Budget Cuts Threaten Distributed Energy Program

Funding cuts are threatening to obstruct the development and deployment of Distributed Energy (DE) systems, which are a key element of a sensible response to our national energy crisis. Congress recognized the necessity of these systems by including several important provisions in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorizing increased Federal focus on distributed energy research, development, demonstration and policy support. However, Congress needs to make a sustained funding commitment to follow through on the promise that DE offers to deliver local solutions.

A breakfast briefing sponsored by the Distributed Energy Caucus, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), and the Distributed Energy Coalition on Thursday, March 9, from 8:30-9:30 am in Room 2322 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, will discuss the challenges, the opportunities and the need for Congressional action (contact details below). The reliability and security of the Nation’s energy infrastructure is in serious peril, say supporters. Fossil fuels, globally traded commodities, face ever-increasing global demand. Economic development outpaces the expansion of electricity supply in some areas of the country while other regions face constraints on the ability to deliver power where it’s needed when it’s needed. Blackouts in the Great Lakes and Northeast, hurricanes Katrina and Rita striking the Gulf Coast and the possibility of terrorist attacks on central station power plants and the transmission and distribution network underscore the vulnerabilities of the grid. “Distributed energy systems are one of our most valuable resources when it comes to addressing our energy crisis,” stated John Jimison, Executive Director of the U.S. Combined Heat and Power Association. “CHP systems are extremely energy efficient, thus reducing our demand and dependence on fossil fuels and simultaneously cutting greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, they increase the reliability and security of the electric grid, making U.S. significantly less vulnerable to black outs, terrorist attacks, and extreme weather. And they do so without cost to electricity ratepayers.” Distributed Energy includes technologies and systems that, at the point of use, efficiently produce electricity, store energy, and recycle waste energy by putting it to productive use for heating and cooling. DE supports and supplements the existing power generation and transmission infrastructure. DE systems operate in parallel, and in many cases can operate independently of the grid to provide enhanced power reliability and to sustain critical services (e.g., healthcare, communications, shelter, public safety) after natural or man-made disasters. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina when the main power grid failed, the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, was the only hospital in the Jackson Metro Area to be nearly 100% operational for 52 hours because of its Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system (a type of DE system). In comparison, the Memorial Hermann Baptist Hospital in Beaumont, Texas, did not have any DE system and in the days following Hurricane Rita, was unable to continue running. As a result, patients were evacuated to other facilities due to lack of power and water. Over the next several days, the building was infiltrated by humidity, resulting in persistent mold damage as well as extensive damage to both electrical/optical equipment. “These two examples illustrate just how vulnerable we are, but also that there are existing solutions like DE systems which have been successful in the past and will help if we act now to expand their development and deployment,” stated Neal Elliott, Director of the Industry Program at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. “The Department of Energy’s Distributed Energy Program has been successful thus far by bringing U.S. through the initial stages of component development and system integration. However, this is just a beginning. Congress must pledge to maintain funding to this essential program if we have any hope of tackling our energy problems.” The DE Caucus, EESI and Distributed Energy Coalition breakfast briefing is free and open to the public. For additional information, call either Diane DeVaul at Northeast Midwest Institute (202-464-4009) or Theresa Murzyn at Environmental and Energy Study Institute (202-662-1884) or use the links below.