Top DOE official previews high-profile infrastructure report 

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 6, 2015

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s top adviser today acknowledged the tardiness of a high-profile report on the state of the country’s energy infrastructure and provided a sneak preview of its policy recommendations for aging pipelines and transmission.

Melanie Kenderdine, the Energy Department’s director of energy policy and systems analysis, said at an Atlantic Council event in Washington, D.C., that she had hoped the Quadrennial Energy Review would be complete by now, but that Moniz expects to have a final version of the report when he testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on April 28.

While Kenderdine offered few specifics about the report, she outlined the agency’s focus on the challenges the United States’ power lines, railways, pipelines and power plants are facing from a surge of increasingly violent weather, age, competing interests and shifting trends with the discovery of shale gas. DOE has held 14 stakeholder outreach meetings across the country, as well as a meeting in Canada and a conference call with officials in Mexico to discuss the QER.

Kenderdine rejected the notion that DOE’s recommendations and research would be put on a shelf — a concern some critics have raised — or become the subject of partisan politics.

Kenderdine likened the QER to past efforts such as the electrification of the United States, the spread of the Internet and the creation of the highway system that attracted both Democratic and Republican support.

“These are not partisan issues,” she said. “There have been many, many instances in our history where support for infrastructure has made a huge difference in the country.”

DOE is assembling an “implementation team” for the recommendations that will be led by Karen Wayland, DOE’s deputy director for state and local cooperation in the Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis, she said.

The Obama administration’s fiscal 2016 budget request also includes funding that would push the recommendations forward, she said, including funds for state reliability grants and $400 million to modernize the electric grid.

DOE also hopes to leverage its State and Local Energy Assurance Planning program, which uses American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to enable state and local governments to address vulnerabilities in their energy systems. The agency wants to make the program more “consistent and robust,” and eligibility could translate into other programs, she said.

Kenderdine pointed to broad-ranging coverage areas and studies that will underpin a raft of policy recommendations in the report, mainly for oil and gas pipelines and transmission.

The country’s energy system is facing an uptick in extreme weather from climate change affecting fuel resilience on a regional level, she noted. Pointing to a slide showing Cushing, Okla., Kenderdine highlighted tornado paths surrounding a large oil storage facility, saying it’s a matter of when — not if — the facility is hit.

DOE also reviewed the shift in oil shipments throughout the United States that has caused bottlenecks on the systems. Oil that once flowed from the Gulf of Mexico to the Midwest has now been supplanted by supplies from the Bakken Shale oil play and Canada, she said. Oil is now flowing north to south, or from the West Coast to the Gulf of Mexico, an area that hosts the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and is a hot spot for interruptions and congestion because of hurricanes.

Kenderdine in the past has said updating the SPR will require adding new infrastructure capacity to allow for emergency shipments above and beyond the crude that already flows through the Gulf Coast on a daily basis (ClimateWire, Feb. 25).

A test sale from the SPR conducted last year found that there is limited extra capacity on local pipelines and in tanks to handle any surge in local oil flows. Kenderdine has said that could make it problematic to fulfill the reserve’s mandate of selling crude to protect the U.S. economy in case of an emergency.

She also touched on challenges facing the grid, noting that different factors are driving investment. Reliability, she said, drove the bulk of new projects, or 48 percent, while renewables drove the second-highest amount, or 26 percent.

DOE also found that by 2030, the country may need fewer long-distance high-voltage transmission lines in some areas where shorter power line and more distributed energy like rooftop solar may make more sense.

“We certainly believe there’s a role for both,” she said.