Working Paper

Harmonizing the Electricity Sectors across North America: Recommendations and Action Items from Two RFF/US Department of Energy Workshops

Feb 12, 2016 | Alan J. Krupnick, Daniel Shawhan, Kristin Hayes


The United States, Canada, and Mexico stand to benefit—individually and together—from ongoing energy sector developments and increased coordination across electricity systems. How should the three nations move toward greater harmonization?

Key Findings

  • Better estimates of the benefits and costs of harmonizing energy policy across North America require several foundational research efforts—such as creating an inventory of cross-border analyses and a North American energy market and policy model.
  • The idea of closer, continent-wide collaboration on climate policy underlies a number of recommendations for harmonization, including a long-term vision to develop a joint North American Intended Nationally Determined Contribution for 2050.
  • Closer coordination of electricity system operations and planning—including include wide-area planning, streamlined project approvals, and an agreed-upon method of calculating cost allocations—would reduce costs and improve reliability.


To address a number of the recommendations included in the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), Resources for the Future—in concert with DOE, two partners (the International Institute for Sustainable Development and Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México) and two host institutions (Boise State University and the University of New Mexico)—held two workshops in October 2015, looking at the electricity sectors in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The workshops had several purposes: first, to identify gaps, best practices, and inconsistencies with regulations and electricity system planning across the three large North American countries; second, to inform the creation of legal, regulatory, and policy roadmaps for harmonizing regulations and planning; and third, to bring together individuals who can help implement greater harmonization, and also others who can offer helpful input. The two workshops examined policies, regulations, and planning associated with the electricity sector, and within this sector, environmental regulations (for air pollution, greenhouse gases, and renewables), and regulations and processes associated with the operation and planning of the electricity system, including generation and transmission. This paper summarizes recommendations and observations of workshop participants. The recommendations include action items for DOE, other government agencies in all three countries, research groups, academics, stakeholders, and others, to move toward greater harmonization of policy and planning affecting the electricity system.