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What is a “QER?” Outline for Energy Policy

This week, the Obama administration rolled out its first Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), a broad study of the nation’s energy policies that calls for programs aimed at making the electric grid more resilient, accelerating the replacement of aging pipelines, improving measurement of methane emissions, coordinating products shipped by rail and reviewing the release authorities of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The QER is available here.

Despite the name – there is supposed to be another one next year – drafters were tasked with addressing issues across transmission, storage and distribution infrastructure (pipelines, railroads and power lines). Here are some of the QER recommendations:

  • DOE should create a competitive program to accelerate pipeline replacement and enhance maintenance programs for natural gas pipeline distribution systems. The department should also provide financial assistance to states to create incentives for cost-effective improvements. Estimated cost: $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion over 10 years.
  • As part of the Obama administration’s plans to release a “formal national strategy for strengthening the security and resilience of the entire electric grid for threats and hazards” later this year, DOE should coordinate with federal agencies and states to mitigate the loss of electric transformers. “Approaches for mitigating this risk should include the development of one or more transformer reserves through a staged process,” an administration factsheet says.
  • DOE should analyze the appropriate size and configuration of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and make infrastructure investments to its distribution systems. Congress should also revisit SPR release authorities to “allow the SPR to be used more effectively to prevent serious economic harm to the United States in case of energy supply emergencies.”
  • Given the development of oil fields more toward the geographic center of the country (and the resulting rail competition for agricultural and other commodities), a new grant program should be established at the Transportation Department dedicated to improving energy transportation infrastructure connectors. Estimated cost: $2 billion to $2.5 billion over 10 years. Congress should also provide funding to the Energy Information Administration to fill in the gaps in data that deal with the transport of energy commodities.
  • Congress should approve the administration’s $10 million request to help update methane emissions data from natural gas systems.

The review takes a holistic approach, with input from 20 federal agencies.  It officially started in January last year with a memo from the President putting the Energy Department in charge of heading the analysis.