Energy Department, Local Officials Explore Reliability of Electricity under Deregulation

Article excerpt

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson held a series of regional summits last week with federal, state, and local government officials, as well as electric industry regulators, utility company representatives, and consumers to discuss ways to protect the reliability of the electric utility system.

"Several regions across the country have experienced a host of reliability problems in recent summers. While the demand for electricity is soaring, the reliability of our electric grid is, at times, faltering," said Secretary Richardson. "Open discussions around the country can be helpful in exploring new ways for the government, regions and states to work together and keep pace with the rapid change in the electric industry."

Richardson took advantage of the regional summits as an opportunity to announce a series of steps the Department of Energy will take to help ensure the reliability of the nation's power supply during periods of peak demand. "These short-term actions by the Department of Energy, while not a cure-all, are designed to help keep the lights on this summer," said Secretary Richardson. The Department of Energy will:

* work with other agencies to identify opportunities to reduce electric consumption at federal water projects during times of peak demand;

* urge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state utility commissions to solicit and approve tariffs that will help reduce electricity demand during peak time periods;

* explore opportunities for the use of existing backup generators during power supply emergencies to reduce the strain on electric systems and help avoid blackouts;

* conduct an emergency exercise with state and local governments to help prepare for potential summer power supply emergencies;

* work closely with the utility industry to gain up-to-date relevant information about potential grid-related problems as quickly as possible; and

* prepare public service announcements to provide tips to help consumers reduce electricity use and lower their bills.

Some industry representatives, however, criticized the department's plan as having little impact on the reliability of the nation's energy supply. Several summit attendees pointed out that the utility industry already invests in consumer education and outreach, as well as backup power generators for use during power supply emergencies. Furthermore, others contended that state and local governments already have sufficient systems in place to deal with power supply emergencies.

The Department of Energy is also attempting to shore up electricity reliability with more long term, far-reaching changes. Last year Secretary Richardson formed a Power Outage Study Team to provide recommendations for making the electric grid more reliable. …