House subcommittee considers reliability draft

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A congressional committee is considering legislation to assure reliability and security of the U.S. electricity grid.  The House Subcommittee on Energy and Power's discussion draft includes a series of provisions designed to harden the grid against disturbance.

To understand the discussion draft, you must first understand its context.  2015 is a time of great change for the U.S. electricity system.  The grid continues to shift away from coal-fired generation and towards use of natural gas and renewable energy sources.  New environmental regulations affecting power plants are taking effect.  Smart grid technology now enables real-time communication and coordination between supply and demand for electricity, but creates millions of potential access points for hackers to target the grid.  Meanwhile utilities plan to invest more than $60 billion in transmission infrastructure over the next decade. 

Faced with these shifts, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing today on a "discussion draft" of proposed measures to strengthen grid reliability, security and readiness to survive disturbance.  The discussion draft includes measures that would:
  • Resolve conflicts between choosing whether to comply with an emergency order from the Department of Energy or violate environmental obligations;
  • Require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to complete an independent reliability analysis of any proposed or final major federal rule that affects electric generating units;
  • Direct the Secretary of Energy to develop and adopt procedures to enhance communication and coordination between governmental entities and the private sector to improve emergency response and recovery;
  • Give the Secretary of Energy powers to address grid security emergencies, and facilitate information sharing;
  • Require the Energy Department to submit a plan to Congress evaluating the feasibility of establishing a Strategic Transformer Reserve for the storage, in strategically-located facilities, of spare large power transformers in sufficient numbers to temporarily replace critically damaged large power transformers;
  • Direct DOE to create a voluntary Cyber Sense program to identify cyber-secure products and technologies intended for use in the bulk-power system, like controls and SCADA systems;
  • Directs state public utility commissions and utilities to improve grid resilience and promote investments in energy analytics technology to increase efficiencies and lower costs for ratepayers while strengthening reliability and security; and
  • Require FERC to work with each regional transmission organization to encourage a diverse generation portfolio, long-term reliability and price certainty for customers, and enhanced performance assurance during peak period.
As noted in the opening statements of Chairmen Ed Whitfield and Fred Upton, elements from this discussion draft may be included in a bipartisan energy bill expected to emerge from the House committee later this session.

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