Congress kicked up action on several measures last week before it adjourned for a five-week recess. Two new bills were introduced: One calls for communities to generate at least 20% of their own power needs in preparation for grid emergencies, and the other seeks to put into legislative language recommendations regarding the nation’s nuclear waste storage policy that was finalized this January by the Blue Ribbon Commission. The House, meanwhile, advanced its “No More Solyndras Act.” 

Bill Calls for More Distributed Generation to Guard Against Infrastructure Failure in Grid Emergencies

Tea Party Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (Md.) on Friday introduced H.R. 762, a bill that encourages communities and organizations to generate at least 20% of their own electricity demand to ensure independent operation of critical infrastructure in the event of a grid emergency. 

“The U.S. electric grid is one of our nation’s 18 critical infrastructures. However, none of the other 17 will function without electricity. America’s grid is vulnerable to widespread blackouts of extended duration," the lawmaker noted. 

The bill notes that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) have established five separate Low Frequency–High Impact (LFHI) events that could inflict extended-duration grid blackouts to the North American power network: cyber attack, solar geomagnetic storm electro-magnetic pulse (EMP), coordinated physical attack, nuclear EMP, or a pandemic. 

It also cites a series of workshops in October 2011 on energy security that highlighted the need for greater local sustainability in light of a prolonged nationwide power loss, as well as a Hoover-Brookings joint report that shows distributed power for security applications is "either cost competitive or approaching competitiveness as new innovations come to market." 

The bill calls for every community and institution—local fire halls, schools, and faith-based organization—to create "sustainable local infrastructure and planning capacity" to mitigate high-impact scenarios. It also calls for states and the federal government to "support the ability of local communities to become stronger, and self-reliant." 

"In light of these known risks, my legislation encourages communities and organizations to generate at least 20% of their own electricity demand to ensure independent operation of critical infrastructure and vital national security missions and to provide adequate supplies of basic necessities and services," Bartlett said at a press conference on Aug. 3, flanked by experts on civil defense preparations. "It is critical that we in Congress send the message that it is in the interest of national security that every community and institution, especially our military, reestablish their capabilities to be self-sufficient independent of the grid." 

"We also need to encourage individuals to develop and implement a plan that will provide for themselves and their family sufficient food, water and other emergency supplies necessary to weather an electricity outage when there is no one there to call," he added. 

Bartlett’s bill, which was referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, was cosponsored by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y), Rep. Henry Johnson (D-Ga.), and Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). Analysis by govtack.us suggests that the resolution has a 52% chance of being accepted. 

House Committee Advances “No More Solyndras Act” 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Aug. 1 voted 29–19 to advance H.R. 6213, the “No More Solyndras Act,” a bill that would effectively terminate what House Republicans call a "mismanaged" federal loan program by prohibiting any new applications. The bill follows the committee’s investigation into the Department of Energy’s $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra; the California solar panel manufacturer declared bankruptcy last summer. 

According to House Republicans, the bill authored by the committee chair, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), will also provide taxpayers with "strong new protections for already pending participants, including increased due diligence, new transparency requirements, and the prohibition of taxpayer subordination."

The vote was called as the committee released a 154-page report, which followed an 18-month investigation into the controversial loan guarantee. Along with a long list of allegations, the document reports that three of the first five companies that received a loan guarantee under Section 1705 filed for bankruptcy. It also alleges that while administration officials were repeatedly warned that Solyndra was doomed to fail, the White House was determined to make Solyndra a stimulus success story "at any cost." Republicans also allege that the DOE knowingly violated the law when it restructured the terms of the loan guarantee and subordinated taxpayers’ interest to the interests of private investors.

Last week, as committee Republicans called a vote on the bill, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) floated an amendment that essentially proposed an end to all new loan guarantees, including nuclear and advanced-coal projects. Though voted against by all Democrats (including Markey), the amendment sought to highlight that the "No More Solyndras Act" would still authorize the Energy secretary to approve loan guarantee applications submitted by Dec. 31, 2011. 

Only three Republicans supported the amendment in a 3-39 vote. Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas). 
 

Bingaman Introduces Nuclear Waste Management Bill Based on BRC Recommendations

Legislation introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) on Aug. 1 seeks to implement the Blue Ribbon Commission’s (BRC’s) recommendations on how the nation should tackle its nuclear waste management policy. 

The 15-member BRC had been appointed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu in 2010 to provide comprehensive recommendations for a long-term solution to managing and disposing the nation’s spent nuclear fuel. The commission affirmed the need for one or more permanent, geologic nuclear waste repositories as well as the need for one or more temporary storage facilities where waste could be stored until a repository has been built. 

Among key recommendations were that a new organization independent of the Department of Energy be established to ensure safe storage and disposal of nuclear waste, and that a change be made in the way the federal budget treats fees being paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund to ensure they are being set aside. 

Bingaman, who had been working with Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to put the BRC’s recommendations into legislative language, said the lawmakers "were unable to agree on how to do that." 

“Nonetheless, we agreed that I should introduce legislation and that the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources should hold a hearing on it in September,” said Bingaman, who is not expected to run for re-election in November. “I recognize, of course, that the bill will not become law this year. But my hope is to obtain testimony on it and to build a legislative record that might serve as the foundation for further consideration and ultimate enactment in the next Congress.”

Sources: POWERnews, House Energy and Commerce Committee, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, govtrack.us

—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine)