as our new Head of State Regulatory Affairs.

I hope to be a problem solver so we can be thoughtful and proactive in trying to change the landscape in states.

Navarro comes to Arcadia from the Commonwealth of Virginia, where she helped turn Virginia into a leader in the clean energy transition. But her interest in energy policy started long before then. Navarro focused on environmental issues throughout college and law school. Those experiences opened her eyes to energy regulation as a leading-edge space with the opportunity to make an outsized impact.

After law school, Navarro took a job at the Southern Environmental Law Center, where she worked across the Southeast on regulatory programs that would drive investments in energy efficiency and renewables. She credits her time there with opening the door to the world of state-level utility commissions, which regulate the electric industry. Navarro lost no time in walking straight through that door — she transitioned into state government in Virginia and ultimately served as one of three commissioners at the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

Navarro has already started diving in at Arcadia. We spoke with her about her journey here, what she hopes to accomplish, and what she wishes everyone understood about clean energy policy.

Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Arcadia: First and foremost, what brought you to Arcadia?

Angela Navarro: I love working in the energy space, and I think Arcadia sits in a really unique position where they are tying together both the innovations around technology and the solutions that will allow us to increase the use of renewable resources. Fundamentally, that’s what it comes down to as we consider how we can effectively transition to a carbon-free grid.

As the new Head of State Regulatory Affairs, what will your work at Arcadia focus on?

I will work across all of the states that Arcadia has a presence in to address regulatory and policy barriers to the technologies we deploy. I hope to be a problem solver so we can be thoughtful and proactive in trying to change the landscape in states. My focus is on accelerating the integration of clean energy resources, including our community solar products, as well as thinking about data-centered solutions that are grounded in measurable and verifiable information.

There are also regional bodies that address the reliability of the grid and operate the various electric markets. I think there are interesting innovations that are deployed in these regional markets, so I will be working to better understand those opportunities.

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What’s an example of a regulatory or policy barrier that you would help solve?

The easiest one to talk about right now is community solar, because so much of our policy and regulatory work is focused on that particular product. For example: in a state where we want to set up a new community solar program, we typically have to go through two different processes. First, we have to get legislation passed by the general assembly and signed by the governor. That legislation actually enables the state to develop a community solar program. Traditionally, the second step is that the regulatory body that is responsible for overseeing the implementation of that program typically has to develop rules for how that program will operate, because not all of those details are set forth in the legislation.

As I work with our team to understand existing challenges in terms of enrolling customers or expanding the reach of our clean energy resources, that’s where I hope to unlock solutions with regulators or policymakers.

Prior to Arcadia, you had a pretty storied career with the Commonwealth of Virginia. What did your work with the Commonwealth focus on?

First, I have to say it was the honor of a lifetime to serve in Virginia. When I entered public service, I started as Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, where I did a lot of work with our natural resource agencies. That included traditional environmental issues around land conservation and mitigation of environmental harm, as well as programs to reduce our carbon footprint and to transition to greater deployment of clean energy technologies. I worked on solar, energy efficiency, carbon cost and accounting, large land conservation projects, coal ash remediation, and many other issues.

I then was appointed to serve as Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade, which opened a whole different world of policy challenges to tackle. In that role, I continued to serve as the lead on energy policy for the governor, but I also worked on economic development projects, small business policies, and increasing access to affordable housing. I loved the diversity of the challenges and the intellectual stimulation of diving into so many different issues across my six years of service.

Finally, I was elected by both chambers of the General Assembly to serve as a commissioner on the Virginia State Corporation Commission. I had the privilege of working with two wonderful commissioners and a fantastic staff who taught me a tremendous amount. It was truly the best job I have ever had, and I was lucky to have had the honor of serving in that role.

The exciting part of working for this company is that I will have the opportunity to better understand concerns that arise at the state level and then find ways to help solve problems and bring the solutions to policy makers and regulators.

What is the role of the State Corporation Commission?

