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Cantwell tries to create new avenue for grid modernization, security measures

Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, unveiled several energy-related bills Feb. 15, including proposals related to cybersecurity and grid modernization.

The newly introduced bills are already part of comprehensive energy legislation the committee rolled out in June 2017, but with time short this year to take up that legislation, Cantwell is seeking other avenues to advance some of the energy bill's provisions separately.

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Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell, left, and committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski.

Source: Associated Press

The bills, introduced Feb. 15, include Senate Bill 2444, or the Energy Cybersecurity Act of 2018. Co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., the measure would create programs within the U.S. Department of Energy to identify and test supply-chain vulnerabilities for the power sector.

It also would provide $65 million for each fiscal year between 2018 and 2026 for research, development and demonstration projects related to energy sector cybersecurity. Another $15 million for each of those fiscal years would fund a cyber testing and mitigation program to identify energy-sector supply chain vulnerabilities.

S.B. 2444 also wants to expand industry participation in the electricity sector information sharing and analysis center, commonly known as the E-ISAC. To that end, the bill directs the DOE to consult with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corp. to study "alternative management structures and funding mechanisms" to grow industry membership and participation in the E-ISAC.

Another key piece of S.B. 2444 would require the energy secretary to form an advanced program to protect electric, natural gas and oil infrastructure from natural and man-made security risks, including electric magnetic pulses and geomagnetic disturbances. The program would identify vulnerabilities, predict the impact of disasters or threat events using national modeling and research mitigation and recovery solutions for critical components of the electric grid.

Cantwell also rolled out S.B. 2445, or the Grid Modernization Act of 2018, co-sponsored by Heinrich and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii. The bill would authorize new DOE demonstration programs to aid deployment of energy storage and microgrids and spur investment in electric vehicles and advanced distributed generation from resources such as rooftop solar power. S.B. 2445 also requires the DOE to provide "off-the-shelf" tools to local and state regulators to accelerate adoption of new grid technologies.

"This legislation, if enacted, would play a key role in facilitating the modernization of the electric grid," GridWise Alliance Inc. CEO Steve Hauser said. "We urge Congress to take up and pass bipartisan, comprehensive energy legislation soon that includes these provisions."

In addition to S.B. 2444 and S.B. 2445, Cantwell introduced bills to accelerate deployment of energy-efficient "smart" buildings and train workers for traditional and clean energy jobs.

A staff member of Cantwell's declined to speculate on the fate of the Senate energy bill or the newly introduced grid security and modernization measures. Campaigns for the upcoming 2018 midterm elections and work on other big policy issues, including immigration, could leave little time for considering separate or comprehensive energy legislation. Lawmakers are also weighing the formation of a possible infrastructure bill that would likely include energy-related provisions and permitting process reforms.

"Right now, we just want to make sure the bipartisan energy package moves … and if it doesn't, these important bills [introduced Feb. 15] provide the best avenue we can see right now as an alternative," the staff member said.