WASHINGTON, DC – The Energy Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), today held a hearing examining the federal and state response and recovery efforts from the recent series of unprecedented hurricanes.
“This year’s Atlantic hurricane season was unprecedented – four named storms in close succession slammed into the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These hurricanes caused catastrophic damage and energy supply disruptions across the nation,” said #SubEnergy Chairman Upton as he kicked-off today’s hearing. “As a result of Hurricane Harvey, more than 275,000 customers lost power in Texas, and severe flooding also affected the supply and delivery of transportation fuels – compounding challenges and energy impacts across the Gulf Coast.”
Chairman Upton listens as witnesses deliver their opening statements
Robert Corbin, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Petroleum Reserves, U.S. Department of Energy, discussed the agency’s actions to alleviate the fallout from fuel supply disruptions because of Hurricane Harvey, stating, “After assessing prevailing supply conditions and consulting with other Federal agencies regarding the status of ports and other supply infrastructure, the SPR received approval from the Secretary to execute six emergency exchange agreements with four companies…These emergency exchanges helped alleviate the loss of crude oil supply, allowing the affected companies to begin and/or continue refinery operations that otherwise would have been halted as a result of the impacts from Hurricane Harvey.”
Ray Alexander, Director of Contingency Operations, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, spoke to the Corps’ work in providing a temporary supply of emergency power in the areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, commenting, “ As of September 11, 2017, the Corps completed 68 pre-installation inspections and 45 generator installations at identified critical public facilities fulfilling the temporary emergency power mission in Texas. … As of October 31, 2017, the Corps and its contractors have completed 740 of 827 requested pre-installation inspections (for temporary generators) and 392 generator installations in Puerto Rico. The Corps and its contractors have completed 249 of 277 pre-installation inspections (for temporary generators) and 140 installations in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
Speaking to the success Florida had in restoring power so quickly following Hurricane Irma, Patricia Hoffman, Acting Under Secretary for Science and Energy and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, U.S. Department of Energy, noted the investments Florida has made to bolster their grid, stating, “FPL has invested nearly $3 billion since 2006 to build a more storm-resilient electrical grid to reduce potential damage and outages, and to help restore power faster following outages. Some of these investments included smart meters and flood monitoring capabilities which allowed substations and electric equipment to shut down more efficiently and with less damage.”
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In his questioning, Chairman Upton asked the Army Corps if they had any knowledge that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) had signed contracts for grid restoration, “Did the Corps have any advanced knowledge of working with PREPA prior to the contract they established with Whitefish and Cobra? Were you aware of that contract before it was signed? To which Mr. Alexander replied, “No sir we were not. We were engaged in our temporary power mission under the Stafford Act and we’ve been working with that since the sixth of September. The news that PREPA has independently committed in a contract to another company, we were not consulted, we were not aware.”
Thomas Fanning, President and CEO, Southern Company, on behalf of the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council, spoke to the work the electricity industry has been doing related to grid resiliency, commenting, “There is an understandable urge to compare storms, but the reality is that each storm is different. One common thread, however, is the need for a resilient infrastructure and a plan for response and recovery. Electric companies across the sector are making investments to harden the energy grid. As an industry, we plan and regularly exercise for a variety of emergency situations, including natural disasters that could impact our ability to provide electricity.”
Chet Thompson, President and CEO, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, spoke to potential improvements the federal government could make in terms of informing consumers during future storms, stating, “If I had to identify one area that could be improved, it would be better communication by our government to consumers about the fuel supply chain and the challenges that often accompany events like hurricanes. For example, the government could help us explain the timelines for bringing facilities back online and getting products back to distribut0rs and marketers. And it could also help us discourage panic buying that always seem to accompany these types of events.”
“In this committee, we roll up our sleeves and search for solutions to the various challenges that present themselves after a major disaster. We want to make sure that the agencies under our jurisdiction are well prepared and responding appropriately – both now and when the next storm comes,” concluded full committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR). “If they’re lacking certain authorities to expedite recovery, we want to know about it, so we can fix it.”
A background memo, witness testimony, and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found online HERE.