Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Holds Hearing On Grid Resilience

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On Tuesday, February 15 the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis held a hearing entitled “Keeping the Lights On: Strategies for Grid Resilience and Reliability”.  The focus of this hearing was investments and policies in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to improve grid resilience, and to discuss future investments and policy needs. While there was much discussion about the importance of resilience and grid modernization, the discussion also highlighted deep policy disagreements between Democrats and Republicans on the committee.

The IIJA made a historic investment in grid modernization and grid resilience.  $73 billion is provided by the law to rebuild the nation’s electric grid, which includes the rebuilding of thousands of miles of new power lines and expansion of renewable energy use and technology. This includes an investment of $5 billion for a nationwide grid reliability program to support projects, technologies, and grid hardening measures to mitigate the impact of disruptions. It also includes $5 billion for a new Program Upgrading Our Electric Grid and Ensuring Reliability and Resiliency to demonstrate innovative approaches to energy distribution, grid hardening, and enhancements to resilience.  IIJA also provides $1 billion for rural grid modernization and resilience, and calls for the establishment of an inter-agency framework to assess energy infrastructure resilience.  To implement these investments, the Department of Energy announced the launch of the “Building a Better Grid Initiative” to work with communities to determine transmission needs, facilitate permitting processes, and utilize more than $20 billion in funding, including more than $15 billion in IIJA funds to facilitate the construction of new transmission lines and expand Smart Grid technology.

Hearing witnesses included Nancy Sutley of the Lost Angeles Department of Water & Power who emphasized that a reliable and resilient electric grid is essential to address challenges to her city, including wildfires, extreme heat, and severe drought.  She noted these challenges place increased pressure on grid infrastructure and affect reliability.  Dr. Karen Wayland with GridWise Alliance highlighted that all 50 states face resilience challenges, with each requiring different risk management solutions and practices. Katherine Hamilton with 38 North Solutions noted that the nation’s electric grid was designed for reliability, but was becoming less and less reliable due to climate change. She also emphasized that resilience and reliability are inextricably linked, and policies to strengthen grid infrastructure must consider them both together.  Finally, Mark Mills with the Manhattan Institute, as well as Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science discussed the degradation of grid reliability in recent decades, and noted that challenges in implementing renewable technologies such as battery storage, intermittent sun and wind, and the material intensive nature of batteries and energy storage which leads to increased reliance on foreign minerals.

In her opening remarks, Select Committee Chair Kathy Castor (D-FL) noted the benefits of a strong, resilient electric grid. These benefits include driving down the overall cost of disasters, avoidance of service disruptions, and ability for businesses to more quickly resume operations following disaster or disruption.  Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-LA) also highlighted the need for significantly increasing investment in the grid to better meet demand.  However, he was also critical of what he viewed as an over reliance on renewable energy technologies in power distribution.  Graves noted that shortfalls in distribution in some regions of the country have led to importing of fossil fuels such as liquified natural gas from Russia in order to meet demand.

Differences on policy and focus between committee leadership were further displayed in Member questions.  Democratic questions focused on a variety of issues such as implementation of resilience strategies, demand response, and the impacts of climate change. Republicans on the committee focused much of their questioning on utilizing a wide variety of energy sources, including renewables, nuclear and fossil fuel.  Many Republicans on the committee focused their questions on the potential overreliance on renewables, emphasizing the challenges utilization of renewables face such as energy storage and distribution, and reliance on minerals from countries like China to maintain renewable components.

ASCE strongly supports an energy policy which utilizes numerous sources of power generation, focuses on resilience and reliability, and improvements to transmission, generation, and distribution infrastructure.  ASCE Policy Statement (PS) 484 entitled “Electricity Generation and Transmission Infrastructure” emphasizes the importance of considering a “changing mix of energy sources- such as renewables- and distributed generation, to provide clear direction for meeting current and future demands.” PS 484 also supports the development of a national storm hardening plan to strengthen energy systems and enable quick restoration of service after disruptions, encourages the implementation of ASCE Standards, Manuals of Practice and other accepted engineering standards in transmission infrastructure, and the development of clean and renewable power generation and improvements to other transmission infrastructure.

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