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Home    |   Print Edition   |   Federal Regulation for a “Resilient” Electricity Grid

Federal Regulation for a “Resilient” Electricity Grid

Apr 01, 2020

Stephanie Phillips

Volume 46 (2019) - Issue 2

A well-functioning United States electricity system, also known as “the grid,” is fundamentally important to the American way of life. Nearly everyone involved—from users, to electricity generators, to transmitters, to regulators— recognizes this and agrees broadly that the system should be “resilient” to threats such as extreme weather, attack, and infrastructure failure. This idea— of promoting grid resiliency—has been central in many recent conversations surrounding the industry. It has been the subject of scientific and government reports. It was present in a proposed rulemaking from the Department of Energy to justify compensating the coal and nuclear industries for the resiliency attributes they provide the grid. While this rule was ultimately rejected, it led to resiliency as the subject of a lengthy action by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which sought information—and received hundreds of comments— from large sectors of the industry about what they are doing to promote resiliency and how those efforts can best be supported by the Commission. What representatives of the industry do not agree on, however, is how to best achieve resiliency, or even more fundamentally, exactly what resiliency really means.

This Note explores the emergence of the term resiliency within the context of federal electricity regulation. It details how it has emerged as a widely agreed- upon solution to a still undefined problem. It also explores proposed themes for how it relates to, and might be distinguishable from, the well understood federal electricity regulatory frameworks of reliability and resource adequacy. If a specific technical problem is successfully connected to the concept of resiliency, this Note then argues that it could likely easily be housed conceptually and achieved within such existing regulatory frameworks. On the other hand, if a specific problem is not agreed upon, and it remains a more nebulous concept loosely connected to the notion of a low-risk grid, the idea of resiliency is a term that could potentially be used strategically to justify broader administrative or legislative actions to increase coordination across the grid, expand the scope of federal authority over the electricity sector , or even promote more environmentally-focused policy proposals that incent the development of more distributed electricity infrastructure, renewable energy generation, or broader climate change prevention and mitigation policies.