President Obama signs transportation bill with grid emergency provisions

Dive Brief:

  • President Obama last week signed a transportation bill that included several measures aimed at firming the U.S. electric grid against a variety of attacks and outages, and includes plans to develop a strategic reserve of transmission equipment, Smart Grid News reports. 
  • H.R. 22, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), gives the President authority to declare a grid emergency in response to physical or cyber attacks, electromagnetic pulses or a geomagnetic storm. 
  • The House last week passed H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015, which aims to modernize energy infrastructure, promote energy efficiency and bolster security, and give the Department of Energy the ability to respond to grid emergencies.

Dive Insight:

Growing worries about grid vulnerabilities led to the inclusion of several security measures in a transportation bill (H.R. 22) President Obama signed last week. Among other things, it directs the Secretary of Energy to develop a strategic reserve of transmission equipment, including large transformers and mobile substations.

Working with FERC and owners of critical infrastructure, the energy secretary will have a year to submit a plan for developing the equipment cache. The bill states that the reserve must include "sufficient numbers to temporarily replace critically damaged large power transformers and substations that are critical electric infrastructure or serve defense and military installations."

Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn said the bipartisan measure was necessary and will benefit power customers around the country.

“Key energy security provisions in the legislation will provide the Department of Energy with emergency authority to respond to threats to the power grid, will help to protect sensitive information about critical electric infrastructure facilities, and will resolve environmental and grid reliability conflicts," Kuhn said.
"The legislation also will help to streamline the federal permitting review process for large infrastructure projects, including energy generation and electric transmission facilities."

Fears that a lack of transformers could hinder recovery efforts in the event of an attack led eight transmission companies to form a new kind of security company earlier this year. Known as Grid Assurance, the new company would own the equipment and would maintain it at "strategically located warehouses" designed to speed power restoration. Subscribers will be able to call on equipment when they experience "certain events, such as physical attacks, electromagnetic pulses, solar storms, cyberattacks, earthquakes and severe weather events," the company said.

The House last week also passed the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act last week, which also gives the Department of Energy power to respond to grid emergencies, among other things. EEI's Kuhn said the bill would enhance DOE's authority to respond to threats to the power grid, protect sensitive information, resolve environmental and grid reliability conflicts, and "make modest improvements to the federal permitting and licensing process for natural gas pipelines and hydroelectric facilities, and preserve all fuel options for powering federal facilities."


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Filed Under: Transmission & Distribution
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