White House to focus comprehensive energy review on infrastructure

The White House will focus its first four-year, interagency review of the U.S. energy landscape on infrastructure, Energy Department counsel Melanie Kenderdine said Thursday.

Two of the Quadrennial Energy Review's chief goals are to bolster defenses against climate change and to strengthen energy security, Kenderdine said, noting the U.S. energy sector has some work ahead to match the resiliency of other nations' systems.

"Our main competitor in the global markets are the Chinese, and they have a first generation energy infrastructure. And we’re at the second and third,” she said at a Washington, D.C., event hosted by think tank the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Called for in the climate agenda President Obama announced last month, the Quadrennial Energy Review is modeled after a similar Defense Department initiative. It intends to get agencies that have a hand in energy matters on the same page, rather than operating in silos, and then bake the recommendations into formal policy.

The DOE already has sounded warnings about the energy sector’s vulnerability to extreme storms, floods and droughts that are linked to climate change. The department is hoping to encourage utilities and other stakeholders to harden their systems to better withstand those elements.

On the energy security front, Kenderdine spoke of the challenges integrating more renewable energy to the electric grid.

Building new natural gas pipelines, managing complications that arise from power plants switching from coal- to natural gas-fired generation and growing interdependencies among infrastructure will also be areas of consideration.

Kenderdine said the review would aim to set the groundwork for upgrading the nation’s energy infrastructure through an array of private sector incentives, state and federal collaboration and other measures, Kenderdine said.

Kenderdine noted that would be difficult, given the regulatory division of energy infrastructure.

States and local governments have considerable control over swaths of the electric grid and other elements of the nation’s energy landscape, in many cases leaving little recourse for federal agencies to affect change.

As a result, much of the nation’s energy infrastructure — particularly the electric grid — is a patchwork of aging facilities and technology in need of modernization.

Kenderdine hinted that the plan would emphasize research and development efforts in hopes of bringing advanced energy technologies to commercial scale. She said the DOE would also bring on finance analysts to develop incentives for the private sector.

“By and large, we just need to bring down the costs of many of the new innovations in energy generation and use,” she said.