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Pennsylvania Resilience Op Ed

PA (April 27, 2018) – As featured in Penn Live with Matt Wheatley, VP of Sales and Commercial for Centrica Business Solutions and Diana Burckhart, Sr. Specialist of Corporate & Regulatory Affairs for Direct Energy: Energy resilience, having a secure and reliable source of energy, helps companies reduce the risk of operational failures and reduce commercial risk.

“Resilience” has become the new trending energy term after a brutal season of nor’easters, superstorms, snow bombs and hurricanes. Energy resilience, having a secure and reliable source of energy, helps companies reduce the risk of operational failures and reduce commercial risk.  

For a business, energy resilience can be a matter of survival. If the power goes out: customers aren’t served, production lines are halted, products are damaged or even destroyed. At critical sites such as hospitals and fire stations, patients aren’t treated and emergency response is delayed if there is not power. Safety can be compromised.

Over the last decade, there have been multiple largescale outages, impacting millions of customers, due to extreme weather in Pennsylvania. In 2011, all but one utility/electrical distribution company (EDC) had at least one reportable outage event1. The largest single event came in 2012 with Hurricane Sandy, which left approximately 1.79 million Pennsylvania electric customers without power2. More recently, in March 2018 two powerful nor’easters knocked out power to approximately 750,000 homes and businesses3.

But this is not just a Pennsylvania issue. In 2017 alone, there were 16 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States4. It’s now essential that regulators and legislators take a fresh look at how we can better prepare for these events given the newest technology available.

Loss of power is harmful and costly for businesses -  the average cost of a single outage at a data center is nearly $1 million. In Pennsylvania, the most common natural hazards threatening power systems and the grid are thunderstorms and lightning which occur on average once every 3.4 days during the months of March to October. Having the right back up systems in place can be crucial during this heavy storm season5. Technology can make a difference. A microgrid allows a home or business to generate its own sustainable and resilient power and be self-reliant during an emergency. Combining on-site generation with battery storage, energy efficiency as well as 24/7 monitoring can protect a home or business from going dark and are considered cost effective options for large energy users.

For these advancements to flourish, however, we need a market and regulatory environment that encourages energy resilience. On April 5, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission issued a policy statement concerning the advancement of Combined Heat and Power (CHP) in the Commonwealth. Specifically, electric and natural gas utilities are encouraged to implement policies and practices that reduce barriers to CHP development. 

This is an encouraging first step to advancing technology the Commonwealth so desperately needs to support energy resilience services to commercial businesses and essential public purpose facilities such as hospitals.

When examining resiliency policies and advancing microgrids and other types of backup generation technology, legislators and regulators should be clear that ownership and control of these facilities should not be put in the hands of public utilities where ratepayers will bear the burden of paying for these projects. Private companies are currently building, owning, operating and financing these projects independently and should continue to do so.   

“Micro-grid” will become a household term in Pennsylvania. Now is the time for our market and regulatory environment to continue to encourage energy resilience and give all consumers, businesses and organizations the freedom to choose the best energy technologies for their needs.

Read the full Penn Live article here: http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2018/04/heres_how_pa_can_prepare_for_t.html.

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1http://www.puc.pa.gov/electric/pdf/Summary_Rpt2012-Outage_Info_Reported_EDCs.pdf
2http://www.puc.state.pa.us/Electric/pdf/October_2012_Sandy_Report-public.pdf
3http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2018/03/11/peco-service-completely-restored-following-winter-storms/
4https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/US/1980-2017
5https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2016/09/f33/PA_Energy%20Sector%20Risk%20Profile.pdf