By Dan Shea
“The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
William Faulkner famously wrote those words about our need to reconcile with history. But the same might be said about legislatures' need to reconcile with years like 2017, which wrought $306 billion in official damages from natural disasters.
Similarly 2012, the year of Superstorm Sandy.
Or 2006, with Hurricane Katrina.
The truth is, the impact of these events extends well beyond the winds and the fires that destroy infrastructure and alter daily life for affected communities. And those years are still alive in state legislatures too, as policymakers try to plan for future events and develop policies to establish more reliable and resilient systems.
In the years after Superstorm Sandy, NCSL saw a doubling of legislation related to energy security and resiliency. In fact, we still see legislation that can be traced back to that event.
In a new report, “Hardening the Grid: How States Are Working to Establish a Resilient and Reliable Electric System,” NCSL explores the policies that state legislatures have implemented over the past year in an attempt to bolster the security and resiliency of the electric grid.
These include measures to harden electric infrastructure, enhance survivability of service and ensure that the emergency response and repair work is performed expeditiously.
Certainly, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—which destroyed much of Puerto Rico’s electric grid and left many residents without power for months—the importance of these policies becomes increasingly clear. When electric systems fail, so do municipal water systems, food goes bad and the economy creeps to a halt.
However, beyond nature’s destructive force, states are also preparing for an increasingly aggressive and sophisticated force of cyberattackers. We have seen an increasing number of cyberattacks on industrial systems and states are having to consider these cyberthreats along with more traditional threats of terrorism and physical damage.
One positive is that a number of the measures taken to prepare the grid for these catastrophic events can also lead to a more reliable and efficient grid under normal conditions. States have been actively pushing grid modernization efforts, including smart meters and energy storage measures that help utilities manage the grid.
Given that 2017 was by far the most destructive year for natural disasters in modern history, it is likely that those events will be alive in upcoming legislative sessions as states grapple with the aftermath and plan for the future.
Dan Shea is a policy specialist in NCSL’s Energy Program.