By Kate Bell
Nashville—As states plan their energy futures and pursue grid modernization policies, legislators are confronted with some tough questions. How will these new energy technologies affect reliability? Who is protecting the grid from cyberattacks? How will these policies affect economic development in my district?
A packed crowd of state legislators, legislative staff, industry representatives and other attendees convened at NCSL’s Energy Policy Summit to answer these questions and explore the additional vulnerabilities and opportunities presented by a rapidly transforming electricity sector.
Presenters from some of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S., including Walmart and Google, outlined the types of state energy offerings that drive their siting and growth operations. The panelists emphasized the importance of reliable, competitively priced electricity when determining where and when to expand their businesses, site their data centers, and upgrade their retail facilities.
On the topic of sustainability, legislators learned how domestic companies are prioritizing access to clean energy. According to Bryn Baker, director of Policy Innovation at Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance and the morning’s first panelist, clean energy purchasing is quickly becoming “business as usual” for U.S. businesses.
A look at some of the energy plans for the nation’s biggest companies underscores this sentiment. Walmart, the world’s largest company by revenue, committed to having 50% of its operations powered by renewable energy and reducing its carbon footprint by 18% by 2025. Having just executed 46 solar power purchase and lease agreements for solar installations that will produce 65 gigawatt hours annually, the company is inching closer to reaching these commitments.
The retail chain is joined by e-commerce titan Amazon in setting company-wide energy consumption goals. Though Amazon has not yet committed to setting a hard deadline, the company announced a long-term goal of using 100% renewable energy. To achieve this, Amazon is driving the development of wind and solar farms around the globe. During his keynote discussion, Nat Sahlstrom, director of Amazon Energy, informed the crowd that the company has already developed 3,900 gigawatt hours’ worth of renewable energy projects worldwide. This capacity will likely continue to grow within the U.S. as states solidify clean energy infrastructure policies.
While major companies seem optimistic about the opportunities these new energy technologies hold to support economic growth, the modern grid yields novel vulnerabilities. An increasing connectedness of energy control systems heightens the potential for foreign and domestic actors to wreak havoc on the electric grid through cyberattacks.
Though the federal government is assisting in securing the transmission grid, states are wholly responsible for securing their respective distribution grids. Legislators attending the Summit were presented with smart state cybersecurity policy practices to consider when establishing action plans for the modern grid. Kate Marks, sector engagement lead from the Department of Energy’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response, highlighted several areas on which policy-makers should focus, including:
- Establishing state-level cybersecurity advisory councils or legislative committees.
- Leveraging National Guard cyber units.
- Clarifying state agency roles and responsibilities to avoid redundancies and encourage coordinated action.
Engaging state universities and encouraging student participation in the cybersecurity sphere is also critical. Marks noted the department’s ongoing workforce initiatives, such as its CyberForce Competition, as ways in which public universities can partner with the federal government to increase hands-on cyber education and inspire a new generation of cybersecurity professionals nationwide.
Kate Bell is an intern in NCSL’s Energy Program.