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Congressman Jerry McNerney

Representing the 9th District of California

Act Now to Modernize the Grid

Sep 16, 2016
Op-Ed
Electroindustry Magazine

By Rep. Jerry McNerney

Over the past decade, we have seen a shift in our nation’s energy and electricity landscape, presenting new technology and new consumer demand challenges. Congress has yet to address these new dynamics or help build a sustainable energy future.

America is now a leading producer of oil and natural gas. At the same time, there has been explosive growth of cleaner, lower carbon energy sources. Solar energy now provides enough power for nearly six million homes, and wind turbines produce enough energy for nearly 18 million homes—together, that’s about five percent of total electricity generated in the United States. This expansion translates to lower costs for producers and consumers and a reduction in greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

The electrical grid is evolving in both technology and operational functionality. As an energy engineer, I believe modernization starts with funding innovative research and the development of new technologies that boost reliability and efficiency and promoting the development of better grid protections against cyber threats.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, utilities, public utilities commissions, manufacturers, consumers, and others all embrace new ways of generating and consuming power. There has been tremendous progress and innovation to improve access, reduce costs, and increase electrical use efficiency. We now have high-voltage direct current technology, syncophasers, and smart inverters that have improved transmission responsiveness and efficiency.

While these technologies, as well as demand side innovations, have helped modernize the grid, we still have work before us. We need to continue pursuing modernization strategies to continue to improve grid resilience and efficiency while lowering cost and reducing carbon emissions to meet the energy needs of a twenty-first-century America.

This is one reason why I co-founded the bipartisan Grid Innovation Caucus with Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC). The caucus advocates for technological innovation, educates members of Congress, and promotes policies that enhance grid operations. It already has worked with its members to have provisions signed into law that establish a chain of command and the creation of a Strategic Transformer Reserve in the case of an natural disasters, cyber attacks, or terrorist attack on the grid to help utilities respond to large scale grid disruptions.

HR 8, which passed the House, contains steps to address our grid vulnerabilities, including the creation of a Department of Energy program to promote cyber-resilient technologies for the grid; smart grid labeling on ENERGY STAR® products, which help consumers make informed electricity use choices; and a statement on grid policy modernization for the future. Congressional action on a broad energy bill is long overdue. We should send a bipartisan bill—void of poison pills—to the president for his signature.

The electric grid requirements will continue to evolve with technology and consumer demand. The primary laws governing our current energy and electricity infrastructure—The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act and the Federal Power Act—deserve new review to see how we can improve upon fundamental power statutes that have helped spur the development of low-carbon energy sources.

Our energy future requires far-sighted investments to ensure our security. A similar investment in the past, President Eisenhower’s interstate highway system, helped to establish America’s leadership in commerce and created much-needed jobs across the country. The same can occur today through grid modernization.

Representative McNerney represents California’s 9th Congressional District. He is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and co-founder of the bipartisan Congressional Grid Innovation Caucus.