Energy Round Table with Secretary Ernest Moniz

In a unanimous vote on May 16, the Senate confirmed Ernest Moniz as secretary of energy. A physicist who held an endowed chair at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Moniz has served on a number of boards of directors and commissions involving science, energy and security. These include President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the Department of Defense Threat Reduction Advisory Committee, and the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. The new secretary joined the Energy Round Table to discuss nuclear waste disposal, federal-state collaboration, and the future of the Weatherization Assistance Program.

PARTICIPANTS

Vaughn Clark, Chair, National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), and Director of Energy Programs for the State of Oklahoma

Philip Jones, President, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC); Commissioner, Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission

Steve Payne, Director, Community Services and Housing Division, Washington State Department of Commerce

Philip Jones: Given your participation on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, how do you envision DOE addressing nuclear waste during your tenure?

Ernest Moniz: Solving the disposition of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste is essential to both the long-term viability of the U.S. nuclear industry and to addressing security concerns.

I take seriously the federal government’s obligation to accept, manage, and ultimately dispose of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, and was pleased to be part of the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC). The BRC report recommended a consent-based approach focused on the dual tracks of interim storage and geologic disposal capacity. The Administration has issued a strategy that embraces the core findings of the BRC and outlines a framework for a sustainable path forward.

Currently, we are taking a number of steps to lay the groundwork for this strategy. In our FY 2014 budget request, the Administration requested $60 million for nuclear waste research and development that aligns with the BRC recommendations and supports the Administration’s strategy. The request includes funds for the design of an integrated waste management system as well as research and development on storage, transportation and materials issues.

Ultimately, the path forward requires Congressional action and I look forward to working with members of both parties in Congress on this issue.

Vaughn Clark: Do you have any recommendations on how the state energy offices and National Association of State Energy Officials can work more closely with the Department of Energy on increasing the energy efficiency of the nation’s economy?

Moniz: State and regional energy policy planning plays a critical role in meeting the country’s energy needs at the lowest cost while growing our economy, increasing our energy security, and reducing carbon pollution. As our energy markets evolve and the country moves to a more diversified energy mix, energy planning is getting more complex.

Supporting energy policy planning is a key priority area for the Department’s engagement with state and local governments through the State Energy Program (SEP). This program addresses regulatory, financial, and market barriers associated with energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. We work closely with State Energy Offices, which have a role in the setup or reform of local policy and market infrastructures – often the last critical step to successful technology adoption.

In partnership with the Department’s State Energy Program, the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) produced an overview of all the state energy plans that were operational from 2002–2011. By early 2013, 20 states were either updating their plans or developing new plans; by early 2014, we could potentially see up to 45 states with a comprehensive energy plan. The Energy Department is also working with NASEO to produce Guidelines for State Energy Planning, which will help states produce actionable energy plans that will engage all the energy actors in the state.

We’re also partnering with the National Governors Association to engage on more specific state energy policy issues. Under the direction of their Governor’s offices, four state teams (Illinois, Iowa, Alabama, and Arkansas) have recently completed action plans on combined heat and power and industrial efficiency. They worked with our experts and utilized our resources to understand how they could better support energy efficiency in their local industries. These plans have recently gone to their Governors and we expect to see the implementation of the plans in the coming year.

In addition, last year, the Department hosted a Community Energy Strategic Planning Academy, which over the course of two months taught 25 communities how to follow a step-by-step process to develop a more robust and effective community energy strategic plan. We followed this effort with the publication of a new “Guide to Community Energy Strategic Planning,” which is a helpful resource for local leaders and includes examples of successful planning efforts around the country.

Finally, as we consider the changing energy landscape and the increasing threats from global climate change, we need to make sure that the Federal Government is able to enact policies that meet our economic, environmental and security goals. This is why the Administration is committed to advancing a more integrated policy making and analysis process called the Quadrennial Energy Review, which was first recommended by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The QER will focus on infrastructure and the QER team will be doing a lot of state and local outreach to solicit input for the report.

Steve Payne: Funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program in FY13 was far below the level necessary to sustain a nationwide Program. Thanks to DOE’s active intervention, the Program received an additional $70 million in funding above the Congressional level this year ($139 million in total). Where do you see Weatherization Assistance Program in the next 5 years?

Moniz: The weatherization program is helping to lower the energy bills of low income families across the country and I hope it can continue to do so for years to come. We have made tremendous progress over the last few years, weatherizing more than one million homes. The program’s retrofits have helped families save between $250 and $450 each year on their energy bills.

While continuing resolutions have created funding challenges for the program, in both FY 2012 and 2013, the Energy Department used the waiver formula option granted by Congress to continue to recognize those states that spent Recovery Act funds on time, while still providing access to weatherization services across the country.

The President’s budget request for FY 2014 includes $184 million for weatherization, which will help us provide weatherization benefits in every county of every state across the United States. This is a significant increase over the FY 2013 appropriated funding amount.