Infrastructure legislation offers ideal opportunity to improve electric grid resilience

Two times last week at notable forums in Washington, D.C., in the context of discussions about the electric grid, comments from top energy officials illustrated the unsettling lack of focus that exists with regard to the all-important subject of grid resilience.

First, at a Bipartisan Policy Center event, FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur said, “How you make your system more resilient depends on what risk you’re mitigating against, and I think we’ll hear about different risks from different regions.”  Two days later, at the U.S. Energy Association’s State of the Energy Industry forum, American Public Power Association CEO Sue Kelly asked whether 2018 will be the year of resilience and said, according to an attendee’s tweet, “we need a common definition of resilience.”

These comments catch one’s attention because infrastructure legislation is coming. With no disrespect to the officials referenced above, who clearly are engaged on the issue, our nation can ill afford to miss this unique opportunity to better protect the electric grid while Washington works at Washington’s pace defining resilience.

In its 2017 report “Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation’s Electricity System,” the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on page 10 provides a four-part definition of resilience: 1) preparing to make the system as robust as possible in the face of possible future stresses or attacks; 2) relying on resources to manage and ameliorate the consequences of an event once it has occurred; 3) recovering as quickly as possible once the event is over; and 4) remaining alert to insights and lessons that can be drawn (through all stages of the process) so that if and when another event occurs, a better job can be done in all stages.

The NAS resilience report also states that physical and cyber attacks pose “a serious and growing risk” to the electric grid, and last November the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security issued a joint technical alert confirming that many sectors within our nation’s critical infrastructure have been the targets of repeated cyber attacks. Similarly, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, when asked how much confidence she has in the current system for protecting the grid, “(W)e need to continue to do more, we need to continue to update it and keep up with the threat, the threats continue to evolve,” as reported by E&E News.

Meanwhile, a version of the infrastructure funding principles leaked on Monday makes only one reference to electric and is void of electricity infrastructure provisions.

Our nation cannot afford the calamity of a large-area, long-duration power outage. Time is of the essence. For the well-being of the American people, we need to make meaningful progress on electric grid resilience now. Infrastructure legislation isn’t the entire answer by any means, but it certainly should be part of it.

January 25, 2018

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