Following the November elections, leaders from both political parties spoke of the need to find a new path forward to work together to address the challenges and opportunities facing our country. When the 114th Congress convenes in January, a real opportunity exists to align federal energy policy to take advantage of technological breakthroughs and innovation that have and are occurring in our country. There is a strong and growing consensus that our energy infrastructure can be made more resilient, efficient, safer, reliable and secure. This will require cooperation and engagement from both the Congress and the White House.
The issuance of the administration’s first quadrennial energy review (QER) report in early 2015 may be a good indicator of where the White House intends to focus in the coming years. Launched in early 2014, the QER is designed to provide a multiyear roadmap that outlines federal energy policy objectives, legislative proposals to Congress, executive actions, an agenda for research, development and demonstration programs and funding, and financing and incentive programs. The first phase of the QER focuses on energy transmission, distribution, and storage. The Department of Energy hosted a series of regional meetings and received hundreds of public comments, including a set of 14 recommendations made by NEMA. For 2015, the QER will address supply and demand, including energy efficiency.
In July, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) unveiled a plan based on five pillars: modernizing infrastructure, maintaining diverse electricity sources, overhauling federal permitting, efficiency and innovation, and advancing energy exports. The components of this overall plan are very likely to guide the energy work in the 114th Congress and represents important areas of bipartisan interest. Policies to improve electric grid modernization, including transmission, and promoting a wiser use of electricity all have received considerable discussion, and the opportunity in 2015 is to advance and enact discrete bills that can capitalize on the new energy technologies. In the fall of 2014, a bipartisan Grid Innovation Caucus was launched by Representatives Renee Ellmers (R-NC) and Jerry McNerney (D-CA). In 2014, the House did pass several discrete bills related to energy efficiency, which we hope will be renewed in the 114th Congress. All these bode well for action in 2015.
On the Senate side, incoming chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has been extensively engaged as the ranking member of the committee in advancing policies and recommendations. Her 115-page “Energy 2020: A Vision for America’s Energy Future” (released in 2013) provides significant insight into an energy policy agenda focused on energy abundance, affordability, clean, diverse, and secure. She has also championed greater attention be played to the “energy-water nexus” and how energy and water policies need to be aligned and coordinated. Over the past several years, a bipartisan energy efficiency bill was developed and introduced by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) which enjoyed strong support across the aisle, but fell victim to partisan politics over non-energy efficiency issues. In the new Senate, this bill – updated and improved as needed – should be a priority for passage.
Advancing and enacting grid infrastructure and energy efficiency policies are also strongly supported by voters. In an independent national poll commissioned in 2014 by NEMA and the National Association of Manufacturers, nine in 10 likely voters support energy efficiency as a key part of the solution to address our energy challenges. Results showed a desire for greater adoption of efficient technologies throughout our economy, including the federal government, where tax dollars can be saved. The poll also found that two-thirds are more likely to vote for a candidate for congress who supports energy efficiency policies with a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all more likely to support such a candidate.
As 2014 closes and we look back at what was and look forward to what can be, I am hopeful that our elected officials will find the ability to work together on energy efficiency and grid modernization policies. Some very good foundation work has been done on a bipartisan basis already, and the year ahead represents the best opportunity we have had in years to recognize through sound energy policy the great innovations and technologies that can make our country more energy secure and energy efficient.
Kyle Pitsor is Vice President Government Relations for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA)