Trump officials eliminate board that advised on smart grid innovation

Trump officials eliminate board that advised on smart grid innovation
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An advisory committee that provided input on bettering smart grids in the U.S. is the latest casualty of President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE’s executive order to cut federal advisory boards by a third.

The Smart Grid Advisory Committee that operated under the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was terminated Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year, the Commerce Department confirmed to The Hill.

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The advisory board’s main focus was to provide input on gaps in electric system growth and smart technology implementation. Smart grids are electrical grids that incorporate digital components such as real-time energy meters and smart appliances.

The panel, which was established nearly a decade ago under former President Obama, is the third advisory board confirmed to have been terminated for fiscal 2020, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee and the Interior Department’s Invasive Species Advisory Committee.

Neither the White House nor any government agency has released a comprehensive list of committees cut under Trump’s order, which mandated that all agencies “terminate at least one-third of its current committees.” The due date for cuts was Sept. 30.

The 11 advisers on the Smart Grid Advisory Committee were first alerted by an official from NIST at the end of September that the committee’s charter would not be renewed but were offered no explanation. 

“It was a very straight forward call,” said Paul Centolella, chairman of the advisory committee and president of Paul Centolella & Associates.

Centolella said members were made aware of the likelihood that the panel might get the ax during the June meeting, which ended up being the advisory board’s last.

“We were told that considering the number of advisory committees, there were not a lot of choices in the department. So that was a factor,” he said. “This is a decision that obviously came from high up in the administration for the agencies.”

A Commerce Department spokesperson confirmed the agency’s termination, saying it was the only advisory board ended at NIST, which falls under Commerce.

“The Department of Commerce has conducted a comprehensive review of its advisory committees pursuant to the Executive Order ‘Evaluating and Improving the Utility of Federal Advisory Committees,’ in an effort to use government resources more efficiently. As part of the review, Commerce recommended to the Office of Management and Budget that the Smart Grid Advisory Committee would cease operations by September 30, 2019,” the spokesperson said in a statement provided to The Hill. 

A Commerce spokesperson for would not provide details on what other committees at the agency were ended under the executive order.

The committee had recently finalized a framework and road map on methods to modernize the U.S. electric grid to allow for better communication with smart homes and computer systems.

Centolella said he hopes the panel's latest report will still be released as slated next year.

“I think the framework was generally very well received,” he said. “I know staff has been working hard on it and there’s been a great deal of public work and input.”

Mike Jacobs, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the decision to end the committee worrisome.

“I would worry that it represents the loss of forward momentum in trying to bring this kind of technology into the market. There’s an awful lot of room for the digital age to get into energy, and this was really a central part of the puzzle. I've been talking to folks who’ve wanted to get this thing going for 20 years,” he said.

Jacobs said the committee was not considered controversial but did make utilities rethink the way electric grids currently work.

“My guess is that this kind of progress is not in the interest of conventional power plants, their owners and their fuel suppliers. So if you are looking to do a favor to the old ways of doing things, stunting the growth of the new ways would be your best bet,” he said.

Asked his thoughts on the advisory board’s termination, Centolella called it “disappointing.”

“I think there certainly is a role for gathering input from outside expertise aside from the government. It’s not clear to me how they came up with this decision,” he said.