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Congressional delegation seeks answers on smart grids

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A bipartisan coalition of New Jersey's congressional delegation is introducing a bill to promote smart grids — an effort they say would limit damage storms like Hurricane Sandy can wreak on the state's energy system.

Smart grids refer to modernized electrical grids that use digital technology with two-way communications ability to improve efficiency and reliability of power grids. Sponsors say the study is the first step toward upgrading the county's electric grid, making it smarter and more able to adapt to threats.

"The Smart Grid Study Act acknowledges the immense need to strengthen and evolve power grid," Rep. Rob Andrews (D-Camden), one of the sponsors, said in a statement. "Our country needs infrastructure that can withstand natural disasters like superstorm Sandy, and this act will help identify the needed innovations.

Additional sponsors include Democrats Donald Payne — the original author of the bill — Frank Pallone, Bill Pascrell, Albio Sires, and Republican Leonard Lance, part of a group of 24 congressional co-sponsors nationwide.

The act authorizes:

– A $2.1 million study by the National Research Council, in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, and other government agencies. The study would be paid for by money appropriated in the existing fiscal year's budget for the Homeland Security department.

– An assessment of actions needed to expand capabilities of the electric power system to prepare for, respond to, mitigate and recover from a natural disaster or cyber attack.

– Assessing options needed to expand capabilities of the nation's power grid, including estimation of the cost, timetable for implementation, and identification of potential health and environmental impacts to fully upgrading to a smart grid system.

– Studying the grid's ability to adapt changing demand patterns for electricity, the ability of the grid to store and transfer power across energy sectors and geographies, and the ability of the grid to recover from disruptions such as natural disasters and cyber attacks.

– Identifing the barriers to upgrading fully to a smart grid system, including suggested actions, priorities, incentives, and possible legislative and executive actions.

– Assessing the ability to integrate existing and future infrastructure, including utilities, telecommunications lines, and highways.

Sponsors noted that after Hurricane Sandy, Congress approved $50 billion for recovery efforts, plus utility companies in New Jersey plan to spend more than $1.1 billion on recovery efforts.

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