The State Corporation Commission wears a number of hats. They are the utility commission that regulates the investor-owned utilities — electric, natural gas, water and sewer. They also regulate a variety of other industries, including insurance, financial institutions, securities, retail franchising, and telecom, and they manage the process to file and register a business. I think the Virginia commission is quite unique. Most states have a commission that focuses exclusively on utilities, but the State Corporation Commission has a broad scope of jurisdiction.

When you say regulate utilities, what does that actually involve?

The commission sets the rates, terms, and conditions for how utilities provide power to their customers. The commission’s decisions include whether or not to approve a utility investment in a new generation resource, whether or not to approve a new transmission investment, and what rates the utility may charge to its customers. Much of this is set forth in legislation, and the commission establishes the regulations to implement legislation passed by the General Assembly. Fundamentally, the commission is focused on the impact of a proposal on ratepayers from a cost perspective but also from a grid reliability perspective.

I think some people may be surprised to know how many of the decisions around energy policy happen at the state level. Can you talk a little more about that?

That’s right. So much about how energy is produced and provided to customers happens via legislation and regulation at the state level. So if you want to increase the amount of renewable energy that you have access to, that is typically determined by your general assembly, your governor, and the regulators in that state. It is incredibly complicated because every state is different in terms of the policy and regulatory environment. There is not one single national policy that dictates how you receive your energy mix. This makes the work very difficult, because you really have to know the rules in every single state to understand how to effectuate change.

What were some of the concerns that lawmakers shared with you regarding clean energy legislation?

In Virginia, the things that I heard most often were questions around the cost of energy and the economic impact associated with moving too quickly. For example, is this resource going to provide power at a lower cost, or is it going to be more expensive? I think really trying to figure out and unpack the value of clean energy resources is important toward answering these questions. That’s a space where Arcadia plays a unique role, because we can show the value of clean energy resources using real data for customers.

There are obviously also concerns around reliability — the sun isn’t always shining, the wind isn’t always blowing, so how do you best utilize the grid so that those renewable energy resources can bring value and not create constraints on the grid or cause reliability problems? These are questions where I think Arcadia has an important role and where our technology can help provide useful data points. The exciting part of working for this company is that I will have the opportunity to better understand concerns that arise at the state level and then find ways to help solve problems and bring the solutions to policymakers and regulators.

So much about how energy is produced and provided to customers happens via legislation and regulation at the state level.

How did you make the case to lawmakers for clean energy in your work at the state level?

A few years ago, large tech companies were starting to invest in big, utility-scale resources, like large solar farms. In Virginia, we had Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft making very significant investments in solar farms. That really started to transform the landscape, because legislators and other policymakers saw these big customers who have a huge economic impact in the state saying, “This is something that we not only want, but we need. We need it to meet our own internal obligations.” That started to shift the conversation. Then the price of renewable resources continued to fall, so it became an economic opportunity, as well.

All of these things aligned to be able to tell the story of the multiple values of a cleaner grid. It wasn’t just about the climate impact, which of course is important, but it was also about the economic impact of bringing new jobs and opening new markets. I think Virginia learned that if we weren’t at the table, then we were going to lose out to states we were competing with for jobs and capital investment. This became a central talking point for legislators and other policymakers — would we be at the leading edge of the transition to a cleaner, more modern grid? I think Virginia brought in unprecedented capital investment over the last few years partly because the answer to that question was yes.

A lot of our members are looking for ways to get more involved in clean energy policy, helping pass some of those pieces of legislation. They want to see their states move forward with clean energy. How can folks get more involved in their states?

I think one of the biggest blind spots is how much your voice matters at the local level. The local members of your state house or your state senate are often voting on pieces of legislation around how the state supports clean energy policies. Additionally, your city council or county commissioner is often responsible for land use decisions on where renewable resources are sited. Being active and engaged at the local level is really important to whether and how renewable energy is deployed in your state.