Trump axes smart grid panel created by Obama

Source: By Carlos Anchondo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Trump administration has eliminated an advisory committee at the Commerce Department focused on developing smart grid technology, an agency spokesperson said yesterday.

The termination of the Smart Grid Advisory Committee — which fell under the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) — follows Trump’s executive order in June calling for the elimination of a third of all federal advisory boards.

The smart grid committee stopped operations last month after a “comprehensive review” following Trump’s order, Commerce said. The Hill first reported the development.

“As part of the review, Commerce recommended to the Office of Management and Budget that the Smart Grid Advisory Committee would cease operations by September 30, 2019,” Commerce said in a statement. It was the only NIST advisory committee recommended for termination, according to the agency.

The board, which was established in January 2010 during the Obama administration, gave advice on priorities, standards and gaps about smart grids across the country, as well as the health and overall status of smart grid implementation. Smart grids are an electrical transmission and distribution system that allows for two-way communication between utilities and customers, deploying technology like smart appliances and advanced electronic meters. The board’s annual operating costs were estimated at $70,000, according to federal data.

The committee met approximately twice per year, according to a database pertaining to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which was enacted in 1972. The group produced its last advisory report in June, the same month Trump issued the directive.

“Multiple, profound technological innovations are underway in each segment of the system: the generation, transmission, distribution, and use of electricity,” the June report read. “A sustained NIST effort is required to complete the development of a framework and interoperability standards for such a distributed and dynamic power system. Failure to support such efforts will likely place the security, reliability, and resilience of the power grid at greater risk.”

The database said the committee was created to advise the NIST director — a post currently held by Walter Copan — on the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which seeks to move the United States toward greater energy independence and security.

Critics of Trump’s executive order have called it “completely arbitrary” and said that advisory committees act as an important accountability mechanism for the government (Energywire, July 29). At the time of the order, the White House said it was needed to eliminate panels that “are not relevant and providing valuable services.”

Mike Jacobs, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the decision to cut the Smart Grid Advisory Committee shortsighted and said it would slow adoption of needed smart grid technology.

“In the short run, we’re going to have this kind of technology advance in other countries where they are continuing these efforts,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said the committee helped develop “rules for the road,” such as standards for vendors and utilities to best communicate. Information about conditions on the grid and an ability to reduce demand when needed are particularly helpful when the grid is stressed, he said. That stress is usually under hot weather, Jacobs said.

A spokesman for the Electric Power Research Institute said the group had been less involved with the Smart Grid Advisory Committee and that it coordinated more with the Department of Energy and the National Laboratories.

Mark McGranaghan, EPRI vice president of the integrated grid, said, “There are excellent opportunities for grid modernization coordination across the industry regardless of this development.”

The Department of Energy did not respond to a request for comment.