Billions of dollars needed to fix aging, vulnerable U.S. energy infrastructure, reports says

Ernest MonizErnest MonizU.S. power and energy infrastructure is outdated and perhaps more vulnerable than ever to the effects of climate change or other threats, and will require tens of billions of dollars in repairs and modernization, according to a landmark Obama administration report.

The first installment of the Energy Department’s Quadrennial Energy Review, commissioned by President Obama 15 months ago, paints a grim picture for the U.S. electric grid, power transmission lines, natural gas and oil pipelines, ports, railways and other critical pieces of national infrastructure.

The report found that threats to the grid, including terrorist attacks or unprecedented storms caused by climate change, are growing in number while the reliability and safety of the grid has remained stagnant or, in some cases, gone backward.

Much the same for oil-and-gas infrastructure, the study shows.

“These infrastructures have not kept pace with changes in the volume and geography of oil and gas production. The nation’s ports, waterways and rail systems are congested, with the growing demand for handling energy commodities increasingly in competition with transport needs for food and other non-energy freight,” the report reads in part. “Although improvements are being made, much of the relevant infrastructure — pipelines, rail systems, ports and waterways alike — is long overdue for repairs and modernization.”

Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and other administration officials will discuss the report during a speech in Philadelphia later Tuesday. They’ll also detail the White House plan for tackling today’s infrastructure challenges.

To complement the report, the administration announced the formation of the Partnership for Energy Sector Climate Resilience, which will bring leading energy companies together with the Energy Department to develop plans for protecting infrastructure against extreme weather and other effects of climate change.

The Agriculture Department also announced it will provide $72 million to support six new rural electric infrastructure projects, including repairs to outdated transmission lines.

The report also recommends dozens of other infrastructure projects that must be tackled soon, including a $2.5 billion Energy Department initiative to improve natural-gas distribution; a $3.5 billion plan to modernize the U.S. electric grid; at least $ 1.5 billion to improve and extend the life of the crucial Strategic Petroleum Reserve; a $2 billion investment in regional transport systems; and many others.

As Mr. Obama rolls out controversial programs to stem the tide of climate change, the report argues that global warming represents one of the gravest threats to the U.S. energy transmission, storage and distribution (TS&D) infrastructure.

“By far the most important environmental factor affecting TS&D infrastructure needs now and going forward is global climate change,” the study says. “Sea-level rise, thawing permafrost and increases in weather extremes are already affecting TS&D infrastructure in many regions. The need to mitigate global climate change by reducing (greenhouse-gas) emissions, moreover, is accelerating changes in the mix of energy supply options and end-use patterns and over time, it is likely to become the dominant such influence.”