Hearing Spotlights Importance of Energy Infrastructure, Diverse Fuel Mix

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired a hearing to discuss the performance of our nation’s electric power system during cold weather events, particularly the recent bomb cyclone that affected Northeast states. The committee heard from representatives of the Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), PJM Interconnection, ISO New England, and Goodgrid.

“Federal law and policy must enable energy to be affordable, clean, diverse, and secure,” Murkowski said. “Today, we have an opportunity to look at how changes in the nation’s electric grid and the mix of primary electricity resources are stressing system reliability, and what federal changes may be necessary to address those stresses. While many lessons were learned during the 2014 polar vortex, we still have not addressed the more difficult and fundamental challenges for electric and gas infrastructure, such as constrained pipeline infrastructure.”

During the hearing, ISO New England President and CEO Gordon van Welie answered questions about the challenge of building pipelines in New England. New pipelines would provide access to affordable natural gas from the nearby Marcellus Shale region rather than continuing the region’s reliance on imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) from countries such as Russia.

“The first problem in New England is to find a customer for a gas pipeline…The second issue is once you have a customer, then you have to confront the siting issue. And I’d say there’s a siting problem both in New England and in New York,” van Welie said.

As baseload nuclear and coal units continue to retire, PJM President and CEO Andrew Ott highlighted the important role a diverse fuel mix plays in maintaining grid reliability.

“From PJM’s experience, of course, we have a much bigger proportion of our total resource mix being coal and nuclear. In fact, during this recent cold weather event, obviously more than half of the total supply was coal and nuclear,” Ott said. “Certainly, we couldn’t survive without gas; we couldn’t survive without coal; we couldn’t survive without nuclear. We need them all in the moment. And I think the key, and what we’re focused on, is each of these bring to the table reliability characteristics. Each of these was online when we needed them.”

“It’s often very easy to say we need to have this diverse portfolio, but if the diversity doesn’t give you the security of access, you fail when it comes to your resiliency,” Murkowski concluded. “We can have all the supply that we need, but if we can’t move it, it doesn’t get us anywhere. Alaska is the poster child for that. We have extraordinary resources, but our challenge has always been moving that to the market.” 

Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. An archived video of today’s hearing is available on the committee’s website. Click here to view Murkowski’s round of questions.