What happens when a group of neighbors want to pool resources to build infrastructure that generates energy they can all use? Right now, not much: current laws and regulations restrict, and in most cases prohibit, these “community energy” arrangements. Professor Sara Bronin, who serves as faculty director of UConn’s Center for Energy and Environmental Law, has argued that these restrictions on community energy are outdated and unnecessarily thwart the expansion of renewable energy. Her scholarship and lectures on this topic have put her at the center of a heated debate unfolding at the state level all across the country.
Professor Bronin began investigating this topic when she wrote the first law review article focusing on microgrids – mid-sized energy generating facilities, serving one or more end users, which can be operated independently from the main transmission grid. Microgrids ensure continuous power through some combination of generation and electricity storage; this characteristic makes microgrids an excellent option for powering critical facilities like hospitals and grocery stores. Microgrids enhance resiliency because they can be operated in “island mode” if the larger grid fails during events like the superstorms that have recently plagued Connecticut. As an added benefit, microgrids can deploy the kinds of renewable energy resources – ranging from electric storage batteries to fuel cells – that UConn scientific researchers and Connecticut industries have pioneered.
Despite these benefits, many microgrid projects – and, for that matter, community energy projects that don’t happen to be microgrids – are prohibited by state public utility laws. Professor Bronin’s recent research has thus focused on identifying the laws that most stand in the way of community energy projects, and advocating for ways to change them. In the meantime, she is helping advise and support the State of Connecticut as it becomes the first state in the country to launch a pilot microgrid initiative. Her hope is that other states will also follow in Connecticut’s footsteps and evaluate how their laws can be modified to facilitate all kinds of community energy projects.
Beyond energy law, Professor Bronin teaches and writes in the areas of property, land use, and historic preservation law. She has presented her research at universities around the country and at events hosted by the American Bar Association, American Council on Renewable Energy, American Institute of Architects, AGRION, Environmental Law Institute, International Municipal Lawyers’ Association, National Solar Energy Society, and the U.S. Green Building Council. She has co-authored two books on historic preservation law and is currently writing a book on regenerative cities and the law. Professor Bronin is a former president of the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association.