Energy & Environment

Climate change will have ‘far-reaching’ impacts on electric grid, watchdog says


Climate change will have “far-reaching” impacts on the electric grid that could cost billions of dollars, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO). 

The report, released Wednesday by Sen.Tom Carper (D-Del.), comes after power outages related to a winter storm in Texas last month brought renewed attention to the issue. 

The GAO reviewed reports to determine that climate change, which has been linked to extreme weather events, is expected to impact “all aspects” of the electricity grid including electricity generation, transmission and distribution to users. 

It noted that the type and extent of impacts will depend on location, types of energy sources used and the grid infrastructure’s condition. 

“For example, a region may see more extreme rainfall combined with coastal flooding, or extreme heat coupled with drought. However, warmer temperatures and more heat waves could affect all regions in the United States and could decrease the efficiency of electricity generation, transmission and distribution systems,” the report said. 

The report said that storms, extreme heat and changes in availability of resources like water can impact the ability for power to be generated; wildfires can threaten transmission infrastructure, and heat can reduce transmission capacity; and heat can damage power transformers that are important for electricity distribution. 

It also said that these impacts could cost billions of dollars, including costs of power outages to utility customers and costs from storm damages.

GAO said that power outages can “disproportionately” impact vulnerable groups that need continued electricity service for certain health conditions. It further noted that low-income people often have trouble paying for higher energy costs or measures to mitigate outages. 

The report said that the Energy Department can take additional actions like sharing tools and information to help plan for climate change and provide incentives for resiliency actions. It said that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can update reliability standards to address climate change and consider climate risks when deciding whether to authorize infrastructure projects. 

In response, the Energy Department said that it is committed to working to strengthen grid resilience and that it will assess the GAO report. 

At the peak of last month’s crisis, about 5 million people in Texas were without power and several deaths were linked to the events. 

Tags Climate change electric grid Electricity Texas power crisis Tom Carper

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