While 2022 could present some challenges for the energy sector, public power utilities are well positioned for success this year and beyond thanks to, among other things, a wide range of funding opportunities that will flow from a new federal infrastructure law, said Joy Ditto, President and CEO of the American Public Power Association (APPA), on Jan. 20.
Ditto made her remarks during the U.S. Energy Association’s (USEA) 18th Annual State of the Energy Industry Forum.
Ditto said that implementation of the new infrastructure law “helps with many elements of grid modernization.” The law will result in a “ton of money flowing to our industry and various elements of it and we’re excited to take advantage of it and help our members take advantage of getting those funding opportunities down on the ground and implementing them.”
APPA members now have access to a webpage dedicated to keeping them up to date on activity and funding opportunities related to implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“We’re supportive of robust funding across the board” in areas like electric vehicle infrastructure, hydrogen energy storage, advanced nuclear energy, and carbon, capture, utilization and storage.
She pointed out that public power utilities are leaders when it comes the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other advanced nuclear options.
APPA also appreciates the fact that the infrastructure law takes steps to bolster hydropower, Ditto said, noting that the association continues to believe strongly “that we have to maintain and enhance hydropower as a generating source.”
Moreover, APPA is pleased to see that the infrastructure law includes funding to bolster cybersecurity, not just for the overall power sector, but also for APPA and public power utilities specifically.
In 2022, APPA will continue to help bring electricity to Navajo Nation residents through its Light Up Navajo initiative with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA), Ditto noted.
Light Up Navajo III will start in the spring of this year. “We welcome support for that effort,” Ditto said. [Interested public power utilities should contact [email protected] for more information on this important event].
One of the challenges that Ditto sees as likely to continue in 2022 involves interdependency issues, which she said was highlighted during Winter Storm Uri in early 2021. Uri hit the Texas power grid and many other states in the middle of the country.
Ditto pointed out that APPA in 2010 published a report, “Implications of Greater Reliance on Natural Gas in the Electric Sector,” which was presented to the USEA that year. “There were challenges we identified back then in that report that we’re seeing come to fruition.”
But pinpointing challenges that could come about doesn’t always translate into being able to successfully meet those challenges without a visible reference “to what the implications could result in and we, unfortunately,” saw that reference play out with Winter Storm Uri, she said.
“I hope that we can utilize that challenge and make it into an opportunity to address these issues inter-sector and intra-sector to see how we can go back and focus on reliability, as well as maintaining affordability.”
Cybersecurity is another challenge that will remain in 2022 and going forward, Ditto said, noting the continued growth in placing digital components on to the grid.
For its part, the public power community is focused on the value of collaboration with the federal government and with others in the electric sector to proactively address cybersecurity threats, Ditto said. Public power utilities will continue to make cybersecurity a priority this year and beyond.
On a day-to-day basis, when it comes to cybersecurity efforts, there is probably a need to think differently as an industry, she said. For public power, “we’re thinking about how we provide collective services to our smaller members.”
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, questions remain in 2022 about the fate of President Biden’s Build Back Better legislative proposal.
With respect to the climate change element of the proposal, APPA supports a legislative solution “to addressing climate, but with that three-legged stool of sustainability, affordability and reliability at the forefront at all times,” Ditto said.
“Given the uncertainty of what’s going on in Congress on climate, we’re of course anticipating EPA regulation. We know that there are some court decisions pending that could also impact what EPA does in this space.”
Supply chain issues are coming into sharper focus as a 2022 challenge. The supply chain has been on public power’s radar for quite some time, Ditto said, specifically in the context of how secure supply chains are related to digitization and cyber security.
“Now we’re thinking about supply chain more fundamentally,” she said. For example, what is the availability of distribution transformers.
She praised the move by the Department of Energy to issue a request for information (RFI) on energy sector supply chain issues. APPA and the Large Public Power Council recently submitted joint comments in response to the RFI.