Electricity Markets

Bill includes cybersecurity funding, vegetation management

The House on March 22 passed legislation that includes a number of significant items for public power utilities including language on vegetation management and funding for an American Public Power Association cybersecurity and cyber-resiliency cooperative agreement with the Department of Energy.

In addition, the measure boosts annual funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

The House passed the $1.3 trillion consolidated appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018, which began on Oct. 1, 2017, by a vote of 256 to 167. The vote sends the measure to the Senate where it is expected to be cleared for President Trump’s expected signature.

A stop-gap spending bill is set to expire March 23 and Congress must pass this bill, pass another temporary spending bill, or face another government shutdown.

In addition to annual appropriations, the bill includes a number of legislative “riders,” including language on vegetation management.

Groups send letter to lawmakers on vegetation management

The Association was joined by the Edison Electric Institute, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the Northwest Public Power Association in a March 22 letter to members of the House and Senate voicing support for the vegetation management language included in the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act.

The language included in the omnibus appropriations bill “will enhance energy grid reliability, improve grid and system resiliency, and reduce wildfire risks by providing an improved framework for vegetation management and other maintenance of electricity infrastructure that crosses federal lands,” the groups said in their letter to lawmakers.

They noted that managing vegetation on electric transmission and distribution rights-of-way is a key part of electric company efforts to protect the security and reliability of the energy grid. Vegetation management helps to enhance the physical integrity of transmission and distribution infrastructure.

However, challenges arise when rights-of-way cross federal lands. “It can be especially difficult to obtain timely approvals from federal land management agencies to implement integrated vegetation management programs,” the Association and the other groups said. “This management work is essential as electric companies meet mandatory reliability standards, ensure a proper functioning of the energy grid, and reduce the potential risk of fire.”

The vegetation management provisions in the omnibus appropriations bill “recognize the need for timely decision-making, while respecting the role of federal agencies to manage lands and preserve sensitive habitat. We encourage your support for these provisions,” the groups said.

For the past several years, the Association, EEI, NRECA and NWPPA have worked closely together on legislation to facilitate tree trimming near transmission and distribution facilities located on rights-of-way on federal lands. 

The language included in the omnibus appropriations bill is based on provisions from H.R. 1873, the Electric Reliability and Forest Protection Act, passed by the House last year, and provisions from section 2310 of S. 1460, the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017.

Bill includes funding for LIHEAP, Association/DOE cybersecurity agreement

The legislation also includes funding important to public power.

Specifically, it matches last year’s appropriation of $5 million for cyber and cyber-physical solutions for electric power utility companies. This appropriation has helped fund a cooperative agreement with the Association and the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

Under this agreement the Association is working to develop security tools, educational resources, cybersecurity and cyber-resiliency guidelines, and training on common strategies that member utilities can use to improve their cyber and physical security, noted Desmarie Waterhouse, Vice-President of Government Relations and Counsel at the Association.

“We are in the middle of just the second year of this agreement and already more than 400 public power utilities have participated,” she said. “This is exactly the sort of smart, targeted federal investment in cyber security that will deliver significant results for millions of public power customers nationwide.”

In addition, the measure calls for an increase in annual funding for LIHEAP by $250 million to $3.6 billion. “LIHEAP is greatly valuable to lower-income public power customers in meeting their home energy costs, particularly those in regions that struggle with extreme temperatures in the winter and summer months,” said Waterhouse. “We hope that as Congress turns to the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, it maintains this funding increase.”