In a recent op-ed for CNN, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said it’s time for Congress to make the necessary investment to ensure the resiliency of the electric grid. After catastrophic weather events like the recent devastation wrought by Hurricane Ida or the destruction witnessed by so many Texans after Winter Storm Uri in February, it’s not surprising that Secretary Granholm would advocate strongly for this investment. She’s right. It’s imperative to have a conversation with policymakers about what it takes to maintain an affordable, reliable and, importantly, resilient supply of energy.
Major weather events and natural disasters like Uri and Ida affect millions of Americans each year, wreaking billions of dollars in economic and property damage and often resulting in loss of life. These catastrophic losses have prompted conversations about resiliency and grid hardening, which are increasingly prevalent in the energy industry. Protecting the electric supply is one of the most critical components of disaster relief and can mean the difference between life and death for impacted communities.
According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report, the U.S. has incurred 298 catastrophic weather events since 1980, where overall damages/costs exceeded $1 billion, bringing the total costs of these events to $1.975 trillion. With trillions of dollars in insurance claims, it’s clear how storm hardening measures promote energy affordability for the consumer.
As I explained during my testimony before the Florida legislature in 2019 in support of storm resiliency legislation, “a little bit of investment [by the consumer] on the front-end, will lead to dividends on the back-end” in the form of decreased restoration times for consumers and businesses after a natural disaster like a hurricane or wildfire.
The most visible benefit is a consumer’s lights and broadband coming back on after a natural disaster. What shouldn’t be lost, though, is the economic effect that having power restored even a day earlier has on a local economy. Testimony given during hearings on Florida’s storm hardening measures noted that every day the lights were out in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017 meant a billion dollars in lost economic activity. This means a local restaurant not opening and its workers not making money. This hurts everyone.
With the amount of damage inflicted by these catastrophic storms, it should come as no surprise that the resiliency conversation has elevated to the Cabinet and Presidential level. It should also come as no surprise that Secretary Granholm was emphatic when she said, “in the last five years, we’ve spent a whopping $121 billion per year to clean up after an angry Mother Nature. We simply cannot afford to stay on this trajectory.”
We couldn’t agree more. Maintaining an affordable and reliable supply of energy requires a focused effort by policymakers in hardening and thus enhancing the resiliency of the grid.