Legislative Announcements

2018 NWPPA Rally on Capitol Hill

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On April 16-18, members of NWPPA convened in Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress, the administration, and their staff to advocate several key issues important to public power providers in the Northwest.

On Monday, the group participated in a policy forum where key staff members from relevant House and Senate Committees laid out the legislative strategy for the remainder of the 115th Congress. Although prospects for a comprehensive infrastructure package passing this year have dwindled, committee staff maintained that a series of smaller, more targeted bills are likely to move through Congress. The policy conference also included remarks from Rich Glick, commissioner at FERC; Vincent DeVito, counselor to the secretary of Interior for Energy Policy; and Bruce Walker, assistant secretary of Energy for Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. Each official highlighted this administration’s focus on regulatory reform and enhancing the nation’s energy infrastructure and security.

NWPPA members met with more than 40 offices over two days of Hill visits to discuss critical policy issues for the industry, including the need for hydropower relicensing reform. The House has passed legislation sponsored by Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R–Wash.) that would make FERC the lead agency in the relicensing process which would enable the agency to with other stakeholders to make the process more timely and efficient. NWPPA members advocated for Senate action on the issue as it has bipartisan interest. Other issues highlighted included grid resilience; collaboration with utilities for pole attachments and broadband deployment; tax treatment of municipal bonds; and endangered species act reform.

Senate Committee Considers Rural Energy Challenges, NWPPA Member Testifies

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On April 19, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to examine rural energy challenges and opportunities. Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R–Alaska) highlighted the bipartisan support for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, weatherization, and other energy programs to help Americans avoid what she calls “energy insecurity” or being forced to choose between high-priced energy and other essential needs.

NWPPA member Doug Hardy, general manager of Central Montana Electric Power Cooperative, testified about the important role the power marketing administrations play in delivering reliable, low-cost power to rural customers. Hardy expressed his cooperative’s strong opposition to the administration’s FY19 budget proposal to sell the transmission assets of three PMAs as well as the proposal to move away from cost-based pricing.

Sen. Angus King (I–Maine) asked the witnesses if a focus on investing in transmission infrastructure to “far-flung” regions and rural islands was an outdated approach. Citing lower costs for solar and batteries, he suggested investments in microgrids and battery storage may be more economical and environmentally friendly solutions for rural energy. King encouraged industry to consider improving and incorporating microgrids into their planning. While Hardy agreed that microgrids with localized, renewable power generation could play an important role in rural energy, he pointed out that current and even near-term battery technology’s ability to act as a bridge between intermittent power generation was still limited to just hours. Therefore, prolonged periods of cold weather with overcast skies and little air movement, common in many parts of the country in the winter, would still necessitate access to the grid – supported by baseload generation – to ensure rural communities have reliable power.

Energy and Commerce Panel Hears from FERC Commissioners in Broad Hearing

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

On April 17, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy hosted all five members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a wide-ranging hearing on energy issues and the agency’s budget for FY19. Top themes included cybersecurity of the grid, market structures, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, and the transformation of the industry.

Members of Congress thanked the commissioners for their thoughtful response to the Department of Energy’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on resilience, but had differing areas of concern about organized markets. For example, Ranking Member Bobby Rush (D–Ill.) expressed concerns about the NOPR favoring coal and nuclear power while “disrupting” markets, while full Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R–Ore.) lamented the markets’ inability to differentiate between varying attributes of generation sources, which is becoming increasingly important.

On the interplay between markets and state public policy, Commissioner Powelson said he would be evaluating state policies based on their impact to wholesale markets, and Commissioner Chatterjee suggested that the Commission’s ability to respond to these challenges is constrained by statute – noting that Congress could act to change those constraints. Commissioner Glick emphasized that the Federal Power Act gives states authority over resource decisions.

In the question-and-answer period, all five commissioners indicated they thought PURPA needed reform, but did not give details on how they might pursue such reform or how Congress could amend the act.

