Cantwell pursues modern policy for modern grid

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 18, 2016

Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is tapping into the nation’s scientific and engineering muscle for policy advice on how to build a cleaner, smarter electric grid.

In a letter today, Cantwell asked the presidents of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine to weigh in on the federal government’s role in “filling gaps, smoothing bumps and accelerating changes” as private industry continues its drastic transformation of the country’s energy system.

“There has been a rapid emergence of a new grid architecture, new technologies, new planning and operating techniques, and new business models,” she wrote to Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, and C.D. Mote Jr., president of the National Academy of Engineering. “These developments make clear that government policy must be updated in response.”

The senator’s request notably arrives as landmark energy reform legislation advances toward a conference committee on Capitol Hill, proposing at least $2 billion to modernize the grid, boost research into technologies like storage and a smart grid, improve transmission planning, and thwart cyber and physical attacks.

Cantwell peppered McNutt and Mote with questions about what to expect in the coming years as electric distribution changes and what “no regret” investments the federal government could make to help create a platform for a more efficient grid.

She asked how closely federal policy should be shaped around behind-the-meter technology and services and grid design issues, including planning and operating techniques and energy storage.

She also asked about cyberthreats and what policy “gaps” exist that make it more difficult for utilities to recover costs or generate a competitive rate of return in operating, maintaining, upgrading, interconnecting or utilizing the electric grid to buy or sell energy.

Cantwell said she was hopeful the academies’ work would complement and not overlap with the Energy Department’s Quadrennial Energy Review that’s underway.