Demystifying energy policy and highlighting solutions—because hope is the fuel for change

Welcome to The Energy Optimist, a monthly podcast brought to you by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC). Each episode, we tackle a thorny energy policy challenge in 25-minute bite-sized interviews with leading experts. We start with the bad news and end with what increasingly feels like a radical idea: that there are reasons for optimism. 

If you’re new to how we regulate the energy system, we’ll demystify it for you. If you’re a seasoned practitioner, we’ll hopefully leave you with renewed optimism to keep doing the work to improve our energy system.

About the Host

As Vice President of IREC’s Regulatory Program, Radina Valova provides strategic direction and oversight of IREC’s regulatory team. Radina comes to IREC with seven years of experience in energy and climate law and policy, with a focus on the electric and gas utility sectors, utility transformation, and a just transition to a decarbonized economy for underserved and disadvantaged communities. Prior to joining IREC, Radina served as Senior Staff Attorney and Regulatory Affairs Manager for the Pace Energy and Climate Center in White Plains, New York, where she led the Center’s engagement in New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision, developed policy solutions for decarbonizing the buildings sector, and pushed for clean and affordable energy for low- and moderate-income communities. Radina is a graduate of the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, with JD Certificates in Environmental and International Law, and an LL.M. in Land Use and Sustainable Development. She teaches Energy Law at Pace and has a strong commitment to training the next generation of energy and climate advocates.

Listen Now


Episode 0: Trailer

Welcome to The Energy Optimist, a monthly podcast highlighting solutions to energy policy challenges through bite-sized interviews with leading experts, brought to you by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC). Each episode, we’ll explore a challenge with how we regulate the electric distribution system that powers our homes, devices, and, increasingly, our cars. And, we’ll end with solutions and reasons for optimism. Tune in to this trailer episode to get to know your host, Radina Valova, IREC Regulatory Vice President, and learn what to expect from The Energy Optimist.

Episode 1: What Is Energy Regulation, and Why Should I Care?

Energy—primarily in the form of electricity and gas—has become a fundamental support system for every aspect of our lives. We can’t live without it, and in many ways, we can’t sustainably live with it. The way we regulate energy has profound impacts on our environment, our communities, and our future. If you’re new to energy policy, this episode will give you a primer on the energy system: what it is, how it’s regulated, and who the major players are, and we’ll highlight some of the biggest challenges. And then, we’ll answer the question, why should we be optimistic? Because hope is not optional.

Episode 2: Out With the Old, In With the New: The Future of Energy

The energy system we all know—the interwoven network of power plants and transmission and distribution infrastructure—has been regulated roughly the same way for more than one hundred years. Not because the current regulatory framework is the best that it can be, but because inertia and economic pressures have made the energy system extremely resistant to change. In this episode, we’ll answer two key questions: What is the future of energy? And how can we reimagine the current system so that it’s more affordable, resilient, and equitable?

Episode 3: Centering Energy Equity in Utility Regulation

Today we’re talking about energy equity. This is not just a term used in legislation and policy briefs–it is a concept that represents tangible and often significant impacts on people’s lives, livelihoods, and wellness. Increasingly, advocates and regulators are coming to understand that energy equity is a core component of energy regulation as a whole, not merely a policy goal to be addressed separately from the governance of the energy system. We talk with Melanie Santiago-Mosier, Equitable Energy Transition Advisor at The Nature Conservancy, to learn about how equity fits into the clean energy transition, how you can center it in your work, and where you can learn more about this concept and related best practices. 

Episode 4: Teaching an Old Grid New Tricks

A growing number of states and the federal government have set ambitious climate and clean energy goals, including achieving a carbon-free energy system, completely phasing out fossil fuels, and ensuring a just and equitable transition to sustainable energy for disadvantaged and frontline communities. This transition will require both large-scale electric generation, and smaller-scale, customer-sited resources, like solar, storage, geothermal, and energy efficiency. Large-scale resources alone can’t get us to a 100% clean, renewable, and equitable clean energy future without breaking the bank, and they might not be the most effective way to achieve major greenhouse gas emissions cuts. This episode explores how large-scale electricity and distributed energy resources can work together to help us transition to a 100% clean energy future. Because hope is not optional.

Episode 5: A Tale of Two Grids (Distribution vs. Transmission System)

We often take electricity for granted. We flip on the lights, plug in our devices, put on a pot of coffee… all while expecting that the power will be there when we need it. And it almost always is, thanks to a complex interwoven network of infrastructure that stretches from coast to coast. In this episode of The Energy Optimist, we dive into this complex system. Specifically, we explore the two distinct but interconnected sections of the electric grid—the distribution grid, and the transmission grid. With expert guest Lorraine Akiba, a former Commissioner at the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission among many other roles, we examine what differentiates these two parts of the grid, how they intersect, and why it’s important to operate them in coordination with one another.