By Taylor DeVille
Energy industry leaders and government officials testified Sept. 14 during a House hearing on electric grid reliability and the Department of Energy’s recent study on the issue.
Almost every major energy technology is represented on the witness list, with appearances scheduled from leaders in the coal, solar, oil, wind, nuclear, hydropower and energy storage sectors.
Throughout the hearing, concerns about grid technology resilience were strengthened against the backdrop of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“These extreme weather events, these two hurricanes in addition to other events we’ve seen in the last few years, require a modern, dramatic response to what is happening with the cost of the changing climate,” said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL). “These disasters are very expensive and it’s time to make a dramatic investment in modern grid technology—something that is more resilient, that serves the needs of our citizens in a better way.”
Earlier in the hearing, North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) President and CEO Gerry Cauley affirmed NERC’s “focus on [grid] resilience as a priority going forward” as a result of weather-related disasters over the past 6 years.
Cauley went on to outline the necessary functions of grid resources, including “inertia, frequency response, voltage control, stability and ramping to meet changes in demand and variability of renewable resources.”
“When these units [conventional base load units] retire, new resources coming on to the system must replace these essential reliability services that are being lost,” he said.
Cauley asserted NERC’s commitment to the recommendations of the DOE study on grid technology that was released last month, namely, “the need to maintain essential reliability services, promote resilience, coordinate gas and electric issues and collaborate with Canada and Mexico on reliability.”
Although renewables were not quite at the forefront of the hearing, representatives did explore the viability of alternative energy sources.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) asked Cauley if it is “possible to meet the same reliable standards if you go to a generation system that is predominantly renewable,” to which Cauley responded that although “there are a lot of challenges,” it is still “technically feasible” with “a lot of coordination.” He added that the technology to ensure renewable resources are reliable exists today.
“I think the technology is there today, it just requires a lot of coordination.”
Later, Castor stated the need to explore options for a secure grid that have not been invested in previously, including “building in renewables [into the grid] over time.”
“I agree [renewables are] not the answer in the short term, but in the long term these distributed grid building in renewable energy is going to help us reduce the cost of the changing climate.” She added that “demand management” needed to be a priority, because “the business models in many states simply don’t match the challenges ahead of us.”
Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Neil Chatterjee, who expressed his “appreciation” for resources like coal, stated that while he believes in states’ rights to determine their own energy resources, “FERC has the authority to weigh in […] when it affects interstate commerce, and potentially does threaten reliability.”
“It will be something we look at closely,” he said.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee planned to hold also a hearing on the electric grid but postponed it in response to Hurricane Irma. The panel has yet to set a new time.