Sen. Murkowski: Super Bowl blackout could ‘kick-start’ energy-policy debates

The Super Bowl power outage could fuel interest in energy policy debates that have been on Capitol Hill’s back burner in recent years, a top lawmaker said.

“I think it helps to perhaps kick-start the debate,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

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“I think it raises an awareness. Unfortunately for us, most of us take energy for granted. It’s just always there,” Murkowski told reporters on Monday morning, moments after she unveiled a sweeping energy policy blueprint.

The lights went out at the New Orleans Superdome early in the third quarter of Sunday night’s game, halting play for 34 minutes. And while officials are still sorting out what exactly happened, Murkowski called it a reminder that energy supplies can’t be taken for granted.

“We have got this immaculate conception theory of energy. It just happens. The lights turn on, it’s the temperature we want, until it’s not, until it becomes inconvenient, it interrupts our game, it interrupts what we are doing, and then all of a sudden it is like, ‘well wait a minute, what it going on here, where do we get this stuff from, how could it not be there and be reliable,’” the Alaska Republican said.

It remains unclear what, precisely, caused the problem.

Entergy Corp., the power company that supplies New Orleans, said in a statement Sunday night that there was no interruption of electricity on its end, noting its distribution and transmission feeders were serving the building “at all times.”

Early Monday, Entergy and Superdome management company SMG issued a joint statement noting that shortly after halftime, “a piece of equipment that is designed to monitor electrical load sensed an abnormality in the system.”

“Once the issue was detected, the sensing equipment operated as designed and opened a breaker, causing power to be partially cut to the Superdome in order to isolate the issue. Backup generators kicked in immediately as designed. Entergy and SMG subsequently coordinated start up procedures, ensuring that full power was safely restored to the Superdome,” the companies said.

They said they are examining the “root cause” of the abnormality.

Regardless of the cause, the incident meant that millions of viewers were touched directly by a power outage at a time when Murkowski is launching a public-relations blitz to promote her broad energy blueprint.

Her plan — which she hopes will inform a series of bills — touches on everything from electricity policy to oil-and-gas production to biofuels and more.

Its many recommendations for the electric power sector include reexamining regulations that Republicans allege will constrain coal-fired power generation.

The plan also includes calls to boost information-sharing to thwart cyberattacks against energy infrastructure and toughening criminal statutes for cyber crimes; various proposals to bolster transmission infrastructure; support for biomass-fired power, hydropower and development of small modular nuclear reactors, and many other proposals.

“We should aim to use energy more wisely, but that is not a substitute for production, or for measures that will increase the reliability of our systems and supply,” Murkowski said in a speech Monday morning to a conference of state electricity regulators.