Energy Assurance for Municipalities

By Meghan McPherson

Energy assurance-as opposed to energy emergency response-is increasingly recognized not only as an important component of the nation's energy emergency planning, but also as a more comprehensive approach intended to:

  • reduce the likelihood of energy emergencies;
  • reduce the potential severity and duration of energy emergencies; and
  • increase the reliability of access to the energy that underlies every aspect of our lives and economy.

Energy assurance involves a variety of proactive efforts to assure the availability of energy, regardless of circumstances. Energy supply disruptions ultimately affect us at the local level; thus, local citizens should have a strong interest in comprehensive, integrated energy assurance planning designed to mitigate and enable timely response to the interactive consequences of energy supply disruption.

Municipal officials and local first responders are essential to energy assurance and security. Local officials can identify infrastructure interdependencies that can interfere with energy assurance and provide state officials with valuable, real-time information during energy supply disruptions. For example, local officials can report on the operational status of motor vehicle fuel outlets. This information can help state emergency management personnel to direct emergency vehicles to functioning outlets.

However, state and federal emergency planning for energy infrastructure and supply disruptions has often been top-down and quite stove-piped. Agencies with certain emergency response functions might be unaware of other agencies' roles and responsibilities that would bear on the overall response and recovery. For example, electricity is necessary to operate gasoline and diesel fuel pumps. An intact highway infrastructure is also necessary for the delivery of heating fuels to homes and businesses. However, agencies responsible for planning adequate fuel supplies might have overlooked the importance of coordinating with agencies responsible for oversight of electricity infrastructure and supplies.

Recent energy supply disruptions, most notably the ice storm of December 2008, have highlighted the excellence, dedication and effectiveness of the state's responders at all levels. However, each event teaches new lessons. These events also highlighted infrastructure interdependencies, the need for greater coordination among state agencies and with local governments, greater energy infrastructure resiliency, increased energy diversity and more integrated approaches to energy assurance planning. The paralysis of the State when the energy networks went down during the ice storm serves to remind us that there needs to be more communication, more training and a focus on preparedness for such events.

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) provided an opportunity to address these needs by offering grants to State Energy Offices to build greater capacity and resiliency for energy assurance and emergency response. The New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning (OEP) applied for and received a grant to develop a more comprehensive and integrated Energy Assurance Plan. In addition to providing the federally-mandated deliverables, such as an official energy assurance plan, OEP will be conducting research to clarify legal authorities for State and local responses to energy supply disruptions.

The anticipated benefits of this initiative include:

  • Enhanced coordination and integration of local and state planning efforts;
  • Enhanced regional energy assurance planning;
  • Incorporation of new and emerging energy portfolios such as renewables, biofuels and Smart Grid technologies in energy assurance planning, to provide security for these sources, and to diversify our energy supplies; and
  • Focus on Smart Grid applications and vulnerabilities, critical infrastructure interdependencies, cyber security, energy supply systems and energy data analysis.

Taken as a whole, these will allow both state and local governments to be more informed and better prepared to minimize energy supply disruption risks and, if necessary, respond to energy emergencies.

OEP hopes to provide local officials with a more thorough understanding of the State's energy supply infrastructures. Additionally, OEP will be holding trainings to teach local officials what measures can, and should, be taken locally to reduce the likelihood and severity of energy emergencies. This program will also afford municipalities the opportunity to offer input to overall energy assurance planning, which benefits local communities.

Finally, OEP will provide local officials with information on what State energy assurance programs and resources can be provided to support local planning and response. To that end, OEP will be developing an online learning tool for officials from all over the state to train on energy assurance issues.

At the State level, this program will increase in-house, cross-agency expertise on energy assurance planning and resiliency and develop energy assurance expertise in more agency personnel to provide greater redundancy and resiliency. This comprehensive approach will enable State agencies to better identify potential energy events, quantify the severity of actual events and project their likely duration.

The aim of New Hampshire's Energy Assurance Plan is to provide broader inclusion and more coordination across State agencies and between the State and municipalities. In turn, this will create more effective preparedness and response actions and decrease the time required to recover and restore energy supplies and infrastructure.

New Hampshire's Energy Assurance Plan is understood by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to be a "living" document, subject to updates and revisions as the work progresses and as experience reveals new challenges. The Energy Assurance Plan will build on this strong foundation by broadening its scope to inform and train municipal officials and to benefit from their expertise, experience and knowledge.

Meghan McPherson is grants manager for the state Office of Energy and Planning and a certified associate emergency manager. For more information about the state's Energy Assurance Plan, call 603.271.2155 or send an e-mail.