Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), along with Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), today introduced legislation to ensure federal disaster funding can be used to build more resilient, efficient, clean, and low-cost energy systems. The bill targets critical infrastructure and directs the Department of Energy's national labs to provide assistance in rebuilding efforts. The introduction comes on the heels of today's U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing addressing the federal response to this year's hurricanes.
"As we rebuild infrastructure across the country-from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to Florida and Texas-it is critical that we invest in smarter, stronger, and cleaner energy technologies," Bennet said. "Revising the law to reflect the priorities of our 21st century economy and climate will ensure we are better prepared for future disasters, while also putting in place cleaner energy sources for the next generation."
Under current law, only a portion of federal funding can be used to build more resilient energy systems following a disaster. Furthermore, the outdated law does not prioritize clean energy, efficiency, or decreasing energy bills.
The Rebuilding Resilient Energy Systems Act would provide much-needed clarity to ensure Fiscal Year 2017 disaster funding can be used to rebuild smarter and stronger energy systems-in particular for critical infrastructure-that maximize clean energy sources and energy storage technologies. This clarification is critical as systems are being rebuilt in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, and Florida.
The bill directs the Department of Energy's national labs to provide technical assistance to state, local, and private entities and other federal agencies interested in developing plans to improve the resiliency and efficiency of their energy systems and replacing their energy systems following a disaster. The bill also directs Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to improve coordination with private entities seeking to donate energy storage technologies during a disaster.
Support in the Senate
Last week, in a letter from 35 Senate Democrats sent to FEMA and US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) officials, in which they demanded agencies expedite and better coordinate the ongoing power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the senators included language about this Bennet-led bill to address long-term recovery.
"In the coming weeks, we also intend to seek your assistance to ensure the electric grid is rebuilt in a more resilient way, with more distributed energy resources that rely on solar and wind power and microgrids, a transition away from reliance on fossil fuel imports, and a strong independent regulatory body that can ensure accountability and lower rates for consumers," the senators wrote in the letter. "We urge you to work with other relevant federal agencies to submit specific legislative language requests to Congress for the next disaster supplemental appropriations bill, given that additional authorities will be necessary in order to rebuild a more resilient grid in Puerto Rico and USVI."
Support from Stakeholders
Several organization have expressed their support for the Rebuilding Resilient Energy Systems Act, including the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), GridWise Alliance, Energy Storage Association, and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
"In rebuilding from recent disasters, Senator Bennet's bill will help address the next one," said Steve Nadel, Executive Director of ACEEE. "It recognizes that energy efficiency boosts resilience by distributing energy resources, putting less pressure on the power grid, and keeping homes and buildings comfortable during power outages-all while saving money."
"Rebuilding after extreme events, such as the recent hurricanes, in a manner that is more resilient and ‘smarter' is essential. We have learned from the recovery efforts from previous natural disasters that it is critical to do so," said Steve Hauser, CEO of GridWise Alliance. "The innovative approaches that have been developed at our National Laboratories as well as by utilities of all types and technology companies must be applied to these unique and life-critical situations."
"In the wake of multiple devastating natural disasters impacting millions of Americans, this important legislation would make prudent use of taxpayer funds by rebuilding more resilient and reliable energy infrastructure," said Kelly Speakes-Backman, CEO of the Energy Storage Association. "As we look to rebuild and recover from major grid disruptions of all types, it is critical to create a more flexible and resilient electric grid to ensure that we are better prepared for the next disaster, and provide benefits to the grid and consumers every day of the year."
The bill text is available HERE.