CEO’s Report: Legislative priorities for public power

March 2, 2022

Each year, the American Public Power Association hosts the Legislative Rally in Washington, D.C. This is a time to collectively speak to members of Congress about issues crucial to the success of public power utilities.

Heartland staff have always actively participated in the Rally, meeting with members from the states where we have customers and generation resources.

I currently serve on the board of directors for APPA and am a member of the executive committee. The APPA staff does an excellent job of lobbying on behalf of public power utilities, keeping tabs on harmful legislation and communicating with members of Congress.

Concerns always seem to carry more weight, though, when they’re given by constituents who will be directly impacted by pending legislation.

While Heartland was not able to attend the Rally in person this year, there are still many issues of importance on the table and we are working on other ways to connect with legislators at the federal level.

In the meantime, I would encourage you to reach out to your elected officials and discuss your concerns about the future of public power. Some of the issues you may want to discuss are noted below. A complete list of issues can also be found on APPA’s website.

Supply Chain Issues

Nationwide, the U.S. supply chain for electric grid equipment is becoming increasingly disrupted. Manufacturers say shortages of labor and steel have cut their ability to meet demand for electric transformers used in electric power transmission and distribution.

Large regional utilities are likely to have direct relationships or long-term contracts with transformer manufacturers, typically making them first in line for receiving equipment.

Public power utilities with short-term bidding requirements are likely to see more issues and there is concern that small, rural utilities are particularly vulnerable.

Supply chain disruptions are expected to delay new economic developments as well as system upgrades needed to accommodate electrification.

APPA is working to communicate the effects of these supply chain disruptions to Congress and public officials to increase awareness and promote solutions before economic development and disaster response is put at further risk.

Preserving the Municipal Exemption from Federal Pole Attachment Regulations

The term pole attachment refers to the process by which communications companies can place communications infrastructure on existing electric utility poles. This reduces the number of poles that must be built to accommodate utility services, while reducing costs to users of both services by allowing providers to share costs.

Rules governing pole attachments must balance the desire to maximize value with concerns unique to electric utility poles, such as safety and reliability.

In 2009, Congress directed the FCC to develop and deliver a plan to Congress to ensure every American had access to broadband capability. The Commission recommended establishing a “harmonized access policy for all poles, ducts, conduits and rights-of-way.”

Attachments rates for public power utilities are usually determined at the local level. The Commission cited no cases where the exemption proved to be an impediment to broadband deployment.

The FCC has continued to recommend eliminating the exemption public power utilities and rural electric cooperatives have from FCC regulation of pole attachments under the guise of facilitating broadband deployment.

APPA opposes any efforts by Congress to weaken or eliminate the municipal exemption public power utilities have from federal pole attachment regulations. They also oppose the FCC’s efforts to circumvent well-established federal law that precludes the Commission from regulating public power utility poles.

You can read more about the issue here.

Grid Security

A reliable energy grid is the lifeblood of the nation’s economic and national security, as well as vital to the health and safety of all Americans. Public power utilities take the responsibility to maintain a secure and reliable electric grid very seriously.

Cyber-attacks have rapidly evolved and could have operational consequences. While federal standards are in place for cybersecurity and establish an important baseline for security, grid security is more than a compliance exercise.

APPA works directly with the Department of Energy on a number of fronts. Most recently, DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER) awarded APPA a grant of $6 million over a three-year period to develop and deploy cyber and cyber-physical solutions for public power utilities.

The program’s goal is to provide utilities with cybersecurity sensor capabilities to protect key operational technology assets that enable the safe operation of the physical systems that deliver electric power.

This effort builds on the accomplishments of another three-year grant CESER awarded to APPA in 2016, with which APPA assessed and helped to strengthen the cybersecurity posture of small- and medium-sized public power utilities. This grant enabled the development of a cybersecurity scorecard for public power utilities to assess their cyber readiness, the production of a cybersecurity roadmap, an incident response playbook, and other guidance documents to help utilities develop a culture of cybersecurity within their organizations.

Legislation based on the success of the 2016 grant program, H.R. 2931, the Enhancing Grid Security through Public-Private Partnerships Act, was introduced by Representatives Jerry McNerney (D-CA) and Bob Latta (R-OH) and passed as part of a broad bipartisan infrastructure bill (H.R. 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) in November 2021. The provision directs DOE to carry out a program to promote and advance the physical and cybersecurity of electric utilities, with priority provided to utilities with fewer resources. The bipartisan infrastructure bill contains other provisions authorizing funding at DOE to work with industry on improving grid security.

APPA believes that close coordination among industry and government partners at all levels is imperative to deterring attacks and preparing for emergency situations. Finally, APPA believes that any additional cyber incident reporting requirements must be harmonized with the existing reporting requirements for the electric utility industry.

These are just a few of the Legislative issues we are keeping an eye on. We are also closely watching the distribution of funds available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

If you are unsure of who your representatives are in Congress, let us know and we will put you in contact with the correct offices.