Broad Energy Policy Modernization Bill Clears Senate ENR Committee

Broad, bipartisan energy legislation that would allocate federal funding to grid technology research and demonstration along with a number of other initiatives, including cybersecurity and the energy-water nexus, has cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with an 18–4 vote. 

The committee’s chair, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Ranking Member Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) unveiled the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 on July 22. On July 30, after the committee approved 15 measures over the three-day markup, it voted to pass the bill. Ten Republicans and eight Democrats backed reporting it for consideration to the full Senate.

According a committee document, the bill emerged from four hearings on 114 bills introduced by several Senators.

Key provisions include:

Grid-Scale Storage: The bill proposes a $500 million, 10-year research development and demonstration (RD&D) program to address ongoing challenges of the high costs of materials and production, reliability and safety, and the “lack of industry acceptance of these technologies.”

Advanced Grid Technologies: It authorizes an integrated 10-year, $2 billion program that provides for technology demonstration grants, microgrid deployment, the development of system performance metrics, and technical assistance for state and regional planning.

Cybersecurity: The bill would codify the Department of Energy (DOE)’s role as the “Sector-Specific Agency” for coordinating cyber response for the energy sector and would double the DOE’s current investment in cyber-related R&D, supply chain security and public-private partnerships for information-sharing.

Access to Capital: It notes that today, distributed energy, storage, efficiency, and smaller-scale projects at the local level don’t have access to the DOE’s loan program, owing to high participation costs. The bill clarifies that state financing entities (clean energy funds, emerging technology funds, green banks, or state economic development authorities) can participate in the DOE loan program.

Renewable Energy Investments: The bill would invest in marine, hydrokinetic, and geothermal technologies—”new clean energy technologies that haven’t yet gained a foothold in the commercial market”—and would provide grid modernization investments designed to help smooth integration of distributed renewables.

RD&D: “Unfortunately, the federal commitment to energy RD&D is less than [half] of 1% of what consumers in this nation spend in energy costs,” a statement from Sen. Cantwell’s office notes.  “This bill addresses our funding shortfalls by increasing authorizations for DOE’s Office of Science and the ARPA-E by 4 percent each year for 5 years.”

Workforce Development: With 55% of the energy workforce expected to retire in the next decade, the bill invests in workforce training by establishing an advisory board at the DOE and a competitive workforce grant program to provide job training through a community college or registered apprenticeship program.

Energy-Water Nexus: To address energy and water issues in a more integrated manner, the bill provides energy and water conservation benefits, coordinates the federal approach to energy-water RD&D and provides for a $15 million pilot grant program through DOE to demonstrate technologies to increase the efficiency of energy and water systems.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)