Congressman Doyle Calls for Action to Modernize the Nation's Electric Utilities
I want to thank Chairman Tauzin for calling this hearing today. Clearly, the blackout earlier this summer has rightfully attracted a great deal of attention and concern and the issues involved are complex. While I suspect that we are unlikely to reach any definitive answers thru this set of hearings, largely because it is simply too soon to know all the answers and those conducting the ongoing investigations need time to continue their work, these hearings I hope will still be productive if for no other reason than they raise our level of awareness of the issues and help to define the questions we need to answer.
Thankfully my district in Pittsburgh, and in fact most of Pennsylvania, was spared from direct repercussions of the blackout. But just because our lights stayed on this time, that does not mean that will always be the case. I think it behooves all of us to work together to address the problems that arose on a national basis. I have said many times in the past that it is imperative we strive to create effective cooperative regional approaches to the transmission of electricity. The RTO we operate under in Pennsylvania has largely been a success story in this regard and I believe it provides an effective model for the rest of the country.
One danger as I see it, is that the lesson we take from this blackout becomes that deregulation is too dangerous and that we should rely on the status quo in many regions as the safest course. In my view, nothing could be further from the truth. We need to continue to modernize and update our systems, adopt uniform reliability standards, and continue to create large RTO’s as this will be the most effective way to oversee the transmission of power and comes closest to recognizing these are not issues that stop at state boundaries. Protecting local interests or states rights in this case will not lead to effectively modernizing the whole system. If this blackout causes us to regress from a more standard national approach, that will be a true step backward and the lingering effects of the blackout will prove even more damaging then they already have been.
I also want to mention another issue that I have been involved in for some time; that is promoting the utilization of distributed generation. When we look at some long-term approaches to addressing the problems that, ironically enough, this blackout brought to light, it is imperative that aggressive utilization and implementation of distributed generation technology and continued support for R & D work on DG power be an important part of that mix.
Distributed generation technologies like fuel cells, micro-turbines, and the like are providing reliable and secure power throughout the nation and we need to promote their use so that at least our critical facilities like hospitals, police stations, or military installations are guaranteed safe, reliable power even in the case of blackouts like the one we recently endured.
The current issue of The Economist made the case for DG quite clear when they wrote, “a system with more distributed generation would be more robust than today’s grid.” It continued by speculating that the safest place in New York during the blackout may have been in the middle of Central Park “…because the police station in the park uses fuel cells. With the rest of the city in darkness, super-clean “micropower” plants carried on unaffected: New York’s finest had all the power and light they needed.”
To me, that is a clear example of the importance of distributed generation and why I think we must focus on its wide-spread utilization as an integral part of our long-term efforts to address issues raised by this devastating blackout.