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Massive Spend, New Grid Needed Now

The United States government wants to spend $15 billion in the coming decade to launch an unprecedented surge in power grid innovation, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says.

With such investment in place, the 2003 blackout that affected 45 million Americans in eight states could have been more speedily fixed, he says.

The $15 billion federal investment in the grid would leverage a far greater magnitude of spending by the private sector, Moniz says.

But in the face of a bitterly partisan Congress, the Obama administration has no clear strategy for getting recalcitrant Republicans to support its grid plans, Moniz told The Energy Times.

“There is no specific mechanism to discuss with Congress,” Moniz told us at a press conference last week in Houston at IHS CERAWeek.

For starters, though, DOE is asking Congress to approve $356 million for grid modernization in its budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning in October.

Moniz addressed broader regional energy issues in a joint appearance in Houston in recent days with his North American counterparts, Greg Rickford, Canada minister of natural resources, and Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, Mexico secretary of energy.

The three countries have trade valued at $1 billion a year, and 20 percent of it is energy-related, Moniz said. All three energy secretaries said they are beginning to coordinate their efforts in unprecedented fashion.

Turning to climate change, Moniz said that Mexico could play a pivotal role convincing Latin America to embrace new strategies for slashing greenhouse gas emissions – paving the way for “powerful Western Hemisphere coordination on climate.”

Beyond that, the United States, Canada and Mexico need to better coordinate responses to destructive storms spawned by climate change. “Extreme weather doesn’t stop at borders,” Moniz said.

Coldwell said that Mexico’s electric power sector is poised for development as a result of a new electric industry law adopted last summer to spur private sector involvement in generation, transmission and distribution of power.

Geothermal resources can and will be development as the least intermittent form of clean energy, Coldwell said.

The Keystone Pipeline project, awaiting possible U.S. approval, remains a point of friction with Canada. Rickford said it should be evaluated strictly as an “infrastructure process” that is part of an overarching energy strategy. That strategy includes Canada’s push for developing carbon capture and storage at the Boundary Dam power station in Saskatchewan, a $400 million effort, Rickford said.

As for the grid, Moniz related that he recently visited a PECO control room capturing a rich stream of data from synchrophasors. The Philadelphia utility, like energy companies nationwide, is still challenged to “get the information used in an operational sense,” Moniz said.

Once that challenge is mastered, greater reliability can be achieved.

“We have started down this road but have a long way to get there,” Moniz said. If this technology would have been in place at the time of the 2003 power blackout, he added, “it could have nipped it off much more quickly.”

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