Public, Private Funds Needed For Aging Electric Grid, Regulator Says

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By Rebecca Kern

Infrastructure. It’s one of the hottest agenda items in the White House and Congress, and energy infrastructure like pipelines and transmission lines needs to be part of the discussion, the acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said.

“There seems to be some political will to focus on it and fix it up,” FERC’s Cheryl LaFleur said at the North American Electric Reliability Corp.'s leadership summit March 21 in Washington.

President Donald Trump said last month in his address to a joint session of Congress that he wants to ask for a $1 trillion infrastructure package. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of Energy and Commerce’s Energy Subcommittee, has said he hopes the infrastructure bill will be introduced this summer or fall, but no specific time has been set.

Private, Public Funding

LaFleur said the government and industry should prioritize public and private funding for infrastructure to fix the aging electric grid. The agency she heads is in charge of approving such energy infrastructure as natural gas pipelines and hydropower projects, and has some limited siting authority over interstate electric transmission lines.

“The engineering of reliability and grid stability has to be a key prioritization driver as we have our assessment processes to decide what are the vulnerabilities, where can we spend money to make sure we take the grid forward into the future,” she said.

A lot of the energy infrastructure relied upon today is made up of aging assets like dams and nuclear plants that need to be modernized, LaFleur said. “It’s not sexy, it doesn’t have a lot of ribbon-cutting for governors, but how can we bring the things that we rely on to keep the lights on up to modern infrastructure levels, make them resilient to climate challenges and other things?”

The energy industry is fortunate that it generally doesn’t have to compete for tax dollars, LaFleur said. Unlike roads and other publicly funded infrastructure, there is private capital available to finance needed energy infrastructure projects, she said. “That’s another way of saying that people pay through their electric or gas bill rather than through their tax bill.”

The public funding from the $1 trillion infrastructure package could be beneficial to the industry as well, but it is unclear how much would go toward energy infrastructure, LaFleur said.

There also is an increased need for natural gas pipelines to natural gas plants, replacing closing coal generators, and transmission lines to the wind and solar plants being built, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rKern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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