- A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House plan to reintroduce HR 5760, the Grid Security Research and Development Act, which would require the Department of Energy (DOE) to bolster the cyber and physical security capabilities of the electric grid.
- HR 5760 was passed by the House last year with bipartisan support, but was ultimately not included in the Energy Act of 2020 that became law last Congress, due to a debate over committee jurisdictions, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said Thursday at a hearing on last month's Texas blackouts held by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
- The Texas grid collapse, western wildfires and SolarWinds cyber breach all "highlight the need for Congressional action to ensure the security and resilience of the U.S. energy sector," Lucas said.
HR 5760 authorized a coordinated research effort across DOE and other agencies, and called for the federal government to develop technologies to enhance the resilience of the electric grid, including the development of technologies to withstand the impacts of climate change, extreme weather and cyber attacks.
Provisions of HR 5760 were originally a "central component" of last year's sweeping energy bill but "unfortunately due to last minute jurisdictional claims from outside committees, this bill had to be removed from the Energy Act at the 11th hour," said Lucas. "I am hopeful we can work together once again to introduce and pass grid security legislation this session — preferably this year."
"If we take the politics out of this, it's not one type of electrical source versus another. It's what can we do to create redundancy," Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., said at the hearing. "Part of the reason we have introduced in the last few Congresses the Grid Security Research and Development Act ... is that we do have to make those investments in research, in both the physical security of our electrical grid but also [to address] the cyber risks the grid faces."
The bill calls for DOE to coordinate on grid research with the Department of Homeland Security, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and National Science Foundation, and to provide technical assistance in the commercial application of technologies to bolster grid resilience.
"We're going to reintroduce the act, which is bipartisan, and get that through the Senate and to the President's desk," said Bera.
The House science committee has "a responsibility to focus on long-term tech solutions," said Lucas, who is the committee's ranking member. "It's not a matter of if our grid will be tested again, but a matter of when." The energy sector, he added, faces unique challenges that "require institutional knowledge and data that only DOE can provide."
The hearing on Thursday was focused on lessons learned from the Texas blackouts, including what research needs the catastrophe exposed. While the failure of electrical generators was the primary cause of the blackouts, witnesses said research on and improvements to distribution system management could help address future resource shortages.
"An overlooked takeaway from these events is that better deployment and utilization of advanced technologies could have reduced the magnitude of the supply shortfall and led to a less severe outcome," said Beth Garza, a senior fellow in energy at the R Street Institute.
"New 'smart grid' technologies, when combined with market mechanisms, could have enabled a much deeper degree of voluntary demand reduction by end users that would have reduced the shortfall," Garza told lawmakers.
"In my view, not mobilizing enough voluntary demand reduction ... was the single biggest lost opportunity to minimize the impacts of the crisis," said Varun Rai, director of the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin.
Looking ahead, Rai said a key question for researchers examining the Texas blackouts will be, "what are load management strategies that minimize societal damage, while upholding equity and fairness during crises?"