Appropriators Continue FY19 Hearings, Awaiting Rescission Package

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

Appropriators in the House and Senate continue to hold hearings on budgets for Fiscal Year 2019. On April 18, the House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee heard from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue. Much of the hearing focused on agricultural trade with China, though Purdue did comment on the Environmental Protection Agency’s waivers for refiners on the Renewable Fuels Standard, noting that the waivers were causing anxiety for U.S. farmers. Secretary Purdue was due to speak on the U.S. Forest Service’s budget that same day, but the hearing was postponed.

In the Senate, the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee hosted Commissioner Brenda Burman of the Bureau of Reclamation, as well as officials from the Army Corps of Engineers. All present expressed concern with the low funding levels in the FY19 President’s budget, including Chairman Lamar Alexander (R–Tenn.) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.). Feinstein pressed Assistant Secretary for Civil Works R.D. James on whether the Corps has studied the Oroville Dam crisis and what specific lessons have been learned and should be implemented to prevent another dam crisis situation. 

Office of Management and Budget Chairman Mick Mulvaney was also before the House Appropriations Committee on April 18 to speak on the FY19 budget. Appropriators on the panel used the opportunity to learn more from Mulvaney on the president’s plan to rescind up to $60 billion in appropriated funds.

Mulvaney defended the rescissions, which he explained would likely be a series of packages presented to Congress in the next few weeks. Monies will be targeted not only from the recently passed $1.3 trillion omnibus for FY18, but also from previous years’ spending. The Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974 gives the president the authority to propose rescissions to specific programs and accounts, which must then be approved by the House and Senate within 45 days. The accounts are frozen until either Congress approves the cuts or the 45 days lapse.

Senate leadership and appropriators have balked at the idea of the President using this authority, but House leadership has pledged to bring the rescissions before the House for consideration. The details of which programs the OMB and President Trump have in mind for these cuts have not yet been disclosed.

Energy Subcommittee Marks Up Four Cyber Bills

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On April 18, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy marked up four bills related to cybersecurity and unanimously reported them to the full committee. One of the bills (H.R. 5174) would codify Secretary Perry’s new Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response. Another bill (H.R. 5175) would help states improve the security of natural gas pipelines. Of interest to NWPPA, H.R. 5240 would have the Department of Energy provide training and technical assistance to utilities to enhance their cybersecurity preparedness. This is similar to an existing pilot program between the DOE, the American Public Power Association, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The fourth bill, HR 5239, would create a voluntary testing program to identify products and technologies that are secure for the electric grid.

NWPPA members are actively engaged in cybersecurity planning and implementation. Collaboration with local utilities is imperative in any federal or other government efforts to address cyber and physical threats to the grid.

DOE Announces New Cyber Grant Program

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On April 16, the DOE announced that the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability’s Cybersecurity for Energy Delivery Systems program is seeking grant applications for “innovative approaches to advance cyber resilience energy delivery systems.” Applicants should seek to develop technology that has a viable path for broad use within the energy sector. The Department established five categories under which it will consider applications: redesign of cyber-resilient architecture (oil and natural gas); cybersecurity for the oil and natural gas environment; cybersecure communications; cybersecure cloud-based technologies in the operating technology environment; and innovative technologies that enhance cybersecurity in the energy sector. Applications for the $25 million pot of funds are due June 18, 2018.

NIST Releases Update to Cyber Framework

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

 The National Institute of Standards and Technology issued an update to its Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. The Framework was first released in 2014 and provides voluntary guidelines for organizations to manage cyber risks. The guidelines were developed through consolation with various industries, including the electric power sector. The update addresses identity management and supply-chain risks, and provides guidelines for purchasing off-the-shelf technology products and services. Additionally, the updated Framework includes a new section on self-assessing cybersecurity risk, which discusses the need for measuring cybersecurity risk so organizations can conduct cost-benefit analyses before taking action on cyberthreat mitigation measures. This mirrors NERC’s risk-based approach to developing reliability standards relating to cybersecurity threats.

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