Dwindling LIHEAP Funds

At the 125th annual meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, we attended a panel discussion on the decrease in LIHEAP funding over the past several years. Even though decreased LIHEAP funding puts more of our country’s most vulnerable families at risk, the panelists outlined some strategies that states and utilities are using to fill the gaps and supplement dwindling resources.

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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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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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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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Getting to Zero: Notes from the 2013 NASEO Annual Meeting and Getting to Zero National Forum

The National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and the New Buildings Institute (NBI) have collaborated on zero net energy (ZNE) buildings work since 2011. In 2012, the two organizations hosted two meetings with more than 30 state and local government officials to discuss opportunities to advance ZNE policies and programs at the state level. Those meetings identified the need for a national initiative and discussion on ZNE and planted the seed for the Getting to Zero National Forum.

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News & Notes

President Obama has nominated Ronald Binz, the former head of Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Shortly after his nomination in June, Binz received the endorsement of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).

“He knows how the decisions made in Washington impact ratepayers across the country,” said NARUC president Philip Jones. “A strong federal-state partnership is essential as our nation confronts the numerous challenges ahead, and we are confident Ron, if confirmed, will maintain such a dialogue.”

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State Regulators Address Cyber-Security Concerns

As utility systems become modernized, companies are introducing a number of wireless elements to the system. These new technologies, such as smart meters, synchrophasers, and real-time monitoring of the transmission and distribution system, bring a new level of awareness and efficiency to the electricity grid. They can give consumers more control over their usage, and provide greater situational awareness to the utilities about the overall condition of their systems.

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