Assessing the Intersection of National Security and the Electric System

The U.S. electric power system is an important part of the nation’s critical infrastructure. It provides lighting, heat, power, digital connectivity, and other services that are important to residential, commercial, and industrial activity. Over the years, federal, state, and local governments, as well as wholesale market operators and electric reliability organizations, have taken a variety of steps to maintain and improve the reliability of the electric power system and make it more resilient to disruptions. The Trump administration has argued that retiring coal and nuclear plants poses a threat to electric power system reliability, as well as a threat to the security of the nation. This two-part series of independent research assesses whether or not there is a threat, with a focus on 1) the dependence of military installations on civilian electric grid infrastructure and 2) whether or not natural gas disruptions in key electric power markets could lead to a lack of generating capacity when electricity is needed most.

Military Base Electricity Reliability: No Clear Link to Coal and Nuclear

The Trump administration has argued that national security is at risk due to the reliance of military installations on civilian electric grids, claiming that support for ailing coal and nuclear plants is required to maintain grid reliability, and in turn, military readiness. In this note, we analyze government reliability statistics for service at military installations and find that military bases lost service 1.3 times per year on average between 2015 and 2017. Outages led to lost service at military bases lasting a total of 0.003% of the year over the same time period—approximately the same level of service as the average US electric customer. Disruptions on the distribution side of the grid, where interventions to support coal and nuclear plants would have no impact, cause 90% of outages and 95% of lost service hours. We also find that the Department of Defense has programs and standards in place to maintain mission critical operations when a rare outage does occur.

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Natural Gas Supply Disruption: An Unlikely Threat to Electric Reliability

Behind the Trump administration’s ongoing arguments for bailing out coal and nuclear plants is the specter of fuel supply shortages at natural gas plants as a major vulnerability on the nation’s power grid. We previously found bulk power market interventions, as proposed by the administration, would not improve electric reliability because the majority of service disruptions occur elsewhere on the grid. Still, federal officials warn the nation’s increasing reliance on natural gas poses new threats and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is under pressure to prioritize resilience. Here we assess the potential implications of a disruption to natural gas supply. Specifically, we consider the impact of an unprecedented disruption of the flow of natural gas from the entire length of a pipeline. We find that should such a disruption occur in any one of the five FERC-regulated wholesale electricity markets in the Eastern Interconnection, there would still be sufficient levels of generating capacity to meet peak demand and maintain reliable electric service.

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This research series was prepared for the American Petroleum Institute, Environmental Defense Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council. The research was conducted independently by Rhodium Group, LLC. The findings and views expressed in this note are the authors’ alone.

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