News & Notes

A federal appeals court in August ruled the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) must consider the Department of Energy (DOE)’s license application to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. In a frankly worded opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the president may not disregard the mandates of the Nuclear Policy Act, and that the long-standing policy debate over Yucca Mountain “is not our concern.” (The NRC is an independent agency but the president appoints its commissioners.)

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People on the Move

President Barack Obama’s top adviser on energy and climate change, Heather Zichal, is leaving her post. During her five-year tenure, Zichal helped shape many of the Obama administration’s environmental policies, including new fuel economy standards, a doubling of renewable energy genera­tion, and the response to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The White House has not named a replacement.

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Beltway Roundup

Early in the morning of October 17, 2013, President Barack Obama signed H.R. 2775 (P.L. 113-46), which funds the federal government from Octo­ber 1, 2013, through January 15, 2014. The short-term Continuing Resolu­tion (CR) ended the 16-day standoff between the Republicans and Dem­ocrats, but only temporarily. The debt limit was allowed to be raised until at least February 7, 2014, when the Department of the Treasury can once again engage in “extraordinary mea­sures” to keep the U.S. government from defaulting. The CR also required that an income verification of the Affordable Care Act be implemented. As part of this deal, the House and Senate agreed to proceed to a conference committee on the FY 2014 budget (H.Con.Res. 25, S.Con.Res. 8), with a deadline of December 13, 2013.

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Multifamily Energy Efficiency: Reported Barriers and Emerging Practices, A New Report from the Energy Programs Consortium

“Multifamily housing has long been identified as a particularly chal­lenging area for energy conservation.” This sentence may sound like the beginning of one of the numerous reports published on the subject in the last few years. Instead, it comes from a 1995 American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) report surveying papers from the early 1980s that identi­fied opportunities for and barriers to energy conservation in low-income multifamily housing. Nearly 30 years later, papers continue to report and list many of the same barriers identi­fied in the 1980s.

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Energy Round Table with Senator Lisa Murkowski

Senator Lisa Murkowski

Lisa Murkowski is the senior Republican member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, where she is the ranking Republican of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee. She is a third-generation Alaskan and only the sixth U.S. senator to serve her state.

In February, Senator Murkowski released Energy 20/20: A Vision for America’s Energy Future, a blueprint for America’s energy and natural resources policy over the next few years. It advocates, among other goals, achieving independence from OPEC oil imports and the critical need to continue supporting energy research.

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In a world of around-the-clock news feeds, various social media platforms, smart phones, tablets, and a host of other electronic devices that keep us constantly connected, it is critical that we have a reliable supply of electricity to power our ever-growing digital “addiction.” Our economy depends upon electricity and a resilient electric grid to power our industries and our businesses and to enable communications and other services. Yet, the electric grid—an essential part of our national infrastructure—largely remains below our collective radar, precisely because it delivers on-demand electricity with just the flip of a switch.

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In the Quest for a More Resilient Grid, Microgrids Offer Solutions

In nine small towns, cities, and universities across Connecticut, an experiment is under way to create a more resilient electricity grid of the future.

Through an $18 million microgrid pilot, the first-ever statewide program of its kind, officials have enlisted a mix of public and private entities to test engineering approaches that will enable their buildings to maintain power during an outage by isolating them from the main electricity grid.

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Microgrids bend the rules. By inte­grating distributed generation, load management, and storage (thermal and electric) in smart networks, microgrids achieve unprecedented energy efficiency and commensurate cost savings for their owners. They enhance resilience by iso­lating their owners from the grid and self-generating and self-balancing in emergencies such as Hurricane Sandy. But they also transform passive load into responsive resources in the larger, whole­sale grid, providing energy, ancillary services, and demand management.

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Implementing Social Media in the Public Sector

The world is moving swiftly into social media, and state and local government agencies can’t lag behind. According to a recent Pew study, more than 72% of all U.S. Internet users are participating in at least one social networking site. The demand for real-time feedback is pervasive: citizens want to reach their airlines when they are grounded on the tarmac, their local grocery stores during food emergencies, or their utility companies during power outages. The fast responsiveness people now experience in all aspects of life are putting pressure on government agencies as well. Social media has increased people’s expectations about reaching government on Twitter and Facebook around the clock.

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Thinking About Regulatory Ethics and Social Media

Public trust in government is earned when its institutions apply the power and resources entrusted to them in a manner consistent with strong ethical values (i.e., honesty, fairness, and integrity). For this reason, states have adopted statutes, rules, and policies to guide the ethical conduct of utility regulators (and other agency employees) in both their personal and professional lives.